June 29, 2022. When we knew we would be travelling to North Bay, Ontario in May for an Author Talk at the North Bay Public Library, Pieter also wanted to help the Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands fulfill their photo wish lists of six soldiers from the North Bay area.
Little did we know that a chance meeting with retired history teacher John Hetherington, organized by Don Coutts, to bring together like minded individuals interested in military research, would be the key to receiving one of these photos.
…A meeting that led to a photo of a WWII soldier….
John Hetherington takes groups to visit war memorials and cemeteries in Europe, and we were delighted to meet him one evening during our visit to North Bay. After he and Pieter discussed the soldiers on the photo wish lists from the Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands, John recalled that two nephews of Anthony PETTA, one of the soldiers on the list, had been on one of his tours, and had visited their uncle’s grave.
Leave it with me, he said. He’d look up the contact information and call them. He did, and within a few days, a photo was sent to Pieter by Anthony Repa, which was in turn sent to The Netherlands.
Antonio ‘Anthony’ PETTA was born November 8, 1915 in North Bay, Ontario, the son of Michael and Raffaela (nee Rota) Petta. Before enlisting with the Algonquin Regiment in North Bay on May 12, 1941, he was employed as a freight handler with the Temeskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad.
Anthony’s Occupational History Form indicated that he spoke English and Italian fluently, not surprising as both his parents had been born in Italy. He also indicated that after the war he hoped to take a Commercial Agriculture Course and become a chicken farmer.
On July 12, 1941, he was sent for training at Camp Shilo in Manitoba, followed by a promotion to Acting Corporal and a transfer to Newfoundland on August 8, 1942.
On February 16, 1943, he requested a demotion to Private and was sent to Debert, Nova Scotia, a camp that prepared soldiers for overseas service. The demotion lasted one day, and he was reappointed Acting Corporal. On April 6, he was confirmed as Corporal, and the following day, received another promotion, to Lance Sergeant.
By July 2, 1943 he was in the United Kingdom. While in the United Kingdom, he was promoted to Acting Sergeant on February 28, 1944, and then promoted again, this time to Sergeant, on May 28, 1944.
His stay in the United Kingdom ended when he left for Normandy, France with the Algonquin Regiment on July 20, 1944. On July 25, 1944, all four companies of the Algonquin Regiment landed on Juno Beach where, in the following days, they supported the 4th Canadian Armoured Division in closing the Falaise Gap. From there they fought to secure many bridgeheads over canals in The Netherlands and into Germany.
From November 5 to 8, 1944 the Algonquin Regiment had a rest period in the area around Steenbergen, in preparation for Operation Blockbuster, which began in February 1945, part of the final push towards the Rhine. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Blockbuster)
According to his service record, while in Europe Anthony was appointed Acting Company Sergeant Major (CSM) with the rank of Acting Warrant Officer 2. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_sergeant_major)
….The Battle of Hochwald Gap was fierce and under wet and muddy conditions….
On February 26, 1945, Anthony’s regiment advanced towards the Hochwald Gap, the scene of what became a fierce battle. (See https://civilianmilitaryintelligencegroup.com/10742/the-battle-of-hochwald-gap-one-of-the-largest-armor-engagements-you-probably-have-never-heard-of)
The war diary for the Algonquin Regiment for February 27, 1945 noted that they were huddled beside the tanks which had brought them forward. Unfortunately, one company and part of another were missing, as the tanks carrying them had bogged down.
The objective for the Algonquin Regiment was a rounded hill which filled the western end of the gap between the Hochwald and the Balberger Wald.
The war diary for the Algonquin Regiment for March 2, 1945 explained that “… ‘D’ Company managed to mount two platoons on the available tanks, and with one platoon on foot, started for their objective. The two platoons on tanks managed to get as far forward as the Lake Superior Regiment position, but by this time 5 of the 8 tanks had been knocked out. The infantry therefore debussed and the tanks returned to the protective cover of the hill….
The third platoon of ‘D’ Company joined the small force of Lake Superior Regiment holding the furthest position forward. ‘A’ Company then tried to get forward to join ‘D’ Company, but they were pinned down by murderous fire from both flanks and were being shelled at every moment. It was decided to abandon this effort as casualties had been very heavy. A/CSM Petta was killed in this action….
Lt Hamilton, taking part in his first action, was also killed. Captain T. P. Richardson, Acting Commander ‘A’ Company, who was with CSM Petta, was missing, believed killed….”
It was later confirmed that Captain Richardson had died. Although the official records state that Anthony Petta died on March 3, 1945, the war diary indicates that he had died a day earlier. His brother Alexander ‘Leslie’ was also in the Algonquin Regiment and survived the war.
…Tanks helped protect infantry regiments…
A 46 minute YouTube video on the Battle of Hochwald Gap explained the fierce battle that took place. While this video depicts the tank battle, it shows the horrifying conditions troops were up against. Infantry units like the Algonquin Regiment depended on the tank regiments for protection.
…The photo at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek that triggered John’s memory…
After meeting us, John did look for the photo of the two nephews, and sent it to us. When Anthony Repa sent us the photo of his uncle, he also gave permission to include the 2010 photo taken of himself and his cousin in Groesbeek.
Anthony went on to share that he has visited the cemetery in Groesbeek “…three times. The first, I was 23, in 1968 and backpacked around England, Belgium and Holland for 2 weeks. The second trip, I was with my wife and young son in 1987. The third was on John’s tour in 2010.
On the second trip, my wife and son and I were taking a Rhine River cruise which originated in Nijmegen. We booked into a hotel in Nijmegen and after I asked the desk clerk if there was a bus to Groesbeek, he directed us to a bus stop. As we waited at the stop, a bus came from the direction of the cemetery and stopped.
The female driver said something to us in Dutch. I told her we were Canadian and she then said in English that this was the last bus and that she was finished her shift. She then asked where we wanted to go. I said the Groesbeek Cemetery as my uncle was buried there. She told us to get on the bus, turned the bus around and drove us to the cemetery. I offered to pay the fare but she declined.
When we arrived she told us to take as long as we wanted to, that she would wait. After we paid our respects she drove us back to the hotel.
I have told countless people about this experience. I have many wonderful memories of my travels, one of my fondest, is the kindness she showed us on that day….”
…The Memorial Plaque from St. Rita Roman Catholic Church…
We thought we had reached the end of the research for Anthony Petta when we were contacted by 92 year old Don Unger, who said he grew up in the neighbourhood around St. Rita’s Roman Catholic Church and remembered seeing a memorial in the church yard. The memorial “….mentions Anthony Petta and other Italian boys who served…” he told Pieter.
The church was closed in 2010, but we asked Don Coutts, who lives in North Bay, if he could see if the memorial was still in the yard. It wasn’t.
Don then went to the Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption and asked Karen Steel if she had any information. Karen explained that “…the plaques were donated to the North Bay Museum…” but she sent us “…a copy of the plaque information that I took for historical purposes before the plaques were taken to the museum. I always knew someday someone would be looking for this information!…”
The July 23, 1946 edition of the North Bay Nugget newspaper had a picture of the war memorial when it was dedicated. The text under the picture said “…His Excellency R. H. Dignan, assisted by Rev R. F. Venti, officiated at the unveiling of a splendid war memorial at St. Rita’s Park on Sunday. Dedicated to the memory of four members of the parish who gave their lives in the Second World War, the memorial is also in honour of those who served during the war.
The four corners are dedicated to Sgt Joe Demarco of the RCAF, Sgt A. Petta, Pte Gordon Hogan, and Cpl William Lafontaine, all of whom gave their lives during the recent conflict. The honour roll is also inscribed on the memorial. The dedication ceremony was an impressive one…”
Thank you to Don Coutts, John Hetherington, and Anthony Repa. Thank you also to Judie Klassen and Shawn Rainville for researching the newspaper and genealogy archives. Thank you to Karen Steel and Don Unger for the information on the memorial from St. Rita’s Church. Thanks also go to the North Bay Nugget newspaper as it had extensive coverage of WWII soldiers from the time period and the newspaper archive is digitized.
Our North Bay adventures continue in upcoming postings. If you know of any soldiers from the North Bay area that are buried in The Netherlands please let Pieter know. You can mail him at email@example.com, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.
….Previous stories told about soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of Hochwald Gap ….
Two previous stories were told about soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of Hochwald Gap. Clarence Wilfred Wakegijig was in a tank regiment that supported the infantry. Gerald Coolen, like Anthony Petta, was in an infantry regiment. To read the stories about Clarence and Gerald, see:
- Clarence Wilfred WAKEGIJIG, who served with the Canadian Grenadier Guards, lost his life on March 2, 1945. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/08/09/on-the-war-memorial-trail-remembering-ww2-soldier-clarence-wilfred-wakegijig/)
- Gerald COOLEN, who served with the Black Watch, lost his life on February 26, 1945. (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2021/11/28/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-11/)
…Missed the previous postings about our North Bay Memorial Trail visit?…
…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/
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© Daria Valkenburg