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25 February 1925 - 8 April 1945, Age 20 years
B/157321, Royal Winnipeg Rifles R.C.I.C.
Alexander was born in Badenoch on February 25th 1925 to Peter C. and Gertrude McLean. He had two sisters, Jean and Betty and one brother, Russell. He attended Badenoch school, played ball for Badenoch and attended Duffs Presbyterian Church. In September of 1943, he went west for the harvest and on December 18, 1943, enlisted with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. Alexander trained in Toronto, New Market and then Camp Borden.
On March 20th 1944, he left for England for further training and arrived in Belgium on October 16th 1944 to join the Rifles who were involved in the Battle of Scheldt and the Leopold Canal. This battle began on October 2nd and lasted until November 8th. The landscape consisted of dykes and canals shaped like a jigsaw puzzle. During the battle of Scheldt and the Leopold Canal, there were 41,043 prisoners taken and correspondingly heavy losses in dead and wounded. Allied losses were 703 officers and 12,170 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. Of these, 355 officers and 6,012 other ranks were Canadians. The Rifles lost 71 dead. This operation facilitated the opening of the Port of Antwerp and the Allies began to build strength for the invasion of Germany.
The enemy struck first against the U.S. Army in the forests of the Ardennes. This became the Battle of the Buldge, fought in heavy snow.
On February 8th 1945, after heavy artillery and air bombardment, the tanks moved in followed by infantry. Their assignment was to push southeast clearing a corridor between the Rhine and Maas Rivers, while the Americans were to advance northeast from the Roer River to meet the Canadians on the Rhine at Wesel. On February 10th, the Germans opened the dykes and flooded the battlefield. This required amphibious vehicles as they pushed back the outer screen of the Siegfried Line. Montgomery added two more divisions to the Canadian Army, as fighting raged through the forests of Hochwald and Balberger Wald with the Rifles most heavily engaged in clearing Moyland Woods. This continued until the end of February when the Germans detached units to meet the advancing Americans. The Germans slowly retreated across the Rhine and blew the bridge at Wesel on March 10th. Resistance in the northern sector west of the Rhine ceased.
For the 1st Canadian Army, the Rhineland campaign between February 8th and March 10th, through flood and forest had cost 15,634 casualties, most of them British, though the 2nd Canadian Corps accounted for 5,304 of the total. Of these, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, as one of the battalions engaged, lost about one-third of their strength, 176 men hit and 49 of them dead.
From February 16th-21st, fierce fighting took place in Moyland Wood. The Rifles called in artillery, mortars, air power and Vickers machine guns to soften the approaches. They then sent in mechanized flame throwers and then infantry. The Siegfield Line was irreparably shattered at a fearful price. Clearing the West Bank of the Rhine, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles lost seven officers and 165 other ranks.
On March 10th, the Germans abandoned the west bank of the Rhine and preparations were made for the crossing and final push to Berlin, which would be made by the 9th U.S. Army and the 2nd British Army. This offensive was launched on March 23rd.
The 1st Canadian Army arrived from Italy, where it had fought for two years, to join the 2nd Canadian Corp. Montgomery had given them the task of liberating Holland now under a five-year German occupation. As the 2nd Canadian Corp turned north, it had to fight its way into Holland. The German city of Emmerich was occupied by paratroopers and the Volkstrum, the peoples army, ready to fight on the doorstep of the Fatherland. They were a mixture of old and young who didn't know how to retreat. The city was nearly destroyed but by April 1st the Rifles moved forward, crossing the border. Liberation was now their role, not conquering and fraternization was now legal.
Alexander would not see the liberation of the Dutch as he was killed by a sniper's bullet on April 8th 1945, the only Rifle killed that day, just one month to the day before the end of the war. A Dutch-Cannuk bond would be formed as the liberation continued, which remains untarnished.
In the eleven months of action since D-Day, the Battalion suffered more than 2,000 casualties with 494 dead. Alexander was buried at Holten Canadian War Cemetery, Netherlands, at age 20.
Bruce Tascona and Eric Wells, Little Black Devils: A History of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Frye Publishing, Winnipeg.
My thanks are also extended to Betty MacDonald of Puslinch, Alexander's sister, for photo and personal information.
BY THE BURGOMASTER
Waalwijk, 25th Nov 1944
We are gathered here and have asked you the favour of your presence at this meeting because we think it a point of duty to give evidence of our gratefulness to you, also and especially in this way. There is a wide space and a broad ocean between your people and ours, and what did we know of each other before this? Probably you never before in your life even heard the name of this town, of this quiet little Dutch place, in whose earth some of your fellow countrymen have now found eternal rest. None of you have any personal interest in the low flat bottom and the moist and damp earth of this far-away country in a corner of the European Continent. And yet, you came here, and you came for our sake, of your own free will. We are aware of the weight and the value of this sacrifice. You left your country behind you and everything that was and is dear to you there, your relations and friends, the comfort of your home, the peace and order of your daily life. And for what? Certainly not for your personal profit and advantage. It would have been much easier and much more comfortable to have stayed at home. The only reason why you made this great sacrifice for a foreign people on the other side of the world, can have been the call of humanity, the feeling and sympathy for your fellow-man, whom you knew to be bound in the fetters of the German usurper and his tyranny. Now that you are here and have freed us, you stand for us as a symbol of right and justice, expelling wrong and injustice, the menace of the enemy, from our horizon. We want to express our thankfulness for this deed of humanity in general, but we have another reason for gratefulness of a more special character with a view to the narrower relation between you, who stay here, and us, people of this place. For if it had not been for your presence and vigilant protection, what misery and misfortunes could have come over us from the Germans? We are fully aware of the fact, that it is merely owing to you, Canadian soldiers, that we can live here now in peace and security, in spite of the nearness of those, who want to do us wrong, and before this, did so in many ways. We are also fully aware that our security at the moment depends on your readiness of sacrificing, if necessary, the dearest thing a man possesses on this earth, your life. Those of your comrades, who are buried here, have given proof of that readiness. We shall never be able fully enough to express our sincere and deep-felt respect and thankfulness for these heroes, because it is not in the power of man to compensate for the loss of life. We can only thank and honour the dead in you, the living. As for them, we shall see to it that their graves are worthily kept and we shall pray to God, that he may give their souls eternal peace. And as an expression of our feelings which words are unable to phrase adequately, we shall put these flowers on the graves of these heroes, who in the sacrifice of their lives for our sake have come to belong to you and us together through the mystic bonds of death. May God rest their souls.
Membership in the society is open to anyone interested in the history of Puslinch Township giving you access to the archives, assistance with your research from committed voluteers, a newsletter and occasional events of historic interest.
29 Brock Road South
Puslinch Historical Society
c/o Puslinch Library
R.R. #3, 29 Brock Road South
Guelph (Aberfoyle), Ontario N1H 6H9