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Telling fallen soldiers' stories

Dutch cemetery hosts interactive display

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Marie Butler never met Frankie Mombourquette. She couldn't have. Mombourquette died May 1, 1945, at the end of the Second World War -- 13 years before she was born.

Yet she says she knows him better than some of her uncles.

Mombourquette and Butler's father, Leo Sampson, were best friends. When Mombourquette died, Sampson made sure his pal's memory was kept alive by telling stories to his own children. "My father kept him alive all my life. He talked about him all the time... he had a picture of him," Butler said from her home in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Mombourquette, a P.E.I. native, is one of 1,355 Canadians buried in the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands. Now, a Kingston, Ont., man is going around Canada trying to find pictures and stories of the fallen soldiers, to put a face to every name at the cemetery.

Mike Muntain has already located pictures and stories for more than 700 soldiers, but still needs help finding surviving friends and family of the rest.

He's just getting started in Manitoba.

There are 83 Manitoba soldiers buried in Holten, including 25 from Winnipeg. Muntain is putting a call out to anyone who recognizes one of the names, so their stories can also be told.

Every story collected is sent to the Netherlands, where it becomes part of an interactive database in the visitors' centre of the cemetery.

"(Visitors) can pick by regiment, by country or by name, and they can touch that name, and all the information will come up," he said.

Mombourquette's story is one of the most comprehensive of those already completed.

He and Sampson had known each other since their childhood in P.E.I., and from a young age they were inseparable, Butler said.

When the Second World War started, they agreed to enlist together, although one of the fellows was still underage (Butler admitted she doesn't recall who that was).

Mombourquette and Sampson made a deal: The youngest of the two would try and sign up first and, if not accepted, would tell his buddy and they'd walk out of the recruitment office together.

Back then, no one looked that closely at birth certificates, so both were able to enlist, Butler recalled her father saying.

Mombourquette died a couple of days after fighting in his region had stopped. Though the details are unclear, it's believed he was on patrol May 1, when he and his troupe encountered a group of German soldiers, waving a white flag.

When the soldiers got closer, the Germans ambushed them, gunning down Mombourquette and the others. Sampson wasn't on the patrol and returned home when the war ended to tell Mombourquette's story.

Muntain said the project has introduced him to hundreds of soldiers he now feels he knows as friends, much in the same way Butler knew Mombourquette.

"You hear all these stories, and you read all this information and pass it on. It's almost like passing on information about one of your buddies. Getting to know these boys so well, I didn't expect that," Muntain said.

Manitobans buried in Holten Cemetery in Holten, Netherlands

Can't see the spreadsheet above? Try viewing it in a new window.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2014 A10


Updated on Monday, June 9, 2014 at 7:06 AM CDT: adds spreadsheet of Manitobans buried in Holten

12:26 PM: Widens spreadsheet, adds contact information for Mike Muntain.

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