Marching in Holland – a highlight of sailor’s career

holland honours sailor

PO2 Siska at Holten Canadian War Cemetery with a local whose village was liberated by the Canadian Scottish Regiment during the Second World War.

The memory of marching through the crowded, cobblestone streets of Weinhagen, Holland, with the Canadian Flag gripped firmly in his hands is still very vivid for PO2 Derrick Siska.

It was just over a month ago that he joined 150 Operation Distinction members in the 70th Anniversary Liberation March.

PO2 Siska, an Electrical Maintenance Supervisor in HMCS Vancouver, says the march is the highlight of his military career.

Along the six and a half kilometre parade route were 150,000 cheering Dutch people, ready to show their gratitude for Canada’s liberation of the Netherlands at the close of the Second World War.

“Once we hit the street, our emotions took over. All I could see were 20 rows deep of parents and little kids waving flags.”

Present at the parade’s mid-way point was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who declined to make a speech, but showed his appreciation to the marchers with a broad grin.

When the hour and a half long parade ended the sailor says a little melancholy set in.

“I just wanted it to start all over so I could experience it again and again,” he says.  

With the march over, Dutch children wanting photographs swarmed them.

In mid April, he was approached with a nomination for the merit-based Operation Distinction. He was the only West Coast navy representative selected.

“I think the work I do on board was noticed,” he says. “I take every day for what it’s worth, and I try to walk around with an outgoing, positive attitude and hope that other people can pick it up.”

He made it into the top three contenders at CFB Esquimalt, but says an interview with the Fleet Chief secured his spot.

“When I finally found out that I would be going, I was just extremely grateful, proud, and of course, honoured,” he says.

“I never could have anticipated that I’d be going to Holland someday.”

Alongside 140 army members, five air force members, and four other navy members, PO2 Siska travelled to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario, for two full days of drill practice.

He checked and doubled checked the fit of his uniforms, and watched YouTube videos on flag drills to further familiarize himself with the complicated movements.

“The air at Trenton was charged with excitement, apart from nerves,” he says. “Everyone was ready to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The group was shuttled to Holland via military airbus on April 29, where the 11 hour ride gave PO2 Siska plenty of time to mentally ready himself.

“Everything had happened so fast, and up until the plane ride, I hadn’t had any time for it all to sink in. I didn’t know what to expect, and really was facing the unknown.”

After landing at the Dutch air force base in Holland, the Operation Distinction members spent the next few days polishing their drills for the parade, and squeezed in a visit to the Holten Canadian War Cemetery for Holland’s Remembrance Day on May 4.

It was at that cemetery that PO2 Siska chatted with the elderly caretaker, Edwin van der Wolf, who recalled being four years old when his village was liberated by the Scottish regiment of Victoria during the Second World War.

Later, at the Remembrance Day ceremony in the cemetery, van der Wolf found his “Canadian son” PO2 Siska.

As the anthem began to play, van der Wolf pulled a handwritten piece of paper from his pocket – the lyrics to “Oh Canada.”

He read along as best he could while hundreds of Canadian veterans, Holland natives, and Operation Distinction members sang.

PO2 Siska says the experience has deeply affected him as a navy member.

“You can get so caught up in the political and business side of the military, that you might forget why you are in the military to start with. But when you forget the good reasons you’re in – the history you are making – you can’t share that with your juniors. That means the whole tradition of the military could get lost. An opportunity like this reminds you of the importance of what it is you do every day.”

Rachel Lallouz
Staff Writer

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