The Story of 2 Bn R.C.E. 1940-1945

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The following are extracts from the book “The Story of 2 Bn RCE 1940 – 1945”

Foreword

In May 1945 on instruction from the Commanding Officer a committee representing all Coys in the Battalion assembled to discuss the question of a Battalion souvenir.

After much discussion it was decided to publish a book covering the unit’s activities since its formation.

It was agreed that the qualifying period to be eligible for a copy should be three months service with the Battalion between “our” D Day and V.E. Day. It is realized that this arbitrary decision will leave out many well deserving original members and additional copies are being printed- and may be obtained by them on writing to “Executive Officer RCE” N.D.H.Q. Ottawa, stating when and how long they served with the unit.

In the short time available it has not been possible to assemble a complete story of the Battalion but it is hoped this will form a basis for your “Scrap-Book” of World War II.

Chairman – Ma]. S. Slater

Members – Cap. A. W. Lees, M.B.E.

H 39235 RSM Lockwood, A. M.B.E.

H 39222 Sgt Bell, W.


The gradual withdrawal of personnel under the present plan for demobilization has prevented me saying goodbye – as I had wished – to the Battalion as a whole – and to all of you who served in North West Europe.

This booklet, prepared at your wish and by your committee, will serve us as a visual memento of the many memories which will out last these pages. Made up in haste, in the last days of the Battalion, I hope that it, and this message, reach you all.

The Battalion has served as a unit during five years and in six countries. In that time the individual efforts of sapper, NCO and officer have combined to create for the Unit an enviable record and a status in the Corps of which you must all be as proud as I am. Supporting many formations, our role has been varied, airfields, mine clearance, roadmaking, bridge-building. We have worked from rear areas to forward lines.

In all places our record stands – no allotted task has failed of successful completion.

My personal thanks to you all for your fine work, and cheerful support during the period of my command. Wherever you go – to new ventures or the joys of home – my best wishes go with each of you. May we meet again. Till then goodbye – good luck – and God Bless.

G.L. MacDonald

Lt Col

signed

Zwolle, Holland

1 July 45


Over the upcoming weeks, I will republish more extracts from the book.

The book was:

Printed by N.V. Nauta & Co, Zutphen, Holland

The Binding was done by  C. H. F. Wohrmann & Zonen, Zutphen, Holland

 

Chief Warrant Officer John Mitges, MMM, CD (Ret’d)

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The following article is courtesy of the CMEA News Brief, 10 Oct 14..

Chief Warrant Officer John Mitges, MMM, CD (Ret’d) WW II Veteran
Awarded French Legion of Honour

Ken Holmes

The Canadian Military Engineers are pleased to advise that the Government of France has announced the awarding of the Rank of Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour to Chief Warrant Officer John Mitges, MMM, CD (Ret’d), a WW II Royal Canadian Engineer veteran and a participant in the Battle of the Liberation of France who also went on to serve a full post-war career. Some background on this honour is found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legion_of_Honour

Sergeant John Mitges was a 22-year old Reconnaissance Sergeant for his troop that was part of 18 Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. He landed with the Nova Scotia Highlanders at Bernieres sur Mer before noon on 6 June. The squadron was with the 9th Brigade that pushed through the beachhead that had been created by the 7th and 8th Brigades. The beachhead was extremely congested at that time and the rally point was Beny-sur-Mer. Once the brigade started pushing out of the beachhead, the tasks for John’s platoon were to destroy obstacles and clear mines along the route of advance. His role as the Recce Sergeant was to move out with the lead troops and send information back to his troop about the engineer tasks they would have to work on.

There was heavy fighting all into that first night when the advance was halted north of Caen. When the advance continued over the next several days Sergeant Mitges continued with his recce tasks in support of the lead elements of the battalion. On 11 June he was wounded in the head, chest and leg and was evacuated to a field hospital on the beach where he was treated for ten days. Recovering, he “hitch-hiked” back to his unit instead of going back through the normal channel as he did not want to get hung up in an infantry unit on the way back.

Sgt Mitges stayed with 18 Field Company as they advanced across the Rhine and all the way up to the Baltic Coast where the unit became primarily involved in mine clearance. The Germans had resorted to laying sea mines in the ground as that was all they had left towards the end of the war. It was during the clearing of one such mine – on the last day of the war – that he was again wounded in the leg after the mine detonated while his team was too close to it. He was evacuated to hospital and later re-joined his unit before it returned to England.

John Mitges returned to Canada in December 1945. He was transferred to the small Permanent Force and posted to the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering at Chilliwack. In 1947, he was one of three RCE personnel seconded to the United Kingdom where he qualified as a Glider Pilot. With this new qualification under his belt, John was posted to the Canadian Joint Airborne Training Centre at Rivers, MB where he did a considerable amount of glider training and indoctrination flights for parachute training students.

John had a full post-war career with the Royal Canadian Engineers. During the Korean War John was seconded to the British Army and had two trips to Korea to erect Nissan Huts. His career was marked by appointment as Sergeant Major of 1 Airborne Troop RCE and as Squadron Sergeant Major of 4 Field Squadron. He was selected for a two-year attachment with Plant Roads and Airfields at the Royal School of Military Engineering, UK his last appointment was as the senior RCE CWO at Mobile Command Headquarters before taking his release in 1976
John currently lives in South Surrey, BC and is eagerly looking forward to arrangements for the formal presentation of this honour.

EPSON MFP image

Sept 2014

EPSON MFP image

WWII

Sapper John McDougall Stewart

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With the outbreak of the Second World War one of the many units to be formed was The Canadian Tunnelling Companies.

There were initially two Tunnelling Companies, No. 1 Tunnelling Company and No. 2 Tunnelling Company.

In April 1941, a detachment of No 1 Tunnelling Company was dispatched to Scotland to assist with a hydroelectric expansion project. The tunnels that where being built at the Loch Laggan area were part of a project to connect Loch Laggan and Loch Crunachan with a tunnel. This would allow for the production of hydroelectricity to help increase the amount of power to the local British Aluminum Smelter Works at Fort William. This facility was a crucial part of a group of facilities that were used to make the fighter and bomber planes of the Royal Air Force. [1]

On 13th June, 1941, disaster struck. At about 1600 hours, Corporal James Hendry came out of the tunnel to find the powder house on fire. Shouting an alarm he ran to warn the compressor man and the steep-sharpener in the workshop, both unaware of the blaze tough close by, and picking up a pail of water he headed for the powder house to try to put the fire out. Although he could easily have gotten clear, others nearby were also in danger, and if the magazine blew up, the resulting damage would put a stop to the job for some time. He was an experienced miner and fully aware of the chance he took. The gallant attempt failed: there was a devastating explosion in which Hendry died. Hoist house, workshop and powder house disappeared. The steel-sharpening shop was flattened and caught fire. A number of men were hurt, two seriously and one was killed by a falling stone as he emerged from the tunnel.

Corporal Hendry was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his devotion to duty and disregard of his own safety. [2]

Fall 2012

Almonte District High School teacher Jennifer Yake gets her history class, involved in the Lest We Forget Project. The Project encourages students to learn more about those who were involved with the First and Second World War. Students were tasked with researching and writing about individuals who whose names are listed on Almonte Cenotaph. Assistance was provided by the President of Almonte Legion Branch 240, the North Lanark Historical Society in Appleton ON and a visit to Library and Archives Canada.

One of the students, Kyler Gaboury, selected Sapper John McDougall Stewart for his research. Sapper Stewart was the soldier who was killed by the falling stone. Kyler has granted CME History permission to publish his biography of Sapper Stewart. The biography can has been posted on the Echo 2 website. http://mypage.uniserve.ca/~echo2/Don.htm

Notes
– Almonte District High School is located in Almonte ON, just outside of Ottawa. From Almonte it is a 45 minute drive to Library and Archives Canada.
– this was the second year that Ms Yake got her class involved in the Lest We Forget Project. She plans to involve her 2013-2014 students, in the Project.
– George M Hendry (no relation to Corporal Hendry) researched Corporal Hendry and the Tunnell project. Unfortunately he passed away before he had completed his work. His daughter, Susan Hendry, completed her fathers’ work and produced a DVD.

Links
Lest We Forget Project – http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/education/cenotaph/025009-1104-e.html
The Almonte Cenotaph – http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~onlanark/Cenotaphs/almonte_cenotaph.htm and https://www.cdli.ca/monuments/on/volunteer.htm

[1] Gaboury, Kyler Biography John McDougall Stewart, 2013
[2] Kerry, A.J. and W.A. McDill. The History of Royal Canadian Engineers, Vol II 1936-1946. Ottawa: Military Engineers Association of Canada, 1966.

THE GIBRALTAR KEY

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By Ken Holmes

Gibraltar Key

Gibraltar Key

The Rock of Gibraltar was important as an Allied outpost during World War II. Thrusting 1300 feet above the Spanish plain on the Bay of Algeciras, it dominated the Atlantic entrance to the Mediterranean Sea,  Gibraltar had been a “point of turmoil”  throughout much of recorded history. The Muslims captured Gibraltar in 711 and occupied it for almost 700 years; Spain annexed the Rock in 1501, holding it until the War of Spanish Succession when it fell to British and Dutch troops. Then an arrangement with France during peace negotiations in 1711 gave the British sole possession of Gibraltar.

During its occupation by various nations, Gibraltar was extensively excavated to provide underground defensive stations. These excavations continued during World War II and the need for this work prompted the British government to request Canada’s assistance. This request led to formation of No. 1 and No. 2 Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Canadian Engineers in 1940 and the recruiting of hardrock miners – mostly from Ontario and Quebec.

A detailing of the work of these Canadian tunnellers in Gibraltar is covered in Volume II of  The History of the Corps of the Royal Canadian Engineers”. During their two years on The Rock, the Canadians mined and removed about 140,000 tons of solid rock  as well as putting in some 46,000 man hours on construction work. The efforts of these Canadian tunnellers on Gibraltar was noteworthy and warranted recognition.

The  Canadian Geographic Journal  [July 1944] reports: “As a reward for their achievements it was suggested …. that the Canadian Tunnellers might be given some special mark of distinction. The first proposal was to grant them the privilege of wearing the Gibraltar Key in the form of a cloth badge on the right sleeve. It was not considered desirable, however, to create a precedence whereby a unit  might be given such special distinction and thus a silver watch fob was substituted for the cloth badge. The fob was designed by Sapper R. J. Cunningham of No. 2 Canadian Tunnelling Company.” Since the presentation of the souvenir fobs was of an unofficial nature, production was a private venture and the cost was borne by James Y. Murdock, Esq., President of Noranda Mines. The keys were minted in Canada.

There is significance to the featuring of a ‘key’ on this device. The 1944 Canadian Geographic Journal article offers the insight: “Not only was Gibraltar christened the ‘Key to the Spanish Dominions’ …. but the Key has been part of the official Coat of Arms for centuries. The ceremony of handing over the keys at the changing of the guard has been carried out by the various (British) regiments since the days of the Great Siege by the Spanish in 1779-83.”

The designer of the Key, Robert Cunningham, passed away in January 2011 at the age of 91. Born in London, England, he immigrated to Canada in 1928, settling in Melbourne, QC. Educated at St Francis College & Hailebury Mining School, in his life Robert was a prospector, miner, tunnel worker, surveyor, wood carver, artist, published author, and poet.

In 1939 Robert enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers and was one of the hardrock miners recruited from Quebec and Ontario when No. 1 and No. 2 Canadian Tunnelling Companies were formed. Once overseas, he was initially involved In mapping for artillery ranging in the south of England (1940) and surveying tunnel construction for the defence of Gibraltar (1941 – 42). He then transferred to the Royal Canadian Artillery as a Gunnery Instructor (1943) and, finally, to the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders as a Infantry Line Officer who saw action in Belgium and the Netherlands. A draftsman and surveyor during the war, after the war Cunningham had a career as an engineer, tunnel supervisor and chief draftsman.

The Gibraltar Key is an uniquely Canadian military award that was originated for an unique Canadian military group – the Canadian Army Tunnellers.  On 27 March 1943 General McNaughton presented the keys at a special parade to the 324 men and officers of the Canadian tunnelling companies who had worked on the massive fortress.  It is one of the rarer of Canadian ‘badges’ since a relatively limited number were made.

Sources Credited:

http://users.eastlink.ca/~columns/editorial/1999/e99dec03.html   and
http://users.eastlink.ca/~columns/editorial/1999/e99dec10.html

Kirkland Lake War Hero: Daniel Giannini

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By Bernie Jaworsk

Lieutenant Dan Giannini, a former Lake Shore miner and underground superintendent at the Toburn mine, was instrumental, along with his company of Royal Canadian Engineers, in restoring a water supply to 260,000 people in a European city during WW II.

The Allied Forces in 1944 were slowly moving northward along the Italian peninsula. The Germans were retreating but not without a fight. Many tough battles had taken place and numerous casualties were sustained on both sides as the battle front gradually moved towards the Arno River. The city of Florence, located on the river, was bombed by the Allies for 18 days and the Italian Partisans fought the Germans in the streets for a week. The street fighting was brutal with the Partisans suffering many casualties including 300 killed. As the British Eighth Army approached the city the Germans retreated across the river to make their stand on the other side.

In advance of the infantry, Dan Giannini’s unit of Canadian Engineers was selected by the Allied Forces Commander to cross many times, no-mans land—the Arno, from the south shore to the north shore, to complete a mission.

Geographically, the flowing waters of the Arno divide Florence. Northern sections of the city had been provided with potable water by a pipeline running across the river from the southern shore.

As the British Eighth converged on the city from the south, the retreating Germans hastily and deliberately set charges, damaging this water system before fleeing over the river.

Giannini, of Italian parentage, was a valuable asset since he was fluent in Italian. He made contact with the Partisans and in company with them secretly crossed over the river on many occasions to gather information despite obvious dangers.

The water supply, it was learned, originated from eastern wells in the southern part of the city and from there it was piped westward to a pumping station and then across a weir to the northern bank. The pumping station was powered by revolving turbines turned by the flowing waters of the river. However, the Germans in their retreat had blown up the sluice gate and thus lowered the depth of the river to the point where the power source to the pumps was eliminated.

Despite enemy rifle and machine gun fire from the north bank, Giannini’s unit erected a temporary wooden sluice gate in the weir. In the meantime a British division had moved to the river and, finding almost all bridges destroyed, used the weir as an access to the other side. The wooden sluice gate was now a barricade to them, therefore, they blew it up. The Canadians grimly watched as about 30 German retaliatory shells exploded in the vicinity of the weir, causing damage to the pumping station on the south shore.

The Canadian Engineers returned quickly to rebuilding the sluice gate, this time with metal, and completed repairs to the pumps at the station. The system was put into operation but unfortunately a hitch was soon realized as there was an immediate loss of pressure due to a large hole in the 24-inch diameter pipe, crossing the river.

The city’s chief engineer was ultimately located and from him it was learned where a suitable plug could be procured. To reach the hole and install the plug the brave engineers had to again expose themselves to enemy snipers.

Somehow, Giannini and his men made their repairs much to the glee of the thirsty, but patient, northern Florentines.

For “gallant and distinguished services in Italy,” Daniel Giannini of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers was awarded, on May 31, 1945, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: Member Of British Empire (Military) Medal.

**********

In Memory of Daniel Giannini

Daniel worked in the mines of Northern Ontario, as an underground supervisor at the Toburn Mine, before volunteering as an Engineer in WWII . He served with the Canadian Tunnelling Company in Gibralter, England and Europe, rising to the rank of lieutenant and earning an MBE. At the time of the incident, Lt. Giannini was in command of 3 Drill Pl (Sec), Canadian Tunnelling Company.

After the war, he returned to Canada and moved with his wife, Cecely, from Kirkland Lake to Burlington, Ontario. Daniel switched to insurance with Empire Life rising to Vice-President by retirement. After retirement with no slowdown in sight, Dan became chairman of D.A. Stuart Oil Co.

Later in life Giannini delved into philanthropy, establishing the Daniel Giannini Fund, (http://www.hcf.on.ca/resources/archives/fund-histories/daniel-giannini-fund) with the Hamilton Community Foundation, to assist medical students.

Daniel and his wife Cecely are now deceased. Daniel passed away 15 August 2003.

*******************

Reproduced with the permission of the author; Bernie Jaworsky. Bernie continuously writes stories concerning Kirkland Lake area personalities for the local museum, websites, newspapers and magazines and anyone else who wants such stories. Daniel Gianninis’ story was one of them.

 This article appears in the book “Lamps Forever Lit” The book pertains to the 309 miners that were killed while at work in local Kirkland Lake mines. It doesn’t necessarily pertain to miners who served in the armed forces and were killed while on duty, although numerous soldiers returned home after the wars and worked in the mines here and lost their lives while at work.

Kirkland Lake to honour tunnelers

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Kirkland Lake town council approved the recommendation from the Museum of Northern History’s Advisory Committee to honour the Kirkland Lake members of the Canadian Tunneling Company of the Canadian Military Engineers.

The Canadian Tunneling Company will be instilled into the Kirkland Lake Hall of Fame.

http://www.northernnews.ca/2013/05/08/kl-adding-ww2-tunnelers-to-hall-of-fame

Canadian Engineers at “A Bridge Too Far”

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“A Bridge Too Far” is a book (1974), later a movie (1977), written about “Operation Market Garden”, in WWII. It was an Airborne Operation to capture several bridges in an effort to move into the German industrial heartland.

Less known is the Canadian Military Engineers contribution/participation in the Operation. An article in the Canadian Military Journal, (Winter 2005 – 2006) – A BRIDGE TOO FAR:
THE CANADIAN ROLE IN THE EVACUATION OF THE BRITISH 1ST AIRBORNE DIVISION FROM ARNHEM-OOSTERBEEK, SEPTEMBER 1944 can be found here http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo6/no4/history-histoire-01-eng.asp

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