On The War Memorial Trail….. The WW2 Soldier From St Stephen Who Was A Teacher

March 7, 2021.  Last fall, the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands sent Pieter a photo wish list of 6 soldiers from the Cape Breton Highlanders who had died in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.  (For more information on the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket, see https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/battlehonours/northwesteurope/delfzijlpocket.htm)

Len Boudreau of the Cape Breton Highlanders Association was able to provide photos of 3 of the men,  Pieter found one on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website, leaving 2 to try and find:  Philip Hubert LONG of Nova Scotia, and Norman J. NIXON of New Brunswick.

A radio interview with CBC’s Maritime Noon about Philip Long resulted in family contacting Pieter immediately, and a photo was soon provided.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/11/01/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-face-for-philip-hubert-long/)

In trying to find family of Norman Nixon, Pieter sent a letter to the editor of the St. Croix Courier newspaper.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/on-the-war-memorial-trail-continuing-the-search-for-soldiers-killed-in-action-in-ww1-and-ww2/)  Legion member Kent Caldwell sent a photo and story from the New Brunswick Military Service Recognition booklet.

It was a rare occasion that every photo request on a list could be fulfilled, but it happened! But then, the grandson (and namesake) of Norman Nixon contacted us.  “….We have quite a bit of information…..” he said.  Did we want to meet?

CIMG4775 Oct 25 2020 Pieter sorts through material compiled by the Nixon family

Pieter goes through the information saved by the Nixon family. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Normally that would not be a problem, but with Covid-19 restrictions, we had to think twice.  The Atlantic Bubble was still open, so Pieter said a firm YES! and we made the trip to Harvey, New Brunswick to meet Norman Nixon and his wife, Kelley Gowan.

CIMG4560 Lt Norman Nixon

Norman James Nixon. (Photo courtesy of Nixon family)

Norman James Nixon was born in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, the son of Edward A. Nixon and Winnifred Trafton, and lived in nearby Mayfield.  A well-regarded schoolteacher before his enlistment, he married Berla Mae Lowery on July 29, 1940.  In 1941 they welcomed the birth of their son, Vernon James.

20201024_160813 Norman and Berla with son Vernon

Norman and Berla Mae Nixon with their son Vernon, circa 1943.  (Photo courtesy of Nixon family)

On July 20, 1940 Norman had enlisted with the Reserve Unit of the Carleton & York Regiment, but was discharged due to illness.  On February 6, 1942 he re-enlisted, this time with the Active Unit of the New Brunswick Rangers, and served with this unit in Labrador, and Canada from February 6, 1942 to July 12, 1944, and England from July 13 to August 21, 1944.

In 1944 he transferred to the Cape Breton Highlanders, and served in Italy from August 22, 1944 to February 19, 1945, and Northwest Europe in France and The Netherlands from February 20 to April 30, 1945.  He was known as ‘Nick’ by his fellow soldiers.

CIMG4767 Oct 25 2020 Pieter and Norman with cap and badges

Pieter and Norman Nixon.  Norman holds his grandfather’s cap and a number of the badges that Lt. Nixon had earned during his service.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After surviving action in Italy and France, Lt Nixon’s luck ran out near the end of WW2, when he was killed by shrapnel on April 30, 1945 during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.

A May 6, 1945 letter to Bella Mae, from Norman’s Commander, Lt Colonel R B Sommerville, explained what happened.  “…Nick was killed in action at night by shell fire during a counter attack on his platoon position.  He died instantly.

At the time he was hit he was encouraging his men who were being hard pressed by fire from the part of Delfzijl on the Ems estuary….

He was initially buried in the village of Wirdum, as Lt Col Sommerville explains further in his letter.  “…his example and devotion to both his troops and duty won for him the affection and respect of officers and men alike….. At a little service in the village of Wirdum near Groningen with a brother officer and 17 of our men he was buried the next afternoon.  We will all miss him….”  The other officer mentioned as being buried was Lt B H NUNN of Halifax.

On May 10, 1945, Major P J Stephen also wrote a letter to Bella Mae, providing more details on how her husband lost his life.  “…On the evening of the 30th of April we were holding a position which we had taken the night before.  Things were quite bad as we were being heavily shelled. The men were getting jittery from loss of sleep and constant hammering.  

After each shelling Nick would jump from his trench and stroll about the platoon area as if he were in his own garden, joking with the men, caring with a smile for all their needs, setting the example to them of a first class soldier and leader.  During one of these tours Nick was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a shell which burst a few yards away. 

It was impossible to save him although we gave him medical aid immediately.  Nick passed away without regaining consciousness…

20201024_194850 Grave of Norman J Nixon in 1945

Initial burial of Norman Nixon in Wirdum. Photo sent by Lt Stackhouse.  (Photo courtesy of Nixon family)

On August 19, 1945, Lt Ron V Stackhouse wrote to Bella Mae. “…I was with ‘Nick’ on the last night about an hour before he was killed as we had both had supper together at Company Headquarters and he and I walked back to our platoons together as our platoons were right alongside of each other….”   In a postscript he mentions enclosing a photo of the grave.

After WW2 ended, Lt Nixon was reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

nixon, norman james from Holten Cemetery sent by Edwin

Grave of Norman Nixon at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. (Photo sent by Edwin van der Wolf.)

Visiting with Norman Nixon and Kelley Gowan and learning about Norman’s grandfather was a privilege.  But they had a surprise for us.  Norman’s father Vernon and Vernon’s wife Donna came from Grand Manan Island to meet us.

CIMG4779 Oct 25 2020 Norman and Vernon Nixon

Norman and Vernon Nixon, grandson and son of Lt Nixon. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

More memories and stories were shared, including that Vernon’s mother, Bella Mae, owned a dress shop, ‘The Hat Box’, in St. Stephen.  She was an independent woman, and never remarried after her husband’s death.

CIMG4781 Oct 25 2020 Pieter & Daria with Vernon & Donna Nixon

A final photo before we left to go back home.  Pieter and I with Vernon and Donna Nixon.  (Photo credit: Kelly Gowan)

With both the son and grandson of Lt Nixon together in one place, we asked if they wanted to share a few thoughts for a video to be sent to the Info Centre at the cemetery in Holten.  Here is the result, entitled ‘In Remembrance of Lt. Norman J. Nixon’:

It’s always an honour to meet the families of the soldiers that Pieter researches, and we hope to meet more families as travel restrictions get eased.

The 6 soldiers from the Cape Breton Highlanders on the photo wish list were:

  • Philip H. LONG, born Pictou, Nova Scotia, died April 30, 1945.
  • James Bernard MACINNIS, born Rotherfield, Sussex, England, died May 1, 1945.
  • Olen B. MARSHALL, born Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, died May 1, 1945.
  • Norman J. NIXON, born St. Stephen, New Brunswick, died April 30, 1945.
  • Ford H. SPIDLE, born Parkdale, Nova Scotia, died May 1, 1945.
  • Robert B. THOMAS, born Louisburg, Nova Scotia, died May 5, 1945.

The family of Ford Hilton Spidle participated in the Atlantic Canada Remembers series of postings, and you can read his story here: https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-1/

Thank you to Norman Nixon and Kelley Gowan for their warm hospitality and for sharing information about Lt Nixon, and thank you to Vernon and Donna Nixon for making the trip from their home to meet with us and share memories about Vernon’s father.  It’s very clear that Lt Nixon was deeply loved and respected, and his death, so close to the end of the war, was an immeasurable loss.

Heartfelt thanks go to post-production editor Wendy Nattress, who made the YouTube tribute to Lt Nixon a reality.

20 members of the Cape Breton Highlanders lost their lives in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.  If you have information or photos to share on any of these men, please email us at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

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

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© Daria Valkenburg