Photos of local soldier John Nelson Reed will soon be on their way to the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Pte. Reed, of Rocky Mountain House, was one of 1,393 Commonwealth soldiers laid to rest after the Second World War at Holten. That number includes 1,355 Canadians.
Reed’s sister, Elvina Slaymaker, 90, of Red Deer, has a collection of letters her brother wrote her on small, blue sheets of armed forces paper addressed to “Skinny,” which was her nickname.
Soldiers couldn’t say where they were or what they were doing, but at least they could let their family know that they were OK, she said.
A letter that unfortunately has since been lost was from Reed’s padre after her brother died in 1945, at the age of 24, about two weeks before the war ended.
“The day we got word about him we were celebrating the end of the war. We got this telegram that said he was killed on the April 23, 1945. That was a bad, bad day,” said Slaymaker who is putting together information about her brother for the Holten cemetery.
“He was driving wounded in from the front and hit a land mine. Ironically, he didn’t make it but the wounded soldier survived.”
Slaymaker found out that Holten cemetery was trying to gather information for the project A Face For Every Name from a cousin in the hamlet of Alhambra.
The cousin read an article about the project in the Advocate’s Central Alberta Life edition in early May.
Information has now been gathered on all three of the Central Albertans buried at Holten — Lance-Cpl. Dwight E. Welch, of Erskine; Staff Sgt. Walter A. Oke, of Coronation; and Reed.
The Welcome Again Veterans committee of the Netherlands has been working on the project for a few years.
Photos and information collected are compiled for interactive kiosks at the cemetery’s visitors centre.
So far, information on over 500 of the soldiers has been gathered, including over 200 since January when Canadians joined the search.
Mike Muntain, one of two members of the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment, of Kingston, Ont., working on the project, said it’s much easier for Canadians to reach out to Canadians.
He has spoken with many relatives of soldiers from across Canada and even though so much time has passed, the loss is still felt.
“There is just as many tears on this side of the phone sometimes,” said Muntain, one of the project leaders.
Slaymaker said her brother was also her close friend.
“We got a long so well and had so much fun together.”
They grew up in Nordegg, where children had to make their own fun by playing games like baseball, hockey, skating and kick the can.
“No TV. No radios. No computers,” Slaymaker said.
The family moved to Rocky Mountain House when her brother was 16. He didn’t want to go to school in Rocky, so he went to work at a local saw mill where he drove a truck. He was conscripted into the war at 21, when she was 17.
Slaymaker said when her brother went for training at Camrose, he was recognized for his rifle work and received a certificate for being “best shot.”
“Being from Rocky, he was always out hunting. I think he got his first deer when he was about 14.”
He also completed mechanical training with the armed forces.
Reed served in England, Belgium, Germany and Holland. For part of his service, he was in a motorcycle squad.
He died in Germany.
“He knew he wanted to go overseas. He was in the war and decided he might as well be in the thick of it.”
His sister said their family would send him monthly parcels with cigarettes, candy and cookies, even though they didn’t have much. It had to be packed well and sewn up in a piece of material to ensure it would arrive in one piece.
Reed met a girl from Belgium and wanted to bring her back to Canada at the end of the war.
“I corresponded with her for quite a long while. Then she got married and we kind of lost touch with one another.”
Slaymaker said she won’t be visiting the Holten cemetery at her age but appreciates the effort to gather information on the soldiers.
The Netherlands fell to Germany in May 1940 and was not re-entered by Allied forces until September 1944.
The majority of those buried at Holten died during the last stages of the war in Holland, during the advance of the Canadian 2nd Corps into northern Germany and across the Ems River in April and the first days of May 1945.
Slaymaker said her friend who immigrated from Holland has often talked about how thrilled people were when the Canadian soldiers arrived.
Canadians really can’t fathom what it’s like to live in war zone, she said.
“They’re still thankful to the Canadians.”