Pop­u­lar vet­eran turn­ing 90

Wil­lie Weste­nenk re­calls time in Dutch army and ar­riv­ing in Canada

The Casket - - Front Page - RICHARD MACKEN­ZIE richard­mac@the­cas­ket.ca

“You never for­get.”

Three sim­ple words from Royal Dutch Princess Irene Brigade vet­eran Wil­lie Weste­nenk per­fectly cap­ture the sen­ti­ment around Remembrance Day.

And it’s a spe­cial month for Weste­nenk in an­other re­gard too; he’ll turn 90 on Nov. 29.

“Be good … keep on truck­ing,” Weste­nenk said when asked about the secret to liv­ing well at 90.

And when it was pointed out how of­ten he seems to have a smile on his face, an­other ideal re­ply came for­ward.

“It’s the only way to do it … and I usu­ally get a smile back too.”

A mil­i­tary life

Weste­nenk, a na­tive of Raalte in the prov­ince of Over­i­js­sel, The Nether­lands, served his coun­try in the af­ter­math of the Sec­ond World War, in the late 1940s, which in­cluded be­ing sent to places such as In­done­sia in “peace keep­ing” type of mis­sions.

“The war was over, the con­flict was over,” he said, not­ing there was a time he didn’t think he would even be sent “over­seas.”

“I had started train­ing for about two months; I was in a sec­tion of the com­pany — a third group, about 25 to 30 of us — we didn’t have to go (over­seas), the rest all had to go,” Weste­nenk said, re­call­ing the time clearly.

“We could never fig­ure that out but I was happy I didn’t have to go over­seas.

“I came home, my fa­ther asked, ‘what are you do­ing here?’ I said I don’t have to go over­seas. ‘Oh, won­der­ful,’ he said. Then, a month later, I was al­lowed leave again and went home. ‘How come you’re home again in the mid­dle of the week?’ my fa­ther said. I looked at him and I said, ‘I guess I have to go over­seas to In­done­sia.’ [It was like] a sack of pota­toes sunk down on his shoul­ders, he didn’t want to hear that.”

Weste­nenk said his fa­ther had an al­ter­na­tive plan for him which, in his mind, was a much worse fate.

“He said ‘you don’t have to go,’” Weste­nenk said, once again quot­ing his fa­ther.

“I said, ‘how can you say that, the gov­ern­ment is the boss of me.’ He said, ‘no, go to the coal mines in the other end of the coun­try.’ I said ‘no thank you, I’ll take my chances.’”

Weste­nenk said in re­gards to his de­ci­sion; “I never felt a damn bit sorry I went,” not­ing the life ex­pe­ri­ence he gained be­ing in the army, which in­cluded go­ing on a train for the first time, han­dling weapons and see­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the world, was worth-


“It was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

He noted his com­pany was moved around of­ten while man­ning ar­eas around In­done­sia and New Guinea.

“It was in­ter­est­ing, we seen many places,” he said, not­ing he was OK with mov­ing around by land but water was an­other story.

“I didn’t like boats, didn’t like the ocean ei­ther,” he said, re­call­ing get­ting sea sick on oc­ca­sions.

“We even lived on an island they called Doom, in old, dirty bar­racks,” he said. “We got used to it; ac­quainted with the mon­keys. I re­mem­ber pick­ing ba­nanas off the trees, and man­gos, other fruit.”

Weste­nenk re­called one time, while be­ing sta­tioned just out­side Jakarta, when he and a few bud­dies got lost in the city.

“We walked around town and had to be back at a cer­tain time, but couldn’t re­mem­ber what the name of the camp was,” he said, not­ing they were still very new to the area.

“We couldn’t fig­ure out where the camp was. The mil­i­tary po­lice came along again and they straight­ened us out … that was kind of scary.”

Weste­nenk noted his time with the brigade even in­cluded get­ting a sense of what jail could be like. He ex­plained the in­ci­dent started while he was train­ing in The Nether­lands, and him ask­ing per­mis­sion for a day’s leave, to at­tend his brother John’s wed­ding.

“They said, sure, no prob­lem, so that was for a Thursday, and, in those days, when some­one got mar­ried, it was al­ways two days,” he said, not­ing the first day of a wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion was more for the adults and the sec­ond day more for the younger folks — friends of the bride and groom.

“Young peo­ple would serve on the first day,” he said of the old tra­di­tion, not­ing it was dur­ing the day he met a young lady.

“I told her I’ll be back to­mor­row and my brother said, ‘how can you tell her you’ll be back to­mor­row, you have to go back.’ I said I’m not go­ing back. So I had a damn good time, but I have never seen the girl since.”

Then the con­se­quences. “Satur­day I went back to the army bar­racks and ev­ery­one was stand­ing on the pa­rade ground, to be dis­missed and go home and here I was, re­turn­ing from leave.

‘“You’re a lit­tle bit late aren’t you?’ Weste­nenk re­called be­ing asked by a su­pe­rior, to which he hummed and hawed.

“They took ev­ery­thing I had and took me to the cap­tain’s of­fice. ‘Mr. Westenek,’ — I stood at at­ten­tion of course and you only spoke when you were spo­ken to — ‘who gave you per­mis­sion to stay a day longer?’ I said, ‘my brother.’ He said, ‘was he the boss?’ I said as far as I was con­cerned, that day he was get­ting mar­ried, he was the boss. He said, ‘you tell your brother it’s not go­ing to hap­pen again.’ I said, ‘I can’t tell him, he is in Canada.’

Weste­nenk said his pun­ish­ment lasted for two weeks.

“I went to my room, they took the laces out of my shoes, took the belt out of my pants, the straw back I was al­ways sleep­ing on, and when I marched across the pa­rade ground, ev­ery­one stand­ing there [would yell] ‘jail­bird, jail­bird.’

“It didn’t feel good, but there was noth­ing I could do about it.”

Oh Canada

Weste­nenk would fol­low his brother John to Canada and, even­tu­ally, Antigo­nish. John ar­rived in 1949 and he came in Novem­ber of 1952.

Land­ing in Mon­treal be­fore tak­ing a train to Nova Sco­tia, Weste­nenk said his lack of English pro­vided him his first mem­o­rable Cana­dian ex­pe­ri­ence.

When asked by the con­duc­tor where he was go­ing, Weste­nenk, in his Dutch ac­cent, said ‘Antigo­nish,’ but did so cre­at­ing his own syl­la­bles for the word.

“There is no such place,” the con­duc­tor an­swered back, us­ing the ex­act same in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the place name Weste­nenk had come up with.

Even­tu­ally, the dis­play­ing of the ticket set­tled things and when Weste­nenk had to trans­fer trains in Truro, the same gen­tle­man came down to tell him he needed to get off this train and find his one for Antigo­nish … again in the same pro­nun­ci­a­tion Weste­nenk had cre­ated.

“I still get a kick out of that … my first ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

He did make it to Antigo­nish and has been here ever since.

His em­ploy­ment was as a land­scaper/gar­dener at St. F.X., a job he did for 40 years.

“I could have stayed a year longer but 40 years was a nice even number and I had a good fella to take over for me,” Weste­nenk said, not­ing he very much en­joyed his job and the peo­ple; the pro­fes­sors and priests around the univer­sity.

“And the most im­por­tant per­son for me was my friend who I worked with, Leo Dewolfe,” he said. “He was French and a fid­dle player and all day long he would be [makes a whistling noise] … all day long and I said ‘would you shut up,’” Weste­nenk said, chuck­ling at the mem­ory.

“He was one big help. I had to learn English from him and if I did it wrong, he would damn well tell me. We worked to­gether for 38 years and al­ways got along very well, right from the be­gin­ning.”

Weste­nenk’s skills as a gar­dener have ben­e­fit­ted the lo­cal food bank as he has been con­tribut­ing ex­cess pro­duce from his own gar­den on Church Street Ex­ten­sion.

“I loved gar­den­ing, es­pe­cially when I re­tired,” he said. “Beans, peas, car­rots, all of that stuff; I can only use so much, I live alone, so I brought a lot of it to the food bank.”

Weste­nenk is also well known as the pink flamingo planter.

He noted see­ing the tra­di­tion on tele­vi­sion one time, and when John and his wife were mar­ried 25 years, he dec­o­rated their lawn with 25 pink flamin­gos he made him­self.

“I plas­tered them all over the place,” he said. “From then on peo­ple were ask­ing ‘my par­ents are 50 years mar­ried, can you do 50?’ ‘Sure’ I would say. When my neigh­bour was 80, I put 80 on her lawn and last May, when she was 93, and I put 93 there,” laugh­ing at the thought of their cat and mouse game, as she tried to catch him in the act but he, stealth­ily, waited for her to go to bed.

“You just have to put them close to­gether,’ he said mat­ter-of­factly, when asked about fit­ting 93 on a lawn.


Wil­lie Weste­nenk re­turn­ing to The Nether­lands in 1951, af­ter be­ing sta­tioned in In­done­sia and other lo­cales around that part of the world.


A lawn full of pink flamin­gos cour­tesy of Wil­lie Weste­nenk; one of the tra­di­tional prac­tices the vet­eran and former St. F.X. em­ployee is known and beloved for.

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