Peter Melkert standing beside the memorial honouring Dutch Canadians of Nova Scotia, and the Dutch flag. Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2006.
Peter Melkert, left, standing next to Tom Cane, in Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2006. Mr. Cane participated in the liberation of The Netherlands. Mr. Melkert: "I thank him all the time for my liberation and the people of Holland."
Peter Melkert beginning trade school after the war in Rotterdam, Holland. February, 1946.Peter Melkert
Rotterdam, Holland in August, 1945. Peter Melkert (right) with friend Piet Thelmond.Peter Melkert
"We were trying to do as much damage as we could towards whatever they built. We trying to shut it down."
My name is Peter John Melkert. I was born in Rotterdam, Holland on the 9th day of the first month, 1930. I was 11 years old when [the Second World War] started, I was 16 years old when the war ended. Some of my friends, one of my friends [in] particular, his father was very active in the Resistance. He was the only one that had a Sten gun and they were going on raids in the evening. What we were doing is during the day, I lived down on, there was a railroad bridge going down from Rotterdam, the train used to go from Rotterdam to Den Haag [The Hague] to Amsterdam. Behind that bridge was a pasture, only one farmhouse and a big pasture. In the daytime, the Germans brought forced labour there and they were putting poles in the ground to prevent paratroopers or gliders to land there if, you know. So four of us, we trying to get as much information as the older people on the ground and ourselves, in the evening, late evenings, nights more or less, removed as many poles as we could.
Also in the daytime, they built ramps where they could put anti-aircraft guns on and all we used to carry as teenagers, I mean, many were teenagers and being under the occupation of the Germans and having the hardship going on that was going on in my family, we were trying to do as much damage as we could towards whatever they built. We trying to shut it down.
We almost got caught a couple of times. We got away but, like I say, we were more or less involved as the younger part to pass on whatever information we could get in our neighbourhood. The reason is, I found out and I knew during the war that in our neighbourhood, there were collaborators that were collaborating with the Germans. And so we were trying to get some information that we could pass on towards the Underground.
One evening, we went down to see what was going on during the day. So we went down one evening, we were always in the evening, always when it was very quiet, almost dark. Apparently, they were putting up a little building like where the guard stands in or something like that, a little building. And we chopped most of it down in the evening. And well of course, like I say, being teenagers, you … So then they fired at us and we were be able to get out of there, get out of it.
So we were very lucky, it was very lucky that there is a lot of water in the pasture down there, there were little canals, little rivers there where the ducks were swimming in. We got into the water there and we got out of it.
They took my youth away from me. I grew up in a very bad time. I mean, my father got taken to Germany for forced labour. My mother took a very nervous breakdown. And so bad that, you know, I was the only son, so that was very hard when I see my mother there, that sometimes couldn’t even breathe. And I got some medicine there from the doctor there, some powder. There was no inhalers at that time of course. There was some powder I had to put on a little dish and then light it and then the smoke comes up and my mother had to breathe it in order to breathe again. So those were not easy times for a teenager.
I hate that it was, was very bad at that time and when you’re my age and you’re going through this, you don’t see any danger. You don’t see any danger. The things that we were doing during the evening, you wanted to do something there that, you know.
The Canadian troops already had liberated part of Holland for eight months. And we were still waiting. Amsterdam, Den Haag and Rotterdam, we were still waiting for the Canadians to come and liberate us. There were no supplies coming in and you can see that the Germans wouldn’t feed us while they have to feed their own men. So that means we eat tulip bulbs. I eat tulip bulbs, I eat sugar beets. I eat some other things that I don’t even want to mention but I mean, that was a fight for survival. We were starved.
When we got word that the Canadians were coming in, I went to city hall. And I was fortunate enough to meet the first Canadians that were coming into Rotterdam. There were four officers in a jeep. And they pulled in front of city hall. And they wanted to find out who [was in charge], well, of course, I didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak English. So, but they more or less wanted to talk to some of the people from the Underground, how they could get in touch with them? So we took them into city hall. And of course, there’s where they stayed and I left after that, to come outside.
And when I came outside, the first tanks were coming in and the soldiers were coming in and like I always mention, I call them my liberators, I walked up to the first Canadian soldier and he shook my hand and I shook his hand and I said, thank you, thank you, thank you. And my first gift of a Canadian soldier was a handful of raisins. I was very proud to accept it, to carry the Dutch flag in front of the group, behind the Canadian soldiers having marched down, from city hall out in some of the parts, the main street of Rotterdam. That was the liberation march that I was involved in.
Interview date: 8 October 2010