On The War Memorial Trail….. The WW2 Soldier From Springhill Who Received A Military Cross

January 23, 2022.  In the quest for a photo of Lt Donald Charles MACKENZIE of Springhill, Nova Scotia, Pieter placed a request on ‘THE SPECTATOR: A Little Good News from Springhill, NS’ Facebook page.  Pat Crowe submitted a newspaper photo and obituary shortly afterwards, explaining that “…Donald had 4 brothers and sisters but they are all gone now…

image0 Donald Charles MacKenzie

Donald Charles MacKenzie.  (Photo courtesy of Lydia Prange)

Pat then contacted Donald’s niece, Lydia Prange, who had a photo and explained that her mother, Lydia Jean Nelson, was Donald’s sister.  I was born in 1949 so never knew my uncle or grandmother….” Lydia wrote.

Born September 3, 1914 in Springhill, Nova Scotia, Donald was the son of Charles Tupper MacKenzie and Lydia MacKay.  Before enlisting for active duty with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders in Springhill on September 15, 1939, Donald was in the Cumberland Highlanders militia from June 11, 1936 until August 27, 1939.  He was employed as a road layer by Dominion Steel and Coal, a mining company.

Donald married …Mary MacSavaney on June 19, 1936.  Their son Gordon was born on March 15, 1940…

….Donald took a demotion in rank in order to serve overseas more quickly….

Upon enlistment, he was given the rank of Sergeant and sent to Halifax with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.  However, in order to see active overseas service more quickly, he transferred to the Royal Canadian Engineers 6th Field Company on January 7, 1941, taking a demotion in rank to Private, and was transferred to Debert, Nova Scotia in preparation for going overseas.

On June 18, 1941 he was on his way to the United Kingdom.  On August 1, 1941 he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and later promoted to Corporal on July 6, 1943. On September 21, 1944 he received a further promotion, to Lieutenant, upon the successful completion of officer training at Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom.

…After receiving a promotion to Lieutenant he was transferred to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles…

He requested a transfer back to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, but instead, in October 1944 he was sent to Belgium and assigned to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

image1 Donald Charles MacKenzie

Donald Charles MacKenzie.  (Photo courtesy of Lydia Prange)

On April 7, 1945 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were in The Netherlands, and ordered to cross the Schipbeek Canal and establish a bridgehead as preparation for an assault on the city of Deventer by the 7th Canadian Brigade.  Crossing the Canal was vital to the success of the bridge operation, not an easy feat as the Bridge was strongly defended by the Germans.

…Courage and bravery led to a Military Cross recommendation…

Donald’s actions on that day resulted in a recommendation for a Military Cross.  The citation recorded that “…it was due only to the determination and boundless courage of Lt Douglas MacKenzie that a quick crossing was made possible without heavy casualties.

The enemy had a battle group dispersed around the bridge, making it impassable.  Lt MacKenzie, in command of the unit Pioneers attached to ‘D’ Company, had the responsibility of bridging the canal so that a bridgehead could be rapidly built up ready for a breakout.

The enemy fire was intense but with covering fire from ‘D’ Company, Lt MacKenzie succeeded in crawling out onto the Bridge, dragging a couple of planks. He was working well within grenade range of the enemy and at least six grenades exploded nearby, wounding him by shrapnel and blast.

With complete disregard for his own safety, he continued working until he had four planks in position, allowing the company to cross quickly and secure a solid bridgehead.

His dauntless spirit and untiring efforts inspired the men around him and resulted in the momentum of the advance being maintained…

…Appingedam was at the beginning of the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket…

Screenshot 2022-01-21 at 10-19-20 appingedam ww2 at DuckDuckGo

Map showing Appingedam courtesy of Wikipedia.

On April 21, 1945, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles neared Appingedam, a small town of 7,000 in the northeastern corner of The Netherlands.  Along with the 7th Reconnaissance Regiment, they advanced, but the Germans blew up the bridge over the canal which the Rifles had intended to cross.

The movement of troops through Appingedam was the very beginning of the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.  (For more information on the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket, see https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/battlehonours/northwesteurope/delfzijlpocket.htm)

A translated excerpt from a Dutch account, written by Joël Stoppels of Battlefield Tours and sent by the Informatiecentrum Canadese Begraafplaats Holten, gave an eye witness account.  “…On Sunday morning, April 22, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles travelled via the railway line at Tjamsweer to the level crossing. They came under fire from the bunkers on the south side of the rails, but these were soon defused. By six o’clock they reached the railway crossing, after which they continued along the railway towards Appingedam. They were noticed by the Germans, who started to fire on the Canadians. As a result, the entire area between Tjamsweer and Appingedam came under heavy machine-gun fire and shell fire. … 

It appears that the Germans were initially surprised as they expected troops to advance by the main road. “… There was heavy fighting at the railway bridge over the Kleine Heekt. The Germans withdrew, but not before blowing up the bridge. This was not an insurmountable problem for the Canadians. Partly to protect themselves against enemy fire, the Canadians continued dredging through the ditches. Fifteen Canadians thus reached the level crossing at Jukwerd, where they entered Mr H. Jongsma’s house, soaked and muddy, because of their platoon commander….”

The platoon commander was Lt Donald MacKenzie “…. who had suffered a gunshot wound to his right shoulder…He was placed on a bed to allow him to rest…”  In an unlucky twist of fate, this temporary resting place proved fatal.

….The Germans unleashed concentrated fire, with two shells hitting the house. When the residents later were able to check on the wounded soldier, it turned out that he had been fatally hit by shrapnel…

The Canadian soldiers who had brought him to the house … had moved to the home of Mr. P. Puisten (on the same street), and could no longer offer help. Red Cross soldiers moved his remains outside the line of fire….

Donald was 30 years old when he died in that house on April 22, 1945.  The Military Cross was awarded to him posthumously and presented to his widow.  Donald was initially buried in Loppersum General Cemetery in Groningen.  After the war he was reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.

image2 Gravestone Donald Charles MacKenzie

Grave of Donald Charles MacKenzie in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  (Photo courtesy of Informatiecentrum Canadese Begraafplaats Holten)

… A plaque commemorates Canadian soldiers who died during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket….

This is the second story told about a soldier with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who lost his life near Appingedam.  William ‘Willie’ DANIELS, whose story was previously told, also lost his life on April 22, 1945.

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.  Donald MacKenzie and Willie Daniels are among those who are commemorated.

Plaque at Stefanus Church in Holwierde

Plaque at Stefanus Church in Holwierde, The Netherlands.  (Source: https://www.tracesofwar.nl/sights/40531/Herinneringsplaquette-Stefanus-Kerk.htm)

….. Other Soldiers Mentioned On The Plaque In The Church In Holwierde….

Thank you to Lydia Prange for sharing photos and information on Donald Charles MacKenzie and to Elaine Falconer, who manages the The Spectator Facebook page in Springhill, Nova Scotia.  This Canadian hero was featured in a Remembrance Week video entitled ‘In Remembrance’ on our YouTube Channel, which you can see here:

Do you have photos or stories to share?  Email Pieter at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.

…Want to follow our research?….

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

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

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© Daria Valkenburg

2 thoughts on “On The War Memorial Trail….. The WW2 Soldier From Springhill Who Received A Military Cross

  1. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. The Loppersum Memorial Honours 7 Royal Winnipeg Rifles Soldiers | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

  2. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering WW2 Soldier Philip Laforte | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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