‘Sjoerd de Vrij – The Fire of Freedom’

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With the anniversary of the Liberation of Holland fast approaching, (May 5th, 2022), I would like to share an interesting graphic novel published in Holland (2021); SJORD DE VRIJ | THE FIRE OF FREEDOM.

I first became aware of this project back in 2020, when I received an email from a Mr. Jelle de Gruyter, chairman of the National Heritage Hotel De Wereld Foundation;

"At the moment we are working on a educational graphic novel (a 'comic' album, like Tintin) that aims to tell the story of the ending of World War II in the Netherlands - which formally took place on may 5th 1945, in Hotel De Wereld and was lead by the Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes.

The graphic novel is primarily aimed at youth in the age of 8 to 14, but it's known that many adults like reading 'comics'. In the Netherlands there are several other comic books about the second World War.

The idea is to have a young Dutch reporter (who in fact really existed and was present) Sjoerd de Vrij, in a leading role and let him interact with a Canadian photographer (also present at the time)."

The Canadian photographer in question, is no other than Capt. Alex Stirton, of the Canadian Army Film Unit, who was present that infamous day in Holland, May 5th, 1945, at the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. Images of Stirton at the signing are located in the Canadian Army Numerical Albums that only lately have been made available to the general public by Library & Archives Canada. For additional information, please read the post, here.

Front cover, SJOERD DE VRIJ – HET VUUR VAN DE VRIJHEID (THE FIRE OF FREEDOM) showing Capt. Alex Stirton riding along with and Dutch war correspondent, Sjoerd de Vrij in a new graphic novel by Eric Heuvel (drawings), and Wim Huijser and, Jelle de Gruyter (text).

Lt_Alex_Stirton_neg_24868

Image 1 of 7

Lt. Alex Stirton in Italy 29 SEPT 1943 - Army Numerical Photo Album 64.

Although only available in Dutch at the moment, I thought this unique look at a pivotal moment in history deserved to be shared with those interested in WWII history. The edition is 40 pages long, wrapped in a handsome hardcover (11.5″ x 8.75″), with drawings by Eric Heuvel, and text by, Wim Huijser and, Jelle de Gruyter.


Dear Dale,

Last year we had e-mail contact about photographers of the Canadian Army Photo and Film Unit during World War II. I was working on script and scenario of a comic album about the end of the war in the Netherlands in Hotel De Wereld in Wageningen. The leading roles in the comic book are played by a Dutch reporter Sjoerd de Vrij and his ‘mate’ the Canadian photographer Alex M. Stirton.

Well, on Sunday September 19th it happened. The comic book ‘Sjoerd de Vrij – The Flame of Freedom’ has been presented. The first, signed, copies were presented to the three daughters of Sjoerd de Vrij by the mayor of Wageningen, Floor Vermeulen, children’s mayor Seppe Meijer zu Schlochtern and deputy children’s mayor Kathy Meijer: Tina de Vrij (81), Nettie de Vrij (80) and Gerda de Vrij (73).

September 19th is by the way the day that athletes from Wageningen bring home the flame, they collected the night before in Eindhoven, where it arrived directly from Bayeux, Normandy, France, collected there and brougt by bicycle from Bayeux to Eindhoven in two days. 

The comic book is now available in bookstores, comic shops and in Hotel De Wereld and is also widely available on the internet.

In addition, thanks to sponsorship and subsidies, a large number of copies (approx. 2000) are available for primary schools in the Netherlands that want to pay attention in class to the themes as war, peace, freedom and what is involved in protecting and defending freedom. 

In view of the relatively high preparation costs, the comic book could only be produced thanks to financial support from the vfonds, Wageningen45, Rabo Vallei en Veluwe, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Gelderland, Stichting RK Jeugdbelang and the Heerenstraattheater Wageningen. 

We would like to thank you very much for your assistance in finding information about the Canadian photographer Alexander Mackenzie Stirton who – in the comic – becomes the life time friend of Sjoerd de Vrij. 

Also on behalf of the other board members and the Supervisory Board, 

Sincerely,

Jelle de Gruyter (chair)


Here are some additional links and resources provided by co-author Jelle de Gruyter;

“Also there is some footage of Charles Foulkes meeting with Blaskowitz. Some are interesting because you also see photographers (in a flash).”

https://www.vpro.nl/speel~WO_VPRO_040652~legerfilmdienst-5-mei-1945-capitulatie-te-wageningen-in-hotel-de-wereld-ruwe-beelden~


“A 10 minute production made in 2000 in Wageningen with footage from the Dutch National Film Archief about the war in Wageningen. See from 5’12” to 7’00” and 8’20” tot 8’40” for footage of May 5th in Hotel de Wereld. With a great shot of Foulkes and Bernhard, who came in a Mercedes with number plate RK 1, seized from Seyss-Inquart, the RK, Reich’s Kanzler for Germany in The Netherlands.”


“A documentary made in 2015 by Dutch National Television NOS. With the same historic footage, in better quality but with two experts talking to the anchor about prins Bernhard and his role. Also the shot where you can see Bernhard changing places with Gilbride. The experts explain that Bernhard is tapped on the shoulder by Gilbride. But when you look closer you see that’s not really the case. It might just have been Bernhard himself who offered his seat to Gilbride. Nobody knows what really happened.”


“A film made by cinematographic department of the Canadian Army (Victory in the Netherlands), shortly after the war. No Wageningen footage, but a lot of Canadian input.”


“Link to the Virtual Tour we made a few years ago;”

www.dewereld45.nl


“Operating the hotel and the restaurants in Hotel De Wereld is at the moment HIM+ BV. General manager is Hans Hooft;”

www.hoteldewereld.nl


“Then there’s the clip made by CTV (Shelley Ayres and Peter Akman) last year September. Broadcasted in November. It consists of two parts, together 20 minutes. I’m being interviewed, in the Hotel in the second part somewhere after a minute.”

https://www.ctvnews.ca/w5/sacrifice-and-lasting-friendships-the-canadian-liberation-of-the-netherlands-75-years-ago-1.4920858

People can e-mail me – voorzitter@hotel-dewereld.nl – jelledegruyter@gmail.com for more Information or if they want to order a copy. At the moment we are thinking about an English translation. If you by any chance would know a publisher that might be interested I’d be glad to hear it!

Jelle de Gruyter

Here in Ottawa, the Liberation of Holland is celebrated every year with the Canadian Tulip Festival, which runs this year from May 13th-23rd, 2022;

“The Canadian Tulip Festival was established to celebrate the historic Royal gift of tulips from the Dutch to Canadians immediately following the Second World War as a symbol of international friendship. The Festival preserves the memorable role of the Canadian troops in the liberation of the Netherlands and Europe, as well as commemorates the birth of Dutch Princess Margriet in Ottawa during World War II—the only royal personage ever born in Canada. The Canadian Tulip Festival has been celebrating the tulip, an international symbol of friendship and peace, since 1953. The first Canadian Tulip Festival was held at the suggestion of world renowned photographer Malak Karsh.”

For educators, the Tulip Festival website has an excellent resource page aimed at teachers and researchers alike. Please visit, Liberation Education Kit.

© Dale Gervais 2022

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