December 25, 2017. During lunch with members of the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands, we mentioned that we would be going to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek to lay flags at the graves of PEI soldiers, and one from New Brunswick. Although we had a list of 17 soldiers, only one was listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Legion Carleton, George Preston SMITH of Kinkora, who was with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.
Placing flags at the grave of a soldier from New Brunswick was at the request of our friend, Brenda Graves of North Tryon, in memory of her uncle Frank Edward MCGOVERN. He also was from the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, and died February 26, 1945 at the age of 19. Brenda, who is researching her family history, unfortunately has only a poor quality photo of her uncle. Can anyone help put a face to this name?
Just outside the cemetery, by the parking lot, is a banner asking people for help in the Faces to Graves Foundation project. The project was begun by members of the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands to create a virtual memorial for all who are buried at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery or listed on the Groesbeek Memorial. 2,338 soldiers are buried here.
Many of the war dead were brought to this cemetery from nearby Germany. Fallen Canadian soldiers from WWII, who were buried in German battlefields, were reinterred here (except for one who is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery in Germany). General Harry Crerar, who commanded Canadian land forces in Europe, had ordered that Canadian dead were not to be buried on German soil.
Private George Preston SMITH was born September 3, 1923 in Kinkora, the son of William Wilfred and Mabel Smith. A store clerk before enlisting on April 1, 1943, he served in England, France, and Belgium, before meeting his death in Belgium in an unfortunate accident on November 12, 1944. Smith was accidentally killed while trying to take his Stengun out of the back of a military truck. The gun was under a pile of greatcoats. He grabbed it by the muzzle and gave it a hard pull, causing the cocking piece to be pulled back far enough. When he let it go, the cocking piece went forward again with enough pressure to push a round into the chamber and fire it.
On November 15, 1944, he was buried in the Civil Cemetery in Malden, Belgium. In 1946, his remains were exhumed and he was reburied in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery.
After paying our respects to McGovern and Smith, Pieter placed flags on two more graves of PEI soldiers. We had been invited by Alice van Bekkum, of the Faces to Graves Foundation, to participate in a special ceremony, along with members of the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands. Wish Of A Lifetime Canada (see https://wishofalifetime.ca/), an organization that fulfills seniors’ dreams and shares their stories to inspire those of all ages, had granted a wish that had a PEI connection.
Harriet Jenereaux, born in West Point, PEI, now living in Nova Scotia, wanted to see the grave of her father, Sgt Edison Alexander SMITH, who is buried in the cemetery in Groesbeek. Harriet and her husband Keith were flown to The Netherlands, members of the Royal Canadian Legion provided a colour party, and Alice van Bekkum paid for a bugler to play The Last Post at the grave. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgXkld9BUIA)
Before Harriet arrived at the cemetery, Pieter made sure that Canadian and PEI flags were placed at her father’s grave, and that of her uncle, L/Cpl Ralph Schurman BOULTER, her mother’s brother. Smith, aged 32, and Boulter, aged 28, were in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, and were both killed in battle while crossing the Rhine on March 25, 1945.
As Harriet neared her father’s grave, she called out to her husband Keith, “There’s Daddy!” It was a poignant moment for us, the Dutch members of the Legion, an astonishing amount of reporters and press photographers, plus a representative of Phillips, the Dutch sponsor of Wish of a Lifetime.
After the ceremony and greeting Harriet, it was time for us to enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of Dutch apple cake. We’d return to place flags at the graves of the other 14 soldiers from PEI once all the commotion regarding Harriet’s visit had diminished.
Do you have relatives buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery? If so, please consider participating in the Faces to Graves project by submitting photos and stories either through their website at http://facestograves.nl/index.html or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can contact us and we will forward your info for you.
Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at email@example.com or by commenting on this blog.