November 2, 2022. Once you visit a Canadian War Cemetery and place down a flag by the grave of a soldier from the province where you live, it stays with you, and makes you wonder about the young man who is buried there. Over the years, Pieter has researched several of the soldiers from Prince Edward Island who are buried in The Netherlands, and he continues to do so.
One of these WWII soldiers was George ‘Ivan’ MACKINNON, who was born September 16, 1917 in Albion, Prince Edward Island, the son of Wilbert and Catherine ‘Kattie’ (nee Acorn) MacKinnon (also spelled McKinnon). Ivan’s birth record says he was born on September 16, but he recorded September 26 on his attestation form.
…The photo search began with media help….
In his quest to find a photo, Pieter contacted Charlotte MacAulay of the Eastern Graphic newspaper for help in publicizing his quest. The article ran on September 21, 2022 and shortly afterwards, Pieter was contacted by Sandra Stephens, who explained that she had a photo.
When we met, Sandra explained that “… Dad’s Aunt Chris married Nathaniel MacKinnon, Ivan’s uncle. Their place was just up the road and we visited there…”
When Ivan enlisted with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders in Charlottetown on August 15, 1940, he was living in Montague, Prince Edward Island, and had worked on his family’s mixed farm operation for the past 10 years.
After completing his basic training, Ivan travelled to the United Kingdom with the Regiment, boarding the ship ‘Orion’ in Halifax, Nova Scotia on July 18, 1941. The ship left Halifax the next day, arriving in Bristol on July 29, 1941. Intensive training followed, in preparation for the upcoming battles in Normandy in 1944.
…Ivan survived D-Day….
The North Nova Scotia Highlanders left England for Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, after waiting in place in the English Channel on landing craft earlier. The war diary for Sunday, June 4, 1944 noted that “…We are tied up with two other landing craft tank. The Padre is on one, so he had a church service at 10:30 hours on the quarter deck of the middle craft…”
On June 5, 1944 the war diary recorded that “…At 14:00 hours the flotilla moved out to the open sea and formed up with the other craft taking part in the invasion…”
After landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the war diary noted that the Regiment had 10 casualties – 4 killed, 6 wounded. Ivan had survived D-Day.
…The Regiment arrived near Nijmegen…
The North Nova Scotia Highlanders fought their way through Normandy. On July 25, 1944, during ‘Operation Spring’, a battle in Tilly-La-Campagne, France, Ivan was slightly wounded by shell fragments to his face, legs, and neck. (See https://www.dday-overlord.com/en/battle-of-normandy/cities/tilly-la-campagne)
From France, the Regiment travelled through Belgium, and then to The Netherlands for the Battle of the Scheldt. By November 1944 they had advanced to an area near Nijmegen.
In ‘No Retreating Footsteps’ by Will Bird, he noted that on November 19, 1944, the North Novies would “…relieve the 7th Recce Regiment at Nijmegen Bridge…” This was the bridge across the Waal River, a vital link to the Rhine River and into Germany.
The area known as the Nijmegen Salient had been established in September 1944, and was defended by Allied troops since then. The First Canadian Army, of which the North Nova Scotia Highlanders were part of, was responsible for its defence between November 1944 and February 1945, when the advance into Germany began. (See https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/campaigns/northwesteurope/nijmegensalient.htm)
Skirmishes with German troops were ongoing, with casualties on both sides. On December 3, 1944, Will Bird recorded that “…temporary quarters was in the cellar of a smashed house. Sgt Arnold Piers was in command, and along with him were Sgt Bud Tibbetts, Cpl I MacKinnon, Ptes Bill Smith, Conners, Scott, Campbell and Lantagan as well as four or five others. There was a German village 1000 yards ahead and until dark the carrier men fired at anyone who moved in the village….”
When the men noticed activity in the nighttime and flares being sent up by the Germans, they reported it to officers at Artillery Headquarters, who ignored their observations. Bird noted that “… the general feeling was that the carrier men, unused to such duties, were jittery…”
…Ivan lost his life during a firefight…
It turned out that the officers were wrong and the men were right to be concerned. There were several casualties, with two who paid with their lives, in the early hours of December 4, 1944. “…Sentries were relieved at 2:00 am…”
Six men were resting when Sgt Piers woke them up. “…He had sighted a raiding party of the enemy coming toward the post. Pte A. J. Campbell rushed out with a Bren gun, and fell back dead, target for a dozen bullets…”
In the firefight that followed, the Germans “… threw grenades and overwhelmed the … small garrison as the Brens on the parapet had been left on cock and would not fire. Daylight came shortly after…”
Ivan did not survive the attack. “…Cpl Ivan MacKinnon was seen lying out in front about 50 yards. Pte Connors crawled out and dragged him back, but he had died, having been shot ….”
The other casualty was Allan Joseph CAMPBELL, aged 24, son of Alex T. and Annie Campbell, of Centennial, Inverness County, Nova Scotia.
…Ivan is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek….
Ivan was initially buried in the Jonkers Bosch Temporary Military Cemetery in Nijmegen, before being reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.
Thank you to Sandra Stephens for providing a photo, and to Charlotte MacAulay and the Eastern Graphic for publicizing the photo search request. If you have a story to tell, please let Pieter know. You can email him at email@example.com, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.
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