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PG man remembers being liberated by Canadians in Nazi-occupied Holland

The first time Tony Romeyn ever tasted candy was when a Canadian soldier handed him a piece of chocolate after liberating Haarlem (just west of Amsterdam), Holland, in 1945.

He was five years old at the time and had lived his whole life to that point under Nazi occupation.

“The first few years, I don’t remember because I was born at the beginning of the war in 1940,” Romeyn told My PG Now.

“What I do remember was my fifth year when the war had ended, the Canadian soldiers came down our street, and gave us a candy. I had never had candy in my life.”

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It was the first candy anybody had seen in quite some time.

Under German occupation, the Dutch people were being starved.

Romeyn said when he was older he was told his sisters “had scabs on their skin from nutritional problems.”

His father owned a flower bulb and seed store in the front of their home, those bulbs often had to become a meal for the family’s seven children. “It was anything just to feed the stomach.”

“My father went to pick up a pig from a little hobby farm he used to have,” Romeyn remembered.

“He took his bicycle down and had to bike about 10 or 20 kilometers. He had a basket in the front and had butchered the pig and was bringing it back home, but there were a lot of German posts around the area. Eventually, they stopped him and asked him what was in the basket. He said ‘a pig,’ and they didn’t believe him, so they said ‘get out of here.’ Then they saw a blood trail and began to chase him.”

His father got away from the soldiers thanks to a rainstorm that washed the trail of pig’s blood away, when he returned home he shared the pig with his family and neighbors.

His father was nearly taken to a concentration camp months before the war ended.

Then, when a neighboring father was taken by German soldiers days later, Romeyn’s father managed to bribe them with cigarettes in exchange for the man’s freedom.

Soon after the Canadian jeeps came through the streets of Haarlem there were parades, celebrating freedom after five years of occupation.

Romeyn does not remember much about the day the photo of him in the cart was taken, but he “does remember being in the cart with [his] neighbor friend.”

In the photo, the girls dressed in white are his sisters, his brother and another neighbor are pulling the cart he is in.

One of his sisters traded her harmonica to a Canadian Soldier for five cigarettes for their dad.

In 1952, the Romeyn family immigrated to Canada and settled in Lillooet, without knowing a word of English.

“Many families left to make a better life for their kids,” he said.

“Holland was not settled at all yet, it took many years.”

Only two years after they moved, his father passed away when Tony was only 14.

After his father’s death, Romeyn told his mother that he did not want to go to school anymore, he wanted to work.

“My first job was in Vancouver, delivering blueprints downtown on a bicycle to architects and engineers,” he said.

“Subsequently, there was a job opening in Prince George, a company called Industrial Reproductions. I was brought in to assist manage, then they made me manager a year later, and we bought the company three years later.”

The company is now known to Prince George’s residents as IRL supplies.

Romeyn managed it for 43 years, and 10 years after his retirement the company is still in the family.

Every year, Remembrance Day is special for Romeyn and his family.

“It resonates each time that our family was saved because of the fact that the Canadian soldiers and others came to liberate our country. Without them, I don’t think we ever would have made it. There was lots going on very close to us, we often heard a lot of bombings going on in the city.”

More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers died over eight months fighting to liberate the Netherlands and the Romeyn family near the end of World War II.

Today, Romeyn is still in Prince George, retired with his wife, and he is an active member of his church and the local Christian community.

Many children who have been to Ness Lake Bible Camp in the last decade-plus will know him as Grandpa Tony, or Grandpa Y-not.

Prince George’s Remembrance Day Ceremony will start at the Prince George Civic Centre at 9:00 am and will end with a wreath-laying and moment of silence at the cenotaph at 11:30 on Friday, November 11th.

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