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 ….. 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