January 20, 2018. After visiting the Information Centre at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, we went into the cemetery itself to lay flags at the graves of five known soldiers from PEI. Two of them, William Douglas SHERREN and George Martin MCMAHON are listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.
We had wondered why the cemetery had more landscaping than most Commonwealth War Cemeteries and why it was not on one level, but terraced. Edwin van der Wolf, our guide, explained that the cemetery originally was on flat ground. The Canadian government acquired more land than was used in the belief that the war would last longer and go into Denmark, resulting in more casualties. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and meant that the excess land could be used for landscaping.
When the cemetery was first opened, metal crosses were used to mark each grave, and there is a display in front of the Information Centre that shows one.
Originally, the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery was placed further back than in its present location. Similar to the story we’d heard about the placement of a Cross of Sacrifice at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Edwin noted that he had heard that when Holten Cemetery began, Lt. General Guy Granville Simonds, Commander of the 2nd Canadian Army, “wanted the Cross of Sacrifice to be 60 metres high and lit up so that it could be seen across the German border as a reminder of who had conquered them.” Whether this story is true or not, we don’t know.
The first grave where flags were placed was that of Captain William Douglas Sherren, born November 25, 1914 in Crapaud, son of William Douglas Sherren and Florence Amanda nee Carrier. Married to Florence Mead Strickland, he was the father of two sons, Hubert and Harrison Blair. An electrician before the war, Sherren enlisted on January 6, 1941 as a Lieutenant with the First Survey Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. On March 29, 1944 he was promoted to Captain.
On July 9, 1944, not long after D-Day, he arrived in France from England. He was recognized by King George VI as a Member of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in March 1945, in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in North West Europe.
Unfortunately, on April 25, 1945, while in Germany, the vehicle he was travelling in struck a landmine. He was severely wounded and died on April 28, 1945. Originally buried in Cloppenburg Hospital Cemetery in Lower Saxony, he was reburied in Holten Canadian War Cemetery in 1947, after the war ended.
The next set of flags were placed at the grave of Gunner George Martin McMahon, born January 14, 1913 in Emerald Junction, son of Peter A McMahon and Catherine nee Monaghan. Married to Margaret Kathleen Greenan, he was the father of 5 children. In addition, one child, Joseph Louis died in 1942 at the age of three months, and another child, Georgie, was born in November 1945 after McMahon’s death. Prior to enlistment in Montreal with the Royal Canadian Artillery on December 7, 1943, he was a machinist with Canadian Vickers Ltd. Fluent in both English and French, his army record noted he could play the violin.
McMahon left Canada for England in March 1945, and was sent to North West Europe in May 1945. According to a letter to his widow, written by Colonel C. L. Laurin, McMahon was on “a short leave to Amsterdam in company of a comrade with the same regiment. On the evening of the 10th of August 1945, at approximately 11:50 pm, they parted company.” McMahon’s friend “returned to the Army leave hotel alone. The following day, this soldier, made enquiries and was informed that the body of the deceased had been found in a canal.” It was determined that he had accidentally drowned on August 11, 1945. He was first buried in Hilversum Community Cemetery, and in 1946 was reburied in Holten Canadian War Cemetery.
After visiting McMahon’s grave we went on to place flags at the graves of three more known soldiers from PEI: Carmen GILLCASH, Frederick Charles CHEVERIE, and Daniel Peter MacKenzie.
Edwin van der Wolf told us that MacKenzie had been with the Carleton & York Regiment, which liberated the village of Posterenk. This is where MacKenzie, plus 5 more from his unit, lost his life from sniper fire from Germans using the village’s windmill as a hideout. For the past two years, on April 13, the people from the village commemorate the event around the old windmill.
Do you have more information or photos on these five soldiers from PEI? Have you visited Holten Cemetery and its Information Centre? Do you know of more soldiers from PEI buried in the Cemetery? You can share your comments and stories by emailing us at email@example.com or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg.