The Three WW1 Soldiers Who Were Buried Together At Passchendaele

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

CIMG3083 Aug 31 2019 Pieter with Helen & Delbert Carr

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

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

shorter photo of vincent carr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

map of passchendaele showing abraham heights

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

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

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

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


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

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

 © Daria Valkenburg

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.

CIMG9021 Sep 16 2017 Groesbeek Cemetery Pieter by grave of WA Cannon

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.


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.


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

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 or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

Visiting More Memorials In The Passchendaele Area

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

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

CIMG8740 Sep 9 2017 Statue at German War Cemetery in Langemark

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

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

CIMG8742 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

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

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

CIMG8745 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

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

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

CIMG8746 Sep 9 2017 Canadalaan location of Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

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

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

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

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

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

CIMG8750 Sep 9 2017 Pieter at Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

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

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

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

IMG_20170909_141204168_HDR Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIMG8747 Sep 9 2017 sign for Passchendaele

Passchendaele = Passendale. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

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

© Daria Valkenburg