July 23, 2021. Over the past months, Pieter has been diligently working his way through photo wish lists from Dutch researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands. Two names on the lists were members of First Nations: William ‘Willie’ DANIELS, a Cree Nation member from Saskatchewan, and Stanley Owen JONES, a Haida Nation member from British Columbia. Both men are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.
Pieter had no luck in finding family so, as he has done over the past years, he turned to the media for help, this time from APTN, where he was interviewed by Brett Forester. (To read the article, 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/)
Several readers of the article came forward to share photos and information about Indigenous soldiers, and these will be featured in future postings as Pieter completes his research. (The story of Leo Francis TONEY was told previously. See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/05/22/on-the-war-memorial-trail-remembering-ww2-soldier-leo-francis-toney/)
… William Daniels was a member of the Sturgeon Lake First Nation…
What about the two soldiers mentioned in the article? A photo of William ‘Willie’ DANIELS was sent by Dakota Ballantyne on behalf of Vince Daniels, with a note saying that “…Willie Daniels from Sturgeon Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan was his uncle….”
The son of John Daniels, Willie was born March 20, 1925 on the Big River Reserve in Depton, Saskatchewan. On September 24, 1941, he enlisted in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, stating that he was born in 1922. He was sent for training as a Sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers, until it was discovered he was underage. He was discharged in March 1942 for being “…under 17 years of age at date of application….”
On October 19, 1943, Willie re-enlisted. According to his military records, his parents were dead and he listed a brother, Narcisse Daniels, as his next-of-kin. He also noted that he spoke English and Cree. This time he was allowed to stay in the army, but on Canadian soil as soldiers under 19 years of age were not to be sent overseas.
It wasn’t until May 1, 1944 that he left for the United Kingdom, arriving on May 8 for additional training. On July 7, 1944 he was transferred to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles as a Rifleman and sent to Northwest Europe.
… The Royal Winnipeg Rifles were in Germany and The Netherlands in 1945…
The war diary of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles gives an indication of what Willie Daniels and his fellow soldiers experienced in 1945. By January 1945 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were in The Netherlands, and spent the New Year in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The war diary for January 1, 1945 states that “…the Germans precipitated the New Year by opening up with considerable SA and mortar fire a few minutes before midnight. Our artillery answered directly at midnight…..”
On February 1, 1945, the war diary recorded that the Regiment was informed of the part that the men “…would play in Operation Veritable…” This would take them into Germany. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Veritable)
The Regiment arrived in Millingen, Germany on February 9, 1945. The weather was uncooperative “…cloudy with rain….” and led to flooding. In one area, the water rose “…another six feet, the only high ground in the area being in and near Keeken…”
They were ordered to move further back, but some of the men were stranded due to a shortage of equipment to get them out, or because the equipment itself got “…bogged down or diverted for other purposes….”
By February 16, 1945 the Regiment was based in Essen, Germany, as they cleared German positions in flooded areas of the Rhine flood plain and the Reichswald forest, which is close to the Dutch-German border.
On March 11, 1945 the Regiment began moving back towards ‘s-Hertogenbosch. “…The whole day was spent in building the new camp….” There were some peaceful days and time for training before the men moved back towards a base in Essen to participate in Operation Plunder. (See https://canadianbattlefieldtours.ca/operation-plunder/)
The war diary for March 27, 1945 reported that “…Orders to move came through in the early hours of the morning ….. and after many starts and stops we finally crossed the Rhine River at 1700 hours…”
On April 10, 1945 the war diary noted that the Regiment “….would take over from the Regina Rifle Regiment…” and returned to The Netherlands, this time based in Almelo. Then, on April 18, they were ordered to Groningen.
On April 21, 1945 the Regiment was ordered to move towards Appingedam. The war diary noted that on April 21, 1945 “…civilian reports claim mines set in cement….Blown bridges, snipers, and machine guns make the going very difficult. Our casualties are becoming very heavy….”
At some point on April 22, 1945, a few weeks after his 20th birthday, Willie Daniels lost his life. The movement of troops through Appingedam was the very beginning of the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket. Willie was initially buried in Loppersum General Cemetery in Groningen. After the war Willie was reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.
In March 1948, Mrs. W.G. Verbeek-Hermans of Enschede sent a letter to Veterans Affairs, asking that her letter be forwarded to a family member of Willie. She wanted to let the family know that she had adopted Willie’s grave, a volunteer program that was organized by the Netherlands War Graves Committee. A separate letter for the family was enclosed, explaining that she was the mother of 4 children and felt it was her duty to look after the grave. She also offered to send a photo of his grave.
This was not unusual. Many family members of soldiers that we have met over the years have explained that their families had been in contact with Dutch citizens who adopted a grave.
In 1995, the Stefanus Church in Holwierde placed a plaque to commemorate Canadian soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket. Willie Daniels was one of the men commemorated.
Thank you to Dakota Ballantyne and Vince Daniels for sharing a photo of William ‘Willie’ Daniels. Thank you also to Brett Forester and APTN for the article on the search for photos of Indigenous soldiers buried in The Netherlands.
If you have information to share about William ‘Willie’ Daniels or other Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.
…Help needed to find another photo …..
Your help is needed to find a photo of Stanley Owen JONES of the Haida Nation in British Columbia.
…Other soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket …..
For previous stories on soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket, please see:
- Joseph ‘Gerald’ FOUGERE of the Perth Regiment: https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/01/27/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-5/
- Philip Hubert LONG of the Cape Breton Highlanders: https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/11/01/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-face-for-philip-hubert-long/
- Norman J. NIXON of the Cape Breton Highlanders: https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/03/07/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-ww2-soldier-from-st-stephens/
- Louis Graham RICHARD of the 9th Armoured Regiment (BC Dragoons): https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/02/22/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-7/
- Ford Hilton SPIDLE of the Cape Breton Highlanders: https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-1/
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