Matching names and faces to unknown soldiers
Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands, the final resting place of some 2338 Canadian troops.
By Maya Schwartz 8 November 2019 Share this story
There are 5,700 Canadian Second World War soldiers buried in the Netherlands. Over 300 are Nova Scotians. Over 200 have no recorded names or photographs. Bob Smiet asks Nova Scotians to search their attics for information that could give life back to the fallen.
Smiet’s project is to locate photographs of Canadian soldiers buried in the Netherlands in time for the 75th anniversary of Liberation Day in May. Volunteers will place tthese photographson the soldiers’ tombstones.
“A tombstone is a tombstone. But with a photograph, it’s a person that gave his life. It’s not only a slab of stone. It’s a face,” says Smiet.
At home in the Netherlands, Smiet sits in front of a packed bookcase. Postcards from major Canadian cities perch and a small Canadian flag flies amid the stacks.
The found photographs are passed from Smiet to Canadian Fallen Heroes and to Commonwealth War Graves Commission. From there they travel to the three Canadian cemeteries in the country, or to other Canadian cemeteries across Europe. “It’s hard work,” Smiet says. “But if people start to think about it, it will spread over Nova Scotia and all of Canada. It will start to live.”
Smiet is 75 years old. He discovered seven years ago that his father was a Canadian solider. He searched and found family in Montreal and Stratford, Ont. “Now I have a second family,” he says.
He also gained a special interest in the history of Canadians in the war. “I am doing this because I feel very strongly about the history of the war and the people that never came back,” he explains. “There’s something I can do and I will do everything I can to reach that goal.”
But Smiet feels as though he is running in circles. He’s reaching out to Nova Scotians for help. He encourages everyone to search for photographs and information on family members who served in the war.
Smiet sent Halifax Magazine a spreadsheet of Nova Scotians buried in European cemeteries. In column B: Y means CanadianFallenHeroes.com features a picture; N means the person is listed without a photo; and a question mark means CFH can’t find a name in the records. View it here.
John Boers helped Smiet track down his family in Canada in 1982. Boers grew up in the Netherlands, but now lives in Guelph, Ont. He also collects photographs of Canadian soldiers.
“The war’s generation is gone,” Boers says. “I’m the generation after, and I’m 86 and half. We must keep telling the next generations that the liberators should not be forgotten.”
According to Boers, the cemeteries in the Netherlands in May are immaculate. Children place jars of Christmas lights and bouquets of flowers on the graves of Canadian soldiers. They still show interest in something that happened 75 years ago.
Smiet agrees. “With the younger generation it lives,” he says.
Send photographs of Canadian soldiers buried in Holland to email@example.com.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.
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