Canada Day In Tryon

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The Canadian flag flies proudly! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

July 1, 2020.  Happy Canada Day! On July 1, a Canada Day ceremony to inaugurate a new flagpole and bench at the Tryon Cenotaph at the Tryon People’s Cemetery was attended by several members of the community, including Pieter and myself.  This event was coordinated by the Tryon Women’s Institute, Tryon People’s Cemetery, and Merry Pop-Ins Childcare Centre, with funding for the flagpole and bench provided by Heritage Canada.

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Pieter by the Tryon Cenotaph. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Three names from WW1 that are listed on the portion of the Tryon Cenotaph shown in the photo above are also listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.  Over the years, their stories have been told in this blog:

Dignitaries attending today’s event included:

  • The Honourable Wayne Easter, Member of Parliament for Malpeque
  • The Honourable Jamie Fox, Minister of Fisheries and Communities and MLA for District 19
  • The Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Official Opposition and MLA for District 17
  • Reverend Doctor Karen MacLeod-Wilkie, Minister of South Shore United Church
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Peter Bevan-Baker plays ‘O Canada’ as the flag is raised. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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Tom Albrecht raises the flag on new flagpole.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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Of course there were Canada Day cupcakes!  Left to right: Jamie Fox, Fran Albrecht, Helen Green, Jack Sorensen.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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Standing by the Tryon Cenotaph, left to right: Wayne Easter, Peter Bevan-Baker, Jamie Fox. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Barb Clement was kind enough to send a short video made while ‘O Canada’ was played. See https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vLQOBYtgnnOET7gAdi88C-9Z4HHf3BQr/view?usp=sharing

Thank you to the organizers of this Canada Day event, and to Barb Clement for sharing the video. If you have a story to share about any of the names on the Tryon Cenotaph, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

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 https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/1917-canadian-contribution-1.5450608)  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:

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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 dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

The Parallel WW1 Experiences of John Lymon Wood & Clifford Almon Wells

September 16, 2019.  Sometimes we learn more about a particular soldier’s experience by reading about a soldier in a similar situation.  This was the case when I read “From Montreal To Vimy Ridge and Beyond: The Correspondence of Lt Clifford Almon Wells”, edited by his step-father, Pastor G.G.S. Wallace of a Baptist Church in Montreal, and published in 1917.  Wells was not an Islander, but he enlisted in the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry 4th University Company, as did John Lymon WOOD, whose story has been told previously in blog postings.  (See WWI Soldier John Lyman Wood’s Connection With Acadia University and Learning About The Two Names On The Vimy Memorial)

Wells enlisted in September 1915, Wood on October 12, 1915.  At the time of enlistment, Wells was doing graduate work towards his PhD in archeology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland while Wood was a second year engineering student at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

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Photo: John Lyman Wood shortly after enlistment in October 1915. (Photo courtesy of Gene Rogerson collection)

Lt Clifford Almon Wells in 1916

Clifford Almon Wells in summer 1916. (Photo courtesy of “From Montreal To Vimy Ridge and Beyond: The Correspondence of Lt Clifford Almon Wells”)

On October 19, 1915, in a letter to his brother, Wood explained that he was packing his trunk in preparation for leaving Wolfville for Montreal. Like so many university educated men, an officer’s commission had been suggested by the recruitment office. “….I wish I had gone in the heavy artillery at Charlottetown now, but I’ll get a commission as Lieutenant if I can.  A man stands a far better chance of coming back if he goes in the artillery, but I suppose that is not the right way to look at it though.  The men are needed more in the Infantry, so I suppose it is only right to go where you are the most needed and where you can do the most good….I never hated to leave a place so bad as I do Wolfville this time.  But I must be doing what is right for there seems no other way out of it.” (Excerpt of a letter on page 157 of ‘Remember Yesterday: A History of North Tryon Prince Edward Island 1769-1992 Volume 1’, published in 1993)

Both Wells and Wood were in Montreal, preparing for being sent abroad.  In a November 2, 1915 letter, Wells wrote that “… the 4th University Company, bring recruited overstrength already, has received orders to be ready to sail on the 11th. Thousands of troops sail from Montreal every month without anyone being any the wiser.  Trains come in at night, stop on the wharf alongside the transports and by daybreak the men are on the way.  So it will be with us… The city just swarms with soldiers at present, as two full battalions have been sent back from the camp at Valcartier, which is closed for the winter…

There was a delay in leaving Montreal, as in the end they didn’t leave until November 26, 1915, by train enroute to Halifax.  In a November 26, 1915 letter, Wells noted that “… We did not leave Montreal until nearly 11 o’clock, as we waited for several carloads of troops from Winnipeg to join us.”  He explained that sentries were posted at the train doors, and no one except officers and platoon sergeants were allowed to pass from car to car without special permission.

They arrived in Halifax in the afternoon of November 27, 1915, and Wells sent a brief letter to his mother, saying that “...We reached Halifax two hours ago, and came aboard the ‘Lapland’ almost immediately.

On November 28, 1915 the SS Lapland, which had arrived from New York, sailed from Halifax, arriving in Plymouth, England on December 7.  During the voyage, Wells wrote several letters.  On December 3, 1915, he made the observation that “….There are about 2,000 other troops aboard.  The 37th Battalion from the West, the 92nd Highlanders, units of the A.S.C. Cyclists, etc.”  Wells went on to explain that they had to be alert for U-boats.  “Today we are fairly in the danger zone.  Our company’s machine gun is mounted aft, while other guns are mounted forward.  The decks are lined with men armed with rifles.  So we are all ready for submarines.  Tonight every man must sleep on deck by the life-boat or raft to which he has been assigned.  All portholes are darkened at night and every precaution is taken to render the ship invisible.

Upon arrival, they were both sent to the 11th Reserve Battalion, stationed at St. Martin’s Plain in Shorncliffe, near Folkestone, for infantry training for needed reinforcements to the Canadian Corps in the field.  In a December 9, 1915 letter, Wells wrote about the culture shock he’d experienced.  “It has rained steadily, with an intermission yesterday, ever since we reached Plymouth Sunday morning until now.  The camp is one sea of mud – such mud as I never dreamed of before.  I never shine my shoes now, as the first step out of the hut buries them in 3 or 4 inches of slime.  We are quartered in huts which hold about 40 men each….

He then explained that “The streets in Shorncliffe are very dimly lighted by night on account of the danger from Zepps, and every window in every hut is covered with a blanket when the lights are switched on.  Outside it is pitch dark and one wallows in mud and water when compelled to go out at night.

Like Wood, Wells soon found out that while the British were interested in troops as ‘cannon fodder’, a system of discrimination already existed to prevent them from becoming officers, contrary to what they were told when they signed up.  He discussed this in a continuation of his December 9 letter:  “I have bad news in one respect.  An order has been passed by which no more Canadian soldiers are given commissions in the Imperial Army except when a Colonel applies to have a certain man as an officer in his command.  There is consequently a good deal of dissatisfaction in our company, as many of us were practically promised commissions when we enlisted.”  Wells began working his contacts to get a commission.

In a December 29, 1915 letter, Wells wrote that “…It is reported that a carload of Christmas mail for soldiers was accidentally burned….”  He wondered if this could be why he had not received mail.  On January 7, 1916, he wrote that he’d heard that “two carloads of mail from Canada were accidentally burned.”  One can imagine the disappointment that he and his fellow Canadians felt when no letters or parcels arrived for Christmas!

Still trying to figure out how to get a commission, in the same letter, Wells explained that if he wasn’t successful in his quest while in England “…. I may go to the front as a Corporal or even a private, as I understand that NCOs like myself, who have never seen active service, lose one or more of their stripes when they first go to the trenches.  I should expect, of course, to regain them in a short time, but I do not like the idea of making any retrogressive steps...

In January 1916, Wells did become a Lieutenant, and on January 16, wrote to his mother that “I have been wonderfully lucky in being commissioned with the Canadian and not the Imperial Army.  This is how it happened.  A sudden shortage of officers occurred in the division, and the various battalions were asked to recommend for promotion NCOs not below the rank of Sergeant. The 11th Reserve Battalion was asked to recommend four.  I was one of the four.”  Like so many other Canadian soldiers, Wood never got promoted beyond Private.

While Wells stayed healthy and went to the Canadian Military School for a Bombing Course, Wood ended up in hospital as of January 21, 1916 with appendicitis, then gastritis, and measles. In a March 4, 1916 letter, Wells mentioned the measles outbreak.  “There are a number of cases of measles in the camp, and as soon as one hut is released from quarantine, one or two more have to be quarantined.

Wood was discharged on April 15, 1916 to the 39th Battalion, where he was sent for training as a Signaller.  In August 1916, Wells was transferred to the 8th Battalion of the 1st Canadian Division and sent to France.  Wood arrived in France on December 22, 1916, as part of the Second Infantry Battalion.

Both men survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge, with Wells describing the day in an April 20, 1917 letter to his mother: “The Huns were completely surprised, and made little resistance.  Our artillery barrage was wonderful beyond description, lifting forward from objective to objective with clocklike precision, and practically obliterating the German trenches as it passed them.  The men followed the barrage steadily and fearlessly, and prisoners were streaming back five minutes after we went ‘over the top’.  Most of the prisoners were entirely cowed, and thankful to be prisoners….  I came through it without a scratch.”  Unfortunately, before his mother received the letter, she was officially notified of his death on April 28, 1917, at the age of 25.

Wood’s luck ran out on May 3, 1917, when he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras, in the third battle of the Scarpe near Fresnoy, at the age of 19.  In “Hell Upon Earth: A Personal Account of Prince Edward Island Soldiers in the Great War, 1914-1918”, published in 1995, author J. Clinton Morrison, Jr. explained that Wood, a Signaller, “was killed in the Fresnoy darkness while repairing telephone communications during the pre-dawn attack.”  His body was never recovered and his name is engraved on the Vimy Memorial in France.

While it’s not known if Wells and Wood ever met each other, their military lives had many parallels and they died within 5 days of each other in France.  If anyone has more information, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca 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

 

 

On The War Memorial Trail….. Luck and Humanity During the Battle of Vimy Ridge

September 29, 2018.  Over the past few years, as the stories of the men on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion are researched by Pieter, the level of death, destruction, and hatred from war is incomprehensible.  If you travel through any of the WW1 and WW2 sites in Europe, you see memorials and cemeteries.  In Normandy, France it seems as though there is a reminder of the war dead around every corner.

In a kill or be killed environment of war, survival was a luck of the draw.  In April 2017, the County Line Courier published ‘Two Unsung Heroes of Vimy Ridge’, a story about two soldiers on the Cenotaph whose names are listed on the Vimy National Memorial in France, Patrick Raymond ARSENAULT and John Lymon WOOD. (See Learning About The Two Names On The Vimy Memorial) After this article was published, we were contacted by Ralf Gräfenstein of Berlin, Germany, who is helping the son of a WW1 German soldier determine what happened at Vimy Ridge.

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Ernesto Brucker of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Ernesto Ricardo Brucker, now in his 80s, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is hoping to find the Canadians who took his father prisoner during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, so he could thank them for saving his father’s life and not killing him when he surrendered.

Because of the actions of two unknown “tall” Canadians, Brucker survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge and spent the remainder of the war in a Prisoner of War camp in Skipton, England.  According to the Skipton documents, he was taken prisoner between Thélus and Bailleul-Sir –Berthoult, 4.4 km south-east of Thelus.

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Georg (Jorge) Brucker at Skipton POW Camp in England. (Photo courtesy of E. Brucker)

Not only were 3,400 Germans were taken prisoner on April 9, 1917, but there were 4 Canadian Divisions involved in the battle. Could we find out how Brucker became a prisoner of war?

Georg (later known as Jorge) BRUCKER was born November 2, 1896 in Erlangen, Germany, and 18 years old when WW1 started.  He joined the army and was sent to Poland, then to France.  During the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was the Lieutenant in charge of a platoon in Machine Gun Company 1 of the Royal Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment I in Thélus.  They had been in the Arras area since October 1914 and held the villages of Thélus, Bailleul and the southern slope of the ridge.

On April 9, 1917, the 1st Canadian Division, under the command of Major General Arthur Currie, faced the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division, under the command of General of the Infantry Karl von Fassbender, halfway between the villages of Thélus and Bailleul-Sir –Berthoult. The 1st Canadian Division was stretched along a front of about two kilometres, with six battalions. The furthest from Vimy Ridge, they had some four kilometres of battlefield to cross in order to reach it!

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Initial attack by the 1st Canadian Division (Source: http://www.webmatters.net/txtpat/index.php?id=1497)

The 13th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 1st Canadian Division in order to support the Infantry Brigades.  This is the unit that Patrick Raymond ARSENAULT was in. Was it a twist of irony that both Arsenault and Brucker were in Machine Gun Companies – on opposing sides?  Unlike Brucker, Arsenault lost his life in a shell attack on April 9, sometime around 7 am.  His body was never recovered.  Either he was buried in an unknown grave, or the shell attack scattered his body parts, making identification impossible.

 John Lymon WOOD was also in the 1st Canadian Division, as a member of the 2nd Canadian Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment), which was part of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  Wood survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but his luck ran out on May 3, 1917, when he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras.

Left: Patrick Raymond Arsenault in 1916 in Summerside.  (Photo courtesy of Paul Arsenault collection)  Right: John Lyman Wood shortly after enlistment in October 1915.  (Photo courtesy of Gene Rogerson collection)

Dr. Jack Sheldon researched and translated German reports from the battle.  In his 2008 book “The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917”, he recorded a description made by Brucker’s Commanding Officer, Major Meyer of the 1st Battalion Reserve Infantry Regiment:

At 5:30 am on 9 April enemy drum fire, supplemented by machine gun fire, came down.  It was impossible to make out the position and in fact it was almost impossible to make out signal flares amidst the clouds of smoke and dirt thrown up by the shells.  At 6:30 am heavy small arms fire could be heard and, at that moment, a message was sent by light signal to the rear.  ‘Heavy enemy attack.’  About half an hour later the wounded Muketier Hangemann happened to pass Battalion Headquarters, reporting that the British (meaning the Canadians) had overrun the right flank of 1st Bavarian Reserve Division and had then attacked our battalion in great strength from the left and rear.

In the final attack, the 1st Brigade, which John Lymon Wood was part of, passed through the other two Brigades while the artillery dropped thousands of rounds.  As the attack began again, the wind started to turn, blowing snow and smoke from the burning village of Thélus into the faces of the Bavarians. This helped to hide the approaching Canadians, who encountered little resistance. By 1 pm the battle was over.

It’s not clear at which point Brucker was taken prisoner, but most likely it happened by 11:30 am at the latest, based on reports by Major Meyer, as recorded in Dr. Jack Sheldon’s book “The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917”:  “Not until 11:30 am, when all the grenades had been thrown and there was no longer any prospect of timely relief, did the remainder of the garrison decide, reluctantly, to surrender.

In the book, ‘The History of the 2nd Canadian Battalion (East. Ontario Regiment) Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War 1914-1919’ by Colonel W. W. Murray, he records an account of the capture of German machine gunners in the morning.  “The Scouts found considerable work.  Ptes I. F. Wismer and J.F. Harrison performed a particularly daring feat near the Loen Weg.  Working in advance of No. 1 Company, they observed an enemy machine gun coming into action against the Fourth.  Pushing forward, they secured the gunner, an officer.  The pair then descended into an adjacent dug-out and forced the surrender of three more officers and four men, together with the gun.”  Were these the two Canadians who captured Georg Brucker?  It’s unlikely we’ll ever know.

At the end of the day, the 1st Division had crossed four kms of battlefield, captured 2,500 prisoners, 40 machine guns and 27 cannons at a cost of 2,500 of their own men killed or injured.  Wood survived, Arsenault died, and Brucker was taken prisoner.

Many people today may be wondering why so many German prisoners of war were allowed to surrender during the battle, and not simply killed.  In his 1986 book ‘Vimy’, author Pierre Berton gives a reason why not every Canadian soldier saw the German army as ‘the enemy’:  “Letters and wartime reminiscences suggest that the Canadians often resented their own brass more than they disliked the grey-clad German.  You shot at him because he was shooting at you, but it wasn’t a personal matter.  He too was walling in the mud, only a few yards away.

Today, a memorial to the 1st Canadian Division sits in a farmer’s field, marking the Canadian and German front lines on April 9, 1917, on the road between Thélus and Bailleul-Sir –Berthoult.  Somewhere along this line is the spot where Brucker’s last moments of WW1 before becoming a prisoner of war played out.

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Line in farmer’s field, halfway between Thélus and Bailleul-Sir –Berthoul, marks the front line where German and Canadian troops faced each other on April 9, 1917. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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Memorial honouring the 1st Canadian Division in farmer’s field, halfway between Thélus and Bailleul-Sir –Berthoul, along the line where German and Canadian troops faced each other on April 9, 1917. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After two years in Skipton, Brucker was sent to a Military Camp in Lockstedt, Germany in October 1919, and went on to work in a bank in Bavaria. He was sent on a secondment for one year to Argentina, where he met his wife.  They married in 1923 and he stayed in Argentina until his death on December 26, 1984.

Although we were unable to give Ernesto a complete answer of who to thank for saving his father’s life, we did find out the approximate area where he became a prisoner of war, surrendering to a regiment of the 1st Canadian Division (For a list of the regiments in the 1st Canadian Division see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vimy_Ridge_order_of_battle.) Georg Brucker was very lucky to have surrendered to soldiers who showed humanity, not revenge.

If you can add to this story, have photos or information to share on soldiers from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, or soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please let us know. You can share them by sending an email to dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

 

 

Canadian War Graves Netherlands Foundation Project

August 4, 2018.  This blog concentrates on the names listed on the Cenotaph Research Project.  We provide a summary of the research results, talk about our trips to monuments and cemeteries, and the families that we meet.  We occasionally mention interaction with other archives, and the information on the names listed on our Cenotaph that we’ve shared.

For example, when we were in France, we left information and photos on WW1 soldiers John Lymon WOOD and Patrick Raymond ARSENAULT with the site manager at Vimy Ridge (See  Visiting The Canadian National Vimy Memorial)  In Belgium, we left information and photos on WW1 soldiers Charles Benjamin Murray BUXTON and George Albert CAMPBELL at In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. (See Sharing Information at In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres) Information on WW1 soldier Vincent CARR was sent to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Passchendaele.  (See On The War Memorial Trail of Passchendaele and Surrounding Area) 

In The Netherlands, we did the same for WW2 soldiers William Douglas SHERREN and George Martin MCMAHON, buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At Holten Canadian War Cemetery) and George Preston SMITH, buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. PEI Soldiers Buried In The Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek) In addition, we’ve shared information with various university archives and regimental archives.

In this blog entry we’d like to feature a project in The Netherlands, the Canadian War Graves Netherlands Foundation. In this project, which is of special interest to Pieter because of his Dutch roots, the foundations for the three Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands have banded together to create a digital monument for ALL Canadian war graves in their country.   Almost 6,000 Canadian WW2 soldiers are buried there! When Pieter was asked to help find families, stories, and photos, he didn’t hesitate.

Over the past few years, he’s put out a call for help through the various PEI legions.  Several families submitted information directly to The Netherlands, others sent information and photos to Pieter for forwarding.  The families of Carman GILLCASH and Daniel Peter MACKENZIE chose to go through Pieter, and recently the Comeau family in Nova Scotia shared information about Joseph Ambrose COMEAU.  All three are buried in Holten Canadian War Cemetery.  We’ve not met any of these family members, perhaps one day.

A few weeks ago, however, Pieter received a request from Alice van Bekkum, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands, and a tireless advocate for remembering the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers in liberating The Netherlands.  Her request was to track down an article entitled ‘A Journey of the Heart’, about a pilgrimage made by the family of William “Willie” Alfred CANNON of Mt. Mellick, who was killed in 1945 in Germany (the article incorrectly says The Netherlands) and is buried at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery.  Pieter had placed flags at his grave last fall, so the name was not unfamiliar.

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Pieter at the grave of William Cannon at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

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Grave of William Cannon at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

With the help of Jocelyne Lloyd, news editor at The Guardian, the article, written by Mary MacKay and published on November 8, 2008, was found and a digital copy was soon on its way to The Netherlands.  (See article: Journey From The Heart Cannon article from 2008)

The real story came when Pieter got in touch with Cannon’s nephews Carl and Alfred Cannon, and niece Irene Doyle to inquire about the possibility of them donating photos for the Dutch Project.  “Did we want to come to the place where ‘Uncle Willie’ grew up and meet them?” he was asked. This soon became a story of remembrance……

Carl Cannon now owns the homestead, and we expected to meet him and his brother Alfred. But we were in for a surprise! They invited their sister, Paulette Duffy, and their brother Anthony.  Cousin Bill Cannon came over from Nova Scotia.  Cousin Irene Doyle, who was featured in The Guardian story, also arrived.  It was a full house, and a happy occasion, filled with stories of Uncle Willie that they had heard from their parents and grandparents.

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At the Cannon homestead. Left to right: Pieter Valkenburg, Alfred Cannon, Anthony Cannon, Carl Cannon, Paulette Duffy, Bill Cannon, Irene Doyle. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

All of the Cannon nieces and nephews had been born after his death, which made this visit remarkable.  Paulette explained that “memory was kept alive as the family always talked about Willie.”  Bill said that his father Harry, who served in the Navy during WWI, was the closest to Willie.  “They were hellions as children, so the stories were so interesting!” laughed Pauline.

Andy Cannon, Willie’s cousin who was in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, was with Willie the night before he died” said Bill.  “Did you want to talk to his son Garry in Sarnia?”  So another Cannon shared some memories, over a cell phone.

The Cannon family shared photos, letters, and many stories, which are making their way to the digital archive set up in The Netherlands.  Our last stop before heading home was to visit the Cenotaph by St. Joachim’s Roman Catholic Church in Vernon River, where Willie Cannon is mentioned.  “Every Remembrance Day I bring a photo of Uncle Willie” Alfred explained.  And sure enough, Uncle Willie’s photo came along on this visit too.

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At the Cenotaph by St. Joachim’s Roman Catholic Church in Vernon River. Left to right: Bill Cannon, Paulette Duffy, Alfred Cannon. Note photo of Uncle Willie on the Cenotaph. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

If you have photos or stories to share about other WW2 soldiers buried in The Netherlands, and haven’t already sent them to one of the cemeteries there, please help them build up their digital archive so that these soldiers will always be remembered.

If you would like Pieter to come and speak about the Cenotaph Research Project, or how Islanders can help with the Canadian War Graves Netherlands Foundation Project, he is open to receiving invitations.  Email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca.

Photos are still needed for many of the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.  Please dig out those old albums and take a look.  You can share your photos, comments, or stories by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

Honouring The Lives Of Soldiers From the Anglican Church in Crapaud

July 15, 2018.  On July 12, Pieter was invited to give a presentation about the Cenotaph Research Project at St. John the Evangelist Church in Crapaud.  As the families of a number of the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion had been members of this church, we made sure that they were featured in the presentation.

These included:

  • Arthur Leigh COLLETT (WW1)
  • Henry Warburton STEWART (WW1)
  • Ernest Murray NORTON (WW2)
  • William Douglas SHERREN (WW2)

Reverend Margaret Collins introduced Pieter, tying in Pieter’s research to remembrance. Among the audience members were several families of the names on the Cenotaph, which made the event very special. Many brought photos and letters, which will increase our knowledge of the lives of these men.  Families in attendance represented the following men:

  • Arthur Leigh COLLETT  (WW1)
  • Elmer Allister MABEY (WW2)
  • Joseph Charles MCIVER (WW2)
  • Ernest Murray NORTON (WW2)
  • Arthur Clinton ROBINSON  (WW1)
  • William Douglas SHERREN (WW2)
  • George Preston SMITH (WW2)
  • John Lyman WOOD  (WW1)
CIMG1010 Jul 12 2018 Pieter at podium Presentation at Anglican Church in Crapaud

Pieter at the podium at St John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Crapaud. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The presentation was well received, with refreshments provided by the Church afterwards, where people could speak with Pieter and each other. Hazel Robinson of the Tryon & Area Historical Society accepted donations to the “Muttart Memorial Fund”.

One person who attended commented afterwards that “I was there to hear more info on Lyman Wood, an ancestor. So pleased to see an interest, amazing to me to see someone speak of him 100 years on. Wood family is very proud of him. I did get to Vimy Ridge in 2007 for 90th, and found his name as well, pretty awesome.  I love Canadian military history, just love the stories, good and bad. Really enjoyed your presentation.  Thanks for all the amazing work that you have done!

CIMG1016 Jul 12 2018 With George Preston Smith family Presentation at Anglican Church in Crapaud

Pieter with the family of WW2 soldier George Preston Smith. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG1022 Jul 12 2018 With Reid & Bruce Norton Presentation at Anglican Church in Crapaud

Pieter with Reid (left) and Bruce (right) Norton, nephews of WW2 soldier Ernest Murray Norton. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG1023 Jul 12 2018 With Charlie Sherren Presentation at Anglican Church in Crapaud

Pieter with Charlie Sherren, nephew of WW2 soldier William Douglas Sherren. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Our thanks to Reverend Margaret Collins and Connie MacKinnon of St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church for inviting Pieter to speak, and for their warm hospitality in making this event the success it was.

If you would like Pieter to come and speak about the Cenotaph Research Project, he is open to receiving invitations.  Email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca.

Photos are still needed for many of the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, so please dig out those old albums and take a look.  You can share your photos, comments, or stories by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

Donations are still being collected towards the ‘Muttart Memorial Fund’ for a memorial panel in Wons, The Netherlands.  If you would like to donate, cheques may be written out to TAHS and mailed to Tryon & Area Historical Society (TAHS), PO Box 38, Crapaud PE C0A 1J0.  In the subject line, identify your cheque as being for the “Muttart Memorial Fund”.  A charitable donation receipt will be sent to all donors. 

If you wish to donate and you live in Europe:  Bank transfers may be made to Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, Bank Account # (IBAN) NL35ABNA0569579856, and state in the subject line “Attn D.S. Drijver for Halifax L9561”.

 © Daria Valkenburg

WWI Soldier John Lyman Wood’s Connection With Acadia University

June 1, 2018.  In previous blog postings, we wrote about John Lyman WOOD, whose name is not only on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, but also is listed on the Vimy Memorial in France. (See Learning About The Two Names On The Vimy Memorial and Visiting The Canadian National Vimy Memorial)

Photo Lyman Wood

Photo: John Lyman Wood shortly after enlistment in October 1915. (Photo courtesy of Gene Rogerson collection)

Born in North Tryon on July 8, 1897, the son of George William Wood and Martha Heatly, he was raised on a farm, and was in second year engineering at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia before enlisting in the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry 4th University Company on October 12, 1915.  On November 28, 1915 he sailed from Halifax on the SS Lapland, arriving in Plymouth, England on December 7.

Upon arrival, he was sent to the 11th Reserve Battalion, stationed at St. Martin’s Plain near Folkestone, for infantry training for needed reinforcements to the Canadian Corps in the field.

Before WW1 began, Wood attended Horton Academy and Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.   As part of his research, Pieter contacted Acadia University.  Wendy Robicheau, archivist at Acadia University, is researching WW1 soldiers who attended Acadia and posts information on a blog.  (See Acadia and the War: commemoration and dissemination blog: http://aboutacadiawar.blogspot.com/.)  Wendy explained that at Acadia University, Wood was known as ‘Lyman’, not ‘John’.

Wendy shared information from Acadia’s student newspaper, ‘The Acadia Athenaeum’, December 1915 issue. “The following men enlisted with the 4th Universities Company of the P.P.C.L.I.:–Lieut. Frank Higgins, ’14; Sergeant Murray Millet, ’16; Corporal Burton DeWolfe, ’16; Lance Corporal Don Chase Eng. ’16; Max Saunders, ’16; Charlie Fitch Eng, ’16; Harold Bishop, ex ’17; John MacNeill, ex ’18; Leyman Wood, ex ’18; John Mosher, ex ’18.”  P.P.C.L.I. refers to Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry. The dates after the men’s names refer to either the year of graduation or the year they should have graduated, if WW1 had not interrupted their education.

In her blog posting of June 23, 1917, (http://aboutacadiawar.blogspot.com/search?q=Higgins) , Wendy wrote that “It should be noted that Higgins played a role in recruiting several Acadia men to the P.P.C.L.I. His signature appears on the attestation papers of several students who enlisted in Wolfville.”  The following entry is from the November 1915 issue of the Acadia Athenaeum.

Recruit_Mtng_Ath_1915

Excerpt from November 1915 issue of Acadia Athenaeum of Acadia University.

Indeed, Higgins did sign the attestation papers for Wood as well, as Wendy explains in her blog posting of May 3, 2017 (http://aboutacadiawar.blogspot.com/2017/05/remembering-john-lyman-wood-died-100.html?q=Higgins): Private Wood attested in October 1915. He was a student with one year in Acadia’s O.T.C. The witness on his papers–Lieut. F.C. Higgins. Incidentally, Dr. C.E.A. deWitt, Class of ’04, signed his medical papers. DeWitt was the doctor at Camp Aldershot.

Wood_JL

Student photo from Acadia University, published in the June 1917 Acadia Athenaeum. This may have been his matriculation photo.

Wendy went on to explain that of the group of ten men mentioned in the December 1915 issue:  “Five will not survive. DeWolfe, Saunders, Fitch, and Wood all die in Europe. Bishop, severely wounded, is brought back to Nova Scotia, and dies in Halifax. Chase is taken POW at Mount Sorrell with other P.P.C.L.I. who are Acadia students, but not of the group listed above.

Wendy let us know about a book ‘As Ever’, written by John Grant, containing letters from his great-uncle Harold Fletcher Bishop, who signed up with John Lyman Wood, and was also a war casualty. (See  http://www.kingscountynews.ca/living/letters-from-auburn-soldier-in-first-world-war-inspire-book-71960/).  After contacting John Grant and asking about John Lyman Wood, he wrote back that he’d found a reference to Wood attending a dinner in Folkestone, England: “On or about January 16, 1916 the Acadia men organized a dinner at the Metropole Hotel where perhaps two dozen gathered for a meal, toasts, and to sing the Acadia songs around the piano.  I have included in my book two reports of evening that were published in the Acadia Atheneaum.  Pte. J.L. Wood, Class of ‘18” was mentioned. 

In an excerpt of one report of that evening, by Sgt F. Gregg, he explains that: “On the night in question the Acadians made their way, by bus and train, toward the Metropole hotel. Here the interior presented a happy contrast to the bleak, darkened, town without. Upon being ushered into the sanctum reserved for us we were surprised to see fellows, many of whom we thought still to be in the Blue Nose province.

This was the only reunion dinner that Wood attended. On January 21, 1916 he was in hospital with appendicitis, then gastritis, and measles.  He was discharged on April 15, 1916, to the 39th Battalion. On December 22, 1916, he arrived in France as part of the Second Infantry Battalion, which was part of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.   He survived that battle, but his luck ran out on May 3, 1917, when he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras, in the third battle of the Scarpe near Fresnoy.  Wood’s body was never recovered, his only memorial in Europe being his name inscribed on the Vimy Ridge Memorial, which we visited last fall.  Wood’s obituary was published in the June 1917 issue of the Acadia Athenaeum, with an unfortunate typo for the month of his death.

wood obituary

Excerpt from June 1917 issue of Acadia Athenaeum of Acadia University. Note that the date of death is incorrect. Wood died on May 3, 1917.

A big thank you to Wendy Robicheau for sharing the information about Wood from Acadia University, to Gene Rogerson for providing a photo of Wood, and to John Grant for letting us know about the Acadia reunion dinner.  Can you add anything more to Wood’s story?  Email us at dariadv@yahoo.ca.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by email or by commenting on this blog.

UPCOMING PRESENTATION: Pieter has been invited to speak about the Cenotaph Research Project at St John The Evangelist Anglican Church in Crapaud at 7 pm on Thursday, July 12, 2018.  Location: 391 Nelson St, Trans Canada Hwy Rte, Crapaud, PE C0A 1J0.  Photos and information about soldiers welcome.

© Daria Valkenburg

 

Monuments In and Around Thélus

September 20, 2017.  When we first entered the town of Thélus on our way to Vimy Ridge, we passed by the Canadian Artillery Memorial, built to remember the sacrifice of Canadians from Artillery battalions who died in the battle for Vimy Ridge and the surrounding area.

When we were at the Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre, we saw a large photograph of this monument, taken when it was actually dedicated during the war.  The monument was built on top of a dugout.  The steps leading up to the monument marks the original entrance to the dugout.  The monument was unveiled by General Currie on April 9, 1918, a year after the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

IMG_20170905_112407215 Sep 5 2017 Photo of Cdn Artillery Memorial in Thelus at Vimy Visitors Centre

Photo of the Canadian Artillery Memorial as it was unveiled in Thélus on April 9, 1918. (Photo taken by Pieter Valkenburg of a panel at Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre)

After learning about the monument at the Visitors Centre, we made a stop to see the real one.

CIMG8308 Sep 5 2017 Pieter at Cdn Artillery Memorial in Thelus

Pieter at the Canadian Artillery Memorial in Thélus. The shell shaped columns surrounding the monument have actual fuses from shells attached to their tops! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

IMG_20170905_121853669 Sep 5 2017 Inscription on Cdn Artillery Memorial in Thelus

The inscription reads “Erected in memory of officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Canadian Corps Artillery who fell during the Vimy operations April 1917.” This is followed by the units: Canadian Field Artillery, Canadian Garrison Artillery, Royal Field Artillery, Royal Garrison Artillery and the South African Heavy Artillery. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

CIMG8303 Sep 5 2017 Rue des Artilleurs Canadiens in Thelus

The road leading out of Thélus towards Bailleul Sir Berhoult is called Rue des Artilleurs Canadiens (Street of the Canadian Artillery). (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG8304 Sep 5 2017 Sign directions across from Cdn Artillery Memorial in Thelus

Across from the Canadian Artillery Monument is a sign leading to Bailleul Sir Berthoult. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We then followed the road between Thélus and Bailleul Sir Berthoult.  Only 4 km separate these two towns, but it was the scene of much fighting on April 9, 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Not far down the road was a monument to the people of Thélus who perished during two world wars, a vivid reminder that not only soldiers are war casualties.

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Thélus memorial to its war dead in two world wars. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Halfway between the two towns, in a farmer’s field, is a memorial to the First Canadian Division, on the spot where they were opposite the First Bavarian Reserve Division.  By April 9, 1917 there wasn’t much left of the villages!

CIMG8314 Sep 5 2017 Pieter by sign directing you to Memorial to 1st Cdn Division

Pieter by the sign leading across a farmer’s field to the 1st Canadian Division Monument, about halfway between Thélus and Bailleul Sir Berthoult. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We stopped at this monument to honour John Lymon Wood and Patrick Raymond Arsenault, both of whom were in the 1st Canadian Division during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and whose names are inscribed on the Vimy Memorial.

After an article about these two men was published in the County Line Courier in April 2017, we heard from a Ernesto Brucker of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who noted that his father, Georg Brucker, had been part of the First Bavarian Reserve Division and had been captured as a prisoner of war on April 9, 1917, likely at or very near this exact spot.

CIMG8318 Sep 5 2017 Memorial to 1st Cdn Division halfway betwen Thelus & Bailleul

Pieter at the 1st Canadian Division Monument, about halfway between Thélus and Bailleul Sir Berthoult. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

IMG_20170905_123258340 Sep 5 2017 inscription on memorial to 1st Cdn Division

Inscription on the 1st Canadian Division Monument, about halfway between Thélus and Bailleul Sir Berthoult. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

CIMG8316 Sep 5 2017 lone poppy along path leading to memorial to 1st Cdn Division outside Thelus

A lone poppy was growing on the path towards the 1st Canadian Division Monument, about halfway between Thélus and Bailleul Sir Berthoult. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In the next blog entry we continue to visit the cemeteries in France where soldiers on the Borden-Carleton Cenotaph are buried.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

Visiting The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

September 18, 2017.  After the tour of the Vimy Memorial Visitors’ Centre and the tunnels, we went to visit the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Although familiar to us from seeing it on TV, the memorial is much larger and majestic in person.

CIMG8468 Sep 6 2017 Mother Canada memorial at Vimy Ridge

Canadian National Vimy Memorial from a distance. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG8295 Sep 5 2017 Canadian National Vimy Memorial closer up with twin white pylons

Canadian National Vimy Memorial showing the twin white pylons, one bearing the maple leaves of Canada, the other the fleurs-de-lys of France, to symbolize the sacrifices of both countries. Beside one of the pylons is the statue Canada Bereft. Below the pylons is The Tomb. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Site manager Johanne Gagné noted that “this monument is special because it focuses on values the soldiers shared and ultimately gave their lives for.”  11,285 names are inscribed on the memorial, two of them who also are on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion:  John Lymon Wood and Patrick Raymond Arsenault.  Pieter immediately went to search out these two names.

IMG_20170905_114855242 Sep 5 2017 Vimy Memorial Inscription Arsenault

Patrick Raymond Arsenault inscribed on Vimy Memorial. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

IMG_20170905_115420984 Sep 5 2017 Vimy Memorial Inscription Wood

John Lymon Wood inscribed on Vimy Memorial. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

After finding the inscriptions, Pieter next looked for two plaques brought to the memorial in April by the students of Kinkora Regional High School and teacher Kevin Bustard.  Kevin had the plaques made after reading about Wood and Arsenault in an April 2017 article in the County Line Courier. (See CLC Apr 5 2017 p9 Two Unsung Heroes of Vimy Ridge)

To everyone’s surprise, the plaques were still at the Memorial. Arsenault’s was on The Tomb, and Wood’s was by his inscription.

CIMG8294 Sep 5 2017 tributes on The Tomb

Tributes left on The Tomb at the Vimy Canadian National Memorial. You can see the plaque for Patrick Raymond Arsenault on the far left. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Pieter reunited both plaques with photos of the two soldiers.

CIMG8299 Sep 5 2017 Wood & Arsenault Plaques

Plaques and photos of John Lymon Wood and Patrick Raymond Arsenault. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

While the plaques were left at the Memorial, the photos and information about Wood and Arsenault were given to Johanne Gagné, who told us that “the French are still welcoming and grateful for the sacrifices made by Canadians and say thank you.  They are grateful to Canada for keeping the memory alive after 100 years.  It’s humbling.”

CIMG8301 Sep 5 2017 Sep 5 2017 Johanne Gagne with Wood and Pieter with Arsenault

Johanne Gagné with plaque and photo of John Lymon Wood while Pieter holds plaque and photo of Patrick Raymond Arsenault. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

This was the end of our tour of Vimy Ridge and the Memorial.  It had been a special day and we salute Johanne Gagné for the time she spent giving us a wonderful tour and patiently answering our many questions.  Merci beaucoup Johanne!

In the next blog entry we explore two of the memorials in the Thélus area.  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 Vimy Ridge

September 12, 2017.  After a few hectic days when there was no time to do any writing as we were on the go from early morning until quite late in the evening, we now are settled for a few days in a quiet cottage in a forested area, and hopefully can catch up with all of the memorable days we’ve just experienced.

The most anticipated stop on our memorial trail of honouring the men listed on the Borden-Carleton Cenotaph was Vimy Ridge.  Two WW1 soldiers are listed on the Vimy Memorial, John Lymon WOOD and Patrick Raymond ARSENAULT.

Our hotel was in Arras, and Vimy Ridge was a 20 minute drive from there.  Just before the turn-off to Vimy Ridge we passed through the town of Thélus.  There is one stop light in town.  To the left are signs directing you to cemeteries and memorials.  To the right are signs directing you to more memorials.

Right by the stop light is the Canadian Artillery Memorial, built to remember the sacrifice of Canadians from Artillery battalions who died in the battle for Vimy Ridge and the surrounding area.

CIMG8309 Sep 5 2017 Cdn Artillery Memorial in Thelus with sign posts

The Canadian Artillery Memorial in Thélus was built during WW1 by the Canadian Corps. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

It’s daunting to see how many reminders of war there are in France.  Everywhere you go, you see memorials and cemeteries – both civilian and military.  It’s a grim reminder of how many people lost their lives.  It’s impossible to ignore or forget.  And it’s a very big reminder of how many countries came to help in the Allied cause during World War I.  It truly became an international war.  Every one of them has at least one memorial and the war cemeteries are filled with Allied and German lives lost.

CIMG8270 Sep 2017 Pieter at entrance to Vimy Memorial Park

Pieter at the entrance to Vimy Ridge in France. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The turn-off to the Vimy Ridge memorial and visitors centre is a tree-lined road, with jogging and walking paths, well used by citizens of the area.  It’s a public road that goes to the nearby villages of Givenchy and Vimy.

We were very lucky to have been given a guided tour of the Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre, which opened in April 2017, by site manager Johanne Gagné.

CIMG8275 Sep 5 2017 Pieter with site manager Johanne Gagne

Pieter with Johanne Gagné, Senior Manager, European Operations at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, who gave us a guided tour. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Among the many exhibits in the Visitors Centre is one that replicates the graffiti found in the tunnels of Vimy Ridge.  Using 3-D technology, exact replicas of the graffiti have been made, and researchers have tried, where possible, to provide a face and story to the men who made the graffiti.

Ms. Gagné noted that this graffiti display will be on tour in various places in Canada after leaving Vimy Ridge.  If it comes to your area, you won’t want to miss it!

We certainly had the right person to give us a tour, as Ms. Gagné worked for two years in Canada in developing the visitors centre before coming to France for two years as part of an interchange agreement with Parks Canada.  Hailing from Coteau-du-Lac, Quebec, she has a background in museology, exhibit design, and developing visitors programming.  Our interest was certainly caught, and this was from one exhibit only.

IMG_20170905_093513986 Sep 5 2017 Graffiti at Vimy Ridge by Kines & Holmes

Graffiti replicas of the 15th Battalion and a photo and short bio of two names inscribed below the insignia, that of Alvin Kines and Daniel Holmes. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The Visitors Centre has many interactive displays, in three languages (English, French, German), and one of the displays is very personal.  It tells the story of World War I from the perspectives of a young girl, a soldier, a nurse, etc, and all the stories are based on letters and diaries of real life people.

We were fascinated by a wall of patriotic signs, urging support for the war.

CIMG8277 Sep 5 2017 Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre Pieter by patriotic signs

Pieter by one of the displays of patriotic signs. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

An interactive display explained the troop movements during the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 8, 1917.  Another interactive display gave a tour of the tunnels below Vimy Ridge. This was a marvellous solution to see the tunnels, especially if you were not physically capable of entering the tunnels yourself.

CIMG8283 Sep 5 2017 Daria by interactive displays in Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre

Daria by the interactive display of the Vimy Ridge tunnels. Behind are the displays of stories of WW1 by individuals. (Photo credit: Johanne Gagné)

We asked Ms. Gagné her perspective of the Vimy Ridge Visitors Centre and Memorial.  “Most of the time, people come and say that they came to honour the sacrifices made.  I asked myself, what does it mean to me?  Why have I spent three years on this project?  I’m giving the soldiers a voice.  I hope that through the exhibits, that we can show the public how the soldiers lived, what they saw, what they did, and close the loop by telling their stories.”  The exhibits certainly do that.  They are interesting and well done.

The tour of the Visitors Centre over, it was time to see the rest of Vimy Ridge.  On Pieter’s bucket list was a tour of the tunnels, a wish that was granted, and discussed in the next blog.  While he and Ms. Gagné prepared themselves for the tunnels, I took a look at the tunnels from the comfort and safety of the Visitors Centre.

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

© Daria Valkenburg