The British Broadcasting Corporation announced the mission to the Dutch citizens on April 24, and five days later hope began to fall from the sky in the form of nourishment. The Canadian Army and its Allies dropped 4,000 pounds of food, during the last six missions, in designated areas close to the shores so as not to damage the cans. Grant Hetherington, a veteran from the Second World War, recalls one of the six missions he made during the operation as a Wireless Air Gunner. Some German soldiers were patrolling the beach, rifles slung around their shoulders. The moment the food began to hit the shores they dropped their guns and ran…right towards the food. “They were starving too, you see,” Hetherington says.
The 84-year-old Cold Lake resident had the opportunity to meet two Dutch pilots (call signs “Hunter” and “Dingus”) during this year’s Exercise Maple Flag and reminisce about those six missions he participated in. All throughout the streets the Dutch people would wave to the aircraft flying low overhead and many had signs prominently displayed on rooftops.
“I remember one of the messages read ‘Thanks Canucks, cigarettes please’,” he laughs.
Originally from Vermillion, Alberta Hetherington enlisted in the military when he was just 18 years old after learning Morse code in Air Cadets and earning top marks on his exam. He was stationed in North Killingholme, England after the war and though there were some scary times during the mission he says it was all “well worth it”.
During the German occupation of Holland, 3.5 million Dutch citizens were surviving on little more than syrup and cookies made from sugar beets, and as a last resort… fried tulips.
Operation Manna was the last for Hetherington and upon returning home he married his high school sweetheart and bought some land for one dollar under the Veterans Land Act. He gave up farming after a year to manage a railway in Manville, Alberta. He eventually made his way to Cold Lake with his wife and three kids.
He didn’t talk about Operation Manna for many years until recently when one of his sons came across his old logbooks.
“It meant a lot to meet the Dutch pilots,” said Hetherington, and the feelings were mutual for the two pilots. They gave Hetherington a tour of the cockpit of an F-15, took a look at his old logbooks and photographs, and listened to him talk about his experience during Operation MANNA.
“We didn’t ever seem to be scared,” he said of the daylight mission. “We had a job to do and we did it”.
Source: Canada Forces
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