On The War Memorial Trail….. The Battle of Bienen – Part 10: The WWII Soldier Who Wanted To Be A Paratrooper

April 10, 2023.  On a list of 39 soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment who were killed during the Battle of Bienen in Germany on March 25, 1945 and are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands, photos were missing for 12 names. 

The date of the battle haunted Pieter as he was “…exactly one year old when this battle occurred.  I was born on March 25, 1944!…

One of the names on the list of missing photos was Wilfred ‘Willy’ Joseph POWER.

….Willy was born in Saskatchewan but grew up in British Columbia….

Born September 17, 1924 in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, the son of Francis ‘Frank’ and Annie Power, Willy grew up on the west coast of Canada after the family moved to New Westminster, British Columbia in 1928.

Before enlisting on August 3, 1943 at the XI District Depot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Willy worked as a seaman with the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) Steamship in Vancouver. Before signing on as a deck hand, he had worked as an electrician’s helper in New Westminster.

Wilfred Power

Wilfred ‘Willy’ Power. (Photo courtesy of Brian Power.  Photo restoration by Pieter Valkenburg and Duane MacEwen.)

Willy had three brothers and one sister, and his nephew Brian Power submitted a photo of his uncle.

….Willy was interested in joining the paratroops….

In an interview for his Personnel Selection Record, it was noted that Willy liked reading “…mystery stories…” and in his spare time enjoyed “…tennis, basketball, baseball, swimming, fishing, and hunting…” He also liked “…dancing and movies, pool, and cards…”  One asset was that he could “…drive cars and trucks up to three tons…

He was assessed as having a “…high learning capacity....” and that he was “...very anxious to join the paratroops...” His interviewer concluded by writing “…generally impresses as a good prospect for paratroops and consideration therefore is recommended…”  For whatever reason, a path towards the paratroops never happened.

On September 1, 1943, Willy was posted to No. 133 Canadian Army Basic Training Centre (CA(B)TC) in Wetaskiwin, Alberta for two months.  From there he was transferred to No. A16 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Calgary, Alberta. This centre provided reinforcements for the Calgary Highlanders and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

….Willy was sent overseas in February 1944….

On February 14, 1944, Willy left Canada for the United Kingdom, arriving on February 25, 1944, and assigned to No. 1 Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU).

On March 13, 1944 he was transferred to the Calgary Highlanders, training with them until July 2, 1944, when the Regiment left the United Kingdom for Normandy, France as part of 21 Army Group. The Calgary Highlanders arrived on open beaches near Courseulles-sur-Mer and spent several days in the cramped bridgehead behind Caen, under constant threat of air attack, while they prepared for battle.

Willy was with the Calgary Highlanders only for the start of their Normandy campaign, as on July 10, 1944 he was transferred to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, joining them in Caen, France. 

Courseulles and Caen

Map showing Courselles-sur-Mer on the coast of France, near Caen.  ‘La Manche’ in French is what we call the ‘English Channel’.  (Map source: https://www.viamichelin.fr)

Willy was with the Regiment through Northwest Europe, including the Battle of the Scheldt,  receiving promotions to Lance Corporal on August 1, 1944 1944, Corporal on December 25, 1944, and then Lance Sergeant on February 25, 1945. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Scheldt)

The Regiment reached Kellen, Germany near Kleve, just on the other side of the border with The Netherlands, on February 12, 1945.  On February 14, using amphibious vehicles, the North Novies evacuated Warbergen as they made their way to Emmerich.

Next, the Regiment participated in Operation Blockbuster.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Blockbuster). 

…Willy lost his life in the Battle of Bienen ….

By March 20, 1945, Allied troops were on the banks of the Rhine River for Operation Plunder, a military operation to cross the Rhine on the night of March 23, 1945. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plunder) They got as far as Bienen, when troop movement stopped due to blown bridges across the Rhine in that area.

Plunder 015 Aerial of Bienen from 23 March 45, just prior to the Rhine Crossing (Courtesy Becker) ww2talk

Aerial view of Bienen taken on March 23, 1945, just prior to the Rhine Crossing (Map source: http://www.WW2Talk.com and identified as ‘Courtesy Becker’)

On March 25, 1945, the Regiment’s task was to pass through the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who had been stopped in front of Bienen.  The problem with Bienen? The road through it was the only access point.  In ‘No Retreating Footsteps’ author Will Bird explained that it was “… an isthmus of solid land about half a mile wide with one road, the main Rees-Emmerich highway, which passed through Bienen exactly at the narrowest point…

It was Palm Sunday, one week before Easter.  It was a battle that began in the morning and didn’t end until late that evening. 

In the article ‘Too Close To The Guns!’ in Canadian Military History, Volume 12, Numbers 1& 2, Winter/Spring 2003, pp.5-28, author Lee Windsor explained that, contrary to expectations of many Allied military planners, the Germans who were defending German villages “were extremely well-motivated considering their homeland was collapsing all around them. First Parachute Army received Germany’s last fresh draft of replacements several weeks before the battle. These were not old men, but teenagers newly-turned 17 or 18, most with Hitler Youth exposure to military training and Nazi ideology…” They were well-trained and would not give up ground.

In ‘Operation Plunder and Varsity: The British and Canadian Rhine Crossing’ author Tim Saunders noted in Chapter 9 that “The attack was divided into two phases, with H Hour at 0900 hours. The first problem was to get the attacking troops across three hundred yards of open country and to help with this support by heavy artillery fire, including plenty of smoke fired by both field guns and the battalion’s 3-inch mortars…

By late afternoon, the North Novies “….methodically set about the task of clearing each and every building in the main part of the village. It took the remainder of the day, yielding a mixed bag of Fallschirmjäger and Panzergrenadier prisoners….”  (Note: ‘Fallschirmjäger’ are ‘Paratroopers’.  ‘Panzergrenadier’ are ‘Armoured Infantry’)

The one day battle was devastating in terms of casualties, both dead and wounded, including Wilfred ‘Willy’ Joseph Power.  As we don’t know which Company Willy was in, we don’t know the circumstances of his death. 

…Willy is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek ….

Like Clifford BATEMAN, John Joseph BOHON, Ralph Schurman BOULTER, and Charles ‘Marshall’ CARSON, Marven Glenroy HARVEY, Kitchener ‘Kitty’ LANGILLE, Marvin William MCGREGOR, and Louis Allan SEXTON, Willy was temporarily buried on Monday, March 26, 1945 in the military cemetery in Rees, Germany before being reburied the following year in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.

When Brian Power contacted us, he explained that he had included a “….picture of my Uncle Willy. This was a mass card given out at his memorial many years ago….

Wilfred Power pic

Mass card submitted by Brian Power.

After seeing the mass card, we noted that Willy stated he was Roman Catholic in his attestation form when he enlisted.  This suggested that Willy was one of the soldiers whose funeral on March 26, 1945 was one of 15 that had been presided over by Honorary Major Donald A. Kerr, Senior Chaplain (R.C.) in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. 

In a letter to the parents of Louis Allan SEXTON, who also died that day, H/Major Kerr wrote that “…It was indeed a sad day for me to bury fifteen of my fine Catholic boys, some of whom I knew so well…

POWER Wilfred Joseph - XVII H 02

Grave of William ‘Willy’ Joseph Power at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. (Photo courtesy of Faces To Graves Foundation.)

Thank you to Brian Power for submitting photos and to Duane MacEwen for help in photo restoration.

Thank you to all who have helped Pieter to find family members of North Novies killed in this battle. Coming up in Part 11: John Lewis Wallace.

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

….Previous stories about North Novies killed during the Battle of Bienen and buried in Groesbeek….

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3 thoughts on “On The War Memorial Trail….. The Battle of Bienen – Part 10: The WWII Soldier Who Wanted To Be A Paratrooper

  1. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. The Battle of Bienen – Part 11: The WWII Soldier From Canning Who Lost His Life In Germany | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

  2. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. The Battle of Bienen – Part 12: The WWII Soldier From Little Dover Who Lost His Life In Germany | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

  3. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….The Faces Of Groesbeek Exhibition Part 5: Soldiers Who Lost Their Lives In Bienen | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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