You are here
Home > Calvados > The lost Canadian soldiers of the Ardenne Abbey

The lost Canadian soldiers of the Ardenne Abbey

Just outside Caen, surrounded by fields and very quickly surburban housing, is the Abbey Ardenne.  We know this because of a postcard we found of a nice old doorway.  We matched it late in the spring, not many weeks before an anniversary the Abbey will never forget.

Abbey Ardenne nr Caen
Our postcard match – Abbey Ardenne nr Caen

The secret garden

We parked next to a field of sunny yellow buttercups and walked around the tidy and closed Abbey.  Little appears to have changed, which is quite misleading.

Disappointed the Abbey was closed, we were pleased to notice an opening, a leafy path into the Abbey grounds.  It didn’t announce itself but we did not feel unwelcome.

The pathway led us into a tiny secret garden surrounded by a high stone wall.  A couple of trees, some chairs and a splash of colour.

Abbey Ardenne garden in summer
Abbey Ardenne garden in summer

An unexpected memorial

The flowers on the memorial were fresh, next to them pictures of young soldiers and red paper poppies. One wall of the garden had a long poster, a row of young soldiers faces.

This area is close to the D-Day landing beaches so we thought perhaps the Abbey had been chosen as a quiet place of contemplation for families of Canadian solders lost during those battles. But the true story is even more shocking.

These young men, barely out of school and fighting for freedom were out manoeuvred and captured.

Capture and betrayal

Taken to the Abbey Ardenne as prisoners of war they had hopes of escape; that their side would overcome and they would be able to fight on, and eventually go home to families and loved ones, a job well done.  But the Abbey was held by one of WW2’s most infamous war criminals.

Abbey Ardenne. memorial to the Canadian soldiers
Abbey Ardenne. memorial to the Canadian soldiers

Kurt Meyer, commander of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, had chosen the Abbey as his base because the tower offered excellent views across the fields to Caen, or north to Courseulles-sur-Mer.

The infamous war criminal

War was suiting Kurt considerably better than his earlier career attempts as apprentice shopkeeper, road builder and postman.  Daring and brave, by 1944 he had fought his way successfully across Europe, securing the Iron Cross in 1939 and the Gold Cross in 1942.   But there were also rumours of innocent civilians shot and villages razed to the ground.

Memorial to the Canadian soldiers, not forgotten, Abbey Ardenne
Memorial to the Canadian soldiers, not forgotten, Abbey Ardenne

On 7 June 1944 the battles that started with D-Day raged around the Abbey. Fury, fear, desperation, we do not know exactly how Kurt Meyer and his men felt but we do know they were not thinking of compassion and Geneva Conventions as they captured a group of Canadian soldiers.

Take no prisoners

Some witnesses say Kurt demanded no prisoners be taken – offering death not freedom. He denied it but was a famously strong leader.  Who else at the Abbey could have taken the next, horrific decision?

Under armed guard seven Canadians were taken to the end of the passageway we unknowingly found that warm spring day.

One by one their names were called for them to walk along the path to the tiny garden.  And there, one by one, they were shot in the back of the head.

Bravery to the end

A witness, Jesionek, says that the prisoners, realising the hell they were in each shook hands with his comrades before marching silently into the garden.

The memorial plaque we missed at first, Abbey Ardenne
The memorial plaque we missed at first, Abbey Ardenne

On 7 & 8 June a total of 18 Canadian prisoners of war were murdered at the Abbey Ardenne.

At Meyer’s war crimes trial in December 1945, the massacre at the Abbey formed the core of the five charges laid against him.  Kurt was released in 1954, after nine years in prison.

Meadow next to Abbey Ardenne
Meadow next to Abbey Ardenne

Not forgotten

Here are the names of the young Canadians murdered in and around the Abbey:

7 June 1944:

North Nova Scotia Highlanders:

  • Private Ivan Crowe
  • Private Charles Doucette
  • Corporal Joseph MacIntyre
  • Private Reginald Keeping
  • Private James Moss

27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment):

  • Trooper James Bolt
  • Trooper George Gill
  • Trooper Thomas Henry
  • Trooper Roger Lockhead
  • Trooper Harold Philip
  • Lieutenant Thomas Windsor

On 8 June seven more prisoners from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders were executed:

  • Private Walter Doherty
  • Private Hollis McKeil
  • Private Hugh MacDonald
  • Private George McNaughton
  • Private George Millar
  • Private Thomas Mont
  • Private Raymond Moore

On 17 June, two more Canadian soldiers, Lieutenant Fred Williams and Lance Corporal George Pollard, are also believed to have been killed at the Abbey.

The Abbey Ardenne

Abbey Ardenne was badly damaged during WW2, but careful reconstruction hides the scars.

The garden is truly beautiful, it’s atmosphere serene.  We hope those betrayed young men rest in peace.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

26 thoughts on “The lost Canadian soldiers of the Ardenne Abbey

  1. I met Jim Booth he was stationed in our village and billeted in camp site on the Windridge Estate he came to our house often it was a short cut to the village. I learned the terrible circumstances of his death whilst visiting the D day beach area about four years ago. If anyone has details of his family I would dearly love to get into contact, hurry as I’m now 85,I’m going over again on the 25/06/018 to place a wreath on big grave. Thank you Ken

  2. With my late wife, we visited the garden in Ardenne Abbey. We were both very moved; we keep remembering, I am a Belgian member of the British 49th Infantry Div. Association. The 49th , stood under Canadian commando (General Crerar ). Each year, my late wife and I went on pilgrimage to Normandy.. . We were liberated by the British 49th Inf. Div, I was 17 years old then, and attended our town’s liberation.
    My wife’s father , a resistant, died in December 1944 at ELLRICH, , Thüringe, a Nazi concentration camp.
    One of my brothers was killed by a V2 rocket at Antwerp in November 1944.
    So neither my wife nor I could forget….without hate.
    Jacques BOONE

  3. On April 28 2015 as part of a Canadian War Memorial tour we stopped at the Abbey Ardenne and went into the walled memorial garden. There was a guide for another group there already with an elderly gentleman in a Legion jacket covered with medals. He was introduced as Captain Bud Weeks, a 92 year old vet who also landed at Juno a few days after D Day. Bud was there on his 5th and he said last visit to the site. Bud was there to meet and present a momento to a group of Calgary Highlanders and some surviving relatives of the murdered soldiers also doing a battlefield pilgrimage. While he was waiting he told us his story. He had been captured by the same SS unit and the same Commander gave a regular soldier his Luger and told him to take Bud and a couple companions out and shoot them. The soldier disobeyed and fired the gun into the air and told Bud and companions to run. The whole scene was very emotional from getting off the bus, and then talking to Bud and then a piper started on the other side of the wall and I along with almost everybody else in our group just lost it. Then a young soldier in civvies piped the Calgary group into the garden and there was no recovering. I knew this might be an emotional trip but I had no idea.
    Timing is everything. This was an informal event and our guide knew nothing about it.

  4. My father, Stanley Dudka was a witness to the killing of 7 North Nova Scotian Highlanders by Kirk Myers at the Abbey.

  5. Thank you for sharing this event. My great uncle was Pte. H.A. MacDonald with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. I received his war war records from Ottawa recently. Included were telegrams to his parents first listing their son as missing, and then 3 months later as killed. It is very sobering reading. The Sergeant at Arms at Parliament sent me a letter along with a copy of the page of the Book of Remembrance with his name on it.
    His brother John – my grandfather was training in a armoured regiment at Borden Ont. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind when he heard his brother was murdered. He was sent to Europe soon after and fought in Germany. My father said he did not talk about the war, and was very upset that he lost his brother.
    The German commander Kurt Mayer was tried for several war crimes, and the sentence was hanging. The sentence was changed to life imprisonment. Mayer spent several years at Dorchester Prison in New Brunswick he was released in 1954 and returned to West Germany. Mayer died of a heart attack in 1961.
    The Abby is on my list of places to visit next time I am in Europe.

    1. Thank you for sharing this moving piece of family history with us, and for the information about Kurt Meyer. We hope you are able to visit the Abbey soon.

      1. My 2 sisters, and my daughter had the privilege to lay a wreath at the 60 anniversary. Dad told us the story and took years to get forget what happen.

  6. I heard the story from my Dad about Charlie, my Dad was born in 1936 and therefore was too young to serve. It has always been a wish of mine to go over seas to visit all the Aboriginals soldiers graves there and to drum and sing for them one more time .

    1. Hello,

      My husband and I toured the Canadian WWII sites recently, and being from NS, we were struck by the details of the death of a fellow Nova Scotian, Private Doucette. We took photos of the display at the Abbaye Ardenne and we also came across his grave site and took photos of his gravestone. It has been our goal to try and find a relative to whom we could give these photos, as we were sure that someone would want to see them, pending your own voyage to France. Please reply if you want to pursue this with us.

  7. On April 28 2015 as part of a Canadian War Memorial tour we stopped at the Abbey Ardenne and went into the walled memorial garden. There was a guide for another group there already with an elderly gentleman in a Legion jacket covered with medals. He was introduced as Captain Bud Weeks, a 92 year old vet who also landed at Juno a few weeks later. Bud was there on his 5th and he said last visit to the site. Bud was there to meet and present a momento to a group of Calgary Highlanders and some surviving relatives of the murdered soldiers also doing a battlefield pilgrimage. While he was waiting he told us his story. he had been captured by the same SS unit and the same Commander gave a regular soldier his Luger and told him to take Bud and a couple companions out and shoot them. The soldier disobeyed and just told them to run. The whole scene was very emotional from getting off the bus and then talking to Bud and then a piper started on the other side of a wall and I along with almost everybody else lost it. Then a young soldiers in civvies and the family members came in with the piper and there was no recovering. I knew this might be an emotional trip but I had no idea.
    Timing is everything this was an informal event and our guide knew nothing about it.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing experience and ensuring Captain Bud Weeks’ story is a little better known.

      1. Yes timing is everything. I too was in Abbey when Bud Weeks (104 Armoured Division) placed the cross he had made in memory of his friends. His cross is in the picture above on the right of the memorial. I had met him on Juno Beach by the Armoured Tank plaque. I noticed him because he had same medals as my father. He stood up from his wheel chair beside me and began speaking of his involvement.in Armoured Tank Division. I couldn’t help myself and told him my uncle had been killed. He was in the Armoured Tank Division. He asked his name and when I replied. He stood up straight and said “Ellis Dunphy. Can’t be more than one of those in this world”. He described him, knew how many children he had and said they had been on night watch together. He named the men who died in his tank. My family thought he had Been killed in the tank. Bud assured me he was not in the tank he was killed running for cover. Bud was taken prisoner that night. He walked for three days before escaping. He and his friends hid in a barn eventually catching up with Canadian forces heading North. Knowing this could have been the fate of my uncle had he not been killed I watched the placement of the cross but could not stay in the court yard. Much too emotional. My uncles body was not recovered. His name is on wall at Beny-sur-Mer. I and my family are grateful to the man who knew his final story. Devine Intervention is the only way to describe this meeting with a wonderful veteran We spent day and half in the area together. My people knew his people and schedules where changed to accommodate us. He told me in all the times he had visited he had never met any family members of his fallen comrades. I am humbled by the experience. We bused the grave yard where his friends are buried. I found an unmarked grave near the men in uncles tank. Bud has always wondered why his body was never found. His memory is still sharp as a tack. I’m so bless to have met him. Thank you Bud Weeks for your service.

  8. I just found out few months back that my relative is Charles Doucette WW2 if I ever travel over seas I will pay my respects. I found this information out from the priest at work 36 CER he likes to give me stuff to research and Charles doucette was one of the ones to research which I didn’t know I was related to. 45ES all the way

    1. Hi Adam, thanks so much for getting in touch, your relative was a remarkable man, brave in terrible times. It is great to hear from you, one of his family. We hope very much that one day you are able to visit but are also happy that Charles Doucette is not forgotten.
      Best wishes and keep in touch.

    2. Adam, if you search Find a Grave, in the name of the cemetery add Beny-sur-Mer and then the name of Charles Doucette. You will find a story about him written by the author of Murder at the Abbaye. There should have been a picture of Charles’ grave because last June I placed flags with attached messages for the men and poppies at the graves of those who were murdered. Will have to go back to see if I can find the picture.

  9. Thank you for keeping the memory so clearly alive and beautifully preserved when so many would wish to forget. I walked these fields and the surrounding villages a few years ago, the panel of young faces struck me in particular – you see them almost standing before you in full colour, rather than names carved on a block. It all looks so perfectly serene and peaceful, but in fact the SS committed a whole string of ghastly murders all over this peaceful area of northern France – nigh on 160 British and Canadian prisoners. RIP

  10. Thank you for this information re the murders at the Abbey !!! My uncle Mick Sidney deceased veterean. WW2 juno beach survivor etc..actually enlisted with private millar , they were good friends. What a sad story… My uncle Mick passed on over 1 Year ago. May he now be in peace ..NEVER. AGAIN. !!!!

    1. Thank you for your comment. It is good to hear from you that your uncle had a long life. We are grateful to him, his friend and all those brave soldiers who will not be forgotten.

    2. Hi I am doing research on Renfrew soldier Ted Millar so I would like to connect with you. You mentioned that your uncle enlisted with Millar. That is pertinent to my research.
      Please contact me.
      Kurt Johnson
      Burnstown

  11. thank you for sharing this information regarding the murder of my relative during WW2. Planning on going overseas to pay my respects to our fallen soldiers .

Leave a Reply

Protected with IP Blacklist CloudIP Blacklist Cloud

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Top