A name without a face Historian hunts for photo of deceased Manitoba soldier
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Thousands of kilometres and less than two years apart both a soldier serving in the Second World War and his wife at home died by drowning.
Now, a retired Dutch diplomat, is trying to find the soldier’s photo — and the pictures of 11 other Manitobans who died in the war, before their images are lost to history.
Pieter Valkenburg, who now lives in Prince Edward Island, is working with the Faces to Graves project at the Canadian War Cemeteries in the Netherlands to create a digital archive with a photo and biography of every Canadian soldier interred in that country. One of the people he is focusing on is Rifleman Tom Chaske of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
Valkenburg said the 24-year-old Chaske, who was from the Long Plain First Nation but also lived for a time on the Roseau River First Nation, was part of a crew of soldiers being transported to repair a road, but drowned with six others when they were pinned under a vehicle they were in when it slipped off a dike and flipped over into a flooded field on Dec. 12, 1944.
He said Chaske’s wife, Marjorie, tragically drowned in the Roseau River in southern Manitoba just a year and a half later.
Valkenburg said they have tried, but so far haven’t been able to find any living relatives. The couple’s only child, Elizabeth, died before the war’s end.
As well, Chaske’s parents, Tom and Nyjookwah, of Edwin, Man., his six sisters and a brother all predeceased him.
“It’s hard to find someone when their family has died,” Valkenburg said.
“When I do the research I look at the military service file. I go on Ancestry and through Library and Archives Canada, and I call Legions. Then you have to ask the public.”
Valkenburg said he considers what he is doing a mission because he is still grateful the Canadian Armed Forces helped liberate his country from the German army.
He estimates he has helped find the photos of almost 200 Canadians, but there are about 1,950 soldier grave sites still needing photos. There are 7,650 Canadian soldiers buried in the Netherlands who were killed during the war.
“At some point of time people will be able to see a photograph of the soldier and information about them without going to Europe,” Valkenburg said.
“They want to put a face to every grave.”
Other Manitoba soldiers he is currently looking for are:
- John Lewis Hughes, of Eriksdale, who was 28 when he was killed on Nov. 2, 1944. He worked as an orderly for a dozen years at the E.M. Crowe Memorial Hospital in Eriksdale, his wife was Irene, his dad was E.G. Hughes, and he had two brothers, three sisters, and two half sisters;
- Alfred James Flett, of Stony Point, of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, died on Feb. 8, 1945;
- Stewart L. Anderson, of Bagota, served with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, 18th Armoured Car Regiment. He died on April 19, 1945;
- Roy C. Coates, of Morris died on May 2, 1945. He had been serving with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps;
- Samuel G. Engen, of The Pas died on April 23, 1945, while with the Lake Superior Regiment;
- William J. Hole, of Carman died on April 22, 1945, while serving with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles;
- Lloyd Edward Kitching, of Winnipeg, died on May 1, 1945, while serving with the Royal Canadian Artillery;
- Edward A. Munro, of Birch River, died on Oct. 6, 1945, while serving with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps;
- Norman W. Robinson, of Souris, died March 31, 1945, while serving with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion;
- Alphonse L. Skalicky, of Magnet, died on April 14, 1945, while with the Saskatoon Light Infantry;
- And James O. Thomas, of Hodgson, died on May 2, 1045, while serving with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.
If a photo is found, Valkenburg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Friday, November 4, 2022 8:20 PM CDT: Corrects name of organization Faces to Graves, tweaks cutline