On the War Memorial Trail ….. PEI Soldiers Buried In The Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek

December 30, 2017.  During our first visit to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek in The Netherlands, we were able to place flags at the graves of three PEI soldiers buried there.  In the last blog entry we told the story of George Preston SMITH of Kinkora, who was with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, and the accident in which he lost his life. (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At The Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek) Our thanks to Alice van Bekkum of the Faces to Graves Project, who shared an eye witness account that was recorded by Will Bird in his 1963 book about the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.  (See https://books.google.com/books/about/North_Shore_New_Brunswick_Regiment.html?id=Iz7WAAAAMAAJ)

Will Bird account of what happened to George Preston Smith

Excerpt about George Preston Smith from Will Bird’s book about The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.

Before returning to place flags at the rest of the known soldiers from PEI, we stopped by a memorial marking the route on February 8, 1945 where soldiers marched into Germany on their way from Groesbeek, as part of Operation Veritable.  This was the northern part of an Allied pincer movement that took place between February 8 and March 11, 1945 during the final stages of the Second World War.

The operation was conducted by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, primarily consisting of the First Canadian Army under Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar and the British XXX Corps under Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks. Their objective was to clear German forces from the area between the Rhine and Maas rivers, east of the German/Dutch frontier, in the Rhineland.

CIMG8998 Sep 15 2017 Pieter by memorial showis where soldiers marched into Germany from Groesbeek operation veritable

Pieter at the memorial for Operation Veritable in Groesbeek. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG8996 Sep 15 2017 memorial shows where soldiers marched into Germany from Groesbeek operation veritable

Close-up view of the text on the memorial for Operation Veritable in Groesbeek. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

On our second visit to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek we were joined by Pieter’s former colleague in the Dutch Foreign Service, Ad Scheepers, and his wife Noor, who live in Groesbeek.

CIMG9023 Sep 16 2017 Groesbeek Cemetery Ad & Noor Scheepers with Pieter by Gaudets grave

Ad and Noor Scheepers with Pieter by the grave of Cpl Arthur Gaudet. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Ad was a fountain of information about the cemetery, and noted that it was along the Liberation Route, which one can take to visit the many monuments and memorials in this part of The Netherlands.  The cemetery, on a road called Zeven Heuvelenweg (Seven Hills Way), is the largest war cemetery of the Commonwealth Graves Commission in The Netherlands.

Most of the soldiers buried here fell during the fighting on the Lower Rhine between February 8 and March 26, 1945.  It’s called the Canadian War Cemetery and we’d always assumed all of the burials were Canadian, but it’s not true.  By number and nationality, the 2,617 soldiers buried here are from:

  • 2,399 from Canada
  • 267 from Great Britain
  • 3 from Belgium
  • 2 from Poland
  • 2 from Australia
  • 1 from New Zealand
  • 1 from Russia
  • 1 from Yugoslavia
  • 1 from The Netherlands

Inscribed on the Groesbeek Memorial in the cemetery are the names of 1,103 soldiers reported missing in action between August 1944 and May 1945. Only a few have been identified since the memorial was put up. Unfortunately, most are still listed as MIA (Missing In Action).

Ad told us he’d read that the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery was positioned where it was so it could be clearly seen from Germany, a stone’s throw away from the border.  It’s likely true, as one prerequisite that Canadian Officers had in selecting land for the cemetery was to have a view of Germany.

In a Dutch reference we read that construction on the cemetery began in 1945 by six Canadian soldiers. The location of the cemetery, on a hilltop, was chosen by Groesbeek Mayor Grotenhuis van Onstein for its view on the German border from the cemetery. The Cemetery was officially opened on May 4, 1947 by the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. When the cemetery opened, the headstones were made from wood, as was the Cross of Sacrifice.  Later, the headstones were temporarily replaced by metal versions, and beginning in 1950 the headstones and Cross of Sacrifice were replaced by stone designs.

CIMG8945 Sep 15 2017 Groesbeek cemetery Pieter at Cross for remembrance

Pieter by the Cross of Sacrifice at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In alphabetical order, here are the known soldiers from PEI that are buried in the cemetery:

  • L/Cpl Ralph Schurman BOULTER, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from West Point
  • Pte Lawrence BULGER, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Foxley River
  • Major John Weston CAMPBELL, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Clermont
  • Cpl Preston D. CAMPBELL, Algonquin Regiment, from Coleman
  • Rifleman William Alfred CANNON, Regina Rifle Regiment, from Pownal
  • Cpl Arthur GAUDET, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, from Mont Carmel
  • Sapper Joseph Edmond HENNEBERY, Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, from Morrell
  • Cpl George Ivan MACKINNON, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Mt. Albion
  • Cpl Robert Bruce MACNEILLL, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Charlottetown
  • Pte Barney R. MCGUIGAN, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, born in Souris
  • Cpl Stephen A. MCKINNON, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, from St. Peter’s Bay
  • L/Cpl Edward Gabriel PERRY, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise), from St. Nicholas
  • Pte John Clifford ROGERS, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, born in Hope River
  • Pte Ralph K. SILLIKER, Lake Superior Regiment, from O’Leary
  • Sgt Edison Alexander SMITH, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from West Point
  • Pte George Preston SMITH, North Shore Regiment, from Kinkora
  • Pte William L. WEATHERBIE, Royal Regiment of Canada, from Charlottetown

Do you have photos or information on any of these soldiers?  If you know of other soldiers from PEI, please help the researchers at the Faces to Grave project by sharing that information. Photos and stories can be sent either through their website at http://facestograves.nl/index.html or by email to info@facestograves.nl.  Alternatively, you can contact us and we will forward your info for you.

Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

A Visit To Chester Farm Military Cemetery

October 22, 2017.  After we paid our respects to Arthur Robinson at La Laiterie Military Cemetery in Belgium, we made our way to Chester Farm Military Cemetery, 5 km south of Ypres, where another WW1 soldier, James Lymon CAMERON, is buried.  The cemetery, one of three in the area, is in a farming area.

CIMG8660 Sep 9 2017 Directional sign to Chester Farm Military Cemetery

Directional sign to Chester Farm Cemetery. Note the John Deere dealership. We are in a farming area, only 5 km south of Ypres. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Chester Farm was the name given to a farm about 1 km south of Blauwepoort Farm, on the road from Zillebeke to Voormezeele.  The names of these two places may be almost unpronounceable, but we encountered them over and over again as scenes of many fierce battles.

CIMG8662 Sep 9 2017 Chester Farm Military Cemetery stone marker

Stone marker on gate of Chester Farm Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The cemetery opened in March 1915 and has 420 Commonwealth burials, 7 of them unidentified.  It’s in a beautiful location, surrounded by cows.  It seems fitting for an Islander to be in such a rural location.

CIMG8671 Sep 9 2017 Chester Farm Military Cemetery with cows in backgroung flags by Camerons grave

Chester Farm Military Cemetery, surrounded by cows. Pieter had already placed flags on the grave of James Lymon Cameron. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Private James Lymon Cameron was born December 30, 1892 in Victoria, PEI, the son of Edward H. Cameron, a carpenter, and Susan Estelle Harrington of Hampton.  The family was Roman Catholic and worshipped at the church in Kelly’s Cross.

With such a background on the island, it was a mystery to us why no one seemed to know the family, until Pieter’s research revealed that the family must have moved around quite a bit for Edward’s work.  In a 1900 US census, the family was living in South Bend City, in the state of Washington, and James Lymon’s sister Ethel was recorded as having been born in New Hampshire in 1889.  He had an older sister Lucy who was born on PEI, but was not listed in the 1900 census, suggesting that she was no longer alive, and a younger brother Otto, who was born on PEI.

In a 1921 census from Vancouver, another younger brother, Edward, is recorded as having been born in the USA around 1906.  Ethel is living with her parents and brother.  She is recorded as married with the last name Gilbert, but her husband is not with her.

At the time that James Lymon enlisted on March 18, 1915 with the 47th Battalion (BC) CEF, the family was living in Vancouver, and he was employed as a marine oiler.  By October 1915 he was on his way to Europe, and transferred twice, first to the 30th Reserve Battalion, and then to the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion (1st British Columbia).

On July 24, 1916, he was killed by enemy shell fire at ‘The Bluff’ at Ypres Salient during The Battle of The Bluff near St. Eloi.  The Bluff is a mound near St Eloi, south-east of Ypres, which was created from a spoil heap during the digging of the Ypres–Comines Canal before the war.

CIMG8666 Sep 9 2017 Chester Farm Military Cemetery Pieter by grave of James Lymon Cameron

Pieter by the grave of James Lymon Cameron at Chester Farm Military Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The war diary of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion for July 2, 1916, explained what happened in three terse lines:  “Bombardment of Front Line. Headquarters Shelled. Our retaliation effective.

Unfortunately, this is all we know about James Lymon Cameron.  We don’t even know what he looked like.  If you can add any further information or provide a photo, please let us know.

In the next blog entry we visit Menin Gate in Ypres. Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The Road To Rouen

October 1, 2017.  Leaving the Arras area, which we had thought was busy enough, was an experience, as now we encountered toll roads.  We soon learned to dread the words ‘gare de péage’.  While all the toll booths have iconic names, like the first one we pulled up at, named ‘Jules Verne’, they are now mostly automated, and you need cash or a debit or credit card.

If you are one of the modern people thinking “Dinosaur”, let me describe the experience.  First off, the box where you have to pay is designed to accommodate truckers, not people in dinky toy cars like the majority of cars used in Europe.  Most people do not have the rubber arms needed to reach up to drop the money in, so each toll booth encounter takes longer than it would if you paid an attendant, as car doors open and people try to squeeze out in the available space to drop their money in manually, or pay by card.  And of course, you need first to figure out WHERE you place your money as there is more than one slot.

If you use cash, as we did, you soon also learned that it’s best to have exact change, as otherwise you have to WAIT for change and then reach up to another slot to get your money.  Anyone in a hurry sometimes leaves their change behind!

PEI is not alone in charging heavy tolls.  We left 7.70 euros at Jules Verne, only to encounter another toll booth 6 minutes later!  At this one we picked up a ticket which cost us another 5.70 euros half an hour later.  The count so far … 13.40 euros.  In Canadian dollars it comes to about $19.75, and the day was just beginning.

It took us just over 2 ½ hours to get to Rouen from Mont St. Eloi, and, following the GPS instructions to the St. Sever Cemetery, arrived at Boulevard Stanislas Girardin, only to find it was in downtown Rouen.  No cemetery in sight!  The streets are extremely narrow, jam packed with cars and pedestrians and most of the streets one way traffic only.  We finally gave up trying to figure out what had gone wrong and stopped in front of a short driveway into a huge government building behind a walled gate, and asked a passerby for help.

The poor man looked at our sheet from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and finally said, very kindly, that we were on the right street, but not in Rouen.  The cemetery was in a nearby community.  Sure enough, when we looked at the cemetery location instructions, it said it was “situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs of Le Grand Quevilly and Le Petit Quevilly.”  But what we didn’t understand was why we’d been directed downtown when we had the right street.

The man explained that it was in either Le Grand Quevilly or Le Petit Quevilly, he wasn’t sure which.  So, the GPS got reprogrammed for Le Grand Quevilly.  The word “suburb” was a misnomer.

While this discussion had been going on, traffic was backing up as people wanting to get into or out of the government driveway were held up as we were blocking the road.  Not one person honked or showed any impatience!  We thanked the man for his help, and then slowly backed up onto the traffic, and made our way out of town.

Le Grand Quevilly was a short distance away, but it was not the location of the cemetery.  We pulled into a car dealership to ask directions, only to find out that France shuts down for lunch break.  Everything was locked up, but we found a salesman in a tent on the lot, reading his emails.

I’m from a different country,” he said, when we asked about the cemetery.  Then he made us laugh when he went on to say, “I’m from Paris.”  But he was very effective at finding someone who could help us and that’s when we learned that we wanted to be in Le Petit Quevilly, and how to get there.

In Le Petit Quevilly, on a street by the same name as in Rouen (what are the odds?), we were able to find St. Sever Cemetery Extension, the location where Bazil Cormier is buried.

CIMG8598 Sep 7 2017 sign directing us to St Sever Cemetery Extension

Sign to the St. Sever Cemetery in Le Petit Quevilly. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

According to the information provided by the Canadian War Graves Commission, during WW1, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen.  Most hospitals remained there during the war.  A number of those who died in the hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the majority were buried at St. Sever Cemetery.  In September 1916, the Extension, where Cormier is buried, began.

In WWII, Rouen was again a hospital centre, and several Commonwealth soldiers who were prisoners of war during the German occupation are buried in the Extension.

St. Sever Cemetery Extension is the largest cemetery we’ve been to so far, with 8,348 WWI Commonwealth burials, 10 of them unidentified, 328 WWII Commonwealth burials, 18 of them unidentified, and 8 foreign nationals.

With such a large cemetery, it was not easy to find Cormier’s grave.  Luckily, in this cemetery, several gardeners from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were on site.  While Pieter went to look in the Grave Register, I looked at the graves, trying to find the row in which Cormier was buried.  One gardener asked if I needed help.  When I explained who we were looking for, he asked if I had the paper with the burial information.  I explained it was on the other side of the cemetery with Pieter, who was comparing it to the information in the Grave Register.

Just to let you know how great these workers are, the gardener immediately went over to the other side of the cemetery and then spent the next few minutes looking for the grave, which of course was as far away as possible from where we were!

CIMG8587 Sep 7 2017 Pieter at the grave of Bazil Cormier at St Sever Cemetery Extension

Pieter at the grave of Bazil Cormier in St. Sever Cemetery Extension in Le Petit Quevilly. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

According to his Attestation papers, Private Bazil CORMIER was born January 6, 1898 in Tignish, the son of Joseph Cormier and Marie Arsenault.  A farmer before enlisting with the 105th Draft Regiment on December 4, 1916, he died of wounds received in the Battle of Amiens near Cachy on August 12, 1918, at the age of 21.  At the time of his death he was with the 26th New Brunswick Battalion.

The War Graves Register Circumstances of Death notes that “During operations east of Amiens, on the morning of August 8th 1918, he was hit in the head by a machine gun bullet. He was immediately dressed by a comrade and carried out, but succumbed to his wounds at No 4 General Hospital, Rouen, four days later...”  According to the active/casualty document in his file, however, he was transported to the No. 5 General Hospital, not the No 4 General Hospital, where he died.

The Battle of Amiens, also known as the Third Battle of Picardy, was the opening phase of the Allied offensive which began on August 8, 1918, later known as the Hundred Days Offensive, that ultimately led to the end of the First World War.  This is the same battle in which James Cairns lost his life on August 9, 1918.

CIMG8592 Sep 7 2017 Pieter at grave of B Cormier in St Sever Cemetery Extension

Pieter by the grave of Bazil Cormier. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

As with too many of the WW1 soldiers, we have no photo or further information about Bazil Cormier.

The cemeteries we’d been to in the past days had all been in the countryside.  St. Sever Cemetery Extension was in an urban setting, and bordered the Rouen Soccer Club, which caught the interest of soccer fan Pieter.

CIMG8590 Sep 7 2017 next to St Sever Cemetery Extension is the soccer club of Rouen

The Rouen Soccer Club was on the other side of the fence of the St. Sever Cemetery Extension. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We couldn’t leave the cemetery without giving flag pins to the gardeners, one of whom spoke English and told Pieter that he had just graduated from horticultural college and loved his job.  The head gardener, who had helped us in the beginning, was unfortunately out on an errand, so we were not able to say goodbye to him.

CIMG8596 Sep 7 2017 Pieter with a CWGC gardener at St Sever Cemetery Extension

Pieter with a young CWGC gardener at St. Sever Cemetery Extension. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In the next blog entry we make our way to Bayeux, which has a connection with Pieter’s genealogical research as well as the Cenotaph research project. Do you have photo or info on Bazil Cormier?  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

 

Reflections on the Cemetery Visits in the Arras Area

October 1, 2017.  After visiting the cemeteries and Vimy Memorial to honour the memories of the soldiers on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion who perished in the area around Arras, we went to our “local” café for the past few days, L’Eurostar Café Brasserie, for a well-deserved rest and final meal before leaving the area.

IMG_20170904_185344129 Sep 4 2017 Pieter at LEurostar Cafe in Arras enjoying a Leffe beer

Pieter enjoying Leffe blond beer at L’Eurostar Café Brasserie in Arras. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In France, dinner is not served before 7 pm.  Normally that wasn’t a problem for us as we would arrive at a restaurant completely exhausted long after 7 pm, but after the success in finally finding Manitoba Cemetery we arrived back in Arras in the late afternoon, and decided to have an early dinner before packing up to leave the area in the morning.

We arrived at the café at 5:45 pm only to be told the kitchen didn’t open before 7 pm.  We were too tired to go back to the hotel and come back later, so we ordered an appetizer, camembert cheese of course in honour of our host country, and a drink and relaxed until the chef appeared, right on the dot of 7 pm.

Since we had all this time to relax and reflect on our journey so far, I asked Pieter how he felt.  He said that, for him, “visiting the graves made things come full circle.  You start off with a name on the Cenotaph.  Then you begin the research and read up on what happened.  Hopefully you get a photo and personal stories.  Now we’ve ended up where the person died after a very short life.”

Pieter thought a bit before he continued, “On the one side, I feel sorry they died so young.  On the other hand I feel honoured to be there to pay respects to them.  It makes me want to know more about them, now that I’ve visited their grave or memorial.”

We both agreed that for the soldiers without a photo the picture is not complete.  “When I stand by a grave at the cemetery and have a photo so I know how the person looked, then I can feel a connection,” Pieter explained.

“It’s especially sad for soldiers like Arthur Collett, buried in Grandcourt Road Cemetery, and James Cairns, buried in Manitoba Cemetery, that they are buried in cemeteries that get very few visitors. They are just a number.” Each identified grave lists the soldier’s name, unit, rank, and identification number.

We both also agreed that the gardeners and maintenance staff at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do a fantastic job of keeping up the cemeteries.  Over the past days, we’ve handed out Canadian flag pins to anyone we’ve seen driving around in the white vans with CWGC written on them and they have been enthusiastically received.  Up to now, we hadn’t seen anyone in a cemetery itself, but the work they do in sometimes very difficult locations, such as Grandcourt Road Cemetery, is to be commended.

When Pieter began this project, World War I was just history to us, no different than the various dates and historical facts we learned in school over the years.  Now it’s become a story with real people, and along the way, we are meeting wonderful people who work hard to preserve the history that we have largely forgotten.

In the next blog entry we visit the ruins of Mount St. Eloi church before going on to Rouen to St. Sever Cemetery Extension. Do you have photos or information about James Cairns?  Does anyone know the family members who visited the grave of Ted Arsenault of Abrams Village? Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg