On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering WWII Sapper John Culbertson

February 4, 2023.  After reading ‘Forgotten Soldiers’ by Fred Gaffen, Pieter came across the name John CULBERTSON, listed as a Sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers, who lost his life on April 30, 1945.

The date of death triggered Pieter’s interest and he wondered if he had been killed in or near The Netherlands. When he learned that John Culbertson was buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands, he decided to research the service file and see if a family member could be found.

He was soon directed to John’s granddaughter, Diane McQueston (Culbertson).  …My grandmother kept his memory alive…” Diane explained.  We were delighted to have the chance to meet Diane and her husband Rob.

CIMG5792 Sep 11 2022 Diane and Rob McQueston with Pieter

Pieter with Diane and Rob McQueston in Dartmouth. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

…John was raised on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory …..

20221108_070012 poppy with indigenous pinBorn on November 21, 1911 in Oshawa, Ontario, John was the son of George Albert and Mary Ann (nee Smoke) Culbertson.  His parents were from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ontario, and this is where John lived as a child.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyendinaga_Mohawk_Territory)

…Mary Ann Smoke passed away at age 26 when John was 5 years old and his brother Gilbert was 3….” Diane noted.  John’s father remarried.  “…Mary Ann Pelling was George’s second wife and they had 4 children… John looked at Mary Ann Pelling as his Mom….

CIMG5786 Wedding photo John and Mabel Culbertson

June 14, 1930 wedding photo of John and Mabel Culbertson, married in Belleville, Ontario.  (Photo courtesy of the Culbertson Family)

After leaving school, John worked as a brass moulder at Corbin Lock in Belleville, Ontario for 10 years before enlisting.

Diane told us that “…my grandparents met at a dance in Belleville and married in 1930, when my grandfather was 19, and my grandmother was 18.  My grandmother, Mabel Florence Brown, was from Middlesex, England.  She never remarried.  My father was their only child….”  Diane’s father, John Harry, was born January 29, 1932.

…John enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers…

improved_photo co;ourized4

John Culbertson. (Photo courtesy of the Culbertson Family. Photo colourization by Pieter Valkenburg)

John enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers at No. 3-A District Depot in Kingston, Ontario on June 14, 1944, and was sent to the Canadian Engineer Training Centre (CETC) in Petawawa, Ontario. He qualified as a Moulder Group B on October 27, 1944 and was entitled to draw an additional Trades Pay.

CIMG5783 4 generations Culbertsons

John with his son, grandmother, and father in 1944. Left to right:  John Harry Culbertson, Margaret Culbertson, John Culbertson, George Albert Culbertson.  (Photo courtesy of the Culbertson Family.)

On November 29, 1944, John left Canada for the United Kingdom, arriving on December 9, 1944, where he was assigned to the Canadian Engineer Reinforcement Unit (CERU).  After undertaking further training, he qualified as a Driver Class III on March 24, 1945. This meant he was qualified to drive heavy trucks and armoured cars.

On April 11, 1945, John was sent to North West Europe, and then transferred to the 8th Canadian Field Squadron on April 18, 1845.

…John lost his life during the Battle of Edewecht…

Map showing Edewecht, Germany where John Culbertson

On April 30, 1945, the 8th Canadian Field Squadron was in Edewecht, Germany, the scene of severe fighting during the last weeks of the Second World War. During the Battle of Edewecht, Canadian troops experienced fierce house-by-house fighting against fanatic German paratroopers and other soldiers.

In A Souvenir War History – 8th Canadian Field Squadron Royal Canadian Engineers 1941-1945 by Cpl John Kerr, the author noted that …While maintaining a diversion, Spr Culbertson was killed….”  Ironically, April 30, 1945 was the same day that Hitler committed suicide in Berlin.

…John was buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten…

grave of John Culbertson

Grave of John Culbertson at the Canadian War Cemetery, Holten.  (Photo courtesy Information Centre, Canadian Cemetery Holten)

John was temporarily buried in Ostercheps, Germany before being reburied on March 7, 1946 in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

In March 1948, Tini Veldman of Ommen, The Netherlands sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs, asking that it be forwarded to the next of kin.  She wanted the family to know that she had adopted the grave, a volunteer program that was organized by the Netherlands War Graves Committee. A note in the file advised that her letter was forwarded to John’s widow on March 31, 1948.

This was not an unusual occurrence. Many family members of soldiers that we have met over the years have been in contact with Dutch citizens whose families adopted a grave in the early post-war years.

John’s son, John Harry, followed in his father’s footsteps in serving his country, enlisting in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1954, retiring as an aviation technician 25 years later.

Thank you to Diane McQueston (Culbertson) for sharing photos and information about her grandfather, and to Shawn Rainville for searching through newspapers to help Pieter find family members.  If you have a story to tell, please let Pieter know. Email him at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.

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Front cover OnTheWarMememorialTrailinEuropeDaria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten‘ is available in print and e-book formats.  Net proceeds of book sales help support research costs and the cost of maintaining this blog. For more information see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/

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© Daria Valkenburg

2 thoughts on “On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering WWII Sapper John Culbertson

  1. ”Saturday, February 4/2023, @ 17:59-WOW, April 30, 1945, AND WOW; WHAT a HEART-BREAKER, and THEN SOME!!! LEST WE FORGET, WE REMEMBER, YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN!!!”

    Yours Aye: Brian CANUCK Murza, W.W.II/1939-1945 Naval Researcher-Published Author, Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada.


  2. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering Sanford Steven Saulis | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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