May 4, 2022. Sometimes the unexpected happens. Last month, a search for family and photos of WW2 soldiers Albert Joseph COTE and John Langford WALKER, who are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands, began.
On April 18, 2022, a letter to the editor written by Pieter and North Bay resident Donald Coutts was published in the North Bay Nugget. (See https://www.nugget.ca/news/researcher-seeks-information-on-fallen-city-soldiers)
Shortly afterwards, Pieter was contacted by Marcel Vink of De Telegraaf, a newspaper in The Netherlands. He’d read the letter to the editor. Would Pieter be willing to do an interview? Pieter agreed, and the article was published today, May 4, 2022 – which is Dodenherdenking (Remembrance Day) in The Netherlands. This day commemorates Dutch civilians and military who have died in war since the beginning of WWII. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_of_the_Dead)
…De Telegraaf article published May 4, 2022…
For those who can read Dutch, please see PDF of the article (De Telegraaf article Zoektocht naar gezichten). An English translation is below:
Quest for faces
Pieter Valkenburg is fully committed to fallen Canadians
by Marcel Vink
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND • It started as a helping hand, but grew into a true mission. Pieter Valkenburg has been passionately committed to giving fallen war heroes from Canada a face for years. The 78-year-old Dutchman, who lives in Canada, realizes how important it is emotionally for relatives to get clarity about their deceased loved ones, even 77 years after the Second World War.
Valkenburg worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years and was posted to various locations around the world, including in Ottawa.
After his retirement, he decided to continue living in the North American country with his Canadian wife Daria, where he discovered that many families often no longer know in detail what happened to relatives that didn’t come back during the Second World War. About 7600 Canadians are buried in the Netherlands who fought for our freedom.
“At the beginning of 2014 I read an article about the Canadian war cemetery in Holten, one of the military cemeteries in The Netherlands,” says Valkenburg.
“There are 1,355 Canadians lying there, and not much was known about some of them at the time. Therefore, around that time, a project was started that strived to literally find the face for every name. I find that very important myself. No soldier who died abroad in war should be forgotten.” (NOTE: there are 1,394, not 1,355.)
‘Reactions from next of kin are priceless’
The native of Leerdam was captivated by the subject and delved into the matter. First in the background with only a few names, but then more and more.
Over the past five years, I have helped researchers at Canadian war cemeteries in the Netherlands in their quest to give each grave a face, and thus also a story. It is quite a puzzle, but the reactions of relatives when it succeeds are priceless. Those involved really appreciate it when they realize that they have never been forgotten. They gave their lives in the struggle for our freedom, in a country foreign to them. It’s much more meaningful when you stand by a grave to pay your respects if you know what the person looked like.”
While his search was initially limited to the fallen from Prince Edward Island – the western province where he lives – he now focuses on many more areas in Canada. Valkenburg uses the old-fashioned manual search, but also uses many digital sources. (NOTE: Prince Edward Island is on the east coast of Canada!)
Relatives are often emotional about it, he noticed. After he found the family of Lieutenant Norman James Nixon – killed in the Battle of Delfzijl in April 1945, in which twenty Canadians of his regiment were killed, his son called this ‘a total surprise’. “I am immensely grateful,” said the man, who named his own son after his dead father, in tears. (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2021/03/07/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-ww2-soldier-from-st-stephens/)
The work of Pieter and his wife Daria is highly appreciated in the Netherlands as well as in Canada. He has already received several awards. Sometimes he finds new ‘assignments’ in a miraculous way.
“Once we were at a hotel in New Brunswick Province, when a receptionist asked what we were doing. After I told about our searches, he indicated that his great-uncle had also died in the war, and that his grave should be in The Netherlands. Other than that he had no idea. I immediately got to work and found him at the cemetery in Groesbeek. I also found a photo on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.” (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2021/08/02/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-ww2-soldier-killed-while-lining-up-to-attend-church/)
In this way, this man also got his face back. “With these results, I say, Canadian-style: this makes my day. I’m 78 now, but as long as I can keep up with this, I will. Because there is still a lot of work to be done.”
This very proud wife thanks Marcel Vink for writing the article about Pieter and De Telegraaf for publishing it on this day of remembrance and commemoration.
If you have photos or information to share, please let Pieter know. Email him at email@example.com, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.
...Want to follow our research?….
Daria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten‘ is available in print and e-book formats. For more information see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/
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