On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering WW2 Soldier Thomas Beresford Big Canoe

October 7, 2021. After an interview about the photo quest for soldiers buried in the Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands ran on APTN, Pieter was contacted by Pat Stewart about Thomas Beresford BIG CANOE of Georgina Island, Ontario, who is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.

Pat wrote “I live in southwest Saskatchewan now but came from Ontario 20 years ago. I worked as a journalist for the Georgina Advocate back then. Thank you for what you are doing. It is so very important to remember….” In 1999, Pat had written an article about a Dutch couple, Bill and Ellie Gertzen, who had adopted the grave of Thomas Big Canoe.  Bill had been an interpreter for the Canadian and American armies during WW2.

Thomas Beresford Big Canoe from Cdn Virtual War Memorial

Thomas Beresford Big Canoe.  (Photo source: Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

….Thomas was a member of the Chippewas Georgina Island First Nation….

Thomas Beresford BIG CANOE was born on Georgina Island, Ontario on October 13, 1925, the son of Thomas and Hannah (nee Porte) Big Canoe.  Georgina Island, located on Lake Simcoe, is an Indigenous reserve of the Chippewas Georgina Island First Nation, an Ojibwa (or Anishinaabeg) band.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chippewas_of_Georgina_Island_First_Nation)

Thomas had begun work as a labourer at T.A. Wilson Lumber Company in Denbigh, Ontario when he enlisted at the #2 District Depot in Toronto on June 12, 1944.

He had keen eyesight and his medical exam noted he had 20/20 vision.  He was sent to the #26 Canadian Armoured Corps Basic Training Centre (CACBTC) in Orillia, Ontario.  On October 6, 1944 he was transferred to the A-10 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (CITC) in Camp Borden, Ontario.

After his basic training, and once he  turned 19 years old (the minimum age for overseas service), Thomas left for United Kingdom just before Christmas 1944. He remained in the United Kingdom until February 9, 1945, after which he was sent to Northwest Europe as part of the contingent of troops needed for the Battle of the Rhineland. The goal of this battle? Occupy the Rhineland and cross the Rhine River.

Thomas was assigned to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, where he was a member of the Scout Platoon.  The Scout Platoon’s role was to gain information on German activity through advance patrols, quite often behind enemy lines.

….Thomas lost his life during Operation Blockbuster….

In the push for the Battle of the Rhineland, Thomas was in the midst of Operation Blockbuster, which aimed to clear the Rhine River in Xanten, Germany, a battle that was fought between February 8 and March 10, 1945, and followed Operation Veritable.  These two Operations took 31 days.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Blockbuster)

On March 8, 1945, Phase II of Operation Blockbuster began. According to the war diary of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, of which the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry was part of, “…At 0530 this morning Op BLOCKBUSTER II began, designed to capture XANTEN and the ground to the SE. By last light 4 Cdn Inf Bde had reached all their objectives, after some very heavy fighting...” (Source: https://map.project44.ca/)

Operation Blockbuster II

It was dark that early in the morning, and raining heavily.  In Pat Stewart’s article, she quotes Bill Gertzen as explaining that on the morning of March 8, 1945, Thomas and his group from the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry had been “…directed to shape a bridgehead over the Rhine…But the Germans were expecting them and, in the battle that followed, there were only 26 survivors out of a company of 200….

Although we don’t know exactly what happened, Thomas unfortunately lost his life at some point in the March 8, 1945 battle.  He was only 19 years old.

To learn more about Operation Blockbuster, you can watch a 30 minute video.  You’ll see footage of what the army encountered, an overview of the complexity of the battle, and, at the end, an assessment made in 1982 by two members of a Rhineland Battle Study Group, one British, one German.

Thomas was temporarily buried in Xanten, Germany before being reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.

IMG_8567-AVB Grave of Thomas Big Canoe in Groesbeek

Grave of Thomas Beresford Big Canoe at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek.  (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

Thank you to Pat Stewart for contacting us about Thomas Beresford Big Canoe, and to Ad Scheepers for taking the photo of Thomas’s grave at the cemetery.  If you have information to share about Thomas Beresford Big Canoe or other Canadian soldiers, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

 ….Indigenous soldiers featured on this blog….

To read about Indigenous soldiers featured on this blog:

To read the APTN article, see https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/dutch-born-p-e-i-man-on-a-mission-to-find-photos-of-first-nations-soldiers-killed-overseas-in-wwii/

….Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

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

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© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail….. Atlantic Canada Remembers – Part 4

January 20, 2021. Responses to the news clips on CTV’s Atlantic Live At 5 on January 4 and 13 continue to come in.  As mentioned in Parts 1, 2, and 3, Pieter is ensuring that every email is acknowledged, and that the photos of soldiers buried in The Netherlands are forwarded to the appropriate cemetery for their digital archives. 

This posting features more of the photos submitted…..      

Soldiers buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, The Netherlands

Nelson DesRoches Army

Nelson Desroches. (Photo courtesy of The Desroches Family)

Leo Gaudet submitted a photo of Nelson DESROCHES, on behalf of the Desroches family, and wrote that “We have a vet buried at Holten from Tignish, whom my wife and I visited in 2014…

Born May 23, 1915 in Tignish, Prince Edward Island, the son of John Desroches and Elizabeth Doucette, Nelson followed his older brother Merrick into military service.  He was serving with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry when he was killed in action on April 14, 1945.

Ernest Robert Haynes

Ernest Robert Haynes.  (Photo courtesy of the Haynes Family)

On behalf of the Haynes family, Teri Haynes submitted a photo of her father-in-law, Ernest Robert HAYNES, and explained that “…my Ernie visited the grave many years ago when he was in his teens with his Mother…

Ernest Robert, born March 17, 1919 in St. John, New Brunswick, was the son of James Edward and Alice Beatrice Haynes.  A dyer in a laundromat before enlisting in 1939, he was married to Opal Bailey and the father of Teri’s late husband, Ernest David.

While serving with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, he was sent overseas to the United Kingdom in July 1944, and on June 1, 1945 to North West Europe. Unfortunately, due to a fatal accident with a passing Canadian Army truck near Soestdijk, he lost his life on July 5, 1945, age 26.  He was temporarily buried in the town of Hilversum before being reburied on March 29, 1946 in Holten.

Daniel Pearo

Daniel Pearo.  (Photo courtesy of the Pearo Family)

On behalf of the Pearo family, Colleen Hartling submitted a photo of her uncle, Daniel PEARO, and wrote that “Daniel was my mother’s brother. She looked up to him as a child and loved him dearly. She said that he was full of fun and you can see the twinkle in his kind eyes. I was born in the 60s so I did not know Daniel…

Daniel Pearo, son of Samuel and Dasie Pearo, served with the Cape Breton Highlanders and lost his life on May 1, 1945.  (A tribute to him can be found here: http://faculty.uccb.ca/highlanders/DANIEL%20PEARO.htm?fbclid=IwAR1ijEE5uz9tppYwN4dPcHA24DAGhDSAtVfQJUtRAEa21ZIY-zqRZwiUG9I)

Soldiers buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Bergen Op Zoom, The Netherlands

Gordon Brewer 2

Gordon Thomas Brewer.  (Photo submitted by Stephen and Hazel Albert)

Stephen Albert submitted a photo of Gordon Thomas BREWER on behalf of himself and his mother Hazel, explaining that his uncle “… was 17 when he enlisted to serve his country.  Killed in action on his 21st birthday on October 25, 1944.  School children at that time adopted a grave. Willamina Proost, a young girl, adopted Gordon’s grave, corresponded with his parents for many years until she married, then stopped writing, so lost contact with her. Gordon’s medals and all letters to his parents were burned in a house fire several years ago, only few photos taken before going overseas still remain. Thank you for taking time to honour the men and women who gave their lives to protect others…

Hazel Albert, Gordon’s sister, wrote that she was the “…last remaining member of Gordon’s family….”  Gordon was born in Halifax on October 25, 1923, the son of Alonzo Wallace and Mary Ellen (nee Dean) Brewer.  

Gordon served with the Essex Scottish Regiment and lost his life during the Battle of the Scheldt.  (See https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/second-world-war/scheldt)

Soldiers buried at the Montecchio War Cemetery in Italy

Felix Gaudet

Felix Gaudet.  (Photo submitted by Leo Gaudet)

Leo Gaudet submitted a photo of his uncle, Felix GAUDET, born May 30, 1923, son of Joseph J. and Mary Gaudet of Tignish, Prince Edward Island. After enlistment, he left Halifax for the United Kingdom in July 1943 and was transferred to the Canadian Infantry Reserve Unit a few days after his arrival.  On March 26, 1944 he was sent to Italy, and on May 13 transferred to the Cape Breton Highlanders.

On August 30, 1944 he lost his life during the battle to take a knoll on the Gothic Defence Line.  Another soldier from PEI, Albert Eugene Arsenault, also with the Cape Breton Highlanders, lost his life the same day.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2020/10/09/the-ww2-soldier-killed-in-action-while-crossing-the-foglia-river-in-italy/)

The Allies began the day of August 30th with an air bombardment against German positions at dawn. At 5.30 p.m., the Perth Regiment attacked the end of a ridge northeast of Montecchio, while a knoll at the west end of the town and the high ground beyond were the objectives of the Cape Breton Highlanders. Both units faced incessant fire from the heights as well as minefields along the flat lands. The Perths managed to break through the line first, reaching and passing their objective. The Cape Breton troops had the support of tanks from the 8th Princess Louise’s (New Brunswick) Hussars, which helped three of their companies make it to the base of the knoll. After each attempt, however, they were driven back to the Foglia, with casualties totalling 19 members killed and 46 wounded. The Irish Regiment, which had been in reserve, was moved through the path of the Perths. Tanks and artillery guns were not yet available here and as a result the regiment lost 19 killed and 31 wounded.” (Source: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/overseas/second-world-war/italy/montecchio)

The Gaudet family made a tribute to Felix last year, on what would have been his 97th birthday.  It was so special that it’s shared here:

Felix Gaudet tribute by Aunt Cathy

Tribute to Felix Gaudet submitted by Leo Gaudet.

Thank you to Hazel Albert, Stephen Albert, Kent Caldwell, Colleen Hartling, Teri Haynes, and Leo Gaudet for sharing photos and anecdotes.  Kudos to CTV’s Atlantic Live At 5 for helping to get the word out on this quest of remembrance. Atlantic Canadians remember their loved ones who are buried overseas.

More photos and stories in Atlantic Canada Remembers – Part 5! If you have photos or information to share, please email Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1

Missed the previous postings in this series? See:

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw

© Daria Valkenburg

On the War Memorial Trail ….. PEI Soldiers Buried In The Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek

December 30, 2017.  During our first visit to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek in The Netherlands, we were able to place flags at the graves of three PEI soldiers buried there.  In the last blog entry we told the story of George Preston SMITH of Kinkora, who was with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, and the accident in which he lost his life. (See On the War Memorial Trail ….. At The Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek) Our thanks to Alice van Bekkum of the Faces to Graves Project, who shared an eye witness account that was recorded by Will Bird in his 1963 book about the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.  (See https://books.google.com/books/about/North_Shore_New_Brunswick_Regiment.html?id=Iz7WAAAAMAAJ)

Will Bird account of what happened to George Preston Smith

Excerpt about George Preston Smith from Will Bird’s book about The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment.

Before returning to place flags at the rest of the known soldiers from PEI, we stopped by a memorial marking the route on February 8, 1945 where soldiers marched into Germany on their way from Groesbeek, as part of Operation Veritable.  This was the northern part of an Allied pincer movement that took place between February 8 and March 11, 1945 during the final stages of the Second World War.

The operation was conducted by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, primarily consisting of the First Canadian Army under Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar and the British XXX Corps under Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks. Their objective was to clear German forces from the area between the Rhine and Maas rivers, east of the German/Dutch frontier, in the Rhineland.

CIMG8998 Sep 15 2017 Pieter by memorial showis where soldiers marched into Germany from Groesbeek operation veritable

Pieter at the memorial for Operation Veritable in Groesbeek. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG8996 Sep 15 2017 memorial shows where soldiers marched into Germany from Groesbeek operation veritable

Close-up view of the text on the memorial for Operation Veritable in Groesbeek. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

On our second visit to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek we were joined by Pieter’s former colleague in the Dutch Foreign Service, Ad Scheepers, and his wife Noor, who live in Groesbeek.

CIMG9023 Sep 16 2017 Groesbeek Cemetery Ad & Noor Scheepers with Pieter by Gaudets grave

Ad and Noor Scheepers with Pieter by the grave of Cpl Arthur Gaudet. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Ad was a fountain of information about the cemetery, and noted that it was along the Liberation Route, which one can take to visit the many monuments and memorials in this part of The Netherlands.  The cemetery, on a road called Zeven Heuvelenweg (Seven Hills Way), is the largest war cemetery of the Commonwealth Graves Commission in The Netherlands.

Most of the soldiers buried here fell during the fighting on the Lower Rhine between February 8 and March 26, 1945.  It’s called the Canadian War Cemetery and we’d always assumed all of the burials were Canadian, but it’s not true.  By number and nationality, the 2,617 soldiers buried here are from:

  • 2,399 from Canada
  • 267 from Great Britain
  • 3 from Belgium
  • 2 from Poland
  • 2 from Australia
  • 1 from New Zealand
  • 1 from Russia
  • 1 from Yugoslavia
  • 1 from The Netherlands

Inscribed on the Groesbeek Memorial in the cemetery are the names of 1,103 soldiers reported missing in action between August 1944 and May 1945. Only a few have been identified since the memorial was put up. Unfortunately, most are still listed as MIA (Missing In Action).

Ad told us he’d read that the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery was positioned where it was so it could be clearly seen from Germany, a stone’s throw away from the border.  It’s likely true, as one prerequisite that Canadian Officers had in selecting land for the cemetery was to have a view of Germany.

In a Dutch reference we read that construction on the cemetery began in 1945 by six Canadian soldiers. The location of the cemetery, on a hilltop, was chosen by Groesbeek Mayor Grotenhuis van Onstein for its view on the German border from the cemetery. The Cemetery was officially opened on May 4, 1947 by the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. When the cemetery opened, the headstones were made from wood, as was the Cross of Sacrifice.  Later, the headstones were temporarily replaced by metal versions, and beginning in 1950 the headstones and Cross of Sacrifice were replaced by stone designs.

CIMG8945 Sep 15 2017 Groesbeek cemetery Pieter at Cross for remembrance

Pieter by the Cross of Sacrifice at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In alphabetical order, here are the known soldiers from PEI that are buried in the cemetery:

  • L/Cpl Ralph Schurman BOULTER, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from West Point
  • Pte Lawrence BULGER, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Foxley River
  • Major John Weston CAMPBELL, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Clermont
  • Cpl Preston D. CAMPBELL, Algonquin Regiment, from Coleman
  • Rifleman William Alfred CANNON, Regina Rifle Regiment, from Pownal
  • Cpl Arthur GAUDET, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, from Mont Carmel
  • Sapper Joseph Edmond HENNEBERY, Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, from Morrell
  • Cpl George Ivan MACKINNON, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Mt. Albion
  • Cpl Robert Bruce MACNEILLL, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from Charlottetown
  • Pte Barney R. MCGUIGAN, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, born in Souris
  • Cpl Stephen A. MCKINNON, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, from St. Peter’s Bay
  • L/Cpl Edward Gabriel PERRY, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise), from St. Nicholas
  • Pte John Clifford ROGERS, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, born in Hope River
  • Pte Ralph K. SILLIKER, Lake Superior Regiment, from O’Leary
  • Sgt Edison Alexander SMITH, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, from West Point
  • Pte George Preston SMITH, North Shore Regiment, from Kinkora
  • Pte William L. WEATHERBIE, Royal Regiment of Canada, from Charlottetown

Do you have photos or information on any of these soldiers?  If you know of other soldiers from PEI, please help the researchers at the Faces to Grave project by sharing that information. Photos and stories can be sent either through their website at http://facestograves.nl/index.html or by email to info@facestograves.nl.  Alternatively, you can contact us and we will forward your info for you.

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

© Daria Valkenburg