August 20, 2021. In 2017, Pieter received a photo wish list from researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands. There were 6 names, all serving with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders when they lost their lives. How hard could that be? Pieter thought.
Over the past years, families of 4 of the six have been found, along with photos of the soldiers. Two remain elusive. One of these is Allan ‘Gordon’ COUTTS, born January 11, 1923 in Kerrobert, Saskatchewan, the son of Benjamin and Susan Coutts. During his childhood, the family moved to Olds, Alberta, where his father was a firefighter on a government experimental farm.
After enlisting in Calgary, Alberta on January 15, 1943 with the #13 District Depot, he went to the Canadian Basic Training Centre in Camrose, Alberta on February 1, 1943. About 6 weeks later he caught mumps and was placed in isolation in the military hospital.
Once recovered from mumps, he was sent to the Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Calgary, then on January 1944 he went to Camp Debert in Nova Scotia for final preparations before being sent overseas to the United Kingdom in March 1944. In April 1944 he was transferred to the Canadian Scottish Regiment, then in June 1944 to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.
On July 25, 1944 he was wounded by a gunshot wound in the right shoulder during an offensive called ‘Operation Spring’ in Tilly-la-Compagne, France, and was hospitalized for a few weeks before returning to duty. (For more information on Operation Spring see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Spring)
In early May, just before the end of the war, the Regiment went to Norden, Germany, “…the first Recce party there...” according to ‘No Retreating Footsteps – the story of the North Novas’ by Will Bird. Once they arrived, the German Commandant of the area was “...ordered to concentrate all his troops in the barracks area, to disarm them, and deliver all arms and ammunition to a selected arms dump, the Grattin Theda School….”
However, Bird continued in his account, “….A German Army deserter reported the organization of Werewolves in the Novas area who wanted to destroy Norden because it had surrendered without a fight, and wanted to prevent German ammunition falling into Allied hands….” The ammunition dump was then moved away from the school to the Sports Field.
An Explosion in Norden was fatal
On May 11, 1945, Gordon was monitoring the unloading of ammunition at the Sports Field. Around 4:30 pm, there was an explosion which cost him his life. The witness testimony of Private J. J. JONES of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders confirmed that the sports field was used as a dumping ground for “…enemy ammunition and equipment…”
As one of the drivers of these loads, his truck was parked at the dump and stated that he “… was standing by the tailboard of the truck, watching some German soldiers unloading a mixed load of ammunition and equipment. I heard someone shout out a warning, and then I saw something come out the ground and land on the ground on the edge of the dump itself…. ”
Pte Jones noted that “… the object made a hissing sound and gave off a cloud of orange smoke….” As he ran to take cover, “… a loud explosion went off….” As he returned to the dump, he saw “…a German Officer kick the smoking object away from the dump…” When he reached the dump, he noticed “…one of our soldiers lying on the ground...” with a hole in his head. He immediately went to get medical help.
Pte H. K. KEDDY of the Nova Scotia Highlanders was on guard duty at the German ammunition dump at the Norden Sports Field. He too heard a hissing noise and saw orange smoke and ran to safety. After the explosion he testified that he “…went back to the scene of the explosion which was about 10 to 12 feet from the rear of the ….truck….” He saw “…Sgt Coutts, AG lying on the ground quite near the truck….” and a wounded German soldier lying nearby. He helped apply a bandage to the wounds while waiting for medical assistance to arrive.
Capt Alan E. DE FOREST of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders testified that the pile of ammunition contained “…all types of German mines, grenades, bazookas, small arms etc, which included several steel cases of German stick grenades (potato mashers)...” It appeared that the explosion was caused by one of the stick grenades. The explosion was ruled an accident and not an act of sabotage.
Gordon was temporarily buried in the Leer Lutheran Cemetery in Germany, before being reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.
In March 1948, Mr. G. F. Struik of Deventer, The Netherlands sent a letter to Veterans Affairs, asking that it be forwarded to the next of kin. He wanted the family to know that he had adopted the grave, a volunteer program that was organized by the Netherlands War Graves Committee.
This was not an unusual occurrence. 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.
Unfortunately, although he’s tried since 2017 to find family of Allan Gordon Coutts, Pieter has been unsuccessful. Earlier this month, he did an interview with Galen Hartviksen, News Director at 96.5 CKFM/ROCK 104.5 in Olds, Alberta, in the hope that someone will see the appeal and come forward. Here is the link to the web article and interview: https://ckfm.ca/2021/08/09/11202/. Up to now, no one has come forward, unfortunately.
Thank you to Galen Hartviksen at CKFM for helping to publicize the search for a photo. If you can help with a photo or information about Allan Gordon Coutts, please contact Pieter at email@example.com, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.
The North Nova Scotia Highlanders Wish List
The other North Nova Scotia Highlanders on that 2017 photo wish list from the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, for which photos were found, were:
- Joseph Ambroise COMEAU, whose story has been told on this blog. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/05/17/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-tragic-drowning-on-the-leda-river-in-germany-part-3/
- Gunnar DALMAN, who was born in Saskatchewan, and lost his life on April 26, 1945.
- Gordon Frederick JOHNSON, whose story has been told on this blog. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/07/17/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-search-for-a-photo-of-gordon-frederick-johnson-is-over/)
- Lloyd William MURRAY, whose story has been told on this blog. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/05/16/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-tragic-drowning-on-the-leda-river-in-germany-part-2/)
In addition to Allan Gordon COUTTS, one more photo is yet to be found for:
- Archibald Henry NELSON, born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, son of William Henry and Winnifred Frances Nelson, who lost his life on April 18, 1945, aged 32.
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© Daria Valkenburg