Three score years and ten is long enough to see out most human lives. My throat catches this morning in remembrance of so many from the day — 8th May 1945. Now gone under the earth. Not everyone was on their best behaviour that day, understandably. But the Germans had capitulated, the West was Won, and the bells rang out from the church steeples. The moment was finally at hand,

When the lights come on again
All over the world,
And the ships sail home again
All over the world:
And rain or snow is all
That may fall …

Brian Stewart, one of the few Canadian journalists I genuinely admire, came out of his semi-retirement this morning to report from Apeldoorn for his old CBC. A very fine, brave, kindly and perceptive man — no fool — who has seen it all in war zones. I have taken my key point from him, for it echoes what I heard long ago: about “swaggering.”

It wasn’t only the liberation, but what our boys did after, in that devastated country. The Netherlands — but Canadians call her “Holland” — had suffered proportionally more than any other country the Wehrmacht had crushed and occupied, and would continue to suffer — famine — after their final defeat. The bastards blew the dikes to slow our allied advance. Breached, the lands flooded; … deaths heaped on deaths.

Victory is sweet, but there was no swagger, from the Dutch still mired in Hell.

And memorably, neither from our boys, who had liberated them. They didn’t swagger. Instead, they set down their guns and their helmets and went to work — spontaneously, voluntarily, on the enormous task of repair; of fixing the dikes and clearing the farms of salt-mud and debris. Of breaking the stones, and smoothing the roads, and shifting the rubble. The food bags, too, were starting to arrive, from Canada and the States — the tins and boxes; the cigarettes and medical supplies; and the candy, for the little children.

This wasn’t the Marshall Plan. It was three years before that. The Royal Canadian Air Force was dropping food from the sky, as fast as it could. (Our pilots read, “Thank you Canadians!” on rooftops.) Crates and drums were being discharged through the busted ports, wheat and flour from our Prairies. Yet thousands were still perishing from hunger.

And more: all the stuff sent by unorganized people, to wherever they thought it would do some good; to Germany as well as Holland; to wherever people must be desperate and starving. And back home our boys’ own families were throwing themselves into action, packing and shipping; and slipping in the letters of love and encouragement to strangers and new friends over the sea.

We were already hand-in-glove with the Dutch, from sheltering their royal family in exile. The magnificent Queen Wilhelmina, scourge of politicians (Churchill called her “the only real man” among all the exiled governors in London), no longer speaking in the nights, through the radio. For she had returned, to a rapturous welcome. And now, too, their little princess — Margriet Francisca — born in Ottawa Civic Hospital, in a maternity ward that had been declared Dutch sovereign territory for the occasion.

Every year, the tulips still come from Holland to decorate our Parliament Hill. And Dutch kids are still taught in school how to sing, “O Canada.”

Restoring the landscape, the buildings, the farms, after terrible war, was no comfortable task. But as I know from my father’s generation, our guys were well suited to it. Mostly they were … well, farmboys from Ontario, and Saskatchewan, and other flat places. They knew what work was, and how it was done. They’d done their child labour through the Depression, then grown up for War. They had attributes inconceivable to “the youff of today,” or to my own bourgeois-hippie generation. Their religion was serious, Protestant, practical, face value. (I have a tiny collection of the three-ounce New Testaments they carried, into battle and out.) They knew how to take their hats off, and when to grab an old lady’s arm. They were not complainers.

And the Dutch people they met, they loved; the more for sharing so many of the same traits, plus one that is truly divine. The Dutch were grateful. As Brian Stewart says, from his impressively broad experience, this is a rare quality in world affairs.

They haven’t changed, towards us. Seventy years later, a handful of these old nonagenarians of ours, walking a few paces if they can, taking lifts in old trucks when they can’t, for miles — are mobbed by schoolchildren with flowers. The anniversary parades at Apeldoorn, at five-year intervals over the years, meant everything to our soldiers. I think of one of those old Vets (now dead), who went there in 1995. The way he put it was, “We’re goin’ home to Holland.”

Of course, by now, there’s hardly a survivor who ain’t gone home for the last time; for one last loving look.