On the surface, it’s a classic love story.

Andrea Rogers met the man who would become her husband while she was at the movies. It’s not such an uncommon way for a couple to meet in the 1940s — except that it was in Holland, and he was one of the Canadian soldiers who helped liberate the country from Nazi occupiers.

Andrea had never seen a film in the theatre before. She was too young to go before the war broke out, when she was about 11 years old, and during the occupation the only films that were played were for the Nazi soldiers.

So when Andrea suggested sneaking in to one, her cousin agreed. They mingled with some of the soldiers in line, and one of them agreed to escort Andrea in. His name was Norman, and after the film, she took him home to meet her family.

“I said, ‘Grandma, this is the man I’m going to marry.’” said Rogers. “She kind of looked and she said, ‘How do you know?’ I said, ‘I just know.’ And I did marry him. I knew that was the man I wanted to marry, so I did.”

They spent the summer together, travelling around the countryside of her hometown of Apeldoorn, mostly on foot — the Germans had taken most of the bicycles during the retreat. “I dragged him everywhere,” she said. “He said, ‘Well, we do a lot of marching in the army — I’m glad I’m good at marching!’”

At the end of August, he left back to England, but they continued to write to each other for three years, until finally one of his letters to her contained a proposal. She accepted, and in 1955 they moved to Merritt.

LIVING IN WAR

Even then she was just a teenager, but by the time she met Norman she had already lived through the hellish trauma of wartorn Europe.

“You were never at ease, you were always on edge, wondering what was going to happen next,” she said. “One morning I went to school and somebody had murdered somebody, and he was lying in our doorway at the foot of our stairs. I had to step over him and go to school and it wasn’t actually until I got to school that it really hit me and I just stood there and I threw up and threw up and threw up.”

Andrea said that there was a lot of hostility even between Dutch people, and some were outright traitors. Ugly things happened that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and no one knew what to expect next.

But young Andrea was a staunch patriot, and one of her teachers was a member of the Dutch resistance. He recruited her to run messages, calling her “orange parakeet” a reference to the colours of the Dutch royalty.

She recounted her adventures ferrying messages for the Dutch underground movement. “It was scary because it was always after curfew, after dark, and there were no streetlights — nothing,” she said. “Sometimes it involved climbing a roof and jumping across. The things I did in those days, I can’t believe that I did these things! I must have been daft!”

They had Jewish neighbours that were taken. “At first they took the two boys, the two sons,” she recalled. They were in their early 20’s, and their mother was left by herself. Then one day Andrea’s father heard she had been picked up as well. He managed to get to the railway station and bribe a guard to free her before she was sent to Germany.

They hid her in a secret room in a house for about a year. During that time she had a stroke, and of course she couldn’t leave the room to get medical attention. “We just kept her as clean as we could, kept her fed, and I used to read to her,” said Rogers, who affectionately referred to her as Frau Wolfberg. “It gave her some comfort, but she was there by herself all day. There was no light, no windows in the place because it was a hidden room. One day I came in and they had ransacked it and knocked down the walls and she was gone, and we never saw her again. I was so fond of her.”

But through all of the violence, starvation and political tension there were good times, too. Rogers said she learned how to do simple things for herself, like make corn starch, and make do with very little.

“Any piece of spare paper we could find we would cut into Ws — that was the initial of the queen, Wilhelmina — just to razz them!” she said. “We’d just lose them out of our pockets as we were walking down the street and stuff like that. The silly things small children do.”

She said that was one of the fun things they did, and it wasn’t just fun, it was necessary. “It was sometimes quite hilarious, too,” she said. “We had a lot of laughs. You had to have laughs or else you wouldn’t exist — you couldn’t exist. You had to have something to release the pressure because everybody was under pressure. Really severe pressure.”

LONG TERM EFFECTS

The way Andrea describes the horrible conditions of wartime Holland stands in stark contrast with her happy and contented life with Norman. But even after the war, coming to Canada and settling down, there were emotional and physical side effects from those days. Rogers contracted brucellosis, an infectious disease spread from animals to people through unpasteurized milk, something she had to drink a lot of during the war.

Among the myriad of negative side effects this disease carries is miscarriage. Rogers called it a “war souvenir.”

And there are emotional side effects as well. Rogers said she’s been unable to cry since the war, even after her lifelong companion died in 2002.

“I’ve never been able to cry about him,” she said.

After Norman  passed, she said she stood in the middle of the kitchen and wondered what to do next. “As far as I was concerned, my life was over,” she said. “During the war we learned to bottle it all up and not show emotion, and it has really affected me the rest of my life. I can’t cry any more.”

REMEMBERING TOGETHER

The war was such a big part of their lives that they used to give talks at the schools around the Nicola Valley for Remembrance Day.

“The two of us worked with the schools in Merritt and Douglas Lake and the area, and we used to give talks on Remembrance Day assembly and then all the kids would come look at Norm’s medals,” she laughed. “They would point to his medals and ask, ‘What’s this for? What did you do to get this?’ They wanted the story. So we did a lot of that — we went to every school, and then I’d tell them a little bit about what life was like during the war.”

Norm was an avid legionnaire, and sometimes carried a flag in the parade.

“I’ve had such a marvellous life with him, and he was such a jokester — always pulling my leg,” she said, laughing. “He was really a darling. I was so lucky — of all the people in the Netherlands, I had lots of suitors, but Norm stuck by me. Once I met Norm, I was hooked.”