‘He always wanted his hotel room with the balcony, and no other!’

The 82-year-old Richard Hugh de Salaberry Wotherspoon and next to him his son Doug. (Text and photo: Han Verbeem)

BERGEN-OP-ZOOM – This weekend is the commemoration of 75 years of liberation. Dozens of visitors have come from Canada to attend the events up close. They are mostly family members of veterans, the soldiers of the two regiments who liberated Bergen-Op-Zoom on October 27, 1944: the South Alberta Regiment and the Lincoln And Welland Regiment. Almost all liberators passed away, but their children and grandchildren continue to maintain ties with the Netherlands. One of them is 82-year-old Richard Hugh de Salaberry Wotherspoon of Ontario, son of commander Gordon Dorward "Swatty" de Salaberry Wotherspoon (1908-1988). Swatty spoke the legendary words about the capture of Bergen-Op-Zoom (spoken to Bill Cromb, commander of Lincoln And Welland) are: "Hell Bill, let's take the damn'd place!"

Richard Wotherspoon is the son of commander of the South Alberta regiment. His father told little about his war experiences in Europe at home, says Wotherspoon. After the liberation, Swatty sometimes returned to the Netherlands and stayed at hotel De Draak, where he also stayed during the liberation days. "He wanted the exact same room, the balcony on the Grote Markt." It is on this balcony that the Dutch flag was raised on October 27, 1944, exactly at 4.40 pm.

Historical ground

Richard himself went to the Netherlands for the first time in 1997 and has since attended the commemorations several times. He was here for the last time three years ago, and although his health still seemed uncertain six months ago, he managed to attend the 75-year memorial service. Meanwhile, Richard's sons Doug, Richard and Gordon have joined him as a third generation. And they themselves also stay in De Draak during these days. For them it is historical ground and a visit to the cemetery of honor is almost a 'pilgrimage' for Richard and his sons. They arrived in France a few days ago and follow the route that the South-Alberta regiment has traveled since D-day (June 6, 1944): via Caen to Belgium and then via the Brabantse Wal in a northerly direction to the east of the Netherlands, and there across the border into Germany. These are tough days, especially for Richard. But even though the war has now passed three-quarters of a century: the memory remains and is passed on to new generations.