On The War Memorial Trail….. The Search For A Photo Of WW2 Soldier Allan Gordon Coutts

No photo available

August 20, 2021. In 2017, Pieter received a photo wish list from researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.  There were 6 names, all serving with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders when they lost their lives.  How hard could that be?  Pieter thought.

Over the past years, families of 4 of the six have been found, along with photos of the soldiers.  Two remain elusive. One of these is Allan ‘Gordon’ COUTTS, born January 11, 1923 in Kerrobert, Saskatchewan, the son of Benjamin and Susan Coutts.  During his childhood, the family moved to Olds, Alberta, where his father was a firefighter on a government experimental farm.

After enlisting in Calgary, Alberta on January 15, 1943 with the #13 District Depot, he went to the Canadian Basic Training Centre in Camrose, Alberta on February 1, 1943. About 6 weeks later he caught mumps and was placed in isolation in the military hospital.

Once recovered from mumps, he was sent to the Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Calgary, then on January 1944 he went to Camp Debert in Nova Scotia for final preparations before being sent overseas to the United Kingdom in March 1944.  In April 1944 he was transferred to the Canadian Scottish Regiment, then in June 1944 to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

On July 25, 1944 he was wounded by a gunshot wound in the right shoulder during an offensive called ‘Operation Spring’ in Tilly-la-Compagne, France, and was hospitalized for a few weeks before returning to duty.  (For more information on Operation Spring see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Spring)

In early May, just before the end of the war, the Regiment went to Norden, Germany, …the first Recce party there...” according to ‘No Retreating Footsteps – the story of the North Novas’ by Will Bird.  Once they arrived, the German Commandant of the area was “...ordered to concentrate all his troops in the barracks area, to disarm them, and deliver all arms and ammunition to a selected arms dump, the Grattin Theda School….

However, Bird continued in his account, “….A German Army deserter reported the organization of Werewolves in the Novas area who wanted to destroy Norden because it had surrendered without a fight, and wanted to prevent German ammunition falling into Allied hands….” The ammunition dump was then moved away from the school to the Sports Field.

An Explosion in Norden was fatal

On May 11, 1945, Gordon was monitoring the unloading of ammunition at the Sports Field.  Around 4:30 pm, there was an explosion which cost him his life.  The witness testimony of Private J. J. JONES of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders confirmed that the sports field was used as a dumping ground for “…enemy ammunition and equipment…

As one of the drivers of these loads, his truck was parked at the dump and stated that he “… was standing by the tailboard of the truck, watching some German soldiers unloading a mixed load of ammunition and equipment.  I heard someone shout out a warning, and then I saw something come out the ground and land on the ground on the edge of the dump itself….

Pte Jones noted that “… the object made a hissing sound and gave off a cloud of orange smoke….” As he ran to take cover, “… a loud explosion went off….” As he returned to the dump, he saw “…a German Officer kick the smoking object away from the dump…”  When he reached the dump, he noticed “…one of our soldiers lying on the ground...” with a hole in his head.  He immediately went to get medical help.

Pte H. K. KEDDY of the Nova Scotia Highlanders was on guard duty at the German ammunition dump at the Norden Sports Field. He too heard a hissing noise and saw orange smoke and ran to safety.  After the explosion he testified that he “…went back to the scene of the explosion which was about 10 to 12 feet from the rear of the ….truck….”  He saw “…Sgt Coutts, AG lying on the ground quite near the truck….” and a wounded German soldier lying nearby.  He helped apply a bandage to the wounds while waiting for medical assistance to arrive.

Capt Alan E. DE FOREST of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders testified that the pile of ammunition contained “…all types of German mines, grenades, bazookas, small arms etc, which included several steel cases of German stick grenades (potato mashers)...”  It appeared that the explosion was caused by one of the stick grenades.  The explosion was ruled an accident and not an act of sabotage.

Gordon was temporarily buried in the Leer Lutheran Cemetery in Germany, before being reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

CIMG3228 Oct 3 2019 Holten Allan Coutts

We visited the grave of Allan Gordon Coutts at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands in 2019. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In March 1948, Mr. G. F. Struik of Deventer, The Netherlands sent a letter to Veterans Affairs, asking that it be forwarded to the next of kin.  He wanted the family to know that he had adopted the grave, a volunteer program that was organized by the Netherlands War Graves Committee.

This was not an unusual occurrence. Many family members of soldiers that we have met over the years have explained that their families had been in contact with Dutch citizens who adopted a grave.

Unfortunately, although he’s tried since 2017 to find family of Allan Gordon Coutts, Pieter has been unsuccessful.  Earlier this month, he did an interview with Galen Hartviksen, News Director at 96.5 CKFM/ROCK 104.5 in Olds, Alberta, in the hope that someone will see the appeal and come forward.  Here is the link to the web article and interview: https://ckfm.ca/2021/08/09/11202/.  Up to now, no one has come forward, unfortunately.

Thank you to Galen Hartviksen at CKFM for helping to publicize the search for a photo. If you can help with a photo or information about Allan Gordon Coutts, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

 The North Nova Scotia Highlanders Wish List

The other North Nova Scotia Highlanders on that 2017 photo wish list from the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, for which photos were found, were:

In addition to Allan Gordon COUTTS, one more photo is yet to be found for:

  • Archibald Henry NELSON, born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, son of William Henry and Winnifred Frances Nelson, who lost his life on April 18, 1945, aged 32.

….Want to follow our research?….

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Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

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© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail…..Our 2019 Visit To The Canadian War Cemetery In Holten

October 8, 2019.  While in The Netherlands we visited the three Canadian War Cemeteries and laid down flags of Canada and PEI for the names listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, as well as other Islanders who have been identified by Dutch researchers. The first Canadian War Cemetery we visited on the 2019 trip was in Holten.  (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At Holten Canadian War Cemetery for an account of our 2017 visit.) On this visit we also were able to place flags on graves of soldiers that were identified by Pieter while doing research for photos and other information to help the researchers at the cemetery with their “A Face For Every Grave” project.

For some reason, we have never been able to visit the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten on a dry day.  We started off in beautiful sunshine, but as soon as we entered the gate into the cemetery, it started to rain.  At first we ignored the rain, and were rewarded with a downpour.  We got the message and went back to the car to wait for the rain to stop.

While we waited we noticed that schoolchildren from an elementary school in nearby Holten were having a tour and explanation of the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers in liberating The Netherlands during WWII.  We approached a teacher and asked if the children would like Canadian flag pins.  As soon as the children understood what was being offered, Pieter was mobbed!  “Are you really from Canada?” he was asked.

CIMG3191 Oct 3 2019 Pieter surrounded by children at Holten

Pieter handing out Canadian flag pins to children from a nearby elementary school at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

While handing out pins to the schoolchildren, the rain stopped and we returned to visit the graves.  We went through the gate into the cemetery and stopped to take a photo at the entrance.  No sooner had the photo been taken than it started to rain again, quite heavily! Back we went to the car.

CIMG3190 Oct 3 2019 Pieter by sign at Holten Cdn War Cemetery

Pieter at the entrance to the Holten Canadian War Cemetery. As soon as we took this photo, it started to rain! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We were soon joined by Edwin van der Wolf and Henk Vincent of the Information Centre, Canadian War Cemetery Holten, and decided to go for lunch in the hope that the sun would come out later.  We’d visited the Information Centre in 2017 (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At The Information Centre at Holten Canadian War Cemetery) but it closed at the beginning of October for several months for expansion of the facility and preparation of digital innovations, such as holographic stories of various soldiers.

CIMG3194 Oct 3 2019 Lunch at Grand Cafe in Holten

At Grand Café in Holten. Left to right: Daria Valkenburg, Pieter Valkenburg, Edwin van der Wolf, Henk Vincent.

After a nice visit and lunch, the sun began peeking out from the clouds and it started to dry up, so a third attempt was made at placing flags at the cemetery.  This time we were joined by Edwin and Henk.  Again, however, we no sooner came past the gate than it started to rain.  This time we kept on going, and the four of us managed to place 33 flags and take photos of each grave…. in the rain.

CIMG3219 Oct 3 2019 Holten Carmen Gillcash

Edwin van der Wolf, Henk Vincent, and Pieter by the grave of Carman Gillcash of O’Leary. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Flags of Canada and Prince Edward Island were placed at the graves of the following Islanders:

  • Alfred ARSENAULT, born in Urbanville
  • Frederick Charles CHEVERIE, born in Summerside
  • Nelson DES ROCHES, born in Tignish
  • Harald FRASER, born in Vernon Bridge
  • Frank GALLANT, born in Mount Carmel
  • Carman E. GILLCASH, born in O’Leary
  • Maurice J. HUGHES, born in Charlottetown
  • Francis E. LAWLESS, born in Grand Tracadie
  • Neal F. MACDONALD, born in North Wiltshire
  • Daniel Peter MACKENZIE, born in Summerville
  • Ruel K. MATHESON, born in Charlottetown
  • John B. MATTHEW, born in Souris
  • Michael J. MCKENNA, born in Montague
  • John A. MCLAREN, born in Armadale
  • George Martin MCMAHON, born in Kinkora
  • William Douglas SHERREN, born in Crapaud
  • Charles B. TUPLIN, born in Kensington
  • Archibald H. NELSON, born in Charlottetown

Flags of Canada and Nova Scotia were placed at the graves of the following soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment:

  • Joseph A. COMEAU, born in Lower Saulnierville
  • Gordon F. JOHNSON, born in Nova Scotia, birthplace unknown
  • Lewis W. MARSH, born in Sydney Mines
  • Lloyd W. MURRAY, born in Tatamagouche

A flag of Canada was placed at the graves of the following soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, who were not from Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island:

  • Allan G. COUTTS, born in Alberta
  • Howard M. NICHOLLS, born in Mattawa, Ontario
  • Gunnar DALMAN, born in Saskatchewan

Edwin van der Wolf researched a tragic story of Canadian soldiers murdered in cold blood by German soldiers on April 9, 1945 while they were sleeping in tents in Sogel, Germany, and Canadian flags were placed in honour of these men as well:

  • Karl CHRISTENSEN of Alberta
  • Louis FELDMANN of Ontario
  • Lewis GALLANT of Manitoba
  • Thomas F. GREENHALGH of Alberta
  • Victor HUBACHECK of Ontario
  • John D. MCDOUGALL of Manitoba
  • Harlow D. RANKIN of Ontario
  • Franklin ZIMMERMAN of Ontario

Placing flags is the easiest part of a cemetery visit.  Gathering flags to bring from Canada is an event in itself, involving many people who provided them.  Our thanks go to:

  • the office of Wayne Easter, Member of Parliament for Malpeque, Prince Edward Island for Canada flags and pins
  • the office of Senator Mike Duffy, Senate of Canada for Canada flags and pins
  • Mary McQuaid of Veterans Affairs Canada for arranging for us to have PEI flags
  • John Wales of North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum for making a trip to the Island to drop off Nova Scotia flags.
CIMG3047 Jul 24 2019 John Wales with NS flags

John Wales of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum dropped of Nova Scotia flags to be placed at graves in The Netherlands. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

If anyone has more information to share on any of the soldiers listed above, or know of more Islanders buried in the cemetery in Holten, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg