Three things punctuate John Brink’s childhood – hunger, cold, and anxiety.
Born in 1940 in Nazi-occupied Holland, Brink’s formative years were marked by the Second World War. Some of his earliest memories are going out with his older brother and sister to forage for anything that they could eat and for anything they could burn to stay warm in their small house. The kids were sent out to forage along the tracks because adults were likely to get shot.
“I remember having that ongoing, lingering feeling of hunger,” he said. “The other one was anxiety, even as a child, because everything around you was tension. Especially with my mom … I could feel here anxiety.”
His father was off fighting the war and so his mother was left to raise three young kids. The Brink siblings had no idea whether their father was even alive until the war was over. He had been in Rotterdam when the Germans bombed the city in 1940 and that was the last they knew of him until the war was over and he finally returned home.
Brink grew up listening and watching bombers from England fly overhead on their way Germany, which was only 40 or 50 kilometres away.
“It’s a sound that once you hear it, you will never forget it,” he said.
They were close enough that they could see the fires from the bombs light up the night skies.
The war came to an end for John Brink on April 12, 1945. That was day Canadian forces liberated his small hometown of Sappemeer in northern Holland. From then on, Brink knew he wanted to come to Canada, which he did when he was 25 years old.
So Remembrance Day is particularly important for Brink.
He has, for the past few years, given talks at schools here in Prince George and the Lower Mainland at this time of year.
“I think it is important to share what does it really mean … the two minutes of silence,” he said. “Obviously it is to remember those who gave the ultimate the price … their lives … and to share with young people to not take things for granted and how quickly things can change.”
With COVID-19 this year, the speaking engagements have been halted. However, Brink has made a 15-minute video about his experiences and Remembrance Day that will be shown at schools here in Prince George and the Lower Mainland.
“There are fewer and fewer people who lived part of it and had the experience of being liberated and appreciate the price (Canadians) paid to liberate us,” he said. “I believe it is very important to remember that.”