The WW1 Names On The Cenotaph Have Stories Of Their Own

February 8, 2020. Recently, Pieter and a friend went to see the British WW1 movie ‘1917’, which is nominated for several Oscars and has a Canadian connection due to a map used in the film.  (For that story see  The story takes place in France on April 6, 1917, and is about two men tasked with delivering a message to another unit to warn of a German ambush.  The men go through several towns and villages in France’s Western Front.  Canadians may remember this period as being the lead up to the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.

Pieter found the movie of great interest for several reasons. It was a depiction of the horrors of war… without being overly gory.  After being through the trenches and tunnels in Vimy Ridge a few years ago, he was intrigued to see the way soldiers sat on either side of a trench while waiting to go up into battle.   But the main reason he liked the movie is that it told the story of two people.

Contrary to what we learn in history books and classes, in the end all history is the cumulative stories of individuals.  A list of names on a cenotaph, such as the one outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, is meaningless without knowing who those people were and what happened to them.  This is what started Pieter on the journey to uncover the stories behind the names on the Cenotaph.

Over the years, the stories of those from WW1 have been told in this blog.  24 are listed on the Cenotaph and half of them died in France…. Patrick Raymond ARSENAULT and John Lymon ‘Ly’ WOOD are listed on the Vimy Memorial as their bodies were never identified.    Also killed in France were Kenneth John Martin BELL, James CAIRNS, James Ambrose CAIRNS, Arthur Leigh COLLETT, Bazil CORMIER, Patrick Phillip DEEGAN (DEIGHAN), Joseph Arthur DESROCHES, Percy Earl FARROW (FARRAR), Ellis Moyse HOOPER, and Charles W. LOWTHER.  We were at the Vimy Memorial and visited each grave.

Five men died in Belgium. Two are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, as their bodies were never identified: Charles Benjamin Murray BUXTON and George Albert CAMPBELL.  We visited Menin Gate and the area where they died.  We also visited the graves of James Lymon CAMERON, Vincent Earl CARR, and Arthur Clinton ROBINSON.

Vincent Carr, who died during the Battle of Passchendaele on October 30, 1918, was initially buried in a trench with 4 others – two Canadian and two British soldiers.  Decades later, when they were reburied in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, all three Canadians were still identifiable.  The British Army’s cardboard identity ‘tags’ had disintegrated, leaving the two British soldiers as unidentified.  Today, DNA testing can be done to help with identity, but decades ago this was impossible.

Two men died in England.  John Goodwill HOWATT was wounded in France, and died in a British hospital.  Bruce Sutherland McKAY had gotten ill during the transport from Canada to England and also died in a British hospital.

Henry Warburton STEWART survived the war, only to fall ill while in Germany as part of the occupation forces.  He’s buried in a German cemetery in Cologne, which we visited.

James Graham FARROW (FARRAR) was not a soldier, but in the Merchant Navy, transporting vital supplies between England and France, when his ship was torpedoed by a U-boat.

Three men died on Canadian soil.  Leigh Hunt CAMERON died of illness, while Harry ROBINSON died from blood poisoning.  William Galen CAMPBELL was poisoned with mustard gas on May 28, 1918, a few months before the end of the war, but was able to return home.  And yes, we’ve visited those graves as well.

We were also able to tell you parallel stories, such as that of Clifford Almon WELLS, who had many of the same experiences as John Lymon Wood, and also died in France. Another story was that of George BRUCKER, of the German Army, who was taken prisoner during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and survived the war, never forgetting the two ‘tall’ Canadians who didn’t shoot him.  Decades later his son, now in his 80s, is still hoping to thank the families of those two unknown men.

Thanks to Pieter’s curiosity in trying to find out why one Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestone in a cemetery in Cape Traverse was not recorded on the Cenotaph, we were able to tell you the story of Elmyr KRUGER, a soldier from Saskatchewan who died of illness while guarding German prisoners of war from a POW camp in Amherst.

We’ve told the stories of each man, and shared our visits to the various cemeteries and war memorials.  As photos and letters came in, we shared those experiences as well.

We are still missing photos of several of these soldiers, so the quest to put a face to every name and story is still ongoing.  Who are we missing?  Take a look and see if you can help:











It’s great to watch a movie about fictional characters, but let’s not forget the stories of real life people! There won’t be any Academy Awards given out, but they will be remembered. Research continues to uncover more stories.  If you have a story or photo to share about any of the names mentioned in this posting, please contact Pieter at or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

The Three WW1 Soldiers Who Were Buried Together At Passchendaele

September 1, 2019.  The very first story uncovered by Pieter, when he began researching the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, was that of WW1 soldier Vincent Earl CARR, who lost his life on October 30, 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium.  (See The Cenotaph Research Project Begins)  Why Vincent Carr?  His was the first photo provided for the project by Vincent’s nephew, Delbert Carr of Tryon, and his wife Helen.

CIMG3083 Aug 31 2019 Pieter with Helen & Delbert Carr

Pieter with Helen and Delbert (seated) Carr of Tryon. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Carr was born May 3, 1894 in North Tryon, son of Robert Carr and Catherine McLeod.  On June 2, 1914, he enlisted in the 55th Battalion in Sussex, New Brunswick, and recorded his trade as labourer.  On October 30, 1915 his unit sailed to England aboard the S.S. Corsican, arriving on November 9, 1915.

shorter photo of vincent carr

Photo: Vincent Carr in 1915, in the uniform of the 55th Battalion. (Photo courtesy of Delbert Carr collection. Photo colourization: Pieter Valkenburg)

On April 6, 1916 he was transferred to the 36th Battalion, and then 2 months later, on June 23, 1916, he was sent for training at the 86th Machine Gun Battalion, later re-designated as the Canadian Machine Gun Depot.  On July 28, 1916 he became part of the 1st (also called “A”) Canadian Motor Machine Gun Battery and arrived in France with his unit the next day.

In an excerpt from the November 1, 1917 Operation Report for October 28-31, 1917 by Lt C.P. Gilman, Acting Officer in Charge, of the “A” Battery of the First Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade wrote:  … “On the evening of the 29th ….were in position to fire on targets given for the Zero hour, which was 5:50 am morning of the 30th.  As soon as we opened fire, we were subjected to an intense bombardment of our positions, and we were forced to retire 6 hours later, after sustaining 28 casualties…..

Carr was one on those casualties, and is buried in Cement House Cemetery.  When we visited it in 2017, Pieter noticed that the graves on either side of him were Canadians from the same Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade unit as Carr, and that they died on the same day.  We took a photo of all three graves: R. Bellas, our Vincent Carr, and J. B. Willson.  (See On The War Memorial Trail of Passchendaele and Surrounding Area)

While we were in Passchendaele, we picked up a brochure ‘Did Your Granddad Fight in Passchendaele 1917?’ from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, inviting people to submit names and photos. The brochure went on to say that “in return for your cooperation you will receive a copy of a trench map with the approximate place where he was killed.  With this comes a short report based on the war diaries of his unit.”  We already had the war diary report, but a trench map was something unique, so we sent in the information, along with the observation that Bellas and Willson were buried near Carr.  Maybe they were in the same trench?

We waited for the trench map with great anticipation and ….. nothing happened.  Almost two years later, though, long after we’d forgotten about the inquiry we’d made, we received an email from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, with the long promised trench map and more information on what happened on October 30, 1917.

On that fateful day, researchers discovered that Vincent Carr, Jack Bingham WILLSON, and Robert BELLAS were all killed by the same high explosive shell on Abraham Heights. This is what we had expected after seeing the graves side by side in Cement House Cemetery, but to our surprise we learned that they had been buried in the same grave on Abraham Heights.


Trench map showing the coordinates where Carr, Willson, and Bellas were originally buried on Abraham Heights. (Map: courtesy of Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917)

map of passchendaele showing abraham heights

You can see Abraham Heights towards the bottom left corner of the map. (Map: courtesy

The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 wrote us that: “According to the War Diary of the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, three machine gun companies were in the field around October 30. ‘A’-Battery from the 28th till the 31st of October, ‘B’-Battery from the 29th till the 31st of October and the ‘Eaton’-Battery from the 30th October till the 1st of November. Although the positions on Abraham Heights (28.D.15.b.7.4.) were abandoned on the 29th to take up new positions just north of Tyne Cot Cemetery (28.D.16.b.6.9.), many runners were sent to the supply stores behind the front to resupply the machine guns on the front line. It’s likely that the men were killed by shellfire while hauling equipment between the gun positions and the back areas.” (Note: The numbers and letters you see in brackets beside Abraham Heights and Tyne Cot Cemetery are the GPS coordinates.)

Private Jack Bingham Willson was born January 17, 1897 in Plattsville, Ontario.  Sgt Robert Bellas was born August 1, 1886 in Morland, Cumbria, England, but had immigrated to Canada.  Both Willson and Bellas enlisted in Toronto.

A 1939 report of exhumation and reburial to Cement House Cemetery confirmed that Carr, Willson, and Bellas were recovered from one grave.  Unlike many soldiers who were never identified, they were identified by the ‘titles’ on the shoulder of their uniform identifying them as Canadian, and the identifying discs that they were still wearing.  The report indicates that two unknown British soldiers had been recovered from the same grave at Abraham Heights.


A metal shoulder title was worn by Canadian soldiers on both shoulder straps of the khaki service dress uniform. (Photo credit: courtesy of

We thank the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 for the information they sent. If anyone can provide a photo or more information on Vincent Carr, Jack Bingham Willson, or Robert Bellas, please contact Pieter at or comment on the blog.   Please note that we are still looking for photos of 10 names listed on the Cenotaph from WW1.  See Appeal For Relatives Of These WW1 Casualties! for more information.

 © Daria Valkenburg

A Visit To Tyne Cot Cemetery

November 10, 2017.  While we were in Zonnebeke, we made a stop on the war memorial trail at Tyne Cot Cemetery.  In France, unless it was a big cemetery or memorial, like Vimy Ridge or Beau Hamel, there were few visitors.  In Belgium, to our surprise, members of car and motorcycle clubs visited the various cemeteries and memorials as part of their touring schedules.  During our visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery, a club for a car named Burton stopped on their own war memorial rally tour.

The Burton is a Dutch sports car based on French 2CV technology. The Burton is an open, nostalgic-looking sports car built on the chassis of the 2CV with a modern fibreglass body and built from a kit. Of course, car-mad Pieter couldn’t resist taking a few photos as he made his way from the parking lot to the cemetery.

IMG_20170909_151921275 Sep 9 2017 Burton car in Tyne Cot cemetery parking lot

Burton sports car in the parking lot of Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world, with 11,956 graves, of which 1,011 are Canadian.  Most were killed during the Battle of Passchendaele.  In addition, 34,957 soldiers with no known grave, who died after August 15, 1917, have their names engraved on the cemetery walls.  Those soldiers with no known grave who died before August 15, 1917 are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial (See A Daytime Visit To Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres).

IMG_20170909_153120338 Sep 9 2017 Tyne Cot Cemetery graves with wall of those with no known grave

Names of soldiers with no known grave, who died after August 15, 1917 are engraved on the walls of Tyne Cot Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Surprisingly, with the large number of war dead in Tyne Cot, no one from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion is buried or commemorated there.  But if you are on a war memorial trail, it would be a shame to miss seeing the largest cemetery.

IMG_20170909_153208728 Sep 9 2017 Tyne Cot Cemetery graves

Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

As we made our way to the cemetery and the visitors centre, we passed by a grassy area of plastic poppies with messages from the public in Britain. This was an initiative of the Royal British Legion’s Passchendaele 100 Memorial, who collected the poppies and brought them to the cemetery.  Some of the messages commemorated a loved one, others were very general in nature.  It certainly made for a colourful display!

IMG_20170909_152308460 Sep 9 2017 plastic poppies in field in Tyne Cot cemetery in Zonnebeke

Plastic poppies with messages from the British public on display at Tyne Cot Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

We learned that a Victoria Cross recipient from the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion is buried here, James Peter Robertson, a private who was killed on November 6, 1917 during the final phase of the Battle of Passchendaele.  When his platoon was blocked by barbed wire and a German machine gun, he dashed to an opening in the enemy position, and rushed the gun, killing four German soldiers and turning the machine gun on the rest of the Germans.  This allowed the platoon to continue towards its objective.  Afterwards, when two Canadian snipers were wounded in front of their trench, he went out and carried one in, while under fire.  Unfortunately, he was killed as he returned with the second man.  With Daria being from Winnipeg, Pieter of course visited the grave of this soldier and placed flags.

IMG_20170909_152917733 Sep 9 2017 grave opf JP Robertson in Tyne Cot cemetery

Grave of Victoria Cross recipient James Peter Robertson, buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

 We are continually humbled by the depth of sacrifice from the soldiers.  Like in northern France, you can’t go very far before you encounter another cemetery or memorial.  As we continued on the War Memorial Trail, we thought of the two other soldiers from the Cenotaph project who died in this area, George Campbell and Charles Buxton, and whose names are on the Menin Gate Memorial.

As Buxton was with the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, our next stop was the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Memorial in Zonnebeke.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

Visiting More Memorials In The Passchendaele Area

November 7, 2017.  After visiting Cement House Cemetery and the grave of Vincent Carr, and the St. Julien Monument to commemorate the position where Canadians were during the first poison gas attack, we stopped at the German Military Cemetery in Langemark.  Its official name is “Deutscher Studentenfriedhof”, one of four German cemeteries in the Flanders region of Belgium.   ‘Studentenfriedhof’ means ‘the students’ cemetery’ and is called that due to the large number of young volunteer soldiers who are buried here.

This is the only German cemetery that seems to get visitors at all, especially non-Germans.  It’s an impressive but depressing cemetery.

CIMG8740 Sep 9 2017 Statue at German War Cemetery in Langemark

Bronze sculpture by Emil Krieger of four soldiers in mourning. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The cemetery has 44,061 burials.  25,000 of these were unknown and buried in a large communal grave.

CIMG8742 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

Memorial says “In this cemetery rest 44,061 German soldiers from the war of 1914-1918”. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Over the decades, researchers have identified 17,000, whose names are now on bronze plaques positioned around three sides of the cemetery.

CIMG8745 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

Bronze plaques with the names of identified German soldiers. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After this rather chilling stop, we continued on to the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial, located on Canadalaan (Canada Lane) in Zonnebeke.

CIMG8746 Sep 9 2017 Canadalaan location of Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

Canadalaan was named in honour of Canada’s role in the Battle of Passchendaele. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

It was here that we were reminded of the madness of the Battle of Passchendaele. British and Australian soldiers had tried, from July until early October 1917, rather unsuccessfully, to capture the German-occupied Belgian coast.  They made only minimal advances and the commander of the British forces, Sir Douglas Haig, ordered the Canadian Corps to take their place and capture Passchendaele.

20,000 Canadian soldiers arrived in the midst of heavy rainfall and waist-deep mud, and no one seemed to have enough sense or authority to force a rethink to the plan to begin an assault at that time of year.  The only voice of sanity was Canadian-born Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie, who took the time to inspect the battlefield and, after doing so, protested that the planned attack would cost 16,000 Canadian casualties.  No one listened to him.

So, on October 26, 1917, Canadian troops began a series of attacks in the area.  On October 30, 1917, with the help of two British divisions, they began the assault on the village of Passchendaele, inching their way from shell-crater to shell-crater, under heavy fire.  The landscape was already destroyed by shelling and heavy rain.  Roads, trees, and most buildings were gone.  It was in the midst of this that Vincent Carr from North Tryon died, instantly killed by a high explosive shell.

Troops reached the outskirts of Passchendaele during a terrible rainstorm, and held on for five days, waist-deep in mud and exposed to German shelling. Reinforcements arrived on November 6, and by November 10 Canadian troops occupied the village, thus ending the battle.  Almost 12,000 Canadians were wounded, and over 4,000 died.

CIMG8750 Sep 9 2017 Pieter at Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

Pieter at the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The Passchendaele Canadian Memorial has the following inscription on one side, on a granite block, saying:

“The Canadian Corps in Oct-Nov 1917 advanced across this valley – then a treacherous morass – captured and held the Passchendaele ridge.”

IMG_20170909_141204168_HDR Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

The Passchendaele Canadian Memorial has maple leaves carved in the form of a wreath on the front and back. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The Battle of Passchendaele, which lasted 100 days, had more than Canadian casualties.  275,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed and wounded, among them the Canadian casualties already mentioned.  220,000 German soldiers were also killed and wounded.

Beside the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial is the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, which concentrates on the Battle of Passchendaele itself.  They have begun a Passchendaele Archives Project of trying to put faces and stories to those who died between July 12 and November 15, 1917 during the battle.  If you have a relative, and a photo, please consider supporting this project. You can email them at or visit their website at for more information.  They will send you a form to fill out: Passchendaele Archives Questionnaire.

After these two visits, Pieter was finally persuaded to go for a snack before continuing on with the war memorial tour.  Across from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 was a lovely restaurant, Brasserie De Volksbond, where Pieter and I shared Belgian bread and Passendale cheese.

CIMG8762 Sep 9 2017 Passendale cheese at Brasserie de Volksbund in Zonnebeke

How could we resist having Passendale cheese for lunch? (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Yes, while we Canadians know Passchendaele for the battle, it’s better known for its Passchendaele beer and Passendale cheese.

CIMG8753 Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele beer sign at Brasserie de Volksbund in Zonnebeke

Pieter didn’t get a chance to sample the Passchendaele beer! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

If you are wondering about the spelling difference, the Belgians have a much simpler spelling of their village and region!

CIMG8747 Sep 9 2017 sign for Passchendaele

Passchendaele = Passendale. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Our next stop on the War Memorial Trail, after a much needed lunch break, was Tyne Cot British Cemetery, which was also in Zonnebeke.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg