By Karena Walter, The Standard
Over 100 people gathered in a small town south of London this month to remember nine members of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment killed by a bomb 70 years ago.
The town of Crowborough, in England, has never forgotten the nine soldiers, marking their July 5, 1944 fate with a ceremony each year.
“They have truly embraced the regiment and these nine men,” said Jeffrey Cairns, a retired Lt. Col. of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment and former commanding officer.
Cairns was in England for the 70th anniversary ceremony on Crowborough golf course, where a German V1 flying bomb — better known as a Buzz Bomb because of the sound they made — hit inside the tent line.
A granite monument to the men stands at the site, which Cairns said was enclosed by brush which the town council and golf club recently cleared out to make it more open.
Their names are also engraved on a cenotaph in the centre of the town of about 20,000 people, along with the names of British soldiers killed in service.
There’s also a park called Canada Green dedicated to the Canadians with nine maple trees planted. And there are two new streets in a subdivision called Lincoln Way and Welland Close.
“The regiment, when they were stationed there, became very involved in part of the community,” Cairns said. “So I think everyone appreciated these fellows from across the other side of the ocean fighting for Britain and who gave their lives for Britain. I think the town had embraced them and truly felt it was a loss of their own.”
Drew Neufeld, museum manager at Lincoln and Welland Regiment Museum, said the bombing is considered to be the single worst disaster to a Canadian military unit while in the United Kingdom.
“It’s definitely significant to the regiment as well. It definitely set the tone for the coming months that the regiment would be experiencing while moving through northwest Europe during the Second World War.”
The regiment was stationed on the golf course property used for the war effort as members waited to be sent into France. On July 5, 1944, shortly before 6:30 p.m., a German buzz bomb was flying northwest and crashed into the mess tent. Seven were killed on scene. Two of the 18 other wounded later died.
Neufeld said there would have been more casualties had all the companies of the regiment not been out participating in group marches or tactical exercises. There were only a few people at the camp and those who survived reported hearing the buzz bomb on its way down.
Two weeks later, the regiment began preparations to head to the coast to embark for France, landing on July 25, 1944.
Neufeld said they would fight across north-west Europe, through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. They returned to St. Catharines on Jan. 29, 1944.
The granite memorial in Crowborough was unveiled for the nine killed on July 19, 1948.
Wreaths were laid at the 70th anniversary ceremony, which included representatives from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment in England, Royal British Legion, the Canadian Overseas Veterans Association, Crowborough town council, the county and the High Commission of Canada. Three sons of the men killed were present at the ceremony and a veteran of the regiment from the Second World War.
For Cairns, who is also managing director of the Lincoln and Welland Foundation and chairman of the museum, the ceremony reinforced that the nine must never be forgotten. He said soldiers are often accused of being war mongers but they are the last to want war because they are the first to go.
“We’ve got to pay homage to these men’s legacy and must never forget,” he said.
“These men were members of our community, members of St. Catharines, members of Niagara who, when the call was put out, they went and went to serve and paid that ultimate sacrifice. We owe it to them. We owe it to their families. We owe it to the citizens of Canada and Niagara to forever remember.”