On The War Memorial Trail….. The WWII Soldier From Prince Edward Island Killed During The Battle Of Rha

September 22, 2022. When we did a story on Joseph ‘Joe’ Edmund HENNEBERY, who is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, his niece, Teresa Hennebery, mentioned that “My mother Mary and I were in Holland in May 2001 for a commemoration ceremony for her brother (also named Joe) who was killed in Rha a couple of weeks before my other Uncle Joe died.  It was so beautiful and the people of Rha treated us like Royalty….


Teresa Hennebery (left) shared information on her uncle, Joe McKenna.  (Photo courtesy Valkenburg Family Collection)

Teresa was referring to her mother’s brother, Michael Joseph ‘Joe’ MCKENNA, who also lost his life during WWII.  In addition to visiting the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, Teresa and her late mother “… visited Holten Cemetery where Joe McKenna is buried…” (See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2020/05/31/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-face-for-joseph-hennebery/)

Joe McKenna

Joe McKenna (Photo courtesy Hennebery Family Collection.)

Joe McKenna was born August 22, 1917 in Newton Cross, Prince Edward Island, the son of Patrick Joseph and Laura Josephine McKenna. 

…Joe began basic training in the summer of 1942…

At the time of his enrollment on August 28, 1942 with the #62 Basic Training Centre in Charlottetown, under the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA), he had been working on his father’s farm since he left school.  Joe’s mother had died in 1932, and he was the oldest son with two brothers and four sisters.  

The NRMA was a compulsory national registration for military service, originally for home defence, but later for service overseas as WWII continued. (See https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/national-resources-mobilization-act)

On October 28, 1942, he was sent for advanced training to A23TC in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a month, then sent to the #22 Anti Aircraft Battery in St. John, New Brunswick. 

Joe remained there until March 1, 1943, when he formally enlisted for active service in Saint John, New Brunswick and was transferred to the 8th Anti Aircraft Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, which was also in St. John.

… Joe transferred to the Canadian Infantry….

On January 27, 1944, Joe was transferred to the No. 1 Transit Camp in Windsor, Nova Scotia.  Then, a decision was made to ‘reallocate’ Joe to an infantry regiment, and on February 13, 1944 he was transferred to No. 60 Canadian Infantry Basic Training Centre in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for further training.

After completing basic training, Joe was transferred to the A14 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Aldershot, Nova Scotia on June 11, 1944.

On August 31, 1944 Joe was sent to Debert, Nova Scotia, the final staging and training area for troops going overseas.

… Joe left Canada in October 1944….

Joe’s overseas service began when he boarded a troop ship on October 14, 1944, arriving in the United Kingdom on October 20, 1944.  Upon arrival he was assigned to #4 Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU).

On November 24, 1944 he went to Northwest Europe as part of a reinforcement unit, then was assigned to the Headquarters of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade on January 26, 1945.

Joe had his final transfer on March 14, 1945, when he joined the Queen’s Own Rifles as a rifleman in ‘A’ Company.  The Regiment was in the Reichswald Forest in Germany where Operation Blockbuster had ended.  Reinforcements were needed as preparations began for Operation Plunder

Operation Plunder, which began March 21, 1945 and ended April 1, 1945, involved the crossing of the Rhine River to the north of the Ruhr industrial region in western Germany.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plunder)

…Joe’s Regiment left Germany and entered The Netherlands…

After crossing the Rhine River in Germany, the Queen’s Own Rifles entered The Netherlands.  Their new objective was to capture the town of Rha.  The town was near a bridge crossing.  In ‘Battle Diary’ author Charles Cromwell Martin explains its importance. “…The enemy command headquarters for the remaining part of Holland was located at Appeldoorn, and the bridge was the approach that led there…

Martin was the Company Sergeant-Major, ‘A’ Company, in the Queen’s Own Rifles.  He noted there were difficulties due to “…the complete changeover of our men and leaders.  We had received about thirty reinforcements….. But everything was too new, too untried, and this included our new company commander…

…The Regiment prepared to liberate the municipality of Steenderen….

On the afternoon of April 4, 1945, the Queen’s Own Rifles travelled along the IJssel River.  They had already liberated the villages of Steenderen and Toldijk the day before.

The war diary for April 4, 1945 recorded that “… ‘C’ Company was to occupy Rodenburg… and ‘D’ Company to go to Hoefken. ‘A’ Company to Eekhorn and ‘B’ Company to Zwaarte  Schar… The only trouble encountered on the move was by ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies, who came under fire from an enemy S.P. gun on the other side of the IJssel river and mortar fire from Rha….” S.P refers to self-propelled artillery.

On April 5, 1945 the war diary stated that …plans were laid for an attack that afternoon on the bulge of the east bank of the IJssel…”  Around 3:30 pm, they occupied “…enemy trench systems that had been abandoned…” 

‘A’ Company’s assignment was to occupy Rha. Led by 9 platoon, they “…went into their series of trenches, which were full of water, and followed them around to the outskirts of Rha.  There was quite a lot of sniping and mortaring but the trenches gave them good cover…” 

By 8:00 pm “… the end of the trenches was reached….” and they began their way towards the town.  “….It was getting night time but there was plenty of light from burning buildings…”  They encountered “…furious resistance…” from bazookas.  “…Our own weapons were in very bad shape from the mud encountered in the trenches…

In the midst of counterattacks, two sections of 7 platoon got cut off from the rest. They “…got into a house near the centre of the village…” This was the Berendsen farm. 

By the time the night was over, the war diary reported that “…the final count of casualties was 5 wounded, 5 killed, and 6 missing…”  Four were found killed in the barn on the Berendsen farm.

…The Battle of Rha was deadly….

One of the men killed during the Battle of Rha, and found in the barn, was Joe McKenna. In the 2001 Special Edition of ‘De Zwerfsteen’ (The Boulder), a publication from the Historical Society of Steenderen, a bit more information was provided.  The Berendsen farm was located at 5 Rhabergseweg, and had German troops billeted on the farm.  During the evening of April 5, the family hid in the cellar.

One daughter, Be Helmerhorst-Berendsen, who was 20 years old at the time, gave an eyewitness report.  “…The Germans were not present at the time we came under fire. They must have been in the trenches in the surrounding area….

While they were in the cellar the hatch opened and two Canadians came down the steps.  “…One was injured on the leg and the other one had severe injuries on the head…”  The next morning, the Germans opened the hatch and ordered them to come out.  The Canadians were taken prisoner, the rest allowed to leave.

…As we were leaving the building through the barn, we saw the Canadians lying there, dead.  One lay behind the cows in the gutter.  The second lay in the cows’ trough, still holding the rope of the cow’s neck in his hands, and the third one lay near the back door…

….Joe was initially buried in Rha….

The official death report of the military authorities noted that the helmets of the soldiers had holes in them, likely caused by grenade fragments. They had been killed by Germans who were in trenches about 20 metres in front of the farmhouse. 

The date of deaths on this report was recorded as April 5, 1945 for each soldier.  The date of April 6, 1945 in the service file and on the gravestones was likely due to when the bodies were found and the notice of deaths were received and recorded.

Dutch explanation of deaths

Rha burial

Burial of 4 soldiers in Rha.  (Photo courtesy Hennebery Family Collection, but sent to the family by Henk Dykman.)

One of the organizers of the May 4, 2001 commemoration events in Rha, Reverend Hendrik ‘Henk’ Jan Dykman, wrote to explain that “…Joe died with three comrades in or near the farm of J Berendsen on April 5 1945. He was buried in front of it by German soldiers, with his name carefully put on the grave. The farmer’s daughter took care of the graves till the men were moved to Holten a year later….

The other three soldiers were:

  • James Earl AIKEN, aged 19, son of Basil E. and Alice A. Aiken, of Toronto, Ontario.
  • Thomas ‘Ted’ Edward Cornelius CRAWFORD, aged 31, son of Thomas A. and Nellie Crawford; husband of Marie Edmee Crawford, of Kapuskasing, Ontario. 
  • George Clifford WOODRUFF, aged 23, son of George and Jane Woodruff, of Langstaff, Ontario.

All 4 were reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands. 

The 5th casualty mentioned in the war diary was John George KAVANAGH, aged 23, son of Cora Kavanagh and husband of Emily Jean (née Haddleton) of Toronto, Ontario.  He is buried in the Steenderen General Cemetery in Steenderen, The Netherlands.

…Confusion about where Joe McKenna had been originally buried….

20210717_105714 McKenna parents grave in Montague

Grave of Joe McKenna’s parents in Montague, Prince Edward Island. (Photo courtesy Hennebery Family Collection.)

Teresa Hennebery explained that there was confusion about where her uncle was initially buried. “… I was at the graveyard at St. Mary’s church in Montague.  Here is a photo of my grandparents’ gravestone which also recognizes my Uncle Joe McKenna….please note reference to Doesburg. For many years his family thought he was buried in Doesburg….

Screenshot 2022-09-17 at 11-13-37 Doesburg to Rha

Map shows the short distance between Doesburg and Rha.  (Map source: Google)

The confusion wasn’t just on the part of Teresa’s grandparents.  A Field Service Report dated June 7, 1945 recorded that Joe McKenna had died in Germany and been buried in West Bocholt, Germany!  The coordinates of the burial location were recorded as 911850.

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

We asked Henk Vincent from the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten if he could look up where Joe’s body had been before arriving for reburial, as we had a report that he had been buried in Rha. 

A translation of his reply confirmed that Rha was where he was initially buried.  “The East Gelderland area, where Rha is located, is often referred to as West Bocholt in the Canadian War Diaries. If I enter the coordinates QE911850 on the Nord de Guerre map I end up exactly in… Rha, so the report is correct, he was first temporarily buried in Rha….

CIMG3292 Oct 3 2019 Holten Michael McKenna

Grave of Joe McKenna in Holten.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Teresa kindly wrote to say “… Thank you for all you are doing to keep the memory of soldiers buried in Holland alive.  I am so grateful for your work and dedication to this project…” It’s an honour to tell these stories, and we are very appreciative of the effort that families put into remembrance and are willing to share photos and information.

Thank you to Teresa Hennebery for sharing photos and information on her uncle, and to Henk Dykman for sharing a photo and initial burial information.  Thank you also to Henk Vincent for confirming Joe’s original burial location. If you have a story to tell, please let Pieter know. Email him at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1

…Want to follow our research?….

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Front cover OnTheWarMememorialTrailinEuropeDaria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten‘ is available in print and e-book formats.  For more information see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/

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© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail…..A Face For Joseph Hennebery!

May 31, 2020.  Last year, a request was made for photos and information on PEI soldiers from WW2 who were buried in The Netherlands.  (See Photos and Info Requested For WW2 Soldiers From PEI Buried In The Netherlands)  One of these soldiers, buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, was Joseph ‘Joe’ Edmund HENNEBERY. 

He was born in Morell on July 7, 1919, the son of Edmund Joseph and Mary ‘May’ Hennebery, and was a sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers – 33rd Field Company, and served in the UK, France, and The Netherlands.  He died in The Netherlands on April 20, 1945, aged 25, along with two other men, Pte L. A. CROSS, a cook in the platoon, and Sapper A. COLVIN, following an accident on April 18 while off duty.

When we were in The Netherlands last fall, Pieter placed flags at his grave.  “It’s always much more meaningful when I’m standing at a grave and have an idea what the person looked like.”  After our return, a chance encounter with Hennebery’s niece, Teresa Hennebery, resulted in a photo of her uncle, finally giving a face to the name listed on the grave.  “He looks exactly like my father” Teresa explained. “Joe is my father’s brother.

improved colour photo Joseph Hennebery

Joseph ‘Joe’ E. Henneberry.  (Photo courtesy Hennebery Family Collection.  Photo restoration and colourization by Pieter Valkenburg)

The Hennebery Family from Morell Rear (now called Green Meadows) was very committed to the World War II war effort.  At one point seven of the twelve children in the family were serving in the Canadian Army or Air Force.  Sadly, Joe was the only one of the Hennebery siblings that did not come home.

In 2000, Teresa visited his grave with family members.  “…That was the first time anyone from the Hennebery family visited Joe Hennebery’s grave.  It was a very emotional and impactful trip…

20200529_184532 Hennebery family visiting grave

In 2000, Joe Hennebery’s sister-in-law Mary visited his grave, and posed for a photo with her sisters. Left to right: Laura Brazel, Mary Hennebery, Evelyn McAliney.  (Photo courtesy Hennebery Family Collection)

20200529_185216 Teresa ahd Mary Hennebery

Teresa and Mary Hennebery at Joe Hennebery’s grave in 2000.  (Photo courtesy Hennebery Family Collection)

On behalf of the Hennebery family, Teresa wrote that “The family appreciates the efforts of the Dutch people to commemorate and remember those Islanders and Canadians who gave their lives for our freedom. ‘Dying for freedom is not the worst thing that could happen; being forgotten is.’…

Joe Hennebery is not the only family member buried in a Dutch cemetery.  Michael Joseph ‘Joe’ MCKENNA, the brother of Teresa’s mother Mary, is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. “My mother and I were in Holland in May 2000 for a commemoration ceremony for her brother (also named Joe) who was killed in Rha a couple of weeks before my other Uncle Joe died.  It was so beautiful and the people of Rha treated us like Royalty...

Thank you to Teresa Hennebery for sharing her family photos, which will be forwarded by Pieter to the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek.  If you have information to share about Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg


On The War Memorial Trail…..Our 2019 Visit To The Canadian War Cemetery In Holten

October 8, 2019.  While in The Netherlands we visited the three Canadian War Cemeteries and laid down flags of Canada and PEI for the names listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, as well as other Islanders who have been identified by Dutch researchers. The first Canadian War Cemetery we visited on the 2019 trip was in Holten.  (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At Holten Canadian War Cemetery for an account of our 2017 visit.) On this visit we also were able to place flags on graves of soldiers that were identified by Pieter while doing research for photos and other information to help the researchers at the cemetery with their “A Face For Every Grave” project.

For some reason, we have never been able to visit the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten on a dry day.  We started off in beautiful sunshine, but as soon as we entered the gate into the cemetery, it started to rain.  At first we ignored the rain, and were rewarded with a downpour.  We got the message and went back to the car to wait for the rain to stop.

While we waited we noticed that schoolchildren from an elementary school in nearby Holten were having a tour and explanation of the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers in liberating The Netherlands during WWII.  We approached a teacher and asked if the children would like Canadian flag pins.  As soon as the children understood what was being offered, Pieter was mobbed!  “Are you really from Canada?” he was asked.

CIMG3191 Oct 3 2019 Pieter surrounded by children at Holten

Pieter handing out Canadian flag pins to children from a nearby elementary school at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

While handing out pins to the schoolchildren, the rain stopped and we returned to visit the graves.  We went through the gate into the cemetery and stopped to take a photo at the entrance.  No sooner had the photo been taken than it started to rain again, quite heavily! Back we went to the car.

CIMG3190 Oct 3 2019 Pieter by sign at Holten Cdn War Cemetery

Pieter at the entrance to the Holten Canadian War Cemetery. As soon as we took this photo, it started to rain! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We were soon joined by Edwin van der Wolf and Henk Vincent of the Information Centre, Canadian War Cemetery Holten, and decided to go for lunch in the hope that the sun would come out later.  We’d visited the Information Centre in 2017 (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At The Information Centre at Holten Canadian War Cemetery) but it closed at the beginning of October for several months for expansion of the facility and preparation of digital innovations, such as holographic stories of various soldiers.

CIMG3194 Oct 3 2019 Lunch at Grand Cafe in Holten

At Grand Café in Holten. Left to right: Daria Valkenburg, Pieter Valkenburg, Edwin van der Wolf, Henk Vincent.

After a nice visit and lunch, the sun began peeking out from the clouds and it started to dry up, so a third attempt was made at placing flags at the cemetery.  This time we were joined by Edwin and Henk.  Again, however, we no sooner came past the gate than it started to rain.  This time we kept on going, and the four of us managed to place 33 flags and take photos of each grave…. in the rain.

CIMG3219 Oct 3 2019 Holten Carmen Gillcash

Edwin van der Wolf, Henk Vincent, and Pieter by the grave of Carman Gillcash of O’Leary. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Flags of Canada and Prince Edward Island were placed at the graves of the following Islanders:

  • Alfred ARSENAULT, born in Urbanville
  • Frederick Charles CHEVERIE, born in Summerside
  • Nelson DES ROCHES, born in Tignish
  • Harald FRASER, born in Vernon Bridge
  • Frank GALLANT, born in Mount Carmel
  • Carman E. GILLCASH, born in O’Leary
  • Maurice J. HUGHES, born in Charlottetown
  • Francis E. LAWLESS, born in Grand Tracadie
  • Neal F. MACDONALD, born in North Wiltshire
  • Daniel Peter MACKENZIE, born in Summerville
  • Ruel K. MATHESON, born in Charlottetown
  • John B. MATTHEW, born in Souris
  • Michael J. MCKENNA, born in Montague
  • John A. MCLAREN, born in Armadale
  • George Martin MCMAHON, born in Kinkora
  • William Douglas SHERREN, born in Crapaud
  • Charles B. TUPLIN, born in Kensington
  • Archibald H. NELSON, born in Charlottetown

Flags of Canada and Nova Scotia were placed at the graves of the following soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment:

  • Joseph A. COMEAU, born in Lower Saulnierville
  • Gordon F. JOHNSON, born in Nova Scotia, birthplace unknown
  • Lewis W. MARSH, born in Sydney Mines
  • Lloyd W. MURRAY, born in Tatamagouche

A flag of Canada was placed at the graves of the following soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, who were not from Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island:

  • Allan G. COUTTS, born in Alberta
  • Howard M. NICHOLLS, born in Mattawa, Ontario
  • Gunnar DALMAN, born in Saskatchewan

Edwin van der Wolf researched a tragic story of Canadian soldiers murdered in cold blood by German soldiers on April 9, 1945 while they were sleeping in tents in Sogel, Germany, and Canadian flags were placed in honour of these men as well:

  • Karl CHRISTENSEN of Alberta
  • Louis FELDMANN of Ontario
  • Lewis GALLANT of Manitoba
  • Thomas F. GREENHALGH of Alberta
  • Victor HUBACHECK of Ontario
  • John D. MCDOUGALL of Manitoba
  • Harlow D. RANKIN of Ontario
  • Franklin ZIMMERMAN of Ontario

Placing flags is the easiest part of a cemetery visit.  Gathering flags to bring from Canada is an event in itself, involving many people who provided them.  Our thanks go to:

  • the office of Wayne Easter, Member of Parliament for Malpeque, Prince Edward Island for Canada flags and pins
  • the office of Senator Mike Duffy, Senate of Canada for Canada flags and pins
  • Mary McQuaid of Veterans Affairs Canada for arranging for us to have PEI flags
  • John Wales of North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum for making a trip to the Island to drop off Nova Scotia flags.
CIMG3047 Jul 24 2019 John Wales with NS flags

John Wales of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum dropped of Nova Scotia flags to be placed at graves in The Netherlands. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

If anyone has more information to share on any of the soldiers listed above, or know of more Islanders buried in the cemetery in Holten, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg