On The War Memorial Trail….. The WWII Soldier From Glenwood Killed During The Battle Of The Delfzijl Pocket

October 22, 2022.  In November 2014, Pieter began helping researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten to find photos of soldiers buried there who were from Prince Edward Island. It wasn’t until a year later that newspaper articles were published with stories related to Pieter’s research, and three years before this blog began.

Back in 2014, Pieter was initially sent a list of 9 names, one of which was Carman Edward GILLCASH, who was born November 6, 1916 in Glenwood.  As Carman’s story has not yet been told on this blog, we thought it was time to do so.

Photo 1 Carman Gillcash in uniform

Carman Edward Gillcash.  (Photo courtesy of Stewart Gillcash)

Stewart Gillcash submitted photos, and explained that he was the son of Carman’s brother Leland.  “…Carman Edward Gillcash, born and raised on a farm in Glenwood, Prince Edward Island in Canada, was the son of Stewart and Mae (nee Boulter) Gillcash. He had two brothers, Elton and Leland. 

Carman went to school in a one room schoolhouse not far from his home, and, as his father died when Carman was a young boy, he later worked with farmers in his community to help out at home. 

Carman and his younger brother Leland joined the army at a young age, when Leland was only 16 or 17 years of age.  Leland returned from the war, but Carman died there…

Carman enlisted with the PEI Highlanders in Charlottetown on July 15, 1940.  In his Occupational History Form, dated April 8, 1941, Carman stated that he had been working as a fisherman for Wilfred Hickey of O’Leary.

Photo 2 Carman Gillcash on right unknown on left

Carman Gillcash, right, with unidentified soldier. (Photo courtesy of Stewart Gillcash)

… Carman 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)

Carman was sent to Halifax with the PEI Highlanders.  In June 1941, he went to Valcartier, Quebec, and then the Regiment went to Newfoundland in July 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)

On June 4, 1942 he was sent to Gander, and then in April 1943 he was posted to Saint John, New Brunswick.  While serving in Newfoundland, Carman was promoted twice, first to Lance Corporal, and then to Corporal.

…..Two other soldiers were in Botwood…..

Carman was in Botwood at the same time as two other soldiers whose stories have been told on this blog:

…Carman was sent overseas….

On June 1, 1943, he was transferred to No 1 Transit Camp in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Just over a week later, along with fellow Islander James ‘Frank’ Mossey, he was on his way to the United Kingdom, arriving there on June 18, 1943, part of the Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU).

On August 13, 1943, at his own request, Carman was demoted to private.  He then transferred to the Cape Breton Highlanders.  On October 24, 1943 the Regiment went to Italy.

On May 14, 1944 Carman was wounded, but returned to service two weeks later.

On February 19, 1945 he left Italy as part of Operation Goldflake, arriving in Marseilles, France two days later.  Operation Goldflake was the codename for moving troops from Italy to North-West Europe.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Goldflake)

From France, troops were moved up to the Belgian front, into The Netherlands, through the Reichswald Forest in Germany, and then back into The Netherlands.

…The Regiment participated in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket….

The Cape Breton Highlanders relieved The Essex Regiment in the area of Nijmegen, before going towards Dokkum. On April 21, 1945, the Regiment relieved the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

The next objective was to liberate Delfzijl, which was strategically important to the Germans as it and the surrounding area had batteries with cannons to defend the coastline and the German port of Emden against Allied bombers.

The April 28, 1945 war diary entry for the Cape Breton Highlanders recorded that “…We received word from Brigade this morning that the Perth Regiment did not do so well last night on account of mines. We will likely relieve them tonight so we are to move to another concentration area this afternoon…

The Regiment was on the move quickly in preparation to relieve the Perth Regiment.  “…At 13:50 hours the marching personnel were on the move and half an hour later the vehicles moved. Tactical HQ and B Company were set up in the town of Bierum while the remainder of the Battalion are in the area of Spijk...

The war diary went on to report that “….At 20:00 hours the Observation Post reported very dense smoke coming from the town of Delfzijl, which is our objective. This could be caused by either demolitions by the enemy or our artillery which has been firing on that area.

At 23:55 hours ‘A’ Company moved off to relieve ‘A’ Company of the Perth Regiment. They will likely be the only Company moving tonight…

…Carman lost his life in the wee hours of April 29, 1945….

On April 29, 1945 the war diary reported that “….The first report received from ‘A’ Company was at 01:15 hours when they called for the Medical Officer’s carrier. As the Company was going forward it was met by a large group of P.O.Ws. being escorted back by the Perth Regiment, and as they were passing each other one of the enemy stepped on a mine, killing one of our men and wounding two more…

The fatality in the early morning of April 29, 1945 was Carman.

…Carman was temporarily buried in Wirdum…

Carman was initially buried in 15 Divisional Cemetery in Wirdum, The Netherlands.

Photo 4 Leland brother of Carman Gillcash at the gravesite

Carman’s brother Leland visited his grave.  (Photo courtesy of Stewart Gillcash)

.…Carman was reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten….

After the war ended, Carman was reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.  We visited his grave twice – in 2017 and again in 2019.

CIMG3219 Oct 3 2019 Holten Carmen Gillcash

Pieter (right) at the grave of Carman Gillcash with researchers Edwin van der Wolf (left) and Henk Vincent (centre) in October 2019.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

 …A plaque commemorates Canadian soldiers who died during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket….

In 1995, the Stefanus Church in Holwierde placed a plaque to commemorate Canadian soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.

Plaque at Stefanus Church in Holwierde

Plaque at Stefanus Church in Holwierde, The Netherlands.  (Source: https://www.tracesofwar.nl/sights/40531/Herinneringsplaquette-Stefanus-Kerk.htm)

…We had a chance to meet Stewart Gillcash….

CIMG2610 Sep 8 2018 Pieter with Stewart Gillcash at The Catch

Pieter (left) with Stewart Gillcash.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Thank you to Stewart Gillcash for sharing photos and information on his uncle.  We were able to meet him in September 2018.  (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2018/09/11/on-the-war-memorial-trail-in-prince-county-pei/)

If you know who the unidentified soldier is in the photo, or have a story to tell, please let Pieter know. You can email him at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

….. Other Soldiers Mentioned On The Plaque In The Church In Holwierde….

…Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/ or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

Front cover OnTheWarMememorialTrailinEuropeDaria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten‘ is available in print and e-book formats.  Net proceeds of book sales help support research costs and the cost of maintaining this blog. For more information on the book, please see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail….. A Face For Philip Hubert Long

November 1, 2020. Recently, Pieter was interviewed by David Pate on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon, where he made an appeal for a photo of WW2 soldier Philip Hubert LONG, who is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.  (You can listen to the interview here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R07RkSjTeshJA_-UO_W68fsY3FHCSLPB/view?usp=sharing)

Within two hours of the broadcast, Pieter received a call from a family member, and a few weeks later, a photo was provided, along with biographical information.  Permission was granted to post information, with the request that “…no reference be made to the current survivors. You are doing great work on this project and I wish you success with the follow-up you may be working on with any other veterans...”  In order to respect the wishes of family members for privacy, they are not identified.

Philip H Long I20201018

Philip Hubert Long.  (Photo courtesy of the Family of P H Long)

Family members submitted the following biography for the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten:

…On May 29, 1921, Philip was welcomed into his family of parents Philip and Elizabeth Long, sister Jessie May, and brother Harold Chisholm in the village of Springville in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Following the illness and death in 1925 of his mother from tuberculosis, Philip, at three years old, went to live with his aunt Mary and uncle James MacLean on a small farm in Island East River, not too far from where Philip Sr. had moved the family to the village of Thorburn, Pictou County, to work as a coal miner.  During their childhood, Harold spent most summers with Philip at the farm and, as they grew older, helped with the chores and enjoyed the adventures offered by life in the country.  Phil liked working with the animals and, following graduation from school, stayed on at the farm where he had his dog and team of horses.

Although he was exempt from military duty due to an injury to his leg when a boy, Philip enlisted with the Cape Breton Highlanders in October 1943 at the age of twenty-two.  He was called up for duty and sailed for England in mid-December 1944.  His plan was to return to Canada when the war was over and buy a small farm of his own. 

In his first letter to Jessie after arriving in London dated January 5, 1945, Phil wrote that he had located brother Harold in London and they had just returned from an evening out to dinner and a show.  Harold had gone overseas earlier and had joined the British army as a Canloan officer.  He had been injured in action in Holland and was just completing his convalescence period in England when Phil arrived in London.  While Phil and Harold were both in the London area, they were able to get together on several occasions for some relaxation before they were both sent to Holland.

Phil wrote his last letter to Jessie on April 18, 1945, from Belgium as his unit was en route to Holland.  Shortly after, Jessie and their father were notified that Philip had been killed in action in Northern Holland on April 30, 1945.

 A tribute to Philip in the local newspaper in Pictou County read:

Philip is gone.  The lovable kindly lad who never had a viscous thought, is sleeping in Holland.  He gave his life—just as he lived—doing a little more than he was asked to do, being exempt from military duty.  But that is one thing we shall never forget about him.  No matter what he was asked to do, he always did a little more.  We have memories of his childhood:  his blond curly hair, his contagious laugh, his affectionate disposition.  He was a good student and a wide reader.

Phil was never intended to be a fighter; he loved people too much.  War to him was a job to be done, so that he and millions of other Canadian boys could lead normal lives when it was finished.  But the great tragedy of the many lads who died for us is that they never had a chance at life.  So little time to have achieved their hope of homes of their own and a future bursting with opportunities….

Edwin van der Wolf of the Canadian War Cemetery in The Netherlands explained that Philip Long was “…killed in action in Northern Holland on Monday April 30, 1945, age 23, during the battle of the Delfzijl Pocket. And he was temporarily buried then in Wirdum, Groningen and he was reburied thereafter on February 16 1946 in Holten…

long, philip hubert

Grave of Philip Hubert Long.  (Photo courtesy of the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten)

20 members of the Cape Breton Highlanders lost their lives in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket. Two of these were from Prince Edward Island: Carmen GILLCASH and John Archibald MACLAREN.

For more information on the ongoing request for photos, please see: On The War Memorial Trail….. Continuing The Search For Soldiers Killed In Action In WW1 and WW2

Thank you to the family of Philip Hubert Long and to Edwin van der Wolf from the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten for sharing information and photos.  If you have photos or information to share, please email Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© 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

On the War Memorial Trail…..In Prince County, PEI

September 11, 2018.  Not all war memorials are located overseas.  In researching the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, we’ve visited memorials and cemeteries in Europe and Canada, and met with family members of these soldiers.  Recently, with a group of friends from the British Motoring Association of PEI (BMAPEI), we did a special war memorial driving tour, in our iconic British vehicles, in Prince County, right here on Prince Edward Island.

The driving tour began, naturally, at the Cenotaph that Pieter is researching.

CIMG2574 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial runcenotaph outside Borden Carleton Legion

Members of the British Motoring Association of PEI by the Cenotaph outside Borden-Carleton Legion. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

First stop was a photo op at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Seven Mile Bay, which has a great view of the Confederation Bridge.

CIMG2575 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run 7 Mile Bay

At Seven Mile Bay, with the Confederation Bridge in the background. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

From Seven Mile Bay our convoy of cars travelled to Notre Dame du Mont-Carmel (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) Roman Catholic Church in Mont Carmel. Volunteer guide Antoine Richard explained that this beautiful church was built in 1898 for $75,000 and consists of 450,000 bricks, which were paid for by parishioners at 5 cents a brick!  The land for the church, rectory, and cemetery had been donated by Mr. Richard’s great-grandparents Thomas Richard and Susan Aucoin in 1820.

IMG_8575 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run Mont Carmel - Heidi

Convoy arrives in Mont Carmel. (Photo credit: Heidi Litke)

A group photo was taken at the memorial to honour WW1 and WW2 soldiers at the entrance to the cemetery.

CIMG2585 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run Mont Carmel

Mont Carmel memorial to WW1 and WW2 soldiers. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Next on the list was the Bottle Houses at Cap Egmont, which is a memorial to one man’s ingenuity and talent.

Bottle Houses - Heidi Litke

Inside one of the Bottle Houses. (Photo credit: Heidi Litke)

CIMG2590 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run Bottle Houses Heidi & Rob in chapel

Heidi and Rob Litke in the Bottle Houses chapel. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

From the Bottle Houses, we travelled to the Memorial Park in Cap Egmont that honours WW1 and WW2 Acadian and other Canadian soldiers.  The park is built on the spot of a former church, and has several memorials, as well as benches in a park-like setting.

CIMG2605 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run Memorial Park Cap Egmont

At the Memorial Park in Cap Egmont. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG2456 Aug 22 2018 prep for car tour Memorial Park in Cap Egmont

Entrance to the Memorial Park in Cap Egmont. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Just before lunch, we stopped at the #10 Bombing and Gunnery School Monument, located at the Visitor Information Centre in Mount Pleasant.  During WWII, this area was used to train pilots slated for bombing and gunnery runs.  During the period of operation, 22 lost their lives in various accidents, and a monument sits on the spot of the former airport used for the school.

CIMG2608 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run #10 Bombing Gunnery School Monument in Mt Pleasant

At #10 Bombing & Gunnery School Monument in Mount Pleasant. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Our last stop was for a very late, but well deserved lunch at The Catch in West Point, where a brief reflection on the day was made. Bill Glen was struck by the arches we’d seen at Mont Carmel and the Memorial Park in Cap Egmont.  “You never think of arches for a monument” he said.  Sandy Bentley noted how young the soldiers were and how so many had lied about their age in order to serve, especially in WW1.

Heidi Litke wondered if there were any memorials to animals that served in the war.  She explained that her grandfather, Harold Fryer, served with a German shepherd, Sgt Rex, in the 1st Battalion Dufferin and Haldimand Rifles.  Fryer survived, Rex was killed on duty on September 7, 1943.  “I always think about the animals,” Heidi said.  Good point.  None of us were aware of any memorials to serving animals on the island.

CIMG2611 Sep 8 2018 BMAPEI memorial run

Lunch at The Catch in West Point.

One more memorial reminder occurred when Stewart Gillcash of O’Leary came to the restaurant to meet Pieter.  Last fall, Pieter had placed flags on the grave of Stewart’s uncle, Carman GILLCASH, who is buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  The Gillcash family had provided photos and a brief story about Stewart’s uncle for the Faces To Graves Project in The Netherlands.  Everyone was delighted to meet him.

CIMG2610 Sep 8 2018 Pieter with Stewart Gillcash at The Catch

Pieter Valkenburg with Stewart Gillcash. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Rob Litke summed up the day.  “You don’t have to go far.  Every community has a monument of the people they lost in war.

If you have photos or information to share on soldiers from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, or soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca. Comments or stories?  You can share them by email or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On the War Memorial Trail ….. At Holten Canadian War Cemetery

January 20, 2018.  After visiting the Information Centre at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, we went into the cemetery itself to lay flags at the graves of five known soldiers from PEI.  Two of them, William Douglas SHERREN and George Martin MCMAHON are listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.

We had wondered why the cemetery had more landscaping than most Commonwealth War Cemeteries and why it was not on one level, but terraced.  Edwin van der Wolf, our guide, explained that the cemetery originally was on flat ground.  The Canadian government acquired more land than was used in the belief that the war would last longer and go into Denmark, resulting in more casualties. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and meant that the excess land could be used for landscaping.

When the cemetery was first opened, metal crosses were used to mark each grave, and there is a display in front of the Information Centre that shows one.

CIMG9100 Sep 18 2017 display of original metal cross used in Holten Cemetery

Metal cross originally used to mark each grave in Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Originally, the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery was placed further back than in its present location.  Similar to the story we’d heard about the placement of a Cross of Sacrifice at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Edwin noted that he had heard that when Holten Cemetery began, Lt. General Guy Granville Simonds, Commander of the 2nd Canadian Army, “wanted the Cross of Sacrifice to be 60 metres high and lit up so that it could be seen across the German border as a reminder of who had conquered them.”  Whether this story is true or not, we don’t know.

CIMG9123 Sep 18 2017 Holten Cemetery Pieter & Edwin van der Wolf by cross of remembrance

Pieter with Edwin van der Wolf by the Cross of Sacrifice at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

IMG_20170918_133147255_HDR Sep 18 2017 landscaping at Holten Cemetery

Landscaped grounds of Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The first grave where flags were placed was that of Captain William Douglas Sherren, born November 25, 1914 in Crapaud, son of William Douglas Sherren and Florence Amanda nee Carrier.  Married to Florence Mead Strickland, he was the father of two sons, Hubert and Harrison Blair.  An electrician before the war, Sherren enlisted on January 6, 1941 as a Lieutenant with the First Survey Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.  On March 29, 1944 he was promoted to Captain.

Wiliam Douglas Sherren

William Douglas Sherren. (Photo courtesy of Holten Canadian War Cemetery Information Centre)

On July 9, 1944, not long after D-Day, he arrived in France from England.  He was recognized by King George VI as a Member of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in March 1945, in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in North West Europe.

Unfortunately, on April 25, 1945, while in Germany, the vehicle he was travelling in struck a landmine. He was severely wounded and died on April 28, 1945.  Originally buried in Cloppenburg Hospital Cemetery in Lower Saxony, he was reburied in Holten Canadian War Cemetery in 1947, after the war ended.

IMG_20170918_134108826 Sep 18 2017 grave of WD Sherren Holten cemetery

Grave of Captain William Douglas Sherren at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The next set of flags were placed at the grave of Gunner George Martin McMahon, born January 14, 1913 in Emerald Junction, son of  Peter A McMahon and Catherine nee Monaghan.  Married to Margaret Kathleen Greenan, he was the father of 5 children. In addition, one child, Joseph Louis died in 1942 at the age of three months, and another child, Georgie, was born in November 1945 after McMahon’s death.  Prior to enlistment in Montreal with the Royal Canadian Artillery on December 7, 1943, he was a machinist with Canadian Vickers Ltd.  Fluent in both English and French, his army record noted he could play the violin.


George Martin McMahon. (Photo courtesy “Around Kinkora Area” by G. K. Farmer)

McMahon left Canada for England in March 1945, and was sent to North West Europe in May 1945.  According to a letter to his widow, written by Colonel C. L. Laurin, McMahon was on “a short leave to Amsterdam in company of a comrade with the same regiment.  On the evening of the 10th of August 1945, at approximately 11:50 pm, they parted company.”  McMahon’s friend returned to the Army leave hotel alone.  The following day, this soldier, made enquiries and was informed that the body of the deceased had been found in a canal.”  It was determined that he had accidentally drowned on August 11, 1945.   He was first buried in Hilversum Community Cemetery, and in 1946 was reburied in Holten Canadian War Cemetery.

IMG_20170918_134412720 Sep 18 2017 G McMahon grave Holten Cemetery

Grave of George Martin McMahon at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

After visiting McMahon’s grave we went on to place flags at the graves of three more known soldiers from PEI: Carmen GILLCASH, Frederick Charles CHEVERIE, and Daniel Peter MacKenzie.

Edwin van der Wolf told us that MacKenzie had been with the Carleton & York Regiment, which liberated the village of Posterenk.  This is where MacKenzie, plus 5 more from his unit, lost his life from sniper fire from Germans using the village’s windmill as a hideout.  For the past two years, on April 13, the people from the village commemorate the event around the old windmill.

Do you have more information or photos on these five soldiers from PEI?  Have you visited Holten Cemetery and its Information Centre?  Do you know of more soldiers from PEI buried in the Cemetery?  You can share your comments and stories by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg.

On the War Memorial Trail ….. At The Information Centre at Holten Canadian War Cemetery

January 16, 2018.  After visiting the very large Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek we next went to visit a smaller Canadian War Cemetery in Holten.  This is the second largest WWII cemetery in The Netherlands.  The majority of those buried here died during the last stages of the war in Holland, during the advance of the Canadian 2nd Corps into northern Germany, and across the Ems in April and the first days of May 1945. After the war ended, their remains were brought into this cemetery, which has 1,394 WWII burials, 1382 of them identified.  The burials are listed as the following: There are 1,394 burials: Navy 2, Army 1,378, Air Force 14, of which 1,355 are Canadian,36 British, 2 Australian and 1 Belgian.

Five of the known burials are soldiers from Prince Edward Island, two of which are listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, and part of Pieter’s Cenotaph Research Project.  William Douglas SHERREN and George Martin MCMAHON are listed on the Cenotaph.  Carman GILLCASH, Frederick Charles CHEVERIE, and Daniel Peter MACKENZIE are the other three soldiers from PEI.

This was a very different visit than when we were at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, as there is a large information centre in Holten, where we met with Henk Vincent and Edwin Van der Wolf, two of the volunteers at the Centre.

CIMG9099 Sep 18 2017 Pieter outside Holten Info Centre

Pieter outside the Information Centre at Holten Cemetery in The Netherlands, with a bag of flag pins for schoolchildren who light candles at each grave at Christmas and flags for various ceremonies. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The volunteers at Holten Cemetery have run a “Face to Every Name” project, in an attempt to receive a photo and learn more about every soldier buried there.  The original project began in 1995, during the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands, with a group of friends who helped organize annual commemoration events.  They called themselves “Welcome Again Veterans”.  While the organization that dealt with annual commemorations began in the 1950s, the new group started actively collecting photos, memoirs and books, and stories that had been donated over the years.

In 2005, as veterans arriving for liberation events began decreasing, the group started to think of a small museum as a repository for the information that had been collected.  By 2010, with funding secured from private donations, and Dutch municipal and provincial governments, plus the European Union, construction began, and the new Information Centre open in September 2011.  Unlike most Dutch construction, the Information Centre is constructed of wood, “just like in Canada”, according to Van der Wolf.

Today, the Information Centre receives 25,000 visitors per year, and we were eager to be two of them. Entrance is free, with donations helping to cover the operating costs of running this facility.

CIMG9104 Sep 18 2017 Henk Vincent Pieter Edwin van der Wolf in Holten Info Centre

Henk Vincent, left, and Edwin Van der Wolf, right, with Pieter in the centre, at the Information Centre at Holten Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Highlights of some of the displays you can see and interact with are:

·         An Information wall with a map of northern and eastern Netherlands, showing where you can see where divisions entered the area, and liberation dates of different villages and towns, as well as a few important places where heavy fighting had taken place.  

·         The film hall, which lists the names of the 1,394 soldiers buried in Holten on its wall, then watch a 17 minute film about the cemetery.

 ·         Three information tables that use touch screen technology:

·         Information table 1 is a Database with basic data on all Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands. In addition, there are photos and biographies for many soldiers buried in Holten. 

·         Information table 2 is entitled ‘Meet a soldier, which features a more detailed life story for four fallen liberators using films with unique documents and photos.

 ·         Information table 3 showcases Interviews with witnesses of the liberation, plus three liberation stories, written during or directly after the liberation days.

 ·         Showcase wall, with a panorama photo of the entrance of the cemetery, and 8 showcases that highlight different themes. There are also 4 touch screens with films about the liberation of various villages and cities in northern and eastern Netherlands, a film about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and various photographs and films of commemorations at the cemetery over the years.

 ·         Four Documentaries:

1.      ‘Victory in The Netherlands’, an authentic film from 1945 on the liberation of northern and eastern Netherlands.

2.      The liberation of cities and villages in northern and eastern Netherlands from day to day.

3.      ‘Heroes Remember’, where Canadian veterans talk about their experiences of the liberation of The Netherlands.

4.        The May 4, 2015 ceremony at the cemetery.

 ·         Reading table, which includes memoirs and original newspaper articles about the liberation.

 ·         Cemetery Map

After touring the Information Centre, we continued on to the Cemetery itself, to lay flags at the graves of our five soldiers from PEI.

Have you visited Holten Cemetery and its Information Centre?  Do you know of more soldiers from PEI buried in the Cemetery?  You can share your comments and stories by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg