On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering WW2 Soldier Leo Francis Toney

May 22, 2021. No soldier buried overseas should be forgotten. This statement by Pieter underlines the efforts he has been making over the past years.  Currently he’s been working his way through a ‘photo wish list’ of soldiers buried in The Netherlands, on behalf of Dutch researchers.  After completing a list of soldiers from Prince Edward Island, last fall he started on a list of soldiers from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.

In January 2021 a series entitled Atlantic Canada Remembers began on this blog.  Currently it’s up to Part 9, with ongoing research for Part 10.  The list has expanded to include the two Canadian War Cemeteries in Groesbeek and Bergen Op Zoom, and Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Belgium.

An article ‘First Nations in The Second World War’ by Berry Swarthoff and Glenn Miller, published in the Dutch magazine ‘Nanai’ noted that after Canada declared war in 1939, “the country’s indigenous community responded quickly…. Officially, about 4,000 First Nations soldiers served abroad in World War I, while 4,250 First Nations soldiers served in World War II. Recent research has shown that thousands of other First Nations, Métis and Inuit soldiers … volunteered without identifying themselves as a First Nation….In total, more than 500 native soldiers died…”  This posting honours the sacrifice of one of these Indigenous soldiers.

….Remembering Leo Toney….

Leo Toney

Leo Francis Toney. (Photo courtesy of the Toney Family)

When Della Maguire contributed photos and information about her uncle, Leo Francis TONEY, on behalf of the Toney family, she explained that he “…was of Mi’kmaq ancestry and a member of the Annapolis Valley First Nation in Nova Scotia. The Mi’kmaq way to spell Leo is Li’o…

Born March 24, 1924 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Leo was the son of Frank Robert Toney and Mary Lucy Bradford of Cambridge, Nova Scotia.

Before he enlisted in 1943 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Leo worked as a farmer for Earl Brown of Cambridge.  Upon enlistment he was initially stationed at the No 6 District Depot on Chebucto Road in Halifax.

On January 14, 1944 he was sent to the Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for training.  On April 30, 1944 he was assigned to the Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Aldershot, Nova Scotia.

He arrived in the United Kingdom on July 27, 1944 and transferred to the Canadian Base Reinforcement Group (CBRG).   On August 18, 1944 he went to France as a member of the PEI Light Horse Regiment, and then, on October 6, 1944 was transferred to the South Saskatchewan Regiment.

leo xxx

Leo Francis Toney. (Photo courtesy of the Toney Family)

….The South Saskatchewan Regiment liberated the Schipbeek Canal bridge….

In a brief account by Lt Col G. B. Buchanan in ‘The March Of The Prairie Men – being a story of the South Saskatchewan Regiment’, in early April 1945, the liberation of Holten, The Netherlands, began as troops crossed the Twente Canal and began to build a bridge. “...The intention of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to pass through 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade and hold a bridgehead over the Schipbeek Canal north of Laren….”  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schipbeek)

They made it safely across on April 5.  They got stuck at the Schipbeek after the Germans blew up all bridges on April 6, and a bridgehead was formed at a weir on the border of the municipalities of Bathmen and Holten. The heavily defended Wipperts Bridge (Wippertsbrug) was a major obstacle between Laren and Holten.

…The South Saskatchewan Regiment was to make the crossing with ‘H’ hour set at 0330 hours, 7th April.  ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were to make the initial crossings with ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies passing through them.  The opening artillery barrage caused casualties when a few rounds fell short….

….10 soldiers were buried on Nijenhuis farm…

At some point during the fighting, Leo was killed in action on Saturday, April 7, 1945. In addition to Leo, the following members of the South Saskatchewan Regiment lost their lives in the battle:

  • Pte Murray James Hilton ELLIS, died April 9, 1945
  • Lt Richard Kelso KERR, of Port Arthur, Ontario, died April 8, 1945
  • Pte Edwin Allan ‘Eddie’ NUGENT, of Delisle, Saskatchewan, died April 9, 1945
  • Pte Arthur Francis PURCELL, of  East Petpeswick, Nova Scotia, died April 7, 1945
  • Pte Elmer Alphonso RICHARDS, of  Thorold, Ontario, died April 7, 1945
  • Pte Neil Patrick O‘Connor STEWART, of St. Paul, Alberta, died April 8, 1945
  • Sgt Kenneth Earl STUBBS, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, died April 7, 1945

Leo and his fellow soldiers from the South Saskatchewan Regiment, with the exception of Nugent and Stewart, were temporarily buried in a field on the Nijenhuis farm, along with 4 soldiers from other Regiments:

  • Lance Cpl Roger George COLLIN, Le Regiment de Maisonneuve, of Gogama, Ontario, died April 9, 1945
  • Sgt Donald Mayford FIFE, Canadian Provost Corps, of Halfway River, Nova Scotia, died April 7, 1945
  • Sapper Andrew Lawrence FORD, Royal Canadian Engineers, of St. Thomas, Ontario, died April 7, 1945
  • Pte Cyrille GIGUERE, Le Regiment de Maisonneuve, of Quebec City, Quebec, died April 9, 1945
Map showing Nijenhuis farm location

Map showing location of burials on the Nijenhuis farm.  (Map courtesy of the Holten Canadian War Cemetery Information centre.)

An account in ‘The Liberation Of The Beuseberg – How Canadians set a village in the Netherlands free’ quotes Bertus Ebrecht, who was 16 years old at the time, that the burials were “…in the meadow of Nijenhuis, about 70 metres from the ‘Larensweg’…”  This book, edited by Agnes van Wieringen, written by Joice Schutte, records the stories told to Gert Jansen by the people from the Beuseberg area.

In another excerpt from the book, Florina Dijkshoorn, 15 years old at the time, recalled that the Nijenhuis farm housed a German hospital.  “…April 7, half past four, it was still dim….”  People had been hiding in a dugout shelter, and after the shooting stopped, they were able to get out.  “… we walked to the farm….The German hospital flag was replaced by an allied flag.  What we also saw were a lot of soldiers walking in the meadow and on the road from the direction of ‘Schipbeek’. We had to go to Meijerman’s farm. Nijenhuis’ farm was probably filled with wounded Canadians…..

When they were allowed to leave “…we were shown a path in the meadow which was cleared of explosive material.  It also meant we had to walk along the dead.  Once I was alone….I …. thought of all the mothers, fathers, women and children that might not even know they were dead!…. An hour later they were picked up and carried away in a closed lorry….

On April 7, 2016 a memorial was placed to honour the members of the South Saskatchewan Regiment who died during this event. (See https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/100747/Memorial-The-South-Saskatchewan-Regiment.htm)

….Nugent and Stewart were buried elsewhere….

Map showing location of Nijenhuis farm and burial location near Lochem

Map showing location of burials on the Nijenhuis farm and near Lochem.  (Map courtesy of the Holten Canadian War Cemetery Information centre.)

I asked Henk Vincent, one of the researchers for the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, if he had information on where Nugent and Stewart were first buried.  He confirmed that they “were temporarily buried near Lochem, where there was a military hospital at the time. Perhaps they had been transported there seriously injured….

….Leo’s brother-in-law was concerned….

Della’s father, Abraham ‘Abe’ SMITH, was with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps 36 Depot, an administrative and transport corps of the Canadian Army. “….My Father enlisted in September 1, 1943.  He became a truck driver delivering food, supplies, troops, and equipment to various places in England, Germany, France and Belgium, and was discharged May 29, 1946….”  (To learn more about Abraham Smith, see https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/canada/honouring-first-nations-wartime-experiences-accomplished-nova-scotian-mikmaq-basket-maker-remembered-518058/)

Abe had a feeling something had happened to his brother-in-law.   “….When he told us about Uncle Leo he said: ‘I used to write to Leo and he’d write back. I didn’t hear from him for a long time and I told Rita he must be wounded or got killed’….”   They had been in regular correspondence with each other and the silence suggested Leo was either wounded or had lost his life.

… Leo has a permanent resting place at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten….

Leo was reburied at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten after the war.

toney, leo francis

Grave of Leo Toney at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  (Photo courtesy of Holten Canadian War Cemetery Information Centre)

Della reflected that her Uncle Leo “would have been proud of his sister, my mother Rita, for being the only Mi’kmaq woman to become Chief of two communities…

Thank you to Della Maguire for sharing photos and anecdotes of Leo Toney.  If you have information to share about Leo Toney or any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

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On The War Memorial Trail…..A Tragic Drowning On The Leda River in Germany – Part 4

May 18, 2021.  When we visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten in October 2019, we laid flags down at the graves of five soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders who drowned in a tragic accident in Germany on April 28, 1945.

Recap: In Part 1, the 5 soldiers were identified and the circumstances leading up to the accident were summarized. In Part 2, more information on the accident was discussed, as well as a brief story on Lloyd William Murray, one of the 5 soldiers.  In Part 3, Joseph ‘Ambroise’ Comeau was remembered by his family.

This time, the rest of North Nova Scotia Highlanders who lost their lives that day are remembered.

…. Ruel Kitchener Matheson Remembered….

matheson rk 11-d-12

Ruel Kitchener Matheson.  (Photo courtesy of the Holten Canadian War Cemetery Information Centre.)

Ruel Kitchener MATHESON was born July 6, 1916 in Dundas, Prince Edward Island, Canada, the son of Angus George and Catharina Matheson.   Ruel was a farm labourer before enlisting on January 24, 1944 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

He began basic training in the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) at Camp Borden in Ontario, then took parachutist training with the Canadian Parachute Training Centre (CPTC) at Camp Shilo in Manitoba. On September 16, 1944 he was transferred to the Canadian Infantry Training Centre and on November 20, 1944, sent overseas.  Upon arrival in the United Kingdom he was transferred to the Canadian Infantry Training Regiment (CITR).  On March 27, 1945 he was transferred to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

He was temporarily buried in Bingum, Germany before being reburied at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

Matheson Ruel tijdelijk graf te Bingum (D) 11 D 12

Temporary grave of Ruel Kitchener Matheson in Bingum, Germany.  (Photo courtesy of the Holten Canadian War Cemetery Information Centre.)

CIMG3282 Oct 3 2019 Holten Ruel Matheson

Grave of Ruel Kitchener Matheson at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…. Lewis Wilkieson Marsh Remembered….

Photo Lewis Marsh

Lewis Wilkieson Marsh. (Photo source:  Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

Born on November 14, 1925 in of Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, Lewis Wilkieson MARSH was the son of Edward L. and Millicent M. Marsh.  He was an electrician and worked at the Princess Coal Mine in Sydney Mines before enlistment on May 25, 1944 in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

After receiving basic training in Canada, he arrived in the United Kingdom on December 25, 1944 and was transferred to the Canadian Infantry Training Regiment (CITR).  By February 24, 1945 he was in North West Europe, and transferred to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders on March 27, 1945.

He was temporarily buried on May 12, 1945 in Bingum, Germany, before being reburied at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

CIMG3278 Oct 3 2019 Holten Lewis Marsh

Grave of Lewis Wilkieson Marsh at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…. Howard Milo Nicholls Remembered….

Born March 21, 1924 in Mattawa, Ontario, Howard Milo NICHOLLS was the son of Albert and Frances Nicholls.  He was employed by the Dominion Bridge Company in Toronto from January 1941 until his enlistment with the Queen’s Own Rifles on March 31, 1943 in Toronto.  From March to May 1942, he was a member of the Reserve, in the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (RCOC).

After training in Canada, Howard was sent overseas in December 1943.  Shortly after D-Day on June 6, 1944 he was transferred to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

He was temporarily buried on May 1, 1945 in Bingum, Germany before being reburied at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

CIMG3279 Oct 3 2019 Holten Howard Nicholls

Grave of Howard Milo Nicholls at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

This concludes the series on the 5 soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders who tragically drowned on April 28, 1945 when the storm boat they were in capsized while crossing the Leda River in Germany.

Missed the previous postings in this series? See:

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find a photo of Howard Milo Nicholls.  If you have photos or information to share about these or any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

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© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail…..A Tragic Drowning On The Leda River in Germany – Part 3

May 17, 2021.  When we visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten in October 2019, we laid flags down at the graves of five soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders who drowned in a tragic accident in Germany on April 28, 1945.

Recap: In Part 1, the 5 soldiers were identified and the circumstances leading up to the accident were summarized. In Part 2, more information on the accident was discussed, as well as a brief story on Lloyd William Murray, one of the 5 soldiers.  The rest of this series features the other North Nova Scotia Highlanders who lost their lives that day.

In October 2018, while we were in Nova Scotia, we were able to meet two nieces of Joseph Ambroise COMEAU, the only family members of the 5 soldiers we were able to meet in person – up to now.

CIMG2715 Oct 11 2018 Simone Comeau Pieter Jacqueline Comeau in Windsor

Pieter with Simone Comeau, left, and Jacqueline Comeau, right.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Simone, Jacqueline, and their two sisters are diligent in remembering their uncle.

IMG-1039 Comeau sisters

The Comeau sisters of Nova Scotia.  Left to right:  Simone Comeau, Jacqueline Comeau, Anna (Comeau) Gammell, and Rose-Marie Comeau. (Photo courtesy of Simone Comeau)

…. Joseph ‘Ambroise’ Comeau Remembered….

Joseph Ambroise Comeau from Simone

Joseph ‘Ambroise’ Comeau.  (Photo courtesy of niece Simone Comeau)

Niece Simone Comeau wrote a brief overview of her ‘oncle Ambroise’.  “… Private Joseph Ambroise Comeau was born on October 1, 1923 in Lower Saulnierville, Nova Scotia, Canada, the fourth of six children to Gustave and Jessie (Saulnier) Comeau.

Ambroise was baptized on October 4, 1923 in Sacred Heart, Saulnierville, the local parish church. He also made his first confession, first Communion, and confirmation, all sacraments of the Roman Catholic faith in this church.

According to records, he had little schooling. Being from a poor family, his farmer/blacksmith father had no financial means to send him to the private local boys’ college. At the time of his draft he was employed as a carpenter for Clare Shipbuilding Company.

One has to wonder as to whether he had a premonition regarding the probability of his not returning to Canada as a veteran, since he was most reluctant to leave, according to the family of his then three old goddaughter, to whom he had brought a gift on his good-bye visit.

Sadly, Private J. Ambroise Comeau (F.602531) of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders was killed on April 28, 1945, a victim of World War II. On June 3, 1945, a memorial was held in Sacred Heart Church where he had practised his faith until his departure for the war. Being ever faithful to his beliefs, at the time of his death he carried a religious medal and a rosary on his person….

Ambroise, who was fluent in both English and French, enlisted on April 28, 1944 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and lost his life exactly a year later.  As part of the Canadian Infantry Training Regiment (CITR) he arrived in the United Kingdom on January 10, 1945.  He was temporarily assigned to the St John Fusiliers, before being reassigned to the CITR.  On March 28, 1945 he arrived in North West Europe as part of the IGU (Infantry General Unit) before being transferred to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders on April 19, 1945.

According to his service file, on May 19, 1945 Ambroise was buried on top of a dike in Leer, Germany before being reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.

Grave of Joseph Ambroise Comeau

Original grave marker in Germany for J.A. Comeau.  (Photo from the service file.)

CIMG3274 Oct 3 2019 Holten Joseph Comeau

By the grave of Joseph ‘Ambroise’ Comeau at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten in October 2019.  Pieter is standing with Dutch researcher Edwin van der Wolf, left. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…. to be continued…..

In Part 4 we learn about more of the North Novies who lost their lives.   Thank you to Simone and Jacqueline Comeau for sharing photos and information about their uncle.

Missed the previous postings in this series? See:

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

If you have information to share about these or any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

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You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail…..A Tragic Drowning On The Leda River in Germany – Part 2

May 16, 2021.  When we visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten in October 2019, we laid flags down at the graves of five soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders who drowned in a tragic accident in Germany on April 28, 1945. 

Recap: In Part 1, the 5 soldiers were identified and the circumstances leading up to the accident were summarized.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/05/15/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-tragic-drowning-on-the-leda-river-in-germany-part-1/)

….Another account of what happened….

Part 2 provides more information.  In ‘River Assault – Operation Duck: The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s Attack On Leer 28th April 1945’, author John Sliz wrote that “…The Highland Light Infantry cleared the north landing dock of the Leda River ferry in time for ‘C’ Company of the North Novas to be transported over in storm boats….. Unfortunately, ‘C’ Company’s crossing was eventful…

…It started at 1540 when Lt MacLean of the 20th Field Company, RCE, called the boat pool for 12 Storm Boats to go to the Leda River ferry site. The trip was fine, despite the choppy water and wind.  Sgt G. Stewart and 13 Platoon were the first to be ferried over…” RCE refers to Royal Canadian Engineers.

…The next were company headquarters, Lt Laskin with 14 Platoon and Lt R.S. McGlashen with 15 Platoon….”  After crossing the river, all 3 Platoons were to “… swing north towards the town….” of Leer.

… All was fine until a very unfortunate incident occurred when one boat, containing half of 15 Platoon, including Lt McGlashen, set out from the south bank. That is when the shelling started. The young engineer operating the motor became very excited.  The other sapper shouted at him not to turn on full power because when the motor dipped it would upset the boat’s balance. Unfortunately, when they were halfway across, a shell landed very close to the boat and the nervous sapper gunned the engine, shifting the weight and allowing water to flow over the gunwales….

…Lt McGlashen managed to shed his heavy equipment and not only made it to the shore, but managed to help another man ashore. All but 5 men made it to the shore…”  These were the 5 men from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

….Why did the men drown?….

Why did the five men drown?  John Sliz noted that “…These men sank, never to rise again, even though life belts were worn.  The reason for this was the heavy equipment worn by the men was too much for the life belt that was used….

Sliz quotes from a report by Brigadier John M. Rockingham.  “…The equipment was worn….. in such a way that the waist belt alone had to be unbuckled to permit the soldier to shake it free. There was, however, a tendency for this equipment to slide down the arms, pressing them into the side, preventing any swimming motion, until it was finally clear….”  It would have been like trying to swim while wearing a straightjacket!

….From the Lloyd William Murray records….

Lloyd W Murray photo

Lloyd William Murray.  (Photo courtesy of Murray Baillie)

The accounts of the accident match the war diary entry for the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment.  In the service file for Lloyd William MURRAY, a ‘Questionnaire On A Missing Officer Or Soldier’ noted that the boat capsized at “…about 1630 hours...”

A description of the event states that “…Boat was moving full throttle across Leda River which was very rough at the time.  Other boats were also making water choppy.  Waves breaking over bow of storm boat capsized the boat.  Pte Murray, LW was in boat when it sank...”

On May 22, 1945, Chaplain Graydon O. Coy wrote to Lloyd Murray’s mother, explaining that “…Lloyd was killed in action near the town of Leer in Germany when the North Novas were crossing the Emms Canal, one of the boats was hit; and your son and several others were killed. On account of the action, the bodies were not recovered until several days ago.

I buried Lloyd in the allied military plot in the Lutheran cemetery in Leer. I understand though that the Graves Commission will see that the bodies of our Canadian boys are brought together in a central cemetery as soon as possible….” 

On June 8, 1945 Lt McGlashen wrote to Lloyd Murray’s mother, to tell her that “…Your son was a loyal and efficient member of my platoon in C Company and in action proved himself a courageous leader…

McGlashen went on to describe the events leading to the boat capsizing, and noted that “…other boats came to our rescue quickly, but 5 boys of my platoon were gone…

…. Lloyd William Murray Remembered….

Lloyd Murray’s nephew, Murray Baillie, explained that “…Lloyd had three brothers and four sisters; they felt immense pain when they heard of his death near the end of the war in 1945…

Born on April 4, 1917, Lloyd was the son of John and Bessie Murray, of Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia.  Before officially enlisting on June 1, 1944 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he worked for several years in Ontario mines and later in Pictou shipyards. 

CIMG2699 Lloyd Murrary & Murray Baillie 1941 in Corktown

Lloyd Murray with his nephew Murray Baillie in 1941. (Photo courtesy of Murray Baillie)

In 1944 Lloyd was at Camp Ipperwash in Forest, Ontario, and wrote to his sister Emma that “…I am getting along fine and like it here good. It is a very nice camp here. It is only about twenty miles from the border to US. I go over to Detroit quite often. They sure use the servicemen great there. We get leave every two weeks…

On March 29, 1945 he wrote Emma from Europe.  “…I am in Germany now and getting along fine. I am writing this letter in a slit trench and there is sure quite a bit of noise around. We got the Germans on the run. Don’t think war will last much longer.

I hope not anyway. I was in Belgium quite a little while and like it great there. It sure is a nice place.

We are having nice weather here. Hope it stays this way….

CIMG3234 Oct 3 2019 Holten Lloyd Murray

By the grave of Lloyd William Murray at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten in October 2019.  Pieter is standing with Dutch researchers Edwin van der Wolf, left, and Henk Vincent, centre. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…. to be continued…..

In Part 3 we learn more about the North Novies who lost their lives.   Thank you to Murray Baillie for sharing photos and the letters written by Lloyd William Murray. 

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog. 

If you have information to share about these or any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1

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© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail…..A Tragic Drowning On The Leda River in Germany – Part 1

May 15, 2021.  When we visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten in October 2019, we laid flags down at the graves of five Canadian soldiers who drowned in a tragic accident in the Battle of Leer in Germany on April 28, 1945, one of the final actions to end WW2 in Europe.

(See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/on-the-war-memorial-trail-our-2019-visit-to-the-canadian-war-cemetery-in-holten/)

….5 North Nova Scotia Highlanders Drowned….

These 5 soldiers, all from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment, were:

  • Joseph ‘Ambroise’ COMEAU, age 22, of Saulnierville, Nova Scotia
  • Lewis Wilkieson MARSH, age 19, of Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia
  • Ruel Kitchener MATHESON, age 29, of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
  • Lloyd William MURRAY, age 28, of Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia
  • Howard Milo NICHOLLS, age 21, of Mattawa, Ontario

This tragedy became known to us when the people at the Holten Canadian Cemetery Information Centre asked for help in finding family of these soldiers as part of their project to put a face to every name on each gravestone.

Two families immediately came forward – the Comeau family in Nova Scotia shared information about Joseph ‘Ambroise’ COMEAU, as did the nephew of Lloyd William MURRAY.

Joseph ‘Ambroise’ Comeau.  (Photo courtesy of niece Simone Comeau)

Lloyd William Murray.  (Photo courtesy of Murray Baillie)

…Operation Duck…

Putting faces to names made us want to know more about what happened in this event with the aptly named codename ‘Operation Duck’ (See https://codenames.info/operation/duck-iii/).

The plan? The North Nova Scotia Highlanders would cross the Leda River in assault boats and secure the northern bank of the river in preparation for the attack to capture Leer. The Highland Light Infantry of Canada would cross the Leda River, where the Ems and Leda rivers meet. The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders would go across the Ems River towards the western edge of Leer.

These three Regiments were part of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade.  (See https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/battlehonours/northwesteurope/leer.htm)

Map showing the Ems and Leda Rivers, and position of Regiments during the Battle for Leer.  (Map courtesy of and ©Jan Braakman)

In a translated excerpt from the recently published book ‘Holtense Canadezen’ (The Faces Of Holten) by Jan Braakman, we learned that the North Novies were not the only Regiment to have had casualties.  The men from the Highland Light Infantry all crossed safely, but 19 men from the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders didn’t.

…Why Operation Duck Was Important…

Jan Braakman’s account explained why Operation Duck was important. “…At the end of April 1945, Canadian troops stood just across the Dutch-German border in Ostfriesland (East Frisia in Germany) in front of the river Ems. The town of Leer was on the other side of the river on the route to Emden. Surrounded by inaccessible lowlands in the north and with rivers (Ems and Leda) in the west and south, Leer was a well defensible and therefore difficult to capture port city. All access bridges over the Ems and Leda were blown up by the Germans. For the Canadians there was no other option than to reach the city by water….

River crossings can be tricky due to currents and tides, and in wartime, there is always the risk of enemy fire.  “….The Ems River has an open connection with the Wadden Sea, which means that tides influence water levels and currents in the river. Tides made the currents unpredictable, and the Canadian Army didn’t have accurate information about the tides. What was clear: high tide was the best time to make the crossing. Aerial photographs showed that German troops had fortified themselves well behind the dikes that surrounded the city…. 

A decision was made on how to cross the two rivers – the Leda and the Ems.. “ Only under the protection of a smoke screen and solid artillery support would it be possible to successfully complete the attack on Leer, using boats … General Simonds ordered that on April 28, 1945, before darkness fell, there had to be a solid bridgehead, from which the capture of Leer could be initiated. That meant that the attack had to be launched during the middle of the day, around three o’clock, when the water level was at its highest… 

The Highland Light Infantry crossed safely across the Leda River, but the other two regiments ran into trouble.  “…The crossing was made at three different places. At the same time, artillery fire and attacks from the air put the German defence line to the test. The North Nova Scotia Highlanders would cross the Leda from the south bank and take the harbour of Leer, which abutted the city on a peninsula...

 ….Panic Led To Tragedy….

Things didn’t go as planned.  3 sets of assault boats used by the North Nova Scotia Highlanders set off at 1545 hours on April 28.  In ‘No Retreating Footsteps… the story of the North Novas’ by Will Bird, he explained that “…9 men were allotted to a boat at the river crossing.  Two men in each were operating these boats which used outboard motors….

In each boat were 7 North Novies and two boat operators from the Royal Canadian Engineers.  “…. C Company, commanded by Major Winhold, had moved off from Driever …. with Thirteen Platoon leading, then…. Fourteen Platoon under Lt S Laskin and Fifteen under Lt McGlashen…

Unfortunately for the men in the boat from Fifteen Platoon, one of the Engineers didn’t have nerves of steel.  “…Just as the craft were launched some shelling began and the young Engineer at the motor of the boat ….. became very excited.  His mate shouted at him not to turn on full power as the heavy load would sink when the motor dipped, but a shell landed quite near and the nervous man gave the motor the gun, sinking the boat at once…

Five of the North Novies drowned.  Lt McGlashen managed to save himself and another man.  Men were not the only casualties.  “…Fifteen Platoon had been chosen to lead the attack, but most of its weapons were lost…

What a tragic accident!  To see what an assault boat looks like, take a look at this short YouTube video, which shows troops preparing to cross the Ems:

…. to be continued…..

In Part 2 the aftermath of the accident is discussed and we’ll learn about the men who drowned.

Thank you to Jan Braakman for permission to quote from his book and use of the map showing the position of the Regiments, and to Simone Comeau and Murray Baillie for sharing photos.

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

If you have information to share about these or any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.

© Daria Valkenburg

The Photo Tribute At The Canadian War Cemetery In Groesbeek

20210505_091943 May 5 2021 Dutch flag on Liberation Day

The Dutch flag flies proudly at the Valkenburg household on Liberation Day. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

May 10, 2021. In the last blog posting, we featured photos at the graves of 7 soldiers buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.  As part of the Liberation Day 2021 commemoration, photos of over 1,600 soldiers were placed by their graves and will remain until May 17. 

In that posting, photos of the graves of 4 soldiers from PEI whose stories have already been told in this blog, and 3 Indigenous soldiers that Pieter is currently researching, were featured. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/05/05/commemorating-liberation-day-at-the-canadian-war-cemetery-in-groesbeek/)

Recently, we received information on one more Indigenous soldier, who has been added to Pieter’s research list.  We asked Alice van Bekkum, Chair of the Groesbeek Faces to Graves Committee, to take the photo of his grave.

…. Grave of 1 Indigenous Soldier….

 

IMG_8567-AVB Grave of Thomas Big Canoe in Groesbeek

Grave of Thomas Beresford Big Canoe. (Photo courtesy of Alice van Bekkum)

Thomas Beresford BIG CANOE, son of Thomas H. and Hannah Bigcanoe, of Georgina Island, Ontario, was serving with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry when he lost his life on March 8, 1945, at the age of 19.

…. The Faces Of Groesbeek video….

Alice sent a short film about the photo exhibition at the cemetery, entitled ‘The Faces of Groesbeek’.   Make sure you have tissues handy when you watch this.  There will be tears once you see the piper playing as he walks, row by row, through the cemetery.

Thank you to Alice van Bekkum for taking the photos of the grave of Thomas Beresford Big Canoe, and for sharing ‘The Faces of Groesbeek’ video.

If you have photos or information to share about any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1

Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw

© Daria Valkenburg

Commemorating Liberation Day At The Canadian War Cemetery In Groesbeek

20210505_091943 May 5 2021 Dutch flag on Liberation Day

The Dutch flag flies proudly at the Valkenburg household on Liberation Day. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

May 5, 2021.  Last year, one of the events planned for the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands was to place photos by the graves of soldiers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek.  Unfortunately, due to social distancing measures, this had to be cancelled.  Instead, white tulips were placed at each grave.  (See   https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/05/05/tulips-placed-at-each-grave-at-the-canadian-war-cemetery-in-groesbeek/)

This year, the planned photo tribute was possible, with photos placed at more than 1,600 graves. They will remain in place until May 17. Readers of this blog are aware that Pieter has been working towards finding as many photos as possible from the Atlantic region over the past few years.  Here on PEI, all but two soldiers buried in this cemetery have their photo tributes.  We asked Alice van Bekkum, Chair of the Groesbeek Faces to Graves Committee,  to take photos of 4 soldiers whose stories have been previously told here.

….Graves of 4 PEI soldiers ….

IMG_8528 Grave of Willie Cannon

Grave of William ‘Willie’ Alfred Cannon. (Photo courtesy of Alice van Bekkum)

To read about William ‘Willie’ Alfred CANNON of Mt Mellick, please see https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2018/08/04/canadian-war-graves-netherlands-foundation-project/

IMG_8522 Grave of Joe Hennebery

Grave of Joseph ‘Joe’ Edmund Hennebery. (Photo courtesy of Alice van Bekkum)

To read about Joseph ‘Joe’ Edmund HENNEBERY of Morell, please see https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-face-for-joseph-hennebery/

IMG_8526 Grave of George Preston Smith

Grave of George Preston Smith.  (Photo courtesy of Alice van Bekkum)

To read about George Preston SMITH of Kinkora, please see:

IMG_8523 Grave of William Weatherbie

Grave of William Weatherbie.  (Photo courtesy of Alice van Bekkum)

To read about William WEATHERBIE of Charlottetown, please see https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2019/09/29/a-face-for-ww2-soldier-william-weatherbie/

Alice shared a short video in which she is interviewed, and volunteers can be seen placing the photos by the graves.  The photos were printed onto an aluminum backing, making them impervious to rain.  Whether you understand Dutch or not, the video is wonderful as it shows the care and precision taken for this photo tribute.

….Graves of 3 Indigenous soldiers….

Recently, several photos have come in for soldiers whose stories Pieter is still researching.  Three of these are of Indigenous soldiers, which came about after an article about Pieter’s search for photos was written by Brett Forester of APTN News.  (See https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/dutch-born-p-e-i-man-on-a-mission-to-find-photos-of-first-nations-soldiers-killed-overseas-in-wwii/) Their stories will be told in a future posting.

Pieter asked his friend and former colleague, Ad Scheepers, if he would take photos of 3 graves at the cemetery in Groesbeek.  Ad visited the cemetery and placed an orange flower beside each grave he took a photo of.

Grave of Alfred Pitwanakwat

Grave of Alfred Louis Pitwanakat.  (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

Alfred Louis PITAWANAKWAT (PITWANAKWAT) was born September 12, 1924 in Little Current, Ontario, son of Agatha Pitwanakwat, of Wikwemikong, Ontario.

Grave of Eli Snake

Grave of Eli Snake. (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

Eli SNAKE was born November 29, 1919 on the Muncey Reserve, the son of Eli and Marjorie Snake.

Grave of Clarence Wakegijig

Grave of Clarence Wilfred Wakegijig.  (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

Clarence Wilfred WAKEGIJIG was born January 9, 1925 in Wikemwikong, Ontario, the son of Joachim and Josephine Wakegijig (nee Shawanda), of Krugersdorf, Ontario.

Ad wrote that while he was near the grave of Alfred Pitwanakat, “….a boy visiting the site with his family put a Canadian flag in front of the grave of Alfred….

Child places flag by Alfreds grave

A young boy places a flag by the grave of Alfred Pitwanakat. (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

Child by Alfreds grave

A young boy inspects the flag he placed by the grave of Alfred Pitwanakat.  (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

It’s clear that the Dutch pass on the importance of remembrance to the next generation so they can continue to remember those who lost their lives in WW2!

Thank you to Alice van Bekkum and Ad Scheepers for their kindness in taking the photos of the graves.  If you have information to share about any Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail….. Pieter Awarded Sovereign’s Medal For Volunteers

Pieter’s Sovereign’s Medal For Volunteers. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

May 4, 2021. On February 18, 2020, while we were in Florida for our winter vacation, I went to the movies with a few friends.  We went to see a ‘chick flick’, a film not of interest to any of our husbands, including Pieter.  While I was away, Pieter got a phone call from the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, advising that he had been nominated for the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers and this was approved by the Governor General.  Would he be willing to accept it?  (See  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign%27s_Medal_for_Volunteers)

A very surprised Pieter said it would be an honour.  We all know what happened next….  Covid put a stop to any events, and the ceremony was postponed.  Almost 14 months later, Pieter got a call from the Events Coordinator at the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General.  Would he be willing to have a virtual presentation ceremony?  The answer was yes.

Pieter wears the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

On April 30, 2021, Pieter Valkenburg was presented with the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal For Volunteers, for his ongoing research to uncover the stories and photos of those who served in WW1 and WW2, and sharing his research findings with the public.   (See https://www.gg.ca/en/honours/recipients/342-116665)

The insignia was presented to him by the Hon. Catherine Callbeck, CM, OPEI, LLD, on behalf of His Excellency the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., Administrator of the Government of Canada, via a virtual private ceremony.   

Pieter with Catherine Callbeck.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Pieter thanks those who helped with this research project….

Given the shortness of the ceremony, Pieter was unable to thank everyone who has helped with the On The War Memorial Trail research project.  So here is what Pieter asked to be included in this posting:

I am deeply humbled by this honour. Thank you to those who nominated me and supported this nomination.

I started this project to offer my gratitude to Canada for liberating country of my birth. As a Canadian, I wanted to honour those soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice and the families that lost their loved ones.

My volunteerism would have never been possible without the support of many people and I would like to mention some of them. First and foremost, my wife Daria, who makes sure that a blog about my research is written, YouTube videos are posted, a Twitter account is maintained, and articles are written and published.

I would also like to thank Mike and Isabel Smith of The County Line Courier who have given us enormous support and published all the articles that my wife wrote.

Thank you to Angela Walker of CBC radio in Charlottetown, as well as CBC radio in Moncton and Halifax, CBC Radio-Canada in Moncton, and CTV Atlantic’s Live At Five.  Their support provided platforms to ask for the public’s help in researching soldiers.

This project initially began with 48 names on a Cenotaph and has expanded to cover soldiers in Atlantic provinces.  I thank the many Legion members in the Atlantic provinces who have helped fulfill photo requests. 

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 10 in Borden-Carleton is commended for its willingness to create a wall of honour with pictures of the WW1 and WW2 soldiers that we have researched and that are mentioned on their Cenotaph.

One of the names on this Cenotaph was that of a 23 year old WW2 pilot from PEI.  He died but saved his crew and the village of Wons in The Netherlands by choosing to stay with his plane after it was shot down.

With the help and cooperation of the Tryon and Area Historical Society on Prince Edward Island, and the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation in The Netherlands, a memorial panel for this pilot and his crew was installed in 2019 near the crash site.

I would like to thank the many families that donated pictures and stories about relatives who served. These contacts have been heartwarming and have enriched our lives. We were able to meet a number of them, and are honoured by the gratitude they’ve shown that their relatives are not forgotten.

Over the years, we have visited Vimy Ridge, Menin Gate, and many cemeteries in France, Belgium, Germany, and The Netherlands to pay our respects to the soldiers that we have researched and written about and to honour them by placing small Canadian and provincial flags at their graves.

These flags were provided by the offices of Senator Mike Duffy, our federal Member of Parliament, Wayne Easter, and our provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly, Jamie Fox. 

During these visits we met many other volunteers, who devote their time to make sure that the sacrifice made by the soldiers will never be forgotten, such as research volunteers for the three Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands.  Presently I’m assisting them in finding photos and non-military information for soldiers from the Maritimes.

Remembrance of those who gave their lives for our continued freedom is important, and no soldier buried overseas should ever be forgotten.  My research work will continue. Thank you….

The ceremony was very emotional and touching, and as a very proud wife, I was delighted that Pieter received this award.  I’m extremely proud of him for his incredible work in bringing history to life by telling the stories of individuals who served in WW1 and WW2.

Comments on Pieter receiving the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers….

As people have learned of this award, several took the time to contact Pieter.  Here are a few of the comments:

Mike and Isabel Smith, Publishers of the County Line Courier:  “Congratulations on receiving the Sovereigns Medal For Volunteers. What an accomplishment.

The award appropriately reflects your passion and the endless hours you have spent making phone calls, researching and following leads to recover and secure information and photographs of veterans whose stories might have been forgotten and lost.

Your dedication honours the service and sacrifices of these veterans who served their country.

On behalf of The County Line Courier Community Newspaper, congratulations and keep up the good work.

Susan and Charlie Choi: “Congratulations Pieter!!!!!!!  Very exciting news and very well deserved!” 

Mieke de Bie: “It is a great honour for him. He may be proud of it because he deserves it! It happens not everyday… I am excited too, and also proud of our cousin.

Marjorie Inman:  “Thank you Pieter for your many years of devotion to this worthwhile project.

Rheal Leger and Simone Belliveau: “Congratulations to Pieter. That’s a major honour for a great continuation of his project. Outstanding work Pieter!

Alexander Tuinhout, Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation: “Congratulations Pieter! Receiving this medal is not only an honour, but also a public recognition of the important work that the both of you do and have done already. Commemorating the fallen during both World Wars is not only about history, but also about connecting people and keeping the memories alive.

Brien and Moira Robertson: “Congratulations for your award. It is such an honor. Everyone is proud of you. It is a wonderful achievement and the fallen dead were very honored through your achievements.” 

Remco and Barbara de Jong: “Woooow, congratulations on this extraordinary award and recognition. And in my opinion no more than is deserved. Not that you are doing this great job to get a medal but for the gratitude of the next of kin. That their loved ones didn’t sacrifice for nothing in the end. Pieter and Daria stay healthy and especially continue with this great work. With congratulations from Fryske Makkum.

Lina and Sergio Canonico: “Congratulations Pieter for your dedication and perseverance to this project.  It was a true labour of love and one that has meant so much to those families that have lost their loved ones.  Lest they never be forgotten.  May the good Lord bless you.

Thank you to the Events Coordination and IT team for the Chancellery of Honours, part of the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, for arranging the ceremony.  The Canadian and PEI provincial flags were provided by Annie Lee and Elmer MacDonald, who were able to temporarily borrow them from their church.  Thank you to Catherine Callbeck for presenting the insignia on behalf of the Administrator of the Government of Canada. And a huge thank you to those who nominated and supported Pieter for this award.

The On The War Memorial Trail project continues. If you have photos or information to share, please email us at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw

© Daria Valkenburg