On The War Memorial Trail….. The WW2 Soldier From St Stephen Who Was A Teacher

March 7, 2021.  Last fall, the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands sent Pieter a photo wish list of 6 soldiers from the Cape Breton Highlanders who had died in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.  (For more information on the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket, see https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/battlehonours/northwesteurope/delfzijlpocket.htm)

Len Boudreau of the Cape Breton Highlanders Association was able to provide photos of 3 of the men,  Pieter found one on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website, leaving 2 to try and find:  Philip Hubert LONG of Nova Scotia, and Norman J. NIXON of New Brunswick.

A radio interview with CBC’s Maritime Noon about Philip Long resulted in family contacting Pieter immediately, and a photo was soon provided.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/11/01/on-the-war-memorial-trail-a-face-for-philip-hubert-long/)

In trying to find family of Norman Nixon, Pieter sent a letter to the editor of the St. Croix Courier newspaper.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/on-the-war-memorial-trail-continuing-the-search-for-soldiers-killed-in-action-in-ww1-and-ww2/)  Legion member Kent Caldwell sent a photo and story from the New Brunswick Military Service Recognition booklet.

It was a rare occasion that every photo request on a list could be fulfilled, but it happened! But then, the grandson (and namesake) of Norman Nixon contacted us.  “….We have quite a bit of information…..” he said.  Did we want to meet?

CIMG4775 Oct 25 2020 Pieter sorts through material compiled by the Nixon family

Pieter goes through the information saved by the Nixon family. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Normally that would not be a problem, but with Covid-19 restrictions, we had to think twice.  The Atlantic Bubble was still open, so Pieter said a firm YES! and we made the trip to Harvey, New Brunswick to meet Norman Nixon and his wife, Kelley Gowan.

CIMG4560 Lt Norman Nixon

Norman James Nixon. (Photo courtesy of Nixon family)

Norman James Nixon was born in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, the son of Edward A. Nixon and Winnifred Trafton, and lived in nearby Mayfield.  A well-regarded schoolteacher before his enlistment, he married Berla Mae Lowery on July 29, 1940.  In 1941 they welcomed the birth of their son, Vernon James.

20201024_160813 Norman and Berla with son Vernon

Norman and Berla Mae Nixon with their son Vernon, circa 1943.  (Photo courtesy of Nixon family)

On July 20, 1940 Norman had enlisted with the Reserve Unit of the Carleton & York Regiment, but was discharged due to illness.  On February 6, 1942 he re-enlisted, this time with the Active Unit of the New Brunswick Rangers, and served with this unit in Labrador, and Canada from February 6, 1942 to July 12, 1944, and England from July 13 to August 21, 1944.

In 1944 he transferred to the Cape Breton Highlanders, and served in Italy from August 22, 1944 to February 19, 1945, and Northwest Europe in France and The Netherlands from February 20 to April 30, 1945.  He was known as ‘Nick’ by his fellow soldiers.

CIMG4767 Oct 25 2020 Pieter and Norman with cap and badges

Pieter and Norman Nixon.  Norman holds his grandfather’s cap and a number of the badges that Lt. Nixon had earned during his service.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After surviving action in Italy and France, Lt Nixon’s luck ran out near the end of WW2, when he was killed by shrapnel on April 30, 1945 during the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.

A May 6, 1945 letter to Bella Mae, from Norman’s Commander, Lt Colonel R B Sommerville, explained what happened.  “…Nick was killed in action at night by shell fire during a counter attack on his platoon position.  He died instantly.

At the time he was hit he was encouraging his men who were being hard pressed by fire from the part of Delfzijl on the Ems estuary….

He was initially buried in the village of Wirdum, as Lt Col Sommerville explains further in his letter.  “…his example and devotion to both his troops and duty won for him the affection and respect of officers and men alike….. At a little service in the village of Wirdum near Groningen with a brother officer and 17 of our men he was buried the next afternoon.  We will all miss him….”  The other officer mentioned as being buried was Lt B H NUNN of Halifax.

On May 10, 1945, Major P J Stephen also wrote a letter to Bella Mae, providing more details on how her husband lost his life.  “…On the evening of the 30th of April we were holding a position which we had taken the night before.  Things were quite bad as we were being heavily shelled. The men were getting jittery from loss of sleep and constant hammering.  

After each shelling Nick would jump from his trench and stroll about the platoon area as if he were in his own garden, joking with the men, caring with a smile for all their needs, setting the example to them of a first class soldier and leader.  During one of these tours Nick was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a shell which burst a few yards away. 

It was impossible to save him although we gave him medical aid immediately.  Nick passed away without regaining consciousness…

20201024_194850 Grave of Norman J Nixon in 1945

Initial burial of Norman Nixon in Wirdum. Photo sent by Lt Stackhouse.  (Photo courtesy of Nixon family)

On August 19, 1945, Lt Ron V Stackhouse wrote to Bella Mae. “…I was with ‘Nick’ on the last night about an hour before he was killed as we had both had supper together at Company Headquarters and he and I walked back to our platoons together as our platoons were right alongside of each other….”   In a postscript he mentions enclosing a photo of the grave.

After WW2 ended, Lt Nixon was reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.

nixon, norman james from Holten Cemetery sent by Edwin

Grave of Norman Nixon at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. (Photo sent by Edwin van der Wolf.)

Visiting with Norman Nixon and Kelley Gowan and learning about Norman’s grandfather was a privilege.  But they had a surprise for us.  Norman’s father Vernon and Vernon’s wife Donna came from Grand Manan Island to meet us.

CIMG4779 Oct 25 2020 Norman and Vernon Nixon

Norman and Vernon Nixon, grandson and son of Lt Nixon. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

More memories and stories were shared, including that Vernon’s mother, Bella Mae, owned a dress shop, ‘The Hat Box’, in St. Stephen.  She was an independent woman, and never remarried after her husband’s death.

CIMG4781 Oct 25 2020 Pieter & Daria with Vernon & Donna Nixon

A final photo before we left to go back home.  Pieter and I with Vernon and Donna Nixon.  (Photo credit: Kelly Gowan)

With both the son and grandson of Lt Nixon together in one place, we asked if they wanted to share a few thoughts for a video to be sent to the Info Centre at the cemetery in Holten.  Here is the result, entitled ‘In Remembrance of Lt. Norman J. Nixon’:

It’s always an honour to meet the families of the soldiers that Pieter researches, and we hope to meet more families as travel restrictions get eased.

The 6 soldiers from the Cape Breton Highlanders on the photo wish list were:

  • Philip H. LONG, born Pictou, Nova Scotia, died April 30, 1945.
  • James Bernard MACINNIS, born Rotherfield, Sussex, England, died May 1, 1945.
  • Olen B. MARSHALL, born Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, died May 1, 1945.
  • Norman J. NIXON, born St. Stephen, New Brunswick, died April 30, 1945.
  • Ford H. SPIDLE, born Parkdale, Nova Scotia, died May 1, 1945.
  • Robert B. THOMAS, born Louisburg, Nova Scotia, died May 5, 1945.

The family of Ford Hilton Spidle participated in the Atlantic Canada Remembers series of postings, and you can read his story here: https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/on-the-war-memorial-trail-atlantic-canada-remembers-part-1/

Thank you to Norman Nixon and Kelley Gowan for their warm hospitality and for sharing information about Lt Nixon, and thank you to Vernon and Donna Nixon for making the trip from their home to meet with us and share memories about Vernon’s father.  It’s very clear that Lt Nixon was deeply loved and respected, and his death, so close to the end of the war, was an immeasurable loss.

Heartfelt thanks go to post-production editor Wendy Nattress, who made the YouTube tribute to Lt Nixon a reality.

20 members of the Cape Breton Highlanders lost their lives in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket.  If you have information or photos to share on any of these men, please email us at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

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© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail….. A Face For Philip Hubert Long

November 1, 2020. Recently, Pieter was interviewed by David Pate on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon, where he made an appeal for a photo of WW2 soldier Philip Hubert LONG, who is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.  (You can listen to the interview here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R07RkSjTeshJA_-UO_W68fsY3FHCSLPB/view?usp=sharing)

Within two hours of the broadcast, Pieter received a call from a family member, and a few weeks later, a photo was provided, along with biographical information.  Permission was granted to post information, with the request that “…no reference be made to the current survivors. You are doing great work on this project and I wish you success with the follow-up you may be working on with any other veterans...”  In order to respect the wishes of family members for privacy, they are not identified.

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Philip Hubert Long.  (Photo courtesy of the Family of P H Long)

Family members submitted the following biography for the researchers at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten:

…On May 29, 1921, Philip was welcomed into his family of parents Philip and Elizabeth Long, sister Jessie May, and brother Harold Chisholm in the village of Springville in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Following the illness and death in 1925 of his mother from tuberculosis, Philip, at three years old, went to live with his aunt Mary and uncle James MacLean on a small farm in Island East River, not too far from where Philip Sr. had moved the family to the village of Thorburn, Pictou County, to work as a coal miner.  During their childhood, Harold spent most summers with Philip at the farm and, as they grew older, helped with the chores and enjoyed the adventures offered by life in the country.  Phil liked working with the animals and, following graduation from school, stayed on at the farm where he had his dog and team of horses.

Although he was exempt from military duty due to an injury to his leg when a boy, Philip enlisted with the Cape Breton Highlanders in October 1943 at the age of twenty-two.  He was called up for duty and sailed for England in mid-December 1944.  His plan was to return to Canada when the war was over and buy a small farm of his own. 

In his first letter to Jessie after arriving in London dated January 5, 1945, Phil wrote that he had located brother Harold in London and they had just returned from an evening out to dinner and a show.  Harold had gone overseas earlier and had joined the British army as a Canloan officer.  He had been injured in action in Holland and was just completing his convalescence period in England when Phil arrived in London.  While Phil and Harold were both in the London area, they were able to get together on several occasions for some relaxation before they were both sent to Holland.

Phil wrote his last letter to Jessie on April 18, 1945, from Belgium as his unit was en route to Holland.  Shortly after, Jessie and their father were notified that Philip had been killed in action in Northern Holland on April 30, 1945.

 A tribute to Philip in the local newspaper in Pictou County read:

Philip is gone.  The lovable kindly lad who never had a viscous thought, is sleeping in Holland.  He gave his life—just as he lived—doing a little more than he was asked to do, being exempt from military duty.  But that is one thing we shall never forget about him.  No matter what he was asked to do, he always did a little more.  We have memories of his childhood:  his blond curly hair, his contagious laugh, his affectionate disposition.  He was a good student and a wide reader.

Phil was never intended to be a fighter; he loved people too much.  War to him was a job to be done, so that he and millions of other Canadian boys could lead normal lives when it was finished.  But the great tragedy of the many lads who died for us is that they never had a chance at life.  So little time to have achieved their hope of homes of their own and a future bursting with opportunities….

Edwin van der Wolf of the Canadian War Cemetery in The Netherlands explained that Philip Long was “…killed in action in Northern Holland on Monday April 30, 1945, age 23, during the battle of the Delfzijl Pocket. And he was temporarily buried then in Wirdum, Groningen and he was reburied thereafter on February 16 1946 in Holten…

long, philip hubert

Grave of Philip Hubert Long.  (Photo courtesy of the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten)

20 members of the Cape Breton Highlanders lost their lives in the Battle of the Delfzijl Pocket. Two of these were from Prince Edward Island: Carmen GILLCASH and John Archibald MACLAREN.

For more information on the ongoing request for photos, please see: On The War Memorial Trail….. Continuing The Search For Soldiers Killed In Action In WW1 and WW2

Thank you to the family of Philip Hubert Long and to Edwin van der Wolf from the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten for sharing information and photos.  If you have photos or information to share, please email Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail….. Continuing The Search For Soldiers Killed In Action In WW1 and WW2

October 17, 2020.  One of the many characteristics I admire about Pieter is his commitment to find a photo and family for every WW1 and WW2 soldier he researches.  He refuses to believe that there is a Canadian soldier lying in an overseas cemetery who has been completely forgotten. 

When he exhausts his research leads, he asks for help from the media.  Today’s posting will mention some of the searches through the media and provide an update on what he’s learned as of today.

pieter recherche photo de militaire

Pieter during an interview about WW1 soldier Basil Cormier.  (Photo credit: Jacinthe LaForest, courtesy of La Voix Acadienne)

WW1 Soldier Bazil Cormier

The story of WW1 soldier Bazil CORMIER, whose name is listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, was told when we visited his grave in Rouen, France in 2017. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/on-the-road-to-rouen/)

In addition to the blog posting, an article was published in the Country Line Courier newspaper. (See CLC Dec 6 2017 p17 Bazil Cormier Rouen France)

Up to now, no family or photo has been found, so we wondered if we would have any success if an appeal was made in the French language media.  Jacinthe LaForest interviewed Pieter for the La Voix Acadienne newspaper.  (You can read the article here, which is in French: LaVoix14oct2020_06_10 Bazil Cormier ) So far, no one has come forward.

WW1 soldier James Cairns

Another WW1 soldier whose name is listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion is James CAIRNS.  He’s buried in Caix, France, which we visited in 2017. (For his story, see https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/the-search-for-manitoba-cemetery/

In addition to the blog posting, an article was published in the Country Line Courier newspaper. (See CLC Oct 18 2017 p23 Manitoba Cemetery in France

Before war broke out, he had moved to Manitoba and lived in the community of Cartwright.  With no luck on the Island to find family or a photo, Pieter contacted the Southern Manitoba Review newspaper and his letter was published earlier this month. The editor, Vicki Wallace, is a history buff and dug into the story, giving Pieter more information about the family.  However, up to now, no one has responded and a photo has not yet been found. 

James Cairns

WW2 soldier John Clifford Rogers

For the Faces To Grave project, which is trying to find photos of WW2 soldiers in The Netherlands, Pieter was unsuccessful in finding a photo for John Clifford ROGERS, whose grave at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands we’d visited in 2019.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2019/12/04/on-the-war-memorial-trail-our-2019-visit-to-the-canadian-war-cemetery-in-groesbeek/)

In addition to the blog posting, an article was published in the Country Line Courier newspaper. (See CLC Jan 29 2020 p26 2019 Visit To Groesbeek)

In an attempt to find family and a photo, Pieter contacted The Guardian newspaper, and his letter was published last week. (See https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/opinion/local-perspectives/letter-seeking-photo-of-soldier-from-second-world-war-508864/) Although he received some inquiries about his letter, to date no family or photo has been found.

John Clifford Rogers

WW2 soldier Vernon James Nixon

In another Faces To Grave project search, Pieter contacted The Saint Croix Courier in St. Stephen, New Brunswick about WW2 soldier Vernon James NIXON, who is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.   We didn’t receive a copy of this letter from editor Kristi Marples, but a few people did contact Pieter. 

Kent Caldwell of the local Legion branch mentioned that an old scrapbook had been found several years ago, and an old newspaper photo submitted for the New Brunswick Military Recognition Booklet.  The Royal Canadian Legion’s New Brunswick Command subsequently mailed Pieter the entry from the booklet.

Nixon writeup

Excerpt from the New Brunswick Military Recognition Booklet.

Then Pieter was contacted by a family member, who had visited the grave.  Hopefully, a photo will be provided. 

WW2 soldier Philip Hubert Long

In another Faces To Graves project search, Pieter was interviewed by David Pate of CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon about Philip Hubert LONG of New Brunswick, who is also buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands.  (You can listen to the interview here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R07RkSjTeshJA_-UO_W68fsY3FHCSLPB/view?usp=sharing

Within two hours of the broadcast, Pieter received a call from a family member, and hopefully a photo will be provided.

More photos of soldiers are still to be found

For a list of more soldiers from PEI that Pieter is hoping to find photos of, see here: List of photos needed

Our thanks go to the media for helping us to tell these stories:  CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon, County Line Courier, La Voix Acadienne, Southern Manitoba Review, The Guardian, and The Saint Croix Courier.  If you can help with providing information on James Cairns, Bazil Cormier, Philip Hubert Long, Vernon James Nixon, or John Clifford Rogers, please email Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog. 

© Daria Valkenburg