75th Anniversary Memories From Friesland

speldje bevrijding

May 1, 2020.  In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands, a few projects from the Dutch province of Friesland will be featured in this posting.

Remco de Jong, a volunteer at the Commonwealth War Graves Protestant Churchyard cemetery in Makkum (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2019/12/26/the-christmas-eve-candle-lighting-ceremonies-in-the-netherlands/) was moved by the story of the last flight of Halifax L9561 in October 1941, in which Flight Sgt Elmer Bagnall MUTTART lost his life, and prepared a photo tribute.  (To learn more about the last flight and the 2019 memorial panel commemoration ceremonies, see https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/he-died-that-we-might-live-video-is-now-on-youtube/)

Vliegtuigen haar bemanning Muttart

Tribute prepared by Remco de Jong from photos provided to Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation by families of the aircrew of Halifax L9561.

Bauke Posthuma, a volunteer at Het Hannemahuis Museum in Harlingen, let us know about a YouTube video filmed in 1945, shortly after the war ended, which has a brief clip of the Harlingen General Cemetery where Muttart and other Allied soldiers are buried.  While we placed flags at the graves of known Canadian soldiers in the cemetery on October 12, 2019, there are more than Canadians buried there. (For an account of our visit to Harlingen General Cemetery, see https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2019/10/15/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-visit-to-harlingen-general-cemetery/)

Screenshot Harlingen General Cemetery

Screenshot showing Harlingen General Cemetery in 1945 from the video ‘Friesland vlak na de bevrijding in 1945’.  Muttart’s grave is at the very far right, first row.  The wooden crosses were placed during the German occupation and replaced with stone gravestones afterwards. (Screenshot courtesy of Wendy Nattress.)

If you would like to see the short video ‘Friesland vlak na de bevrijding in 1945’ (Friesland after the war in 1945) here is the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo5AKt92d1s. The video is less than 9 minutes and is in the Frisian language, but is interesting.  Some of the highlights include Canadian troops in the area, and farmers pulling items that had been hidden from the German occupiers out of haystacks.  You’ll see a car being pulled by horses… it’s not clear whether the car was out of gas or didn’t have a battery.  German soldiers are put to work clearing mines.  Bridges over canals are being repaired.

CIMG3468 Oct 12 2019 Harlingen Hannemahuis Pieter and Bauke Posthuma

Bauke Posthuma (left) with Pieter at Het Hannemahuis Museum in Harlingen on October 12, 2019.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Bauke Posthuma’s book about the Allied soldiers buried in Harlingen and surrounding areas has recently been published.  Written in Dutch, the book is available for purchase at https://www.flevomedia.nl/boekenwinkel?prod_id=862970/boek-862970-tussen-de-eerste-en-laatste-saluutschoten-1940-1945.

Front and back covers of the recently published book by Bauke Posthuma. (Photo credits: B. Posthuma)

Thank you to Remco de Jong and Bauke Posthuma for letting us know about these projects, and to Wendy Nattress for capturing the screenshot.  If you have information to share about Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


The WW1 Soldier Who Went To Post WW1 Germany

April 29, 2020.  In an earlier posting, the observations made by Harold Keith HOWATT of Augustine Cove towards the end of WW1 were recorded.  (See One Soldier Records His Observations During The Last Few Days Of World War I) Howatt was in the 8th Canadian Siege Battery during WW1 and came home after the war.

8th Siege Battery photo

On October 30, 1918, as Howatt’s unit travelled towards Belgium from France in the last days of the war, the Brigade was inspected by Lt-General Sir Arthur  Currie.  (Harold Howatt collection.  Photo from ‘Purely Personal’ issue of November 30, 1918.)

After the official hostilities ended on November 11, Howatt was in Belgium with his unit, and hoped he could go to Germany with the Army of Occupation.  He got his wish.

On November 17, 1918, Howatt’s unit was informed it would be attached to the 2nd Brigade, the only Canadian Heavy Artillery Brigade going to Germany.

Before the march into Germany, however, Howatt wrote, on November 19, 1918, how happy he was to have a real bath… “...Wonderful to relate, we had a bath parade to the bath at one of the mines. It was a rather long walk but a great bath when we got there, a shower bath with lots of warm water…

Screenshot Map of route to Germany at DuckDuckGo

Route from Mons, Belgium to Mehlem (near Bonn), Germany taken by Howatt’s unit. (Map courtesy of http://www.duckduckgo.com)

On November 20, the unit was on the move. “…Breakfast at 5 o’clock this morning, then we fell in at 6:30 and marched up to the square.  Here we formed up and started for Germany, the lorries ahead, then the signallers and B.C.A.s, then the guns with the gun crews walking behind….” (B.C.A. is an acronym for Battery Commander Assistant, the position held by Howatt.) “...We stopped at a town called Jemappes, about four kms west of Mons.  We were billeted in a big factory, away up in the top story...”  The unit stayed there for a week.

On November 28, 1918, Howatt and his unit were on their way again.  “…Up this morning at 5:30, had two cups of coffee, then breakfast, and away.  We travelled in the lorries through town after town.  Had great fun waving our hands to all the pretty girls as we passed…”  Pretty girls weren’t all that caught Howatt’s interest. “…We stopped in one town for a few minutes and we were talking to a Canadian infantry corporal.  His company was guarding trainloads of munitions left by the Germans.  They had big munitions works in the town, and there were over 300 cars of shells and high explosives in the railway yards…”  Howatt didn’t identify this town, but mentioned that they stopped overnight in Ligny, and he was billeted in a farmhouse with a Belgian family.

The next day, November 29, Howatt continued his account.  “…Left Ligny this morning at about eight o’clock and arrived here in Namur about twelve.  All along the road are abandoned German lorries, tractors, and motorcars.  They must have left hundreds and hundreds behind them.  I don’t know whether these cars have broken down or whether the petrol gave out.  I saw one yard full of lorries….

Namur postcard

Postcard showing the citadel in Namur. (Harold Howatt collection.)

The unit stopped in Namur for a rest break, giving Howatt time to explore the town.  “…Namur is quite a place.  The forts are on a high cliff or hill behind the town.  The town has been badly smashed up in some places….

On December 1, the unit was moving ahead again.  “…We started about seven.   The road ran along the bank of the Meuse, and on the other side are enormous cliffs towering high in the air…..”  While Howatt, as part of the advance party, arrived in Huy around noon to secure accommodations “….the guns did not get in until nearly dark.  Just as we were waiting around for supper Mr. Goodwin came around and said that the B.C.A.s and signallers had to clear the mud off the wheels…”  Howatt, along with a small group, cleared off one gun, but noted that a number of men disappeared, rather than going out in the dark to tackle this task!

The next day, rather than continuing on, the unit was put to work cleaning the guns. On December 4, the unit moved further along to Hamoir, where they stopped for another few days.  On December 8, the unit travelled as far as Petit-Thier “…only 3 kms from the border.  It is a very small place…

On December 9, Howatt recorded that “…At last we are where we have been trying to get for over four years.  ‘In Germany’ This morning, at about eight o’clock we crossed the frontier, the first Canadian Siege Battery to enter Germany….

He noted that the mood in Germany was not the same as in Belgium.  “…About the only difference we noted on crossing the frontier was the absence of flags and any demonstrations on the part of the people.  They still came out when we passed and just looked at us without a word or smile.  One or two we met on the road saluted us.  The people do not seem to fear us, in fact I think they welcome us, hoping the presence of the troops will restore order, and result in a more even distribution of food. The country we passed through today was desolate….” That night they stopped in a small village, Mirfeld, where Howatt was “…billeted in a schoolroom...

On December 10, while trying to find a place to stay in Büllingen, the unit ran into opposition.  “…At first they were going to put us in the station house, but the old station master kicked about it, saying he had a telegram from a conference in Aix-la-Chapelle saying that station houses were not to be used for billeting troops...”  The Canadians found other accommodation.

By December 12, they had reached Cologne, and the next day, December 13, “….the Canadian troops marched across the Rhine, reviewed as they crossed the bridge by General Plumer and General Currie.  It was an inspiring sight to see the Canadians cross to the east bank of the Rhine….. The people here do not seem to be very hostile, in fact many are quite friendly but it must have been a bitter pill for these proud Prussians to swallow to have to witness the occupation of their city by the hated Canadians….

On December 16, the unit travelled to its final destination in Germany.  “….We started about 1:30 pm for Bonn or somewhere near.  We passed through Bonn…. and arrived about dusk in a little town called Mehlem.  We are billeted in an old theatre….

The 2nd Canadian Brigade stayed in Mehlem until January 28, 1919, when the Canadian Army of Occupation was relieved by the British 84th Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery.  Canadian troops moved back to Belgium and then onwards towards demobilization and home. Howatt was discharged on May 18, 1919.

There is an Island link between the Canadian Brigade, which Howatt was part of, and the British Brigade! One of the members of the British Army of Occupation was Lt. Henry “Harry” Warburton STEWART, one of the names listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.  Stewart died in hospital while in Germany and is buried in Cologne.  (For an account of our visit to the cemetery and his story, see On the War Memorial Trail ….. In Cologne)

Henry Warburton Stewart

Henry “Harry” Warburton Stewart. (Photo courtesy B. Stewart family collection)

At the time we visited Cologne we did not have access to the war diaries for Stewart’s unit.  Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic we got a lucky break.  The National Archives in the United Kingdom has offered free access to its digitized records while the Archives are closed to the public. Pieter was able to get the war diaries, so we now have confirmation why Stewart was in Germany.

His unit, the 77th Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, became part of the 84th Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery, sent to relieve the Canadians.  According to the war diary, on January 29, 1919 “….a party of the 77th Siege Battery arrived in Namur…”  Unlike Howatt’s unit, which travelled by road, this unit “…. travelled to Mehlem by train...”  No mention is made of where in Mehlem the 77th Siege Battery was billeted.  Stewart must have fallen ill shortly after arriving in Mehlem as he ended up in hospital in nearby Bonn and died on February 11.

Unfortunately, as yet, we have not yet found a photo of Harold Howatt.  As well, the service file for Henry Warburton Stewart has not yet been digitized by the National Archives and is not available online. Can you help?  If so, please let Pieter know.  You can email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

Dutch Kings Day Is A Reminder Of The Upcoming Liberation Of The Netherlands Anniversary

kings day

April 27, 2020.  Today is Kings Day (Koningsdag) in The Netherlands, the national holiday in that country, equivalent to our Canada Day on July 1.  It celebrates the birthday of the Dutch King Willem-Alexander.  Normally there are lots of activities, but with social distancing due to the coronavirus, events have been cancelled, and people have been asked to celebrate at home.

20200427_124326 Apr 27 2020 Pieter with Dutch flag

On a windy Island, Pieter has to hang on to the Dutch flag for dear life! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Here on the Island, a proud Dutch-born Pieter put out the Dutch flag by our garage and held on to it long enough to take a photo before the wind whipped it around the pole.  The day is a reminder of next week’s 75th Liberation of The Netherlands on May 5.  Most events have been cancelled or curtailed, but the day will still be marked.


Cartoon found on geheugenvannederland.nl

Alice van Bekkum, Chair of the Face To Graves Foundation, has advised that stories and photos collected on those buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek are now online at www.facestograves.nl. She will be interviewed by CBC Calgary reporter Erin Collins on May 5.  (For more information see: Press Release Digital Monument May 2020)

Readers of this blog are aware of Pieter’s efforts to help the Foundation and other researchers with photos and stories about PEI soldiers buried in The Netherlands. (See Photos and Info Requested For WW2 Soldiers From PEI Buried In The Netherlands)

Of the Islanders buried in Groesbeek, photos for all but two have been found.  Still missing photos are two who lost their lives in 1945:

  1. Joseph Edmond HENNEBERY, born in Morell, was with the Royal Canadian Engineers -33rd Field Company. He died on April 20, 1945, aged 25.
  2. Barney Ruben MCGUIGAN, born in St. Peter’s, son of Thomas and Sadie McGuigan, was with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. He died on February 26, 1945, aged 17.

If you have photos or information to share about Henneberry, McGuigan, or other Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

One Soldier Records His Observations During The Last Few Days Of World War I

April 20, 2020.  As we stay in social isolation during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, many people are wondering how we will react once the restrictions are lifted, how they will be lifted, and when they will be lifted.  At the moment there are no clear answers.  But there are examples in the past about how people reacted when major events came to an end.  One of these was the reaction of WW1 soldiers when they learned that the war would end on the 11th hour of the 11th month in 1918.  Some didn’t believe it would happen, others wondered why wait when a ceasefire was already in the works.  Some thought to reduce the loss of life by not actively pursuing the soon to be ex-enemy, while others strove to aggressively take out as many enemies out as possible.  George Lawrence PRICE, the Canadian soldier who was shot by a German sniper and died two minutes before the 11 am ceasefire comes to mind as an example of the latter. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lawrence_Price)

Harold Keith HOWATT, of Augustine Cove, was in the 8th Canadian Siege Battery during WW1 and survived the war.  With this year’s pandemic in mind, we looked through his writings to see if there was any mention of what later became known as the Spanish flu among the troops.  To our surprise, only one mention was made of flu, and it had nothing to do with soldiers!  On October 29, 1918 he wrote that “….I received three letters from PEI and in one of them was the news that Morley Newsome had died of influenza.  It was quite a blow to me, we had always been such good friends….” (Newsome, the son of Samuel Newsome and Charlotte Dawson, died on October 8, 1918, and is buried in Charlottetown.)

Next we wondered what he wrote once the news of an upcoming ceasefire was announced.  The first mention is of a rumour on November 5, 1918, while he was in Hérin, France, not that far from the Belgian border. “…The Allied Army is going strong all along the line, the Belgians are reported to be in Ghent, the Americans have captured Sedan, and the French are going strong.  There are rumours of an armistice…

Wikipedia Western_front_1918_allied

Orange star is the approximate location of Hérin, France where Howatt was located in early November.  Brown arrow is the location of Sedan, Belgium. (Map source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Days_Offensive)

On November 6, 1918, he wrote that “…Peace rumours growing stronger.  It is reported that Mons is captured, also that the Germans have asked the Allied Command if they will receive a peace delegation…” Mons is in Belgium.

The next day, November 7, he recorded that it was “….officially reported that Turkey and Austria have unconditionally surrendered, that the Allied Fleet is in the Black Sea, and that Austria has to allow the Allies to march through their territory to attack Germany from the south…

On November 8, he sounds a hopeful note.  “…It is official that Germany is sending a peace delegation across the lines.  No one knows where the Germans are in front of here, somewhere beyond Mons.  There is great expectation of peace….

On November 9, he writes about going into the nearby town of Denain for a concert and later to visit a canteen where he met Canadians who recently arrived from England. “… There were a great number of Canadians in Denain today, two or three thousand reinforcements who have just come over from Blighty.  The rumour tonight is that the Allies have given Germany until Monday at 11:00 hours to agree to the terms of the armistice….”  All these rumours in the days before social media indicate the keen interest in what was happening!

Google Maps Cambrai

Hérin is circled in purple.  Denain is circled in orange. (Source: Google map for area around Cambrai, France.)

On November 10, Howatt’s unit was woken up at 5 am and told they would be on the move to Boussu, Belgium, a small town 10 kms west of Mons.  Then nothing happened all morning!  Hurry up and wait?  Finally, after dinner, Howatt was part of an advance party that left in a truck with “several signallers, two cooks, and Lutly and I…

Google maps Boussu

Howatt’s advance party travelled through Valenciennes to Boussu.  (Map source: Google)

When they arrived in Boussu, Howatt recorded that “…There are a large number of civilians in the town, and there was great excitement among the civilians, the band started to play, and the civilians flocked around, and started to dance, sing, and shout ‘La guerre est fini’.  The general impression seems to be that the war is about over…..

The first entry for Monday, November 11, 1918 was in quotes and underlined.  “Hostilities have ceased.”  Howatt then gave an account of the reaction.  “….At eleven o’clock this morning fighting ceased, the Germans have evidently accepted the terms of the armistice.  There was not much excitement today, the fellows hardly believe that it is true.  There is just a quiet undertone of gladness…

With fighting over, the rest of Howatt’s unit came to Boussu and they were billeted in a chateau built in 1539 and belonging to the Marquisse de Charbonne, a Parisian who used the chateau as a summer home.  Howatt mentions that the chateau had been “used by Fritz as billets. When we got over there to hold the billets we found about twenty Belgian girls here cleaning out the place.  It was in an awful mess….. We certainly had a circus here this morning with those girls, they would work for a while, then they would have a dance. I laughed more than I have for ages….

The end of fighting didn’t mean that soldiers were free to leave. On November 12, Howatt reports that “…Gun crews went down to clean the guns and signallers and B.C.A.s to clean their stores…” (B.C.A. is an acronym for Battery Commander Assistant, the position held by Howatt.)

On November 13, Howatt mentions more rumours going through his unit.  “...There are all sorts of rumours going around today, some say that we are going up into Germany, others say we are going right back to Canada.  I wouldn’t mind going into Germany at all….”  Not long afterwards, Howatt did go to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation.

We think of major events as having a beginning and an end.  They do, but the timing is staggered and never crystal clear.  Not only are there rumours, but there is a time lag when people begin to believe that what they have been told is true.  It must have been an enormous shock, mixed with relief, to learn that fighting was over, and then came the uncertainty while waiting to hear what would happen next. This is a lesson for us with the pandemic.

After returning home, Howatt married Louise Wright, and died on October 15, 1985, aged 93.  Does anyone have a photo of Harold Howatt? If so, please let Pieter know.  You can email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

The WW2 Seaman Who Was Hit By A Tram

April 5, 2020. Sometimes strange mishaps happen.  You’d expect that a seaman serving in Halifax would either be safe or, at worst, lose his life at sea.  But that’s not what happened to Singleton Charles JEFFERY!

20191221_154309 Singelton Jeffery newspaper from Mitch MacDonald

Singleton Charles Jeffery.  (Photo courtesy of May 17, 1941 edition of The Charlottetown Guardian, submitted by Mitch MacDonald. )

Jeffery was born on May 13, 1917 in Bayfield, New Brunswick, the son of Stephen and Alice Jeffery, and grew up in Cape Traverse.  After his father died, his mother remarried, to James Campbell.  A fisherman on the Island in pre-war years, he also worked as a seaman for Imperial Oil in Halifax, transporting oil, before enlisting with the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve in Halifax on May 5, 1940, Jeffery was also one of the few servicemen listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion who was married and had children.  He married a few months after enlistment and, with his wife Mildred Catharina, had two children: Betty Patricia and Diane May.

While Jeffery served aboard Navy ships in the Atlantic Ocean, his family lived in Halifax, where he was based.  On the evening of December 1, 1943, while stationed at the H.M.C.S. ‘Stadacona’ navy base as a patrolman, he was fatally hit by a tram in Halifax.  (For more information on H.M.C.S. ‘Stadacona’, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CFB_Halifax#Stadacona)

A Board of Inquiry on December 27, 1943 found that: “…There was contributory negligence on part of the street car operator and the deceased.  The operator was negligent in that he did not bring the street car to a full stop or slow down to a minimum speed and ring his bell to indicate to the would-be passengers that he was not making the regular stop…

The Board noted that Jeffery was negligent in “…that he crowded so close to the street car tracks at a point twenty to thirty feet south of the regular stop that he was struck…”  The Board found that although Jeffery had “…consumed a considerable quantity of beer (ten glasses)…” he was not found to be drunk, but his “…judgment may have been impaired by effects of the beverage..”  An autopsy showed that he had a full stomach, indicating that he had eaten, and not just been drinking.

On December 29, 1943, during the Board of Inquiry, a witness who had been on the tram at the time of the accident testified that he did NOT hear the conductor sound the bell as the tram approached the stop. According to the customary practice, the tram operator was supposed to ring a bell if he was NOT going to stop and pick up passengers.  In his opinion, he believed that Jeffery “…thought the street car was going to stop and he started to go in front of it in order to cross the street….

Another witness at the December 29, 1943 Board of Inquiry testified that he and another sailor had also been hit by the tram, but were not seriously injured.  He too explained that he was of the opinion that since the tram operator was slowing down “…we had the idea that he was stopping…” When asked if the tram operator had rung his bell to indicate he was not stopping, the answer was no.

A colleague of Jeffery had been with him at the Canteen testified that although both of them had drunk beer, neither was drunk.  He explained that after leaving the Canteen, Jeffery “…intended going to the Nova Scotian to a dance…

In response to the inquiry by the Department of National Defence into the incident, on February 2, 1944, the Nova Scotia Light and Power Company, which operated the tram, wrote that according to the tram operator: “…when approaching the Navy entrance to the Wet Canteen, he noticed a group of sailors out on the streets and about the tracks. He sounded the gong and slowed down; the sailors cleared away for the passing of the tram, and he continued at slow speed.  When approximately 20 feet south of the point where the main group of sailors were standing, a man stumbled forward and struck the side of the right front corner post of the tram.  He was spun around and fell to the pavement on the western side of the tram tracks. Another sailor standing alongside the party who was struck attempted to grab him as he stumbled, but failed to reach him in time….

While the Board of Inquiry had multiple witnesses testify that the tram operator’s actions gave the impression that he was going to stop and pick up the waiting servicemen, the final opinion by the District Pensions Advocate of the Department of Pensions and National Health of the Veterans Bureau concluded that “…I am of the opinion that the injuries sustained by Jeffery were due to his own negligence in either standing too close to the tram track and failing to remove himself when he should have seen the tram proceeding towards him, or in stepping closer to the track after the front of the tram had safely passed him.  I think it is significant that the front of the tram did not hit Jeffery.

A victim of a tragic accident, Jeffery is buried at the Bedford Gate of Heaven cemetery in Nova Scotia, which we visited.

CIMG7699 Jul 10 2017 Pieter by Jeffery gravestone

Pieter by the grave of Singleton Charles Jeffery at the Bedford Gate Of Heaven Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Pieter is still looking for a better photo of Singleton Charles Jeffery, as well as photos and information on the names listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.  If you have an item to share please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg