I had two uncles who fought in World War II with the Canadian Army. My father, the eldest, was needed to stay and work the farm but his two younger brothers enlisted.
Louis Dautremont was with the Canadian Scottish Regiment as they pushed their way through Holland in the spring of 1945 and he took part in one of the battalion’s last actions of the war, the clearing of the Dutch village of Wagenborgen. The regiment had taken part in the D-Day landings, and had advanced farther inland than any other unit of the British Second Army. As they continued operations in April of 1945, the commanders became somewhat complacent with their long and easy advancements through the Dutch countryside. A feeling had developed that the war was almost over. They were wrong.
“D” Company was sent forward on early on the morning of April 21st toward Wagenborgen. The terrain was flat, unobstructed by dense foliage, and criss-crossed by numerous canals and drainage ditches. Over the previous nine days, each encounter with the German forces had met only token resistance and a quick withdrawal of the enemy troops. On the 21st, things were different.
The men of “D” Company found that the roads leading in and out of Wagenborgen had been blocked, and covered by machine guns and 2.0cm anti-aircraft guns. The Germans also had support from mortars and artillery. The morning attack bogged down but was renewed just after noon with support from sections of the anti-tank, carrier and mortar platoons. The Germans had been reinforced however and they met heavy resistance and suffered numerous casualties. Among the fallen, was my Uncle Louis.
The next day, the Canadian Scottish attacked once more, but this time with three companies as well as tank support. Wagenborgen was liberated on the 22nd despite heavy counter attacks and declared secure on the 23rd.
Louis Dautremont died on April 21st, 1945 and was buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Holten, the Netherlands.
My other uncle, Rene, survived the War. He had served with a different unit as a forward artillery spotter. He never spoke of the War and never shared what he had seen or done. He wasn’t the same man who had left Canada in his early twenties. Today he would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He would have been treated and he might have gotten better. He did not.
Uncle Rene lived in the old farm house with my grandmother until she died. He had been hospitalized for a time on a psychiatric ward but with little benefit. He would come to family functions but seemed to spend the rest of his time alone in the old house. He never married and he never travelled. He seemed to have few if any friends. I used to go over to play chess with him and while he let me see some of his things from the War, he never shared anything of what he had gone through.
In many ways, both of my Uncles were killed in the War, it just took longer for Uncle Rene to die.
Lest we forget.
“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:2-4