TRYON, P.E.I. - Pieter and Daria Valkenburg’s rental car was scraping the sides of the narrow track. Deep in the heart of the Somme region of France, they hoped they wouldn’t meet an oncoming car.
“We were dwarfed by a corn field on one side and potato fields on the other,” said Pieter.
Finally they reached the place – the marker for the Grandcourt Road Cemetery.
But, their journey didn’t end there. After climbing a dozen or so steps, they crossed 500 metres of potato fields to reach the graves - the final resting place for Arthur Lee Collett of Victoria, P.E.I.
“I was lucky it wasn’t raining, or I would have been stuck in the mud,” he said.
It was all part of the Valkenburgs’ quest to acknowledge each of the men named on the cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.
Pieter was born and grew up in the Netherlands. After he retired from the Dutch foreign service, he and Daria moved to P.E.I.
“I began this project out of respect for the country that is now my home. If it wasn’t for the Canadians, I might not be here. I was born during the hunger year of 1944, when there was little or no food. Our family lived in the countryside and my father spent many nights sneaking out after curfew looking to trade items for food to feed his family.”
Valkenburg was lucky to be born in the country, those in cities were forced to eat tulip bulbs, he said.
“So many people starved to death that winter. The Canadians not only liberated us from Nazi rule, they saved us from starvation. So this project is one way for me to honour those who lost their lives in war.”
The 46 names were placed on the granite stone in Borden-Carleton in the 1960s. Valkenburg has found stories and photos for almost all the First World War veterans and is working on the Second World War.
Nov. 2, the Valkenburgs presented their research to a group of over 20 history enthusiasts at the South Shore United Church in Tryon.
“The most challenging part was to find photos and personal stories. Originally there were 46 names listed on the cenotaph. Along the way we found two more that were inadvertently missed, so now the cenotaph has 48 names.”
Pieter started out by showing the list around the community, hoping folks would recognize the names. He also looked online on the Military and Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the military service files with Library and Archives Canada.
What they found were the human stories of the war dead from P.E.I.
For example, Collett from Victoria. He was born in 1888 to Helen Simmons and adopted by William and Alice Collett.
He excelled in school and earned a scholarship to Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown. After graduating he taught for a year and joined the militia before moving to Windsor, N.S. to attend Kings College in 1909.
Collett was the senior student (“equivalent to being the head of the student body,” said Pieter) and a Rhodes Scholar. Upon graduating with is Bachelor of Arts, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in the U.K.
“However, World War I broke out and he enlisted in the 12th Battalion at Valcartier, Quebec on Sept. 23, 1914,” said Pieter.
Two months after arriving in England, he was discharged from the Canadian troops so he could join the British Army as a Lieutenant.
Lt. Collett, died on the River Ancre in the last battle of the Somme.
Collett was only one of the lives lost of the 48 named on the cenotaph in Borden-Carleton, only one of close to 60,000 other Canadians lost in the First World War.