The only time Joe Coughlin had ever visited the Netherlands was as a 21-year-old private serving in the Canadian army that helped liberate the country from Nazi occupation.

Sixty-five years ago, Canadian troops began their campaign in the Netherlands.

Coughlin said his regiment, the Black Watch, fought in the southern and eastern parts of the country en route to Germany.

One of the cities they helped to liberate was Apeldoorn, the current home of Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, and her husband, Pieter van Vollenhoven.

Yesterday, after a tree planting ceremony at the Royal Canadian Legion House in Kanata, Princess Margriet and her husband took a moment to speak with Coughlin about his experience during the war and thank the 86-year-old veteran for his service.

“I would like to convey the gratitude of my countrymen for the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers for our freedom,” Princess Margriet said during the ceremony.

“In the Netherlands, we celebrate our liberation every month of May and we underline the important role of young Canadian service men and women in achieving lasting freedom for us.”

The tree planted yesterday was a symbol of the friendship that has developed between the two nations, said Princess Margriet.

Coughlin said he was surprised the Royal couple would visit with him after the ceremony.

He said it was a “good ending” for a story that started so long ago.

The ceremony, he said, just shows that the bond between Canada and the Netherlands is still strong.

Coughlin said he considers Princess Margriet to be as Canadian as much as she is Dutch.

Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa in 1943 while the Dutch Royal family was in exile during the Nazi occupation.

Though her hospital room was temporarily declared Dutch territory — so that she could be a Dutch citizen — Wilf Edmond, the dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, said her ties to this country make her Canada’s princess.

This morning, Princess Margriet and her husband will visit the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, where she will meet with 23 Canadian Second World War veterans who were actively involved in the liberation of the Netherlands.

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