Many Islanders saw military service overseas during the First and Second World Wars. Most made it home at war’s end. But many did not. They were laid to rest beside their fallen comrades in military cemeteries across Europe, Asia, and other theatres of war, never to be seen again by those they left behind on the home front.
But they are not forgotten, and Pieter and Daria Valkenburg of North Tryon are trying to make sure that never happens.
The Valkenburgs have devoted almost 10 years of their lives to researching and documenting the military service of hundreds of Canadians who served overseas. For more than eight years, they have been conducting a research project called On The War Memorial Trail.
They began their project in 2014 after receiving a photo wish list from Dutch researchers of WWII Island soldiers who had been buried in the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, in the Netherlands. They searched Canadian military records and found families who had photos. They interviewed family members, gathering enough information to write stories about these Island soldiers, and then expanded the project to include Islanders who had served in both World Wars.
Some stories focused on soldiers who survived their war and returned home, while others told the stories of those who never made it home.
Their research, they said, was all about putting faces to graves.
In 2015, the project expanded to include the cenotaph at the Borden-Carleton Legion in P.E.I., on which the names of 48 veterans are engraved. The Valkenburgs gathered photos, military records, and family information for each one and submitted articles about those veterans to the County Line Courier for publication.
In 2017, the Valkenburgs travelled to Belgium, France, The Netherlands, and Germany to visit the graves and memorials of the soldiers they researched. They also started the On the War Memorial Trail blog that summer. Later that year, their research expanded beyond PEI to include first Atlantic Canada, then across Canada to help the three Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands, and one in Adegem, Belgium with their photo wish lists.
The Valkenburgs continue to commit their time, energy, and expertise to sharing the stories and the faces of veterans.
For their work in commemorating the service of those who fought overseas, the Valkenburgs are being presented with a Heritage Recognition Award.