A 99-year-old Second World War veteran from Nanaimo who helped to liberate a Dutch city was invited back as a guest of honour recently for celebrations to commemorate the 78th anniversary of the end of the country’s occupation.
Nick Janicki was part of the Canadian Scottish Regiment that “fought through the streets and chased the German soldiers through the city” to liberate Deventer in April 1945.
He was invited to visit the town for the unveiling of a plaque to honour Canadian soldiers and to participate in a parade to celebrate the national day of liberation. Janicki was the only Canadian veteran of the war who attended.
“It was just a terrific experience. I was just overwhelmed and so privileged and pleased that I was honoured in the manner that they did it,” he said.
Janicki said he’ll never forget the day he and other soldiers freed the city from German occupation.
“People were lined up on the sidewalk, rooftops and people hanging out of the windows and waving and cheering. There was just so much joy,” he said.
When he marched through the city on that day, a young woman caught his eye. The two became close while Janicki was stationed in a nearby town for a few months following liberation until the soldiers returned to Canada.
After leaving the country, Janicki didn’t see the woman, Dorothy Spencer, for 58 years. They both married and had children. She moved to Las Vegas. Janicki moved to Nanaimo.
After his wife died, Janicki’s sister-in-law encouraged him to date, prompting him to give Spencer a call in Las Vegas. He had received Spencer’s contact information from her brother during a visit to Deventer years earlier.
They hadn’t seen each other or spoken in 58 years, but Spencer remembered him. “It just seemed like we talked for hours and had so much to talk about,” he said.
The couple had nearly 10 years together before Spencer died in October 2012.
Deventer feels like a home away from home for Janicki, even though he has only been back a few times in the 78 years since the war.
He took his wife there while on a bus tour around Europe in 1988, and brought his two daughters to the city about a decade ago to show them where he spent his war years.
His brother, David Janicki, who was killed during the war, is buried nearby.
A highlight of Janicki’s recent visit was a letter he received from a 13-year-old girl thanking him for his efforts during the war.
“Thank you very much. Freedom and peace in the country means a lot to me. As a result, I now have a good life. For me, freedom means that no one decides about me how I should live or what I should do,” the letter reads.
Janicki turns 100 years old on Sept. 8.