Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Albert Joseph Buhlman

For the first stop on our top secret road trip, we left on Saturday morning and drove to Holten, Netherlands. It is a small town with an adjacent National Forest and within the forest is the Canadian War Memorial Cemetery. There are approximately 1400 Canadian Soldiers buried here and there is a recently opened (Sep 2011) Visitors Centre. Earlier on this trip, we learned that I have a great-uncle, Albert Joseph Buhlman who is buried here. 


At Juno Beach, we found information about his burial plot and at the British Grenadiers shop in Iepers, we found out that every year on Christmas Eve, the town holds a candlelight ceremony in which the school children of the town place candles in front of all the graves. Secretively, Stephen arranged the surprise trip so that we could attend the candle ceremony. He had actually contacted the organizer (Roland Cornelissen) and arranged for us to participate in the ceremony. 
We arrived early in the afternoon and were able to find the grave of A.J. Buhlman (Albert Joseph), He was a member of the Governor General's Foot Guards in the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and was killed in action on April 28/1945 when he was 21 years old. The information at the center lists his place of death as unknown, but it would have been in northern Holland or Germany if he was buried here. Albert came from a family of 5 boys and 2 girls (my grandmother). 2 of his brothers are still alive, one in the UK. and the other in Dundas, Ontario. 

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of townspeople and the children of the town. In addition, the ambassador from Canada to the Netherlands was there as well as Canadian soldiers from NATO and the Canadian base in Germany.  After a few words of introduction by Roland and the Canadian ambassador, they called Zachary and Jacob and I to come forward and place the first candle on Albert Buhlman’s grave. This was followed by all the school children placing candles in front of all the 1400 graves.

I was very surprised that Stephen had arranged with the organizers for our participation. He even arranged for our friends Eric and Astrid and their children, Dorien and Jacco to come and join us there. After the ceremony, we all went for pancake buffet at Woody’s restaurant. The boys were even impressed that Stephen arranged for the ambassador to eat there as well. After eating too many pancakes, we went back to see the cemetery in the dark with all the candles glowing. Many others had come back as well and it was a moving experience.

It is amazing that the Dutch people take such good care of the cemeteries of the Canadian soldiers and they are passing this tradition on to their children. We met one couple in the afternoon and he was 62 and remembers placing candles there when he was 10 years old. Other women recalled coming to the ceremony every Christmas Eve since they were children.