March 22, 2022. Sometimes a story takes you in directions that you never expected. After the success in finding a photo of WW2 soldier Edmond COULOMBE of Manitoba (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2021/12/24/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-successful-search-for-a-photo-of-ww2-soldier-edmond-coulombe/), we hoped to have similar success with a photo wish list of WW2 soldiers from Manitoba who are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.
One soldier, who came from an area near where Edmond Coloumbe lived, was Philip LAFORTE. With the help Philip’s niece Michelle Wazny, Diane Dube of the Winnipeg River Heritage Museum in St.-Georges, and genealogy researcher Judie Klassen, a photo was found, as was information on his Métis roots.
Philip was born September 12, 1911 in Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, the son of Napoleon and Rosalie (nee Mainville) LaForte. His mother’s Métis status meant that Philip too was Métis.
A trapper before he enlisted in Winnipeg with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles on July 31, 1941, Philip was married to Eva Jane (nee Johnston) and they had one son, Felix Joseph. Another son, Donald Philip, was born shortly after he enlisted. Philip had previously been married to Sarah Louise Bird, who had died of tuberculosis. Their son Leon was brought up by his grandparents, Mr and Mrs Joseph Daniels, of Sagkeeng First Nation.
Philip Laforte. (Photo courtesy of the Laforte family)
Philip’s service file noted that he was fluent in English, French, and Cree, and had trapped furs for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and worked as a bush labourer for Brown and Rutherford.
As a new recruit, Philip was sent to Fort William (now part of Thunder Bay), Ontario for two months of basic training. Then he was attached to the Infantry Advanced Training Centre (Rifle) in Winnipeg, Manitoba..
On December 12, 1941, he became part of the 3rd Division Infantry Reinforcement Unit (DIRU) as a Rifleman, and was on his way to the United Kingdom, arriving on December 23, 1941.
On May 28, 1942, Philip was transferred to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. Still in the United Kingdom, he was taken on strength to the #1 Educational Company on November 1, 1942, and stayed in that unit until February 1943, when he was transferred to the #2 Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU).
…. Philip is involved in the liberation of North-West Europe….
On April 12, 1943, Philip was reassigned to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. On September 1, 1944 he arrived in France as reinforcement for troops lost during the Battle of Caen and the Battle of Falaise Gap.
He participated in the fight to clear the Scheldt Estuary to allow the re-opening of the Antwerp harbour. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Scheldt) By January 1945 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were in The Netherlands, and spent the New Year in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
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.
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 Netherlands and the greater battle towards liberating the country.
A short video produced by the Canadian Army gives an idea of what troops faced in this period:
….The battle for Deventer involved crossing the Schipbeek ….
Movement of Canadian troops towards Deventer. Note that all first had to cross the Schipbeek. (Map provided by Edwin van der Wolf)
On April 7, 1945 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were ordered to cross the Schipbeek and establish a bridgehead as preparation for an assault on the city of Deventer by the 7th Canadian Brigade.
Crossing the Schipbeek was vital to the success of the bridge operation, not an easy feat as the Bridge was strongly defended by the Germans.
Lt Donald Charles MACKENZIE of Springhill, Nova Scotia received a Military Cross for his actions in ensuring the bridgehead was secured. The citation explained how the Regiment was surrounded by enemy troops and soldiers faced intense fire. (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2022/01/23/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-ww2-soldier-from-springhill-who-received-a-memorial-cross/)
Unfortunately, one of the casualties during the events of April 7, 1945 was Philip Laforte, and it seems most likely that he lost his life during the crossing of the Schipbeek.
Along with 45 other soldiers, he was temporarily buried beside an estate in Oxe, which had been the site of the murder of Dutch resistance fighters.
On April 6, 1945, just before the Schipbeek, Royal Winnipeg Rifles troops arrived at an estate in Oxe (Oxerhof). This had been taken over as Gestapo Headquarters, but had been hastily vacated ahead of the Regiment.
To the horror of the Canadian soldier who first approached, he found the graves of ten Dutch resistance fighters, who had been shot just before the Gestapo withdrew. (For more information on De Oxerhof and the murder of 10 Dutch prisoners, see https://www.tracesofwar.com/articles/5041/Estate-The-Oxerhof-in-Deventer.htm and https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/56914/Memorial-Execution-5-April-1945.htm)
In January 1946, all 46 Canadian soldiers were reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.
Grave of Philip Laforte in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands. (Photo courtesy of the Information Centre Canadian Cemetery Holten)
…The Colmschate Memorial commemorates 46 Canadians….
On April 8, 2015, a memorial was placed in Colmschate to commemorate the 46 Canadians who had been temporarily buried on the Oxe estate.
Memorial in Colmschate, commemorating 46 Canadians, including Philip Laforte. (Photo courtesy of Edwin van der Wolf)
Text of Memorial in Colmschate, commemorating 46 Canadians, including Philip Laforte. (Photo courtesy of Edwin van der Wolf)
Translation of the Dutch text was prepared by Pieter Valkenburg:
They Gave Their Lives
The liberation of Colmschate
During their advance from the Achterhoek, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the Regina Rifle Regiment, and the Canadian Scottish Regiment, led by Brigadier General T G Gibson reached the neighborhood of Oxe on Friday April 6, 1945. Next to the house on the Oxe estate (Oxerhof), the liberators discovered the bodies of ten Dutchmen who had been murdered in cold blood by the occupiers the day before. The Canadians passed the Schipbeek via a quickly struck bailey bridge, which replaced the destroyed Swormertoren Bridge.
Despite heavy German resistance, they continued north. Many farms went up in flames and houses were badly damaged. Many families sought refuge in the already liberated Oxe. Some residents lost their lives.
On April 8, 1945, the liberators captured (a small part of) the Snippeling, Colmschate, and the Bannink. Via the Vijfhoek they reached the Crödden Bridge over the Overijssels Canal. Schalkhaar and Deventer were then liberated and with the help of the Queen’s Own Rifles the remaining part of the Snippeling.
Many Canadians lost their lives in the battle in this area. In April 1945, the bodies of 46 fallen Canadians were buried in a temporary resting place opposite the Oxerhof house. In January 1946 they were transferred to the Canadian Cemetery in Holten (Plot I and II).
…..Philip is listed on the National Métis Veterans Memorial Monument….
Judie Klassen let us know that Philip is listed on the National Métis Veterans Memorial Monument just outside of Batoche, Saskatchewan. (See https://www.metismuseum.ca/metisveteransmonument/)
His name can be found on Column 4 on the inside. Row 58 https://www.metismuseum.ca/metisveteransmonument/column.php?c=4&s=i
Judie also noted that Philip and his father Napoleon (a WW1 veteran) are listed on the Sagkeeng First Nation website (see http://www.sagkeeng.ca/our-veterans/) and on their memorial in Fort Alexander (see http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/sagkeengwarmemorial.shtml)
Thank you to Philip’s niece Michelle Wazny, Diane Dube of the Winnipeg River Heritage Museum in St.-Georges, and genealogy researcher Judie Klassen. It can be a challenge to find family and photos, and we appreciate the help we receive! If you have photos or information to share, please let Pieter know. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.
….Indigenous soldiers featured on this blog….
To read about other Indigenous soldiers featured on this blog:
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