On The War Memorial Trail….. The WW1 Letters Of Arthur Clinton Robinson

July 4, 2021. In 2017 we visited the grave of Arthur Clinton ROBINSON, a WW1 soldier with the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalion, from Tryon, Prince Edward Island, who is buried in Belgium, (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/on-the-war-memorial-trail-in-belgium-and-a-visit-to-la-laiterie-military-cemetery/)  Up to today, we have not found of a photo of him, and neither has his family.

In June 2018, Arthur’s nephew, Arthur ‘John’ Robinson and his wife Hazel visited the grave with their son, dentist Dr. Alan Robinson, and Alan’s son, William Robinson.

2018-06-16 Arthur C Robinson grave (1)

At La Laiterie Military Cemetery in Belgium.  Left to right: Dr Alan Robinson, William Robinson, Hazel Robinson.  (Photo credit: John Robinson)

While no photo has yet been found, the Robinsons were able to find two letters that Arthur wrote to his aunts. 

In an August 30, 1915 letter to his aunt, Robbie Blanchard, written in England just before travelling to France,  he describes the composition of men in his platoon from the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalion: … You should just see the bunch of men … in this 26th alone. They are a magnificent body of fellows….and this Platoon I am in is a corker… there are, I don’t know how many different nationalities in it… Indian, French, Russians, Belgians, English, Irish, Scotch, Americans and Canadians.  Some mob, eh? You can hear nearly any language around here any time of day….” 

While in England, Arthur saw injured troops arriving back from the front and reflected that “…when you see the hundreds of maimed soldiers, some far worse off than if they were dead, and when nearly daily train loads of freshly wounded men pass right before your eyes, it makes you wonder at the ups and downs of this human life…” 

It was a miracle that the August 30 letter arrived in Canada, as the ship the mail had been travelling on, the Hesperian, was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Plymouth, England on September 4, 1915! Luckily it was one of the items salvaged from the wreckage. (See https://www.rmslusitania.info/related-ships/hesperian/ for more information) 

In a September 16, 1915 letter, written in France to his aunt, Carrie Robinson, he outlines life in a trench: …I am quite comfortable here in our cosy little dugout, out of reach of all the Germans in Europe.  I must tell you about the nice dugout and the 4 fellows who are in it with me.  It is a kind of a tunnel running into the side of a loamy hill, with rubber sheets and blankets hung over the mouth of it….” 

There was no electricity in the trench, as Arthur goes on to mention that …We have niches in the back, where we keep our equipment, and we put candles in them at night so we won’t be too lonesome…” 

He then describes how the equipment is turned into a bed for the night. “…On the floor we have straw, stolen from a stack near by, and all over our kits, which make excellent beds, when you know how to arrange them…” 

Although he doesn’t identify them by name, Arthur mentions his 4 trench companions: …1st They are all six footers. 2nd They all wear a seven cap or larger. 3rd They cannot get their feet into smaller boots than nines, and 4th They all weigh over one hundred and seventy pounds each…”  He goes on to say that he weighs over 170 pounds himself and is well fed.  

The saying goes that an army marches on its stomach, and Arthur’s account of his dinner indicates the importance of food.  “…We had potatoes and meat, bread and butter, and tea of course.  We could have had cheese and jam too if we wanted to, but we always try and keep it over for tea.  The bread and butter is great and the cooks of our company seem to have a natural gift of making good tea so we are lucky in that line…” 

One of the challenges in writing letters from the front during wartime is censorship so as not to divulge any information that might be used by the enemy.  Arthur writes about that: …I find it hard to write a letter here for they are so particular about what a person tells that if you write anything you are not supposed to tell they destroy the whole shooting match…

It’s wonderful that these letters survived so that we get a glimpse into Arthur Robinson’s thoughts and experiences.  Sadly, he lost his life on March 27, 1916 when shellfire hit the trenches southeast of Kemmel, Belgium. 

IMG_3466 Hazel and John Robinson

Hazel and John Robinson. (Photo courtesy of the Robinson Family)

Hazel Robinson explained that their 2018 trip was a war memorial tour.  “…Besides visiting Arthur’s grave on this trip, we followed in the footsteps of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers from England to France, Belgium, Germany, ending in the area of Wons. The Sherbrooke Fusiliers was my father’s unit. We also visited Vimy Ridge where my great-uncle is buried….

Hazel’s great-uncle was “William John HILL from Cassius on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick…”  He lost his life on April 9, 1917 and is buried in Canadian Cemetery No 2 in Pas de Calais, France.

During the trip, Hazel noted two coincidences.  “… A member of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers was buried beside Elmer Muttart in 1945….”  Elmer Bagnall MUTTART of Cape Traverse, Prince Edward Island is buried at Harlingen General Cemetery in The Netherlands. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/the-elmer-bagnall-muttart-story/ and https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2019/10/15/on-the-war-memorial-trail-the-visit-to-harlingen-general-cemetery/)

Most likely, Hazel is referring to Thomas ‘Tommy’ Clayton REID.  We’d placed flags on his grave when we visited in October 2019.

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Grave of T.C. Reid at Harlingen General Cemetery in The Netherlands.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Hazel found another coincidence in France. “…When we visited the cemetery in Vimy where my great-uncle is buried, the last family to sign the guest book was a family from my home town, Douglastown, in New Brunswick, and whose parents I knew well and who lived a few houses from my parents!…” 

Thank you to Hazel and John Robinson for sharing Arthur’s letters and information about their 2018 trip. If you have photos or information to share, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1

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…..The Visit To Harlingen General Cemetery

October 15, 2019. Over the past few years, plans for a memorial panel outside the village of Wons in The Netherlands to honour WW2 pilot Flight Sgt Elmer Bagnall MUTTART and the crew of Halifax L9561 have been underway.  On October 12, 2019, the day of the unveiling of the memorial panel finally arrived, with a series of events organized by the Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, a non-profit volunteer organization based in the province of Friesland!  (See Unveiling of the Memorial Panel for Downed WW2 Plane Halifax L9561 in Wons)

Before the unveiling of the memorial panel in Wons, however, we went to Harlingen, with the first stop at the Harlingen General Cemetery where Muttart is buried.

CIMG3433 Oct 12 2019 the bus

We travelled in comfort on this tour bus, which picked everyone up at the Oranje Hotel in Leeuwarden. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG3436 Oct 12 2019 On the bus Photo by Douwe

On the bus. We were very happy that we weren’t responsible for navigating the narrow streets! (Photo credit: Douwe Drijver)

The weather was very inclement, but luckily the rain held off while we were at the cemetery.  Two members of the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands were present to lay a wreath.

CIMG3448 Oct 12 2019 Harlingen General Cemetery

Left to right: Legion president Martin Reelick, retired RAF member Ian Aldridge, Legion vice-president Wim Poppenk, retired RAF member Mark Aldridge. Ian and Mark Aldridge were present to honour crew member David Cotsell, flight engineer. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In addition to the wreath placed by the Royal Canadian Legion, flowers had been placed earlier on behalf of Pam Alexander and her sister Carolyn Moncur, whose father Reg Alexander was the navigator on Halifax L9561.  The family of David Cotsell, flight engineer on Halifax L9561, placed a small cross. Flower bouquets were also placed by Pieter and Daria Valkenburg, Annie Lee and Elmer MacDonald, and Don Coutts, nephew of Elmer Muttart, on behalf of the Coutts family.

CIMG3431Oct 12 2019 Pieter Annie Lee Don Oranje Hotel Leeuwarden

Left to right: Pieter Valkenburg, Annie Lee MacDonald, Don Coutts with flower bouquets for the visit to Elmer Muttart’s grave. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Don Coutts, nephew of Elmer Muttart, placed small flags of Canada and Prince Edward Island by his uncle’s grave. In memory of Elmer Muttart’s birthplace of Cape Traverse and his ancestor Lewis Muttart, who was the owner and captain of the Cape Traverse ice boat, Lori Eggert brought a T-shirt saying ‘Cape Traverse Ice Boat Crew’.

CIMG3447 Oct 12 2019 Harlingen General Cemetery Lori Eggert with Cape Traverse Tshirt

Lori Eggert with T-shirt saying ‘Cape Traverse Ice Boat Crew’. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

In addition to the families of the British crew members, ten Canadians made the trip to The Netherlands.  The Canadian contingent gathered behind the grave of Elmer Muttart for a group photo.  Flying proudly behind Elmer Muttart’s grave were the flags of Canada and Prince Edward Island.

CIMG3446 Oct 12 2019 Harlingen General Cemetery Cdn contingent

Canadian contingent by Elmer Muttart’s grave. Left to right: Pieter Valkenburg, Annie Lee MacDonald, Daria Valkenburg, Don Coutts, Elmer MacDonald, Robert O’Brien, Valerie Muttart, Ralph Muttart, Heidi Eggert, Lori Eggert. (Photo credit: Pam Alexander)

CIMG3444 Oct 12 2019 Harlingen General Cemetery wreath & flowers

Grave of Elmer Muttart at Harlingen General Cemetery. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Flight Sgt Elmer Muttart is not the only Canadian buried in Harlingen General Cemetery.  There are 9 more known servicemen, and two unidentified servicemen.  While we were there, Pieter, with the help of Alexander Tuinhout and Sietse Kuiper of the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, placed a Canadian flag at the graves of the two unknown Canadians and at each of these graves:

  • William Raymond James BROWN, died September 29, 1941
  • Donald Edward CAMPBELL, died June 26, 1943
  • Francis Arthur DAVIEAUX, died July 14, 1945
  • James MCDOWELL, died May 16, 1943
  • Murray Hudley NESBITT, died May 13, 1943
  • John Beverley PLEASENCE, died July 22, 1942
  • William Maurice POPPLESTONE, died March 26, 1942
  • Thomas ‘Tommy’ Clayton REID, died July 22, 1945
  • Robert WISHART, died July 22, 1942

The ceremonies at the Harlingen General Cemetery over, we next went to the museum for lunch and presentations.

A big thank you goes to the caretakers at Harlingen General Cemetery for arranging the flags for this special memorial visit.  Thank you also to the Office of Senator for Prince Edward Island Mike Duffy for providing the flag of Canada, and to Borden-Kinkora MLA Jamie Fox, Minister of Fisheries and Communities, for providing the flag of Prince Edward Island.

If you have information to share about the Canadian soldiers buried in Harlingen General Cemetery, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca or comment on the blog.

© Daria Valkenburg