He’ll always remember her bare feet crunching through the snow.
The long-lasting memories of so many veterans include trauma, death and haunting decisions.
But 93-year-old Abbotsford resident Andy Anderson will never forget the day he helped bring a smile to the face of a young girl in the middle of a war zone.
It’s the winter of 1944 and 18-year-old Andy Anderson has been stationed in a residential neighbourhood in Hilversum, Netherlands.
After stints as a driver and mechanic in England, France and Belgium the previous year, Anderson and the Royal Canadian Scottish Regiment arrived in the Netherlands to a country that was still battling German occupation. Nazi Germany didn’t surrender until May 1945.
That winter was known as the Dutch famine of 1944, with starvation, disease and harsh weather devastating much of the country.
This war-torn country was what Anderson and his fellow soldiers arrived to that winter.
And that’s why the gesture he received from the house across from where he set up his tent on that neighbourhood street meant so much.
“I had my tent set up for a couple of days and a little boy came over,” Anderson recalled. “He said his name was Hans and his mother and father wanted to talk to me.”
Anderson said the family, whom he came to know as the Mochveldts, was appreciative of the Canadian soldiers and invited him to stay inside the house.
“He said, ‘Seeing as your tent is outside our house, how would you like to sleep inside on a bed and mattress?’ he said. I said, ‘That would be great.’ ”
Anderson grew fond of the family, which consisted of the mother and father, their son Hans and a younger daughter named Reneka. He knew that, like most in the Netherlands, they were trying to rebuild their lives but he was grateful they invited him inside. He quickly noticed one alarming thing about Reneka – despite the chilly weather outside, the youngster had nothing to wear on her feet.
“She was running all around without shoes and there was snow all over the place – it was terrible,” he said. “I asked her if I could borrow her foot, took a piece of paper and traced the outside of her foot. I mailed that piece of paper to my mother in Toronto and about six weeks later the shoes arrived.”
Anderson said the look on her face when he handed her the brand new shoes from Canada was priceless.
“She just went bananas,” he said. “She was jumping all over the place.”
Near the end of 1944, Anderson and his regiment moved on to Germany and he said goodbye to the Mochveldt family.
|Anderson returned to the Netherlands in 1978 to honour his cousin’s death in the war.|
Decades passed, and Anderson heard of an invitation from the government that any veterans who had relatives killed in the Netherlands during World War II had the opportunity to attend a special memorial in that country in 1978. Anderson had a cousin killed during the war and decided to accept the offer.
After arriving in the Netherlands, he decided to go back to that same street he was stationed at in 1944. He knocked on the door and was blown away to see a now six-foot-tall and adult Hans Mochveldt answer the door.
“He recognized me immediately and told me that his father had passed away and his mother is now in a nursing home,” he said.
Anderson and Hans made their way to the nursing home, where Mrs. Mochveldt embraced Anderson and floored him with news about Reneka.
“She told me, ‘You know those shoes you gave Reneka? She got them gold-plated and they are now sitting over her fireplace in her living room with a little sign: Shoes From a Canadian Soldier,’ ”Anderson said.
He learned that Reneka was married and living in England, and that she never forgot the man who provided her with shoes.
“It thrills me to think that after all these years that little girl remembered that a Canadian solider helped get her a pair of shoes to wear,” Anderson said.
|Anderson, now 93, regularly gives talks on his war experiences to schoolchildren in the Fraser Valley and is also the president of the Abbotsford Table Tennis Club.|
He hasn’t been in contact with the Mochveldt family since 1978, but Reneka would now be in her late-70s.
He admitted he’s curious where those gold-plated shoes are today, but will never forget that winter of 1944, when he brought a smile to a girl and a house that needed it.