Saturday, September 20, 2014

We will never forget!

September 18th, 2014 is a date that will be remembered by us for a lifetime.  It was a day filled with emotion and overwhelming feelings of gratitude.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of our Uncle Tony.  We will try to share our experience with you in both words and pictures.

The day was sunny and warm and as we arrived at the ceremonial site in Mook on the shore of the river Maas where our uncle was drowned, we could not believe our eyes.  Draped over the monument was a large banner picturing Antonio Barbaro.  Local residents lined the street overlooking the river and the children from Adalbert Basisschool, roses in hand, were awaiting the beginning of the ceremony.

We were welcomed by many folks, including the Mayor of Mook, the Canadian Military Attache, the Master of Ceremonies, and many invited guests.  Without Leen and Alice by our side to support us, I am not sure we would have ever been able to “hold it together.”

The commemoration program was amazing.  It was so professional, well organized and extremely thoughtful.  No detail was left undone.  Every speech was well rehearsed and aptly captured the history of Uncle Tony’s contribution (Operation Berlin) and sacrifice during the war.  Most poignantly, Alice spoke of Antonio - his personal story, of a young handsome man who loved to draw, play music and who was so loved by his family.  

The monument was unveiled at the beginning of the program.  It is a piece of an original 1944 Bailey Bridge - the type of bridge Uncle Tony and his comrades from the Canadian 23rd Field Engineers were repairing to support Operation Veritable.  We could not take our eyes off this monument throughout the ceremony.  It is a profound visual reminder of the importance of bridges in the liberation of Holland and of the engineers who built and maintained them.

Next, the unveiling of the commemorative plaque.  Donald Somerville, a comrade of Uncle Tony and a member of the 23rd who is now 92 years old, Win, Cassie and I were called upon to unveil the plaque next to the monument.  It was draped with the Canadian flag.  When the flag was lifted the four of us were completely stunned by what we saw.  The plaque is not only a work of art, skillfully crafted and detailed, it tells a beautiful story of a fine young soldier who gave his life so that his comrades would live.  In that moment, we felt that Uncle Tony was with us.  We were so moved and so proud of him that we were brought to tears.  We have traveled many miles to be in that moment.  We hardly knew our uncle, except for a few pictures and stories from our dad.  But on this day, at that moment, we were overwhelmed with gratitude - both to the Dutch people who have really never forgotten him but for the chance to know him, be with him and to honour him as a family.  In that moment, we wished that our entire Barbaro family could be with us to see and to feel what we now know.  Words can hardly describe the experience.

Finally, we boarded the DUKW, which is an amphibian vehicle used in the war to go from land to water.  We were taken down the Maas River along with a piper and Donald to lay a beautiful heart shaped wreath.  Alice used vines from a neighbouring forest and had 22 roses placed on it - one for each year of Tony’s age.  Amid the sweet sound of the highland pipes, Win, Deb, Cassie and Donald, who saluted his comrade, placed the wreath in the Maas, at the tragic site where Tony drowned.  And as the sun set, we watched the wreath float away.  Our hearts were heavy but there was an unbelievable sense of peace and closure that is hard to describe.  

When we could no longer see the wreath, we headed back to shore.  And in the evening, coffee in hand, we reviewed the days' events with Alice and Leen. Of the commemoration to our Uncle Tony, we are humbled by the overwhelming generosity of the people of Mook and for their dedication to and respect for our Uncle Tony who they have made an icon of their village.  
Alice and Leen have taken us to many 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland events, including a visit to the Liberation Museum in Groesbeek.  We have learned so much about Market Garden and the impact it had on the families of Holland, the allies who fought - those that sacrificed their lives and those who have lived.  We are in awe of the great respect the Dutch have for the veterans of the war and have witnessed, first hand, their love and gratitude for all the sacrifices made.

We will never forget.  We hope that our family members will visit Uncle Tony’s grave in Groesbeek Cemetery and the monument and plaque in Mook.  It is not good-bye and as Kelly Egan said in his article in the Ottawa Citizen November 10th, 2013: “Memory may be what you hold, but remembrance is what you do."

The day began with Alice's interview with a local television station on the monument site.  Leen taped it for us so that we could watch it in the evening.  Alice did a great job - we were all cheering her on!
Leaving for the ceremony.
 Alice and Cassie in the early 1945 Ford GPW Jeep!
Cassie and Leen - off to the ceremony!
Reception before the ceremony.  Win showing the Mayor of Mook - Willem Gradisen, the wonderful photograph book she prepared to bring to Alice.  It is full of old pictures of Uncle Tony and his family.  Here you can see our grandmother - Catarina Barbaro.
Donald Somerville (Veteran 23rd Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers) and Ryan Barr, grandson of the deceased Harold Barr also a member of the 23rd.  Again at the beautiful reception before the ceremony.

Arriving at the ceremony.  Here you see the banner covering the monument.  The banner will be displayed by the monument during the annual Njimegen four day march as participants pass by Mook along the march route.  Uncle Tony will be forever remembered through this famous event.
 The Mayor of Mook, Win, Alice, Cassie, Donald and Deb.
 The Sergeant-at-Arms: March of Colours accompanied by piper to begin the ceremony.
 Mr. John Meussen, master of ceremonies.

Memorial Speech by Mayor of Mook Willem Gradisen.
The Untold Story of Lance Corporal Antonio Barbaro by Mrs. Alice van Bekkum.  Mr. Maarten Dekkers, historian and guide from the Liberation Museum gives some historical background.
Student from Adalbert School recites beautiful poem in Tony's honour and memory.
Unveiling of monument by Mayor and Colonel Michael Hogan, Defence Attache Canadian Embassy.
Unveiling of plaque by Win, Deb, Cassie and Donald Somerville.
A moment by the plaque.

Monument and plaque.
 Laying of the wreaths.
 Wreaths from municipality of Mook and Middelaar, Canada by Defence Attache, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005, Donald Somerville, and the Barbaro family.
Win speaks on behalf of the Barbaro family!  (speech will be posted shortly)
 Piper and Sergeant-at-Arms: March of the Colours ends ceremony.
 Group picture of special guests.
 The amazing plaque.
The girls on the DUKW. An amphibious vehicle. 
 Donald and Win share a special moment.
 The railway bridge in Mook and site of Antonio's drowning.
 Although the Maas looks peaceful here, there were times when the water would rise to the number 4.
Donald throws his rose in the water near the location of the bridge where Uncle Tony drown.  It was such a profound moment as he said good-bye to his comrade. He said to Win, it was like a moment of closure.
A picture of the wreath Alice had made for us to place in the Maas River.
 After placing the wreath in the water, we see it now floating peacefully toward the Rhine.
 We couldn't help but think that should there have been just one more life jacket.......

 Good-bye Uncle Tony, rest in peace.  We shall never forget you.  The Act of Remembrance:
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:  Age shall not weary them,  nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We shall remember them."
 Returning from our time in the DUWK.
The monument with wreaths.
 We re-visit the plaque before leaving the ceremonial site.

When we have more time, we will post copies of the speeches and direct you to some of the videos we took of the ceremony.  
What an amazing day and we hope that you will take a moment to post a message.


  1. We are speechless.......thanks for sharing with us xo

  2. What a wonderful moving commemoration and remembrance for a Canadian hero. They never forget. we shouldn't either. We were moved to tears by the blog and wonder how/if you were able to maintain your composure. We are looking forward to reading the speeches, especially yours Winnie Gail. It must have been an unforgettable experience for you and it is great that you have recorded it via the so well designed and updated blog.

    With love from Owen Sound
    Ann and Bob

  3. Cassie and Deb, thank you for your very nice report and photos of the unveiling! Your uncle Tony will be remembered for many years in Mook.

    Big hug, Alice

  4. I'm in tears -- again! The ceremony sounds very moving and all the details seemed just right, down to the wreath designed by Alice (isn't she something?) Safe travels. Lynn (Richardson)

  5. Wow, how incredible that you could be there for this ceremony. This will indeed be a lasting memory. May we never forget the sacrifices men and women made! Kelly

  6. What an experience. Thank you, Mom and Cassie, for all of the information and pictures that you shared on this blog. I was moved by every detail, and felt as though I was able to be part of the commemoration. I can't wait to catch up on Monday night. Love you both.

  7. Wow, I'm overwhelmed with emotion, I can't wait to hug you and hear all about this wonderful, life changing event!

  8. We enjoyed your amazing journey, great job girls, a special thanks goes out to Alice, there is a story, behind the story with her personal interest and effort she has made, great comments and wonderful narration; also Win's awesome "thankyou" speach. we look foward to seeing all of your pictures soon.
    Also; Operation Market Garden was made into a movie in the 70's starring Sean Connrey, titled "A Bridge Too Far".

  9. Tears in my eyes reading this poignant story!

  10. Deb and Cas, thank you so much for making us part of your adventure. We enjoyed meeting both of you and reading about your time in the Netherlands.

    What a wonderful tribute you have both given to your uncle. Until the next time! Reuben and Marg Ramsay, Summerside, PEI