(Originally blogged May 19, 2010)
Yesterday I picked up a book at the library about the true story of a little Dutch girl who received a gift of a winter coat from a Canadian soldier for Christmas 1944. The story is charming, sad, funny, tense, and poignant, and serves to prove that truth is stranger than fiction.
The Canadian soldier was 19 year old Bob Elliot – part of the Canadian division that secured the southern Netherlands in autumn 1944. Stationed near the town of Alphen along the Maas River, Bob Elliot and his fellow tank crew befriended a 10-year-old Dutch girl named Sussie Cretier. Sussie’s family were from Rossum, but her father was discovered by the Nazis to have been working with the Dutch underground and the entire family narrowly escaped with only the clothes on their backs to nearby Allied-held Alphen. The soldiers ‘adopted’ Sussie as their good luck mascot, treating her with chocolate and gum. They even allowed Sussie to sit inside their tank while they fired shells across the river. On Christmas Day 1944, Bob Elliot and his crew presented Sussie with a khaki wool coat made from an army blanket by a local seamstress; one button was donated from the tunic of each soldier in the squad.
In 1981 Bob Elliot returned to the Netherlands and reconnected with Sussie and her family. They unexpectedly fell in love and Sussie moved to Canada, bringing with her the coat she had kept all those years as a memento. They married and moved to Edmonton and it was there in 2004, when the coat was on display at the Royal Canadian Legion that author Alan Buick became intrigued by their story and began writing a book about their experiences during the war and the little coat. In 2006 the coat was donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
This is a charming story, it would make a great movie, and its all true. If you want a quick, uplifting read I highly recommend this book. The Little Coat was published in 2010 in honour of the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. Copies can be purchased through www.thelittlecoat.com.