March 7, 2023. After Alice van Bekkum, Chair of the Groesbeek Cemetery Faces To Graves Foundation, sent Pieter a list of 39 soldiers from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment who were killed during the Battle of Bienen in Germany on March 25, 1945, we realized that we had attended a graveside commemoration at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands in 2017 for two soldiers from this list: Ralph Schurman BOULTER and Edison Alexander SMITH, both from Prince Edward Island.
….The 2017 Commemoration at Groesbeek…..
On September 15, 2017, we were invited by Alice van Bekkum to be present when Nova Scotia resident Harriet Jenereux, the daughter of Smith, came to visit her father’s grave plus the grave of Boulter, her mother’s brother. We accepted the invitation and made sure we placed flags at the graves of both men, as well as on the graves of several men who were on our list. (See the original posting at https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2017/12/25/on-the-war-memorial-trail-at-the-canadian-war-cemetery-in-groesbeek/)
….Ralph enlisted with the PEI Highlanders in 1940…..
A Christmas baby, Ralph Schurman BOULTER was born December 25, 1917 in O’Leary, Prince Edward Island, the son of Mcneil ‘Neil’ Amos and Ella May (nee Schurman) Boulter. When he enlisted with the PEI Highlanders in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on July 10, 1940, he stated he was born in 1917.
However, upon his death, his mother stated he was born in 1918 in the Estate Form. This would be incorrect, as when Ralph married Mary Catherine MacEachern in Armdale, Nova Scotia on February 7, 1942, he was 24 years old – consistent with a birth year of 1917.
After enlisting, Ralph remained with the PEI Highlanders for basic training, before being transferred to No. 6 Depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 15, 1941.
He applied for permission to marry, which was granted. Unfortunately, the couple didn’t have a long time together, as Ralph was sent overseas two months later, leaving Halifax on April 9, 1942 and arriving in the United Kingdom on April 19, 1942.
….Ralph was a Battle Drill instructor in the UK…..
Upon arrival in the United Kingdom he was allocated to the Cape Breton Highlanders for a week, before transferring to No. 5 Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU) Armoured Division.
On May 1, 1942 he was seconded as a Battle Drill instructor to No. 5 (Battle) Wing Canadian Training School at Rowland’s Castle, Hampshire, England, which trained Canadian soldiers in Battle Drill, a course which taught men how to react when coming under enemy fire.
The course tried to mimic combat conditions, using obstacle courses and simulated battlefields, live rounds fired over the heads of students, controlled explosions, target practice, and dummies to bayonet.
Ralph remained there until November 9, 1944, when he was transferred to No. 3 Canadian Infantry Training Regiment (CITR).
….Ralph went from Battle Drill instructor to actual combat…..
He left the United Kingdom for Northwest Europe on December 31, 1944, arriving the following day. On February 13, 1945 he was transferred to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, joining the Regiment in Germany, where he would have been reunited with his brother-in-law, Edison Alexander Smith.
On February 12, the Regiment had reached Kellen, Germany near Kleve, just on the other side of the border with The Netherlands. On February 14, using amphibious vehicles, the North Novies evacuated Warbergen as they made their way to Emmerich.
Next, the Regiment participated in Operation Blockbuster. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Blockbuster).
On March 6, 1945, Ralph received a promotion to Lance Corporal. Meanwhile, the Regiment prepared for Operation Plunder, which began March 21, 1945 and ended April 1, 1945, and involved the crossing of the Rhine River to the north of the Ruhr industrial region in western Germany. With aerial and military support, this took place on the night of March 23, 1945 near Rees, a town situated on the right bank of the Rhine River, approximately 20 km (12.4 miles) east of Kleve. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plunder)
…Ralph lost his life in the Battle of Bienen ….
On the next afternoon, March 24, 1945, they encountered fierce German resistance near the village of Bienen. On March 25, 1945, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders were in Bienen, Germany for the climax of 9 Canadian Infantry Brigade’s role in Operation Plunder. The one day battle proved devastating in terms of casualties, both dead and wounded, as they fought in a deadly battle on open ground.
It was Palm Sunday, one week before Easter. The war diary for March 25, 1945 noted the challenges the North Novies faced. “….The weather – sunny and clear. The day of the battle, 25 March 1945. …. The battalion objective was to be the town of BIENEN… code name ASTOR, which was formerly the objective of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. They had penetrated as far as farm buildings … but had had two attacks on BIENEN beaten off with heavy casualties.
BIENEN was of tremendous importance to the Germans because it was the focal point of a narrow bottleneck controlling two main roads, the one to EMMERICH… and the other to MILLINGEN. Secondly, it was of extreme importance that the narrow bridgehead was expanded quickly North and North-East to protect it from enemy mortaring and shelling and allow bridging to be put up.
The enemy were strongly dug in around and in BIENEN itself. They were fresh troops of the 115 Panzer Grenadier Regiment, and fighting fanatically to hold this vital objective. The approach was over 300 yards of flat open country with only a dyke running from the Start Line up the left hand edge of the town….”
Right from the start, troops were pinned down, “…suffering heavy casualties…” Worse, in terms of communications, “….contact between platoons was next to impossible because of the murderous fire and heavy mortaring….”
During the heavy fighting, Ralph lost his life. He was temporarily buried the next day in the military cemetery in Rees, Germany before being reburied the following year in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.
Out of the 39 North Nova Scotia Highlanders killed on March 25, 1945 during the Battle of Bienen that are buried in Groesbeek, 12 were on a photo wish list. Pieter has been successfully working his way through this list and we hope to tell each of their stories in upcoming postings. Coming up in Part 3: Charles ‘Marshall’ Carson.
If you have a story to tell, please let Pieter know. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.
….Previous stories about North Novies killed during the Battle of Bienen and buried in Groesbeek….
- Harry William DOUCETTE: https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2021/02/09/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-6/
- Austin Havelock MUNROE, plus a list of the 39 soldiers: https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2022/11/29/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-search-for-a-photo-of-austin-havelock-munroe-is-on-youtube/
- Edison Alexander SMITH: https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/2023/03/04/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-battle-of-bienen-part-1-the-wwii-soldier-whose-body-shielded-a-wounded-major/
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