Students plant tulips out front of Windermere Elementary School. Photo courtesy Windermere Elementary School

Tulips to remember

Windermere students learn about the Second World War through gardening

Some big lessons were learned from a tiny tulip bulb this year at Windermere Elementary School.

Kendra Day’s grade 1/2 class and Christa Stimming’s grade 2/3 class partnered up to learn how tulips saved Dutch people from starvation during the Second World War. The hands-on history lesson presented the story of how Dutch residents dug up tulip bulbs during the winter of 1944-1945 to eat as German forces had taken the country’s food supplies, causing many to suffer and die. But tulip bulbs provided a source of nutrition and staved off starvation for some.

“They were super hungry. That’s why the ate-ed (sic) all the tulip bulbs,” said Kayla.

The students discussed how the Dutch might have felt during the war.

“I think they were sad,” Ethan said. “I think they were sad and desperate. And I think they thought that there’s no hope, that they just might give up and die.’

They took guesses at how the tulips might taste. Students estimated that, given the way the bulbs look, they might taste a little like garlic or perhaps onion. A Dutch cookbook from around the Second World War actually suggests they taste a little like potatoes, and are best eaten if boiled for about 30 minutes and put into a soup.

“I feel disappointed they didn’t have the food they were used to. I know they had to eat it, but I don’t think it would taste very good,” said Noah.

The students learned about Canada’s role in helping the Dutch. More than 7,600 Canadians died while trying to help free the Netherlands. The Royal Canadian Air Force also air-dropped food to provide some relief to the starving Dutch population. Back in Canada, some members of the Dutch royal family were sheltered while the war raged on; a Dutch princess was even born in an Ottawa hospital room that was quickly made into a territory of the Netherlands so she could be born on Dutch soil.

Jackson said he felt proud of what our country did to help during the Second World War.

The Dutch people never forgot our role, and have been thanking Canada with flowers ever since. In 1945, the Dutch royal family gave Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs. They have sent bulbs ever since and this year, nearly 75 years since liberation, the country again sent 100,000 tulip bulbs.

“Canada fought for them, so they give us tulips,” said Colin.

The students talked about how the Germans were like bullies, and how the Canadians stood up to the bullies.

“We’re learning about the Dutch people and remembering them by planting tulips. And remembering when the soldiers took all their food. And they only had to eat bulbs from tulips. They were desperate,” said Savannah.

The teachers added a practical component to the lessons too, getting students to study the bulbs, talk about what tulips need to grow, and planting a batch of flowers out front of the school.

When asked why it is important to recognize and remember at Remembrance Day each year, Ava Grace said, “Because we’re remembering the soldiers who fought for us.”

And James said we remember “to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ms. Stimming elaborated on James’ comment: “We talked a lot about that. One day you guys will be our leaders and you guys will be in charge of our country. And if we learn about our past, we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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