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Dutch treat: Point vet making pilgrimage to Holland

Cathy Dobson Life moved on for John Mills after he served overseas in the Second World War and was honourably discharged in 1946.
For decades, Point Edward’s John Mills has used a cigar box to store his memories of serving in the Second World War. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Life moved on for John Mills after he served overseas in the Second World War and was honourably discharged in 1946.

Seventy years ago, he came home to his wife Betty in Point Edward and got down to the business of making a living and enjoying peacetime. He never returned to Europe, nor spoke much about it.

But he did not forget.

In an old cigar box he carefully opens on his lap, Mills – now a 91-year-old widower - has preserved his faded pay books from four years of war; black and white photos taken in Europe while a driver with the First Hussars B Squadron; and medals that were never sewed onto a jacket.

“People may not realize it, but I have not forgotten the war,” he said, leafing through the photos. “A lot of people don’t know what war is like.”

The last time he was in Germany, Mills drove his Commanding Officer in a jeep that led a regiment of tanks in the spring of 1945.

“This is a big story,” he said, choosing his words carefully as he described the end of the war. “We got to an empty German air force barracks, and we pulled one of the tanks up to a window so we could hook a wire to a radio in there.

“We were just listening to music and then, out of the blue, we heard there was an unconditional surrender from the German army.

“They kept saying it, over and over. We couldn’t believe it. After being years at (war), it was a shock.”

Now, Mills is about to return to the location of those barracks to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland.

He is the only First Hussars Second World War veteran from Sarnia-Lambton flying overseas to participate in a string of ceremonies in Holland and Germany to mark the end of the Nazi occupation.

“To me, it’s a big adventure,” he smiled. “When I was enlisted, we went to Europe and came home aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

“I’ve never even set foot on a plane before.”

Mills’ big adventure has come about thanks to his neighbour and good friend Dawn MacDonald, who took him to Remembrance Day services last fall. There he met retired Major Eugene Smith, who invited him on this year’s liberation tour with several serving members of the First Hussars and Barry Hogan, a Sarnia resident and the Hon. Lt. Col. of the First Hussars.

“We have so few World War II vets left,” said Smith. “This is a way to thank John for what he did.

“I think he’ll appreciate the people from the Netherlands. They treat Canadian veterans so very well.”

“When they asked me, I said yes right away,” said Mills. “I am 91 years old. What have I got to lose?

“I want to be able to sit in my rocking chair and talk about this adventure. I’m going to renew old times.”

Smith will go on the May 1 – 9 tour as Mills’ personal escort, accompanying him on the flight, bunking with him and attending parades, cemeteries, war museums, and the official German surrender ceremonies.

“Last time John saw Holland, it was totally devastated,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a real experience for him.”

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