On The War Memorial Trail….. The Battle of Bienen – Part 11: The WWII Soldier From Canning Who Lost His Life In Germany

May 2, 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 several names. 

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

…John, known as ‘Ducky’ to his friends, enlisted in 1940….

One of the names on the list of missing photos was John Lewis WALLACE, who was born June 1, 1921 in Canning, Nova Scotia.  The son of William Edward and Amy Louis Wallace, he had 5 brothers and 5 sisters.  The youngest, Gladys Pauline Archer, explained that she was the last of the siblings and had only a poor quality newspaper photo of her older brother.

Wallace, John, HCH, 9 April 1945. p.9._part1

John Lewis Wallace.  (Source: Obituary in the April 9, 1945 issue of Halifax Chronicle Herald)

His obituary in the April 9, 1945 issue of the Halifax Chronicle Herald noted that he was “…known as ‘Ducky’ to his friends…” and that he had enlisted in 1942, “….shortly after his brother, Cpl James Wallace, was taken prisoner at Hong Kong…”  This is incorrect. According to his attestation paper, John Lewis Wallace enlisted on June 21, 1940 – shortly after his 19th birthday – at the West Nova Scotia Regiment Regimental Depot #6 in Aldershot, Nova Scotia.   

His brother James was captured in Hong Kong on December 25, 1941, but survived his time as a prisoner of war. (For more information, see interview with Roger Cyr at https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/video-gallery/video/4538)

On June 25, 1940, he began his basic training at A14 Canadian Infantry Training Centre at Camp Aldershot in Nova Scotia.

After completing his basic training, John was transferred to the Royal Rifles of Canada on November 29, 1940 and sent to Sussex, New Brunswick.   The Royal Rifles had been designated 1st Battalion, The Royal Rifles of Canada, CASF a few weeks earlier.  (CASF referred to Canadian Active Service Force, a term renamed as Canadian Army (Active) in late 1940.  It was the field force raised by the Canadian Army during WWII.)

… John was sent to Newfoundland….

NFLD Map shows Botwood

Location of Botwood Military Base in Newfoundland. (Map source: http://postalhistorycorner.blogspot.com/2012/12/wwii-canadian-forces-in-newfoundland.html)

John joined the Battalion in Newfoundland. The Battalion was responsible for garrison duty at Botwood and Newfoundland Airport in Gander from early November 1940 until August 1941. An RCAF base in Botwood had aircraft patrolling the east coast of the Atlantic. Canadian Army personnel based at Botwood were charged with protection of military facilities that had been installed there, as well as in Gander. (See https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/politics/botwood-base.php)

… Appendicitis stopped John from going to Hong Kong with his Regiment….

On September 2, 1941, John arrived in Valcartier, Quebec with the Battalion.  While the Battalion prepared for its next assignment, he ended up in hospital with appendicitis.  Therefore, he did not travel with the Battalion when it left for Hong Kong on October 27, 1941 as part of C Force.  John was still in Canada when his brother was taken prisoner of war.

After returning from convalescent leave, John was transferred twice, first to the Royal Rifles of Canada Wing and No. 5 District Depot in Quebec on October 20, 1941.  He was then sent to the No. 6 District Depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia and assigned to the Depot Police.

A June 16, 1942 medical specialist report noted that for the past 6 months, John had been assigned to do “…light duty such as waiter in Officers Mess and Police Duty…” but he was now fit for active duty again.

John requested a transfer to the Provost Corps in Aldershot. On July 1, 1942, he was transferred to the Staging Camp in Aldershot, Nova Scotia.  Then, on December 29, 1942 he was transferred to the training camp in Debert, Nova Scotia.

… While in service John became a husband and father….

John had requested permission to marry Doris Avanelle Crowe, which was granted on December 5, 1942.  The couple married in Wolfville, Nova Scotia on January 15, 1943.

On May 1, 1943, John was transferred to the Infantry Training Camp in Windsor, Nova Scotia.  While there, son William Lewis Wallace was born on October 17, 1943.

On September 28, 1944, John was transferred to the No. 1 Infantry Training Brigade in Debert, Nova Scotia for final preparation and training before being sent overseas. 

… John went overseas in November 1944….

He left Canada for the United Kingdom on November 21, 1944 – from Halifax, most likely on the same transport as John Joseph BOHON, Marven Glenroy HARVEY, Kitchener ‘Kitty’ LANGILLE, and Marvin William MCGREGOR. Like Bohon, Harvey, Langille, and McGregor, John was assigned to No. 3 Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU).

Screenshot 2023-04-30 at 13-45-17 Project '44

Map shows location of North Nova Scotia Highlanders (red arrow) as troops begin making their way towards Xanten, Germany. (Map source: https://map.project44.ca/)

On January 25, 1945 he was sent to Northwest Europe as part of 21 Army Group, and then on March 4, 1945, was assigned to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, joining them in the area near Xanten, Germany.

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

ahq019-3 15 Operation Plunder Map

Operation Plunder (Map source: https://www.canada.ca Army Headquarters (AHQ) reports #19)

The Regiment continued its movement through Germany. 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.

March 25, 1945 was Palm Sunday, one week before Easter.  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…

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’)

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 “terrain conditions magnified the enemy’s force ratio advantage. In the flat, featureless topography …. villages were the decisive high ground. From the many two, and sometimes three story stone houses found in those villages, German infantry and artillery fire controllers easily observed and dominated the ground around them for thousands of yards. Furthermore, the level countryside enabled the numerous German machine guns to fire at extreme ranges of up to 1,500 yards, maximizing their effectiveness while limiting the ability of Canadian artillery observers to locate and engage them…

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…

There were 6 platoons of riflemen involved in the fight.  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’)

This battle, that began in the morning and didn’t end until late that evening, was devastating in terms of casualties, both dead and wounded, including John Lewis ‘Ducky’ Wallace.  As we don’t know which Company he was in, we don’t know the circumstances of his death. 

…John 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, Wilfred ‘Willy’ Joseph POWER, and Louis Allan SEXTON, John 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.

grave John Lewis Wallace groesbeek

Grave of John Lewis Wallace in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.  (Photo source: http://www.findagrave.com)

….4 Wallace sons served in the military….

The Wallace family had three sons who served in WWII:  John lost his life.  James, who had been a prisoner of war, returned home.  Another brother, Keith, was discharged on compassionate grounds after his wife died, leaving their 8 children motherless.  A fourth brother, Paul, who was serving with the United Nations Emergency Force, died in Gaza on November 27, 1964 when the vehicle he was in ran over a land mine.

Thank you to Gladys Archer for sending us information about her brother, to Judie Klassen for finding his obituary, research into the Wallace brothers who served, and helping find family, and to Margie Welin and Carrie Hogan of the Royal Canadian Legion Hants County Branch #9  in Windsor, Nova Scotia for helping in the initial search for family members.

Thank you to all who have helped Pieter to find family members of North Novies killed in this battle. Coming up in Part 12: Austin Havelock Munroe.

If you have a better photo of John Lewis ‘Ducky’ Wallace, or 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….

…Want to follow our research?….

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One thought on “On The War Memorial Trail….. The Battle of Bienen – Part 11: The WWII Soldier From Canning Who Lost His Life In Germany

  1. 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

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