A bright, pleasant lad of fair appearance. Learns readily, thinks clearly and quickly. Should be watched for evidence of leadership ability. W.J. Roadhouse, Lieutenant.
Attended the 3rd "Methods of Coaching" held at A.29 C.I.C.T.C. Camp Ipperwash, from 28 Sept. '43 to 1 Oct. '43. Qualified. N. Muir, Captain.
Examination of the foregoing and interview indicate suitability for Overseas in C.I.C. (Operational) as non-tradesman. N. Muir, Captain.
The Algonquin War Diary reports (partition): Moerkerke/Sysele September 14th, 1944. (Known as the battle that took place at "Molentje" at the Leopold Canal, north of Moerkerke.)
The following is an eyewitness account of the battle by Cap. Herbert. "After crossing the canal the two remaining platoons of "B" Coy ran through the town and dug in fifty yds from the crossroads. They were always under fire from every direction as the enemy had not been cleared out of the town. The position became isolated and enemy infiltrated on every side. The Coy with the help of two sections from "A" Coy fought the Germans less than 20 yards away. They broke up all attempts of enemy reinforcements reaching the town and had to leave their weapon slits every once in a while to clear the buildings behind them from which snipers were picking the men off. Ammunition ran out and under this extreme fire several men ran around and picked ammunition from the wounded and dead. Even the mortar was fired at point blank low angle until ammunition was finished. The order was a German for every round of ammunition. Lt. Roberts was killed by shrapnel while sitting in the same slit trench as myself. The Germans had then our positions and were dropping shells right into our lines. Fifty percent of the men were wounded and this information was passed back to Comd Post. An order arrived to withdraw fighting from house to house. This was done until we fought our way back into the central perimeter of town. A new perimeter was formed and then the order came to withdraw. All wounded from the forward areas were taken out."
The following is another eyewitness account of the battle by Major A.K. Stirling, who was also on the scene. "At approx 2230 hrs 14 Sep 44 "C" Coy which was under my comd accompanied the three other rifle coys of the bn (battalion) in the crossing of the Leopold Canal at Moerkerke Map Ref 935036, 1/25.000, sheet 21 SW Zeebrugge SW. The Coy made a successful assault crossing and attacked the enemy positions on the far bank. One platoon lined the bank while the other two went forward clearing the enemy and taking up a position along a line of trees stretching from a point about 20 yds from the canal to point approx 200 yds further inland. Just before daybreak the enemy started counter-attacking the position and under cover of darkness succeeded in infiltrating between the forward platoons and the one on the bank. These counter attacks continued throughout the morning. These attacks were accompanied by heavy mortar and artillery fire. I had been with the two forward platoons and thad returned to the platoon on the canal bank just before the counter attacks started. We fought off various enemy attacks on our position observing and firing upon the enemy who had succeeded in occupying part of one of the forwarded platoons position along the line of trees directly between us and the forward platoons. At any sign of movement from our position the enemy would open up with SAA automatic fire accompanied by mortar and shelling. Attempts were made to contact the forward platoons by shouting, but this no results. By this time the platoon along the bank had suffered 12 casualties and a few were shocked by the mortar and shelling fire. A smoke screen was laid down by our own arty accompanied by HE both from our own and from the enemy. This fire came down directly on our position and on our forward platoons. During the time this was laid down we observed the men from the other coys withdrawing across the canal about 300 yds from us. Since the others were withdrawing and we had so few able-bodied men left we were forced to do likewise taking our wounded with us. The two forwarded platoons being cut off were unable to witdraw."
A reckoning was taken of the casualties and the following figure at the time was as follows: 7 Officers and 138 Other Ranks. Two entire platoons of C Coy are listed as missing. Lt Roberts killed, Lt Hunter missing, Lt Dutcher, Lt Peart, Lt Butler W., Capt McKenzie, Capt Valentine, Lt Gartley were wounded.
The men who returned said that the German losses must have been many times as heavy. Some ventured a guess that the Germans may have lost as many as 750 men.
In April of 1944, Gerald would write a letter home to his mother. Following is a portion of that letter:
Dear Mother, April 21st, 1944
Received your most welcome letter yesterday and was certainly glad to hear from you. I never had a chance to answer it last night as I was at a regimental dance last night. They had a good hall for the dance and an army orchestra. The eats and tea were free and there was a fairly big crowd. As yet I have not received any cigarettes from home but I expect them any day now…
Mother as I told you before I don’t want you to save any money for me. If you want to bank it (as you said in your letter for a rainy day) you can put it in, in your name but don’t save it for me. My fifth Victory bond will be paid up at the end of this month and when you get it would you put it in the bank also in your name.
In June of 1944, Gerald would write a letter to his sister Dorothy. An excerpt reads as follows:
Dear Dot, June 10, 1944
Received your most welcome letter and seeing as I was writing quite a few letters I thought I’d answer yours at the same time…. I like it over here alright Dorothy but its not the same as being back home…. We have a horseshoe pitch set up in our lines and we put in most of our spare time playing horseshoes. They hold bingos about once a week here in camp. They have something on nearly every night so you’re never without something to do. I do my own washing, ironing and sewing and if you could see me doing it I know you would get a great laugh out of it. I have not as yet met anyone that I knew back home so you can see just how much I would like to get Cliffs and Vernes address….I have been feeling fine and I hope everyone at home is the same. Jay
In August of 1944 (one month before he was killed), Gerald would write the following letter home:
Dear Mom and Dad, August 11, 1944
Have received several letters from you but this is the first chance I’ve had to answer them. As I said in my last letter, I received a thousand cigs from you a couple of weeks ago and they certainly came in handy. I have smoked more cigarettes these last couple of weeks than I’ve ever smoked before so you see they certainly come in handy.
As I’ve said in my other letters, mother, I can’t write as often as I used to but I will write just as often as I can. I borrowed the pen here from one fellow, the ink from another one and the envelopes were given to me by still a different person. I am writing this letter in my slit trench so you can see mother, the writing facilities aren’t any too good.
I have written to both Cliff Bendall and Bert Pask but as yet have received no answer. Will you say hello to Marion, Dorothy and Jeannie for me? Thank Marion for helping with the parcel and tell Dot that I haven’t any pictures right now.
By the way, I don’t know if I ever mentioned it before but when I was back in England I met Nelson Archer and he said to be sure to say hello to Dad. Well Mom, I am going to try and write quite a few letters today so I had better say so long for now. Jay
Source letters: The City of Sarnia War Remembrance Project, by Tom Slater