Visiting Lt. John McCrae’s Field Hospital Bunker Outside Ypres

October 29, 2017. Lt. John McCrae (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) is famous as the author of the poem we recite every Remembrance Day, “In Flanders Fields”.  So it was an honour to visit the place where he wrote the poem and have a look at the horrendous conditions in which, as a military surgeon, he had to work in his field hospital bunker (dressing station).

The Canadian government has a memorial to John McCrae that features “In Flanders Fields” at the site of this field hospital bunker located beside the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Essex Farm Cemetery. The Belgian government calls this site the “John McCrae Memorial Site”.

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John McCrae Memorial with the poem “In Flanders Fields” in his handwriting at the far right. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

During the Second Battle of Ypres, fought from 22 April – 25 May 1915 for control of Ypres, McCrae treated the wounded from a hastily dug, 8 foot by 8 foot bunker dug in the back of the dyke along the Yser Canal in Boezinge, about 2 miles north of Ypres.

CIMG8720 Sep 9 2017 John McCrae Memorial Site Pieter outside field hosptial bunker

Pieter at the entrance to the field bunker hospital where Lt. John McCrae worked as a military surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. Note that it was built into the dyke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle, legend has it that McCrae wrote the poem, “In Flanders Fields”, on May 3, 1915 as he sat upon the back of a medical field ambulance near this bunker at Essex Farm.

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The poem “In Flanders Fields” in his handwriting on the John McCrae Memorial. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

In June 1915, McCrae was sent to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.  It was there that he died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918.  We wonder if he was aware that over a hundred years after he wrote the poem, the poppy and his poem remain a symbol of remembrance to the fallen.

We were deeply touched by the visit to the field hospital bunker, and weren’t surprised in the least when it started to rain.  It seemed as though rain was part of the memorial.  No one from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion was buried at Essex Farm Cemetery, so we went on to Cement House Cemetery, which will feature in the next blog entry.

Have you been to the John McCrae Memorial Site?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


A Daytime Visit To Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres

October 26, 2017.  Menin Gate (Menenpoort in Flemish) is a large archway, with a bridge over a moat that surrounds the city of Ypres. Between October 1914 and September 1918 hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth soldiers marched through it on their way to the battlefields.  300,000 of them died, and 90,000 have no known grave.

Ypres was at the centre of a road network and essential for the Germans to capture in order to take the English Channel ports through which British support came into France during World War I. For the Allies, Ypres was important as it became the last major Belgian town that remained out of German control.

Five major battles occurred around Ypres. During the First Battle of Ypres the German army’s advance to the east of the city was stopped.  Eventually, however, the Germans surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. The Second Battle of Ypres was the second German attempt to take the city in April 1915. The third battle, which we know as the Battle of Passchendaele, occurred over five months in 1917. The fourth and fifth battles occurred during 1918.

Today, Menin Gate is a memorial to 54,616 Commonwealth soldiers who died before August 16, 1917 and have no known grave, about 6,983 of them Canadians.

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Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Two of those Canadians are listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion: Charles Benjamin Murray BUXTON and George Albert CAMPBELL.  So, of course, we went to find their names on the Menin Gate Memorial.

CIMG8683 Sep 9 2017 Ypres Inscription at entrance to Menin Gate Memorial

Inscription on the Menin Gate Memorial. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Inside the archway is a Hall of Memory, with stairwells on either side of the archway, and panels listing the names of each of these soldiers.  One wall by the stairwall lists the names of Canadian soldiers, and we first found Charles Buxton, listed under the names of those from the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry.  Pieter stood by the wall listing his name and held up Buxton’s photo and a plaque that he’d asked Kevin Peddle of Prince County Trophy and Awards in Summerside to make for him.

CIMG8688 Sep 9 2017 Ypres Pieter with plaque and photo of Buxton at Menin Gate Memorial

Pieter at Menin Gate Memorial, holding up a photo of Charles Buxton and a memorial plaque. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)


Memorial Plaque for Charles Buxton that Pieter had made. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Buxton - Cropped

Charles Buxton. (Photo: courtesy of John Marchbank Collection)

We then searched for the listing for George Albert Campbell under the Canadian Mounted Rifles, and repeated the procedure, holding up a picture of Campbell and a memorial plaque.

CIMG8703 Sep 9 2017 Ypres Pieter with plaque and photo of Campbell by name on Menin Gate

Pieter at Menin Gate Memorial, holding up a photo of George Albert Campbell and a memorial plaque. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)


Memorial Plaque for George Albert Campbell that Pieter had made. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

George Albert Campbell - Cropped

George Albert Campbell. (Photo: courtesy of Gerald Tingley Collection)

If you were paying attention at the beginning of this entry, you read that 90,000 WWI Commonwealth soldiers have no known grave, but only 54,616 are listed on Menin Gate. Why?  When the memorial was completed, it was too small to contain all the names of the missing and unidentified soldiers, as had originally been planned. An arbitrary cut-off point of August 15, 1917 was chosen and the names of 34,984 British soldiers missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing instead. The names of missing and unidentified soldiers from New Zealand and Newfoundland are listed on separate memorials.

With advances in DNA and stories about finding skeletons in various graves in fields, we wondered what happened if a soldier was identified.  Any remains are reburied in a cemetery, and if the soldier can be identified the name is removed from the Menin Gate Memorial.

We were glad we had the opportunity to visit Menin Gate Memorial in the morning, before it got busy and before the Last Post Ceremony in the evening, which we would come back to attend.

We also wanted to visit Maple Copse Cemetery, where Campbell is believed to be buried, and Sanctuary Wood, where Buxton lost his life during a battle, and have a chance to tell their stories in the spot where they were last.

First, though, we decided to visit areas in and around Passchendaele, beginning with Lt.  John McCrae’s field hospital bunker, the subject of the next blog entry. Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


A Visit To Chester Farm Military Cemetery

October 22, 2017.  After we paid our respects to Arthur Robinson at La Laiterie Military Cemetery in Belgium, we made our way to Chester Farm Military Cemetery, 5 km south of Ypres, where another WW1 soldier, James Lymon CAMERON, is buried.  The cemetery, one of three in the area, is in a farming area.

CIMG8660 Sep 9 2017 Directional sign to Chester Farm Military Cemetery

Directional sign to Chester Farm Cemetery. Note the John Deere dealership. We are in a farming area, only 5 km south of Ypres. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Chester Farm was the name given to a farm about 1 km south of Blauwepoort Farm, on the road from Zillebeke to Voormezeele.  The names of these two places may be almost unpronounceable, but we encountered them over and over again as scenes of many fierce battles.

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Stone marker on gate of Chester Farm Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The cemetery opened in March 1915 and has 420 Commonwealth burials, 7 of them unidentified.  It’s in a beautiful location, surrounded by cows.  It seems fitting for an Islander to be in such a rural location.

CIMG8671 Sep 9 2017 Chester Farm Military Cemetery with cows in backgroung flags by Camerons grave

Chester Farm Military Cemetery, surrounded by cows. Pieter had already placed flags on the grave of James Lymon Cameron. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Private James Lymon Cameron was born December 30, 1892 in Victoria, PEI, the son of Edward H. Cameron, a carpenter, and Susan Estelle Harrington of Hampton.  The family was Roman Catholic and worshipped at the church in Kelly’s Cross.

With such a background on the island, it was a mystery to us why no one seemed to know the family, until Pieter’s research revealed that the family must have moved around quite a bit for Edward’s work.  In a 1900 US census, the family was living in South Bend City, in the state of Washington, and James Lymon’s sister Ethel was recorded as having been born in New Hampshire in 1889.  He had an older sister Lucy who was born on PEI, but was not listed in the 1900 census, suggesting that she was no longer alive, and a younger brother Otto, who was born on PEI.

In a 1921 census from Vancouver, another younger brother, Edward, is recorded as having been born in the USA around 1906.  Ethel is living with her parents and brother.  She is recorded as married with the last name Gilbert, but her husband is not with her.

At the time that James Lymon enlisted on March 18, 1915 with the 47th Battalion (BC) CEF, the family was living in Vancouver, and he was employed as a marine oiler.  By October 1915 he was on his way to Europe, and transferred twice, first to the 30th Reserve Battalion, and then to the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion (1st British Columbia).

On July 24, 1916, he was killed by enemy shell fire at ‘The Bluff’ at Ypres Salient during The Battle of The Bluff near St. Eloi.  The Bluff is a mound near St Eloi, south-east of Ypres, which was created from a spoil heap during the digging of the Ypres–Comines Canal before the war.

CIMG8666 Sep 9 2017 Chester Farm Military Cemetery Pieter by grave of James Lymon Cameron

Pieter by the grave of James Lymon Cameron at Chester Farm Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The war diary of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion for July 2, 1916, explained what happened in three terse lines:  “Bombardment of Front Line. Headquarters Shelled. Our retaliation effective.

Unfortunately, this is all we know about James Lymon Cameron.  We don’t even know what he looked like.  If you can add any further information or provide a photo, please let us know.

In the next blog entry we visit Menin Gate in Ypres. Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On the War Memorial Trail in Belgium and a Visit to La Laiterie Military Cemetery

October 16, 2017.  After leaving France and arriving in De Panne, Belgium, on the North Sea coast, we were joined by Pieter’s cousin François Breugelmans and his wife Mieke de Bie, who live in Antwerp.  It gave us a chance to visit as well as continue the war memorial trail.

For most of our time in Belgium we had a break from driving, as François took over that task.  This was great as many of the roads in the area are very narrow, more suited to one way traffic, not two way traffic.

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A typical road in Belgium! (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The thing that struck us the most was that all of the cemeteries and memorials we had to visit in Belgium were not far from Ypres.  Our first cemetery in Belgium was La Laiterie Military Cemetery, where Arthur Clinton ROBINSON is buried.  Named after a dairy farm, the cemetery is right on a busy road, next to a cement business.  It’s very well kept and has 751 Commonwealth WW1 graves, 180 of them unidentified.

CIMG8659 Sep 9 2017 Daria and Mieke outside La Laiterie Military Cemetery

Daria Valkenburg and Mieke de Bie outside La Laiterie Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: François Breugelmans)

CIMG8647 Sep 9 2017 At Robinsons grave in La Laiterie Cemetery see cement factory

Placing the flags at the grave of Arthur Clinton Robinson in La Laiterie Military Cemetery. Note the cement factory beside the cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

When we began this project, we thought it would be easy to get a photo and information on Private Robinson as we knew his nephew John Robinson and John’s wife Hazel had done extensive genealogical research.  Unfortunately, John and Hazel had been unable to find any photos and very little information.  Arthur Clinton Robinson was born July 20, 1896 in Tryon, the son of Albert James Robinson and Flora P. Scruton, a nurse from New Hampshire who died on June 23, 1901 from tuberculosis.

A farmer before the war, Arthur Clinton Robinson enlisted in the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalion on November 20, 1914, and was in Europe by spring of the following year.  On March 27, 1916 he was killed in action when shell fire hit the trenches southeast of Kemmel, which itself is only10 km south west of Ypres.

CIMG8649 Sep 9 2017 grave of Arthur Clinton Robinson in La Laiterie cemetery

Grave of Arthur Clinton Robinson at La Laiterie Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

In 1917, after Arthur Clinton’s death, his father Albert remarried, to Mary Mooney, and they had a family of their own.  John Robinson is descended from this second marriage and thought that it was likely that no one kept anything from the previous family, since no one was alive by the time of the remarriage.

Pieter wrote in the guest register this time, and then we left to find Chester Farm Cemetery, our next destination.

CIMG8656 Sep 9 2017 Pieter writes in guest register at La Laiterie Cemetery Francois and Mieke in back

Pieter writes in the Guest Register at La Laiterie Military Cemetery while his cousins examine the cemetery register. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In the next blog entry we continue our war memorial tour in the area around Ypres, Belgium. If you have a photo or info on Arthur Clinton Robinson, please let us know.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


The Calais Canadian War Cemetery

October 8, 2017.  Following a restful night in Caen, we made our way to the final cemetery we were visiting in France, the Calais Canadian War Cemetery in Leubringhen, 14 km from Calais, where Lt. James Arthur AFFLECK is buried.  This is the second WWII grave we visited in France.

Calais was liberated by the Canadian 1st Army early in September 1944 as they advanced up the French coast into Belgium, in pursuit of retreating German forces.  Most of the burials in the Calais Canadian War Cemetery are from this period of fighting.  There are 704 Commonwealth burials from WWII, of which 30 are unidentified.  594 of these burials are of Canadian soldiers. There also are 6 Czech and 19 Polish war graves.

After the earlier struggles we had getting to the Commonwealth War Cemeteries in France, this cemetery was surprisingly easy to find.  It was the first one we were at that had a sign on the highway, and it was conveniently located right off of the highway exit to Leubringhen, a village that’s halfway between Calais and Boulogne.  There was even a parking area!

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Sign off of the highway exit directing us to Calais Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

James Arthur Affleck was born April 15, 1920 in Bedeque, the son of Robert Bruce Affleck and Mary Eliza MacCallum.  A farmer before he enlisted with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders on March 3, 1942, he was killed in action by artillery shells on September 17, 1944, during the first day of the Battle of Boulogne (Operation Wellhit), in a 5 day battle to take the port of Boulogne from German control.

Arthur Affleck

Lt. James Arthur Affleck. (Photo courtesy of Percy Affleck Family Collection)

In ‘No Retreating Footsteps: The Story of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders’, published in 1954, author Will Bird tells what happened on September 17, 1944 on pages 222 and 223:

“… L/Cpl K. L. Miller was with Sgt. P. J. Whalen as A Company went up to attack.  They rode almost over the crest of the first hill, then began crawling inside a hedge and used it for cover until they came to a gap and some large craters.  There was barbed wire around a number of buildings, and a far one seemed to have been used for a garage.  Direct bomb hits had crashed the first two buildings to wreckage.  The next was a pillbox but heavy mortar fire descended and forced everyone to take shelter in the craters.  Sgt. Whalen was killed and before the barrage let up three others had lost their lives. Miller worked along a distance toward the pillbox and was told the officer, too, had been killed…. The officer killed during the heavy shelling was Lt. Affleck and it was his first battle….”

The path from the parking area to the cemetery is lined with trees and is hauntingly beautiful and gives the appearance of the peace that those who died in battle deserve – well, except for the fierce wind.  It was a reminder of the windy areas back on Prince Edward Island!

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Grassy walkway from the parking lot to Calais Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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Pieter at the entrance to Calais Canadian War Cemetery. We were taking bets on how long the rain would hold off. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The sky was black but the rain held off long enough for Pieter to plant flags by Lt. Affleck’s grave.

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Pieter at the grave of Lt. James Arthur Affleck in Calais Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

As we were going back to the car, however, the downpour began!   Luckily, we were only 74 km from our destination of De Panne, a coastal town that would be our base in Belgium.

In the next blog entry we return to the WW1 war memorial trail, this time in the area around Ypres, Belgium. Do you have photo or info on J. Arthur Affleck?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg



A Trip To The Bayeux War Cemetery

October 6, 2017.  I was very much looking forward to the trip to Bayeux, but not for the cemetery.  Located 30 km northwest of Caen, where we were staying overnight, Bayeux is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry.  This is an embroidered cloth, dating from sometime in the 1070s, nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy (William The Conqueror), and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  This tapestry is hanging in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux (Bayeux Museum of Tapestry) in Bayeux.

Pieter’s ancestry goes back to Hamon de Masci, a cousin of William the Conqueror, and whose sons made the journey to England with him from Normandy as part of the conquest.  In the late 1500s, a descendant settled in The Netherlands and started a brick factory, and the rest is part of Valkenburg history.

Of course, when I excitedly mentioned what a great coincidence it was that we were going to Bayeux, a place I wanted to go anyway, Pieter looked at me in horror.  Why would we waste time looking at an old tapestry when we were here to visit a cemetery and had not much time after the trip to Rouen, that same day? No way! He reminded me that we still had to find our lodging in Caen and that I had been in a great deal of ‘distress’ (he was too polite to say ‘in a panic’) when we were driving in very busy Rouen.

So, with no chance at examining genealogical history, we went to Bayeux, paying an additional 5.50 euros in toll charges, followed shortly afterwards by another 3.50 euro toll, and stopped at the Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, where George Ashley BARTLETT, another of the men on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion is buried.

CIMG8610 Sep 7 2017 Pieter at Bayeux War Cemetery entrance

Pieter at the entrance to Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The Bayeux War Cemetery was the first one that had visitors at the same time we were there.  We weren’t alone!  We wondered if this was because it was a WWII cemetery.  All of our other visits had been to WW1 cemeteries and memorials.  It’s also the largest we’ve been to up to now, with 4,144 Commonwealth burials from WWII, 338 unidentified.  There are an additional 500 graves of other nationalities, most of them German.

The cemetery is in an urban setting, and across the street from the Bayeux Memorial, which honours the men of the British and Commonwealth land forces who fell in the early stages of the campaign in northwest Europe of 1945 and have no known grave.  Next to the Bayeux Memorial is the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum (Musée Mémorial Bataille de Normandie) in Bayeux.  If you are interested in learning more about the D-Day Landing / Operation Overlord operations, plan a visit to Bayeux!  There were a lot of tour buses – from several European countries – and a lot of people walking around.

Sergeant George Ashley Bartlett was born in the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, on June 3, 1917, the son of Walter Philip Bartlett and Annie Alice Wright.  He enlisted with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders in Amherst in June 1940. In 1941, he married Leah Jean Campbell in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and they had a son John Ashley.

Photo George Ashley Bartlett

Photo: George Ashley Bartlett. (Photo courtesy of North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum in Amherst, Nova Scotia)

Bartlett survived the D-Day Landing, but then, on August 14, 1944 he was wounded in action during “Operation Tractable” to capture Falaise Ridge, and died the following day.  ‘Operation Tractable’, fought between August 14 and 21, 1944, was the final offensive conducted by Canadian and Polish troops, supported by one brigade of British tanks, as part of the Battle of Normandy during World War II.

CIMG8603 Sep 7 2017 Pieter by grave of G A Bartlett in Bayeux War Cemetery

Pieter at the grave of George Ashley Bartlett in Bayeux War Cemetery after laying down the flags of Canada, PEI, and Canada 150. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

At the time of his death, his wife and son were living in Crapaud.  Mrs. Bartlett remarried, to Ellsworth Wilson, a barber, but then she suffered a second tragedy.  Her young son drowned in March 1948 while she was at the hairdresser shop owned by the mother of Crapaud resident Gene Rogerson.  Gene recalled that young Ashley Bartlett had taken a toboggan to the nearby pond.

As for me and my dream of seeing the Bayeux Tapestry, I had the last word on this trip to the Bayeux War Cemetery.  As we walked to the car, which was parked at the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum, I spotted a poster of the Bayeux Tapestry on the Museum wall and managed to convince Pieter to stand beside it.

CIMG8612 Sep 7 2017 Pieter by poster of Bayeux Tapestry at British Military Museum in Bayeux

Pieter by a poster of the Bayeux Tapestry outside the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum in Bayeux. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In the next blog entry we make our way to our last cemetery in France, to Leubringhen, just before the Belgian border. Do you have photo or info on George Bartlett?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The Road To Rouen

October 1, 2017.  Leaving the Arras area, which we had thought was busy enough, was an experience, as now we encountered toll roads.  We soon learned to dread the words ‘gare de péage’.  While all the toll booths have iconic names, like the first one we pulled up at, named ‘Jules Verne’, they are now mostly automated, and you need cash or a debit or credit card.

If you are one of the modern people thinking “Dinosaur”, let me describe the experience.  First off, the box where you have to pay is designed to accommodate truckers, not people in dinky toy cars like the majority of cars used in Europe.  Most people do not have the rubber arms needed to reach up to drop the money in, so each toll booth encounter takes longer than it would if you paid an attendant, as car doors open and people try to squeeze out in the available space to drop their money in manually, or pay by card.  And of course, you need first to figure out WHERE you place your money as there is more than one slot.

If you use cash, as we did, you soon also learned that it’s best to have exact change, as otherwise you have to WAIT for change and then reach up to another slot to get your money.  Anyone in a hurry sometimes leaves their change behind!

PEI is not alone in charging heavy tolls.  We left 7.70 euros at Jules Verne, only to encounter another toll booth 6 minutes later!  At this one we picked up a ticket which cost us another 5.70 euros half an hour later.  The count so far … 13.40 euros.  In Canadian dollars it comes to about $19.75, and the day was just beginning.

It took us just over 2 ½ hours to get to Rouen from Mont St. Eloi, and, following the GPS instructions to the St. Sever Cemetery, arrived at Boulevard Stanislas Girardin, only to find it was in downtown Rouen.  No cemetery in sight!  The streets are extremely narrow, jam packed with cars and pedestrians and most of the streets one way traffic only.  We finally gave up trying to figure out what had gone wrong and stopped in front of a short driveway into a huge government building behind a walled gate, and asked a passerby for help.

The poor man looked at our sheet from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and finally said, very kindly, that we were on the right street, but not in Rouen.  The cemetery was in a nearby community.  Sure enough, when we looked at the cemetery location instructions, it said it was “situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs of Le Grand Quevilly and Le Petit Quevilly.”  But what we didn’t understand was why we’d been directed downtown when we had the right street.

The man explained that it was in either Le Grand Quevilly or Le Petit Quevilly, he wasn’t sure which.  So, the GPS got reprogrammed for Le Grand Quevilly.  The word “suburb” was a misnomer.

While this discussion had been going on, traffic was backing up as people wanting to get into or out of the government driveway were held up as we were blocking the road.  Not one person honked or showed any impatience!  We thanked the man for his help, and then slowly backed up onto the traffic, and made our way out of town.

Le Grand Quevilly was a short distance away, but it was not the location of the cemetery.  We pulled into a car dealership to ask directions, only to find out that France shuts down for lunch break.  Everything was locked up, but we found a salesman in a tent on the lot, reading his emails.

I’m from a different country,” he said, when we asked about the cemetery.  Then he made us laugh when he went on to say, “I’m from Paris.”  But he was very effective at finding someone who could help us and that’s when we learned that we wanted to be in Le Petit Quevilly, and how to get there.

In Le Petit Quevilly, on a street by the same name as in Rouen (what are the odds?), we were able to find St. Sever Cemetery Extension, the location where Bazil Cormier is buried.

CIMG8598 Sep 7 2017 sign directing us to St Sever Cemetery Extension

Sign to the St. Sever Cemetery in Le Petit Quevilly. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

According to the information provided by the Canadian War Graves Commission, during WW1, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen.  Most hospitals remained there during the war.  A number of those who died in the hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the majority were buried at St. Sever Cemetery.  In September 1916, the Extension, where Cormier is buried, began.

In WWII, Rouen was again a hospital centre, and several Commonwealth soldiers who were prisoners of war during the German occupation are buried in the Extension.

St. Sever Cemetery Extension is the largest cemetery we’ve been to so far, with 8,348 WWI Commonwealth burials, 10 of them unidentified, 328 WWII Commonwealth burials, 18 of them unidentified, and 8 foreign nationals.

With such a large cemetery, it was not easy to find Cormier’s grave.  Luckily, in this cemetery, several gardeners from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were on site.  While Pieter went to look in the Grave Register, I looked at the graves, trying to find the row in which Cormier was buried.  One gardener asked if I needed help.  When I explained who we were looking for, he asked if I had the paper with the burial information.  I explained it was on the other side of the cemetery with Pieter, who was comparing it to the information in the Grave Register.

Just to let you know how great these workers are, the gardener immediately went over to the other side of the cemetery and then spent the next few minutes looking for the grave, which of course was as far away as possible from where we were!

CIMG8587 Sep 7 2017 Pieter at the grave of Bazil Cormier at St Sever Cemetery Extension

Pieter at the grave of Bazil Cormier in St. Sever Cemetery Extension in Le Petit Quevilly. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

According to his Attestation papers, Private Bazil CORMIER was born January 6, 1898 in Tignish, the son of Joseph Cormier and Marie Arsenault.  A farmer before enlisting with the 105th Draft Regiment on December 4, 1916, he died of wounds received in the Battle of Amiens near Cachy on August 12, 1918, at the age of 21.  At the time of his death he was with the 26th New Brunswick Battalion.

The War Graves Register Circumstances of Death notes that “During operations east of Amiens, on the morning of August 8th 1918, he was hit in the head by a machine gun bullet. He was immediately dressed by a comrade and carried out, but succumbed to his wounds at No 4 General Hospital, Rouen, four days later...”  According to the active/casualty document in his file, however, he was transported to the No. 5 General Hospital, not the No 4 General Hospital, where he died.

The Battle of Amiens, also known as the Third Battle of Picardy, was the opening phase of the Allied offensive which began on August 8, 1918, later known as the Hundred Days Offensive, that ultimately led to the end of the First World War.  This is the same battle in which James Cairns lost his life on August 9, 1918.

CIMG8592 Sep 7 2017 Pieter at grave of B Cormier in St Sever Cemetery Extension

Pieter by the grave of Bazil Cormier. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

As with too many of the WW1 soldiers, we have no photo or further information about Bazil Cormier.

The cemeteries we’d been to in the past days had all been in the countryside.  St. Sever Cemetery Extension was in an urban setting, and bordered the Rouen Soccer Club, which caught the interest of soccer fan Pieter.

CIMG8590 Sep 7 2017 next to St Sever Cemetery Extension is the soccer club of Rouen

The Rouen Soccer Club was on the other side of the fence of the St. Sever Cemetery Extension. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We couldn’t leave the cemetery without giving flag pins to the gardeners, one of whom spoke English and told Pieter that he had just graduated from horticultural college and loved his job.  The head gardener, who had helped us in the beginning, was unfortunately out on an errand, so we were not able to say goodbye to him.

CIMG8596 Sep 7 2017 Pieter with a CWGC gardener at St Sever Cemetery Extension

Pieter with a young CWGC gardener at St. Sever Cemetery Extension. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In the next blog entry we make our way to Bayeux, which has a connection with Pieter’s genealogical research as well as the Cenotaph research project. Do you have photo or info on Bazil Cormier?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


The Ruins of Mont St. Eloi

October 1, 2017.  While we were packing to leave Arras to go on to Rouen and Caen, Pieter expressed an interest in seeing the ruins of the Abbey in Mont St. Eloi.  “Sure”, I said.  “I’d love to see the Cathedral with the statue that survived hanging down.”  I went on and on until he interrupted, saying I had the wrong Cathedral in mind.  The one I was thinking of was in Albert, in the Somme Valley, the ‘Leaning Virgin of Albert’, which has since been restored and leans no more.

“Doesn’t matter”, I said.  We aren’t planning to return to this area, so if he wanted to see something, we may as well do it.  Of course, in the morning when we were leaving, it was raining and Pieter was of two minds whether to make the trip to Mont St. Eloi or skip it. There was no connection, as far as we knew, to any of the soldiers on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, so this would be a side trip.

In the end, off we went.  Mont St. Eloi is on a hill above Arras, and at the top once stood the Mont St. Eloi Abbey.  All that remains today are two towers. The rest was destroyed during various wars.

Legend has it that the Abbey began in the 7th century by Saint Vindicianus, a disciple of Saint Eligius (Saint Eloi in French).  By the Middle Ages it was a powerful religious centre, but during the French Revolution, the stone walls were stolen. Only two towers of white limestone and a porch on the west wall were left.

When WW1 began, the towers were used by French troops to observe German positions on Lorette Spur and Vimy Ridge. The Germans fired every time the French troops moved, causing the French to believe they had a spy in their midst.  It took a while before they realized that what gave them away were birds nesting on the towers which took flight when troops disturbed them.

CIMG8583 Sep 7 2017 Pieter at ruined cathedral in Mont St Eloi

Pieter by the war-damaged towers of Mont St. Eloi Abbey. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In the next blog entry we encounter difficulties in finding St. Sever Cemetery Extension in Rouen, and learn that PEI is not alone in charging expensive tolls. Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

Reflections on the Cemetery Visits in the Arras Area

October 1, 2017.  After visiting the cemeteries and Vimy Memorial to honour the memories of the soldiers on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion who perished in the area around Arras, we went to our “local” café for the past few days, L’Eurostar Café Brasserie, for a well-deserved rest and final meal before leaving the area.

IMG_20170904_185344129 Sep 4 2017 Pieter at LEurostar Cafe in Arras enjoying a Leffe beer

Pieter enjoying Leffe blond beer at L’Eurostar Café Brasserie in Arras. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In France, dinner is not served before 7 pm.  Normally that wasn’t a problem for us as we would arrive at a restaurant completely exhausted long after 7 pm, but after the success in finally finding Manitoba Cemetery we arrived back in Arras in the late afternoon, and decided to have an early dinner before packing up to leave the area in the morning.

We arrived at the café at 5:45 pm only to be told the kitchen didn’t open before 7 pm.  We were too tired to go back to the hotel and come back later, so we ordered an appetizer, camembert cheese of course in honour of our host country, and a drink and relaxed until the chef appeared, right on the dot of 7 pm.

Since we had all this time to relax and reflect on our journey so far, I asked Pieter how he felt.  He said that, for him, “visiting the graves made things come full circle.  You start off with a name on the Cenotaph.  Then you begin the research and read up on what happened.  Hopefully you get a photo and personal stories.  Now we’ve ended up where the person died after a very short life.”

Pieter thought a bit before he continued, “On the one side, I feel sorry they died so young.  On the other hand I feel honoured to be there to pay respects to them.  It makes me want to know more about them, now that I’ve visited their grave or memorial.”

We both agreed that for the soldiers without a photo the picture is not complete.  “When I stand by a grave at the cemetery and have a photo so I know how the person looked, then I can feel a connection,” Pieter explained.

“It’s especially sad for soldiers like Arthur Collett, buried in Grandcourt Road Cemetery, and James Cairns, buried in Manitoba Cemetery, that they are buried in cemeteries that get very few visitors. They are just a number.” Each identified grave lists the soldier’s name, unit, rank, and identification number.

We both also agreed that the gardeners and maintenance staff at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do a fantastic job of keeping up the cemeteries.  Over the past days, we’ve handed out Canadian flag pins to anyone we’ve seen driving around in the white vans with CWGC written on them and they have been enthusiastically received.  Up to now, we hadn’t seen anyone in a cemetery itself, but the work they do in sometimes very difficult locations, such as Grandcourt Road Cemetery, is to be commended.

When Pieter began this project, World War I was just history to us, no different than the various dates and historical facts we learned in school over the years.  Now it’s become a story with real people, and along the way, we are meeting wonderful people who work hard to preserve the history that we have largely forgotten.

In the next blog entry we visit the ruins of Mount St. Eloi church before going on to Rouen to St. Sever Cemetery Extension. Do you have photos or information about James Cairns?  Does anyone know the family members who visited the grave of Ted Arsenault of Abrams Village? Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg