Frank Danielson was living in Montreal when he enlisted with the Black Watch on May 13, 1944. He was 21 and working as a labourer at the time. Frank was one of seven children born to a Swedish father and an English mother and he had three younger brothers, William (20), Herbert (16), and Donald (13). William Danielson was also in the Service and was overseas. Frank’s training record describes him as an “average soldier – cheerful lad – tries hard but just a little slow”.
Frank was taken on service with the Black Watch on March 1, 1945, when the battalion was in the area of the Hockwald Forest in Germany. On March 9 the battalion was outside of Xanten where the 5 Brigade had the objective of capturing the high ground. As the Black Watch moved into position they were involved in a “short, sharp fight, of from 5 to 10 minutes duration”. Frank Danielson was killed in this action, after only eight days with the battalion.
While this story seems tragic enough it takes a very unexpected turn. Frank Danielson was indeed conscripted in 1944 but it was his younger brother, Herbert, who showed up in his place using Frank’s name and birthdate. Herbert was 16 at the time. At some now unknown point the army became suspicious of ‘Frank’ Danielson and on February 21, 1945, orders were sent out to have him retained “on Base” until his age could be verified. The message was too late, however, and he had moved on. A second request was also too late as he had already joined the Black Watch in Germany. The final message to have ‘Frank’ Danielson retained on base was sent to the the regiment on March 10, 1945, one day after he was killed. Herbert Danielson was 17. Frank Danielson was still at home in Montreal.
It isn’t often when perusing attestation papers one finds reference to the soldier’s previous occupation as “Actor – Legitimate”. But this was the case with Gerald (Gerry) Johnstone, who joined the Black Watch in Montreal on the 27th of September, 1939. Gerry Johnstone was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1904 and moved to New York in 1923, ostensibly to pursue a career in acting. He took up the stage name Gerald Kent and began to act in productions on and off Broadway. In 1928 he appeared opposite Mae West in the travelling stage production of “Diamond Lil”, which was the apex of his career. Soon after the start of the Second World War, he moved back to Montreal and volunteered with the Black Watch. He was almost 35 at the time. This would have been a culturally and financially difficult move – he had listed his acting income as $100 a week – as a soldier he would have received just under $10 a week.
One of the first things we learn from Gerald Johnston’s service record it that he seems to like to have a drink or two and racked up seemingly unending charges for drunkenness and AWLs almost immediatey after enlisitng. However, when the Regiment shipped off to England his arrival was big news:
There is very little information on Johnston’s time while in England and the next salient event in his service was taking part in the infamous Dieppe raid in the early morning hours of August 19, 1942:
On that day, they arrived at Puys, just east of Dieppe. A very ambitious task was assigned to this small band of men as they were to support the Royal Regiment of Canada with machine guns and mortars. However, their German enemies were alert and ready for battle upon the arrival of the Canadian regiments at Puys. The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada found themselves pinned down by the enemy with mortar and machine gun fire. The raid did not go as planned on that ill-fated day and the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada suffered four fatal casualties. (http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/second-world-war/dieppe-raid/black_watch)
Three platoons of the Black Watch took part in the Dieppe Raid, the majority of whom were forced to surrender to the Germans, including Gerald Johnston. Unfortunately, there is no direct information on his movements prior to 1944, but testimony by Pte. John Maloney at the enquiry into Johnstone’s death probably gives a good outline of his journey, assuming their experience was similar. Maloney was also captured at Dieppe and sent to an transit camp where he remained for five days. Following this be boarded a train where he was given a loaf of bread and a tin of meat and shut in with fifty other POWs. The train was headed to Stalag VIII-B (later renamed Stalag 344), located in Upper Silesia (now Poland), a journey that took five days, most of it without water. Stalag VIII-B was the largest German camp for Allied POWs. It was there that Johnston met Pte. Mervyn Kerr, who was to become his best friend and who was to play a fateful role on the night of his death. It is most likely that they were together when about eighty percent of the Canadians were moved north to Stalag II-D, near the village of Hammerstein in Pomerania (now Garne, Poland), in February of 1943.
The Canadians found their treatment at Stalag II-D much harsher than in previous camps. The official German justification was that the Canadians “behaved badly” on arrival and, as punishment, were only given work details in farming and forestry, rather than somewhat easier, and warmer, work in factories, etc. Johnston was in charge of a fifty man “commando” party working in a small camp about eight miles from Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland). He had apparently written to his mother about the conditions at the Stalag and complained of being given very heavy labour from early morning until dark. She expressed concern that he was writing in rebellious terms and he said that the prisoners would not be able to stand such treatment for much longer.
Pte. Rene Jusseau also testified for the enquiry into Gerry Johnston’s death on November 5, 1945. He remembered that night because it was his birthday and a friend had baked him a birthday cake for supper. When Johnston learned of the occasion he got up and shook Jusseau’s hands and told him that he hoped his next birthday would be with his family. This was the last time the men saw him alive. The regular roll call for the hut was at 20:00hrs, and when the guard arrived the men realized that Johnston was missing. They convinced the guard to give them until 21:00 hrs to find him, which he agreed to. Someone ran to look for him at the Polish compound where I believe there was a supply of alcohol. They weren’t successful in their search and at 21:00 an Unteroffizier (Sergeant) arrived to do the roll call and, realizing that Johnston was missing, picked up a rifle and went looking for him. This particular Unteroffizier was described by Pte. Mahoney as being over 6 feet tall, very domineering, and constantly threatening to shoot people. Given that description and what we know of Johnston’s personality, and his rebellious feelings, trouble was sure to follow. In any case, this is where accounts of the ensuing events differ greatly.
The official German account, which was transmitted to the Swiss Red Cross, was that Johnston was missing the night of November 5 after changing his clothes following a work detail. He was found hiding behind a wooden stand in a corridor on the ground floor of a building. He would not comply with orders to come out and had to be forcibly removed. The Germans then claimed that on the way back to the hut he lunged at the guard, who moved aside and shot Johnston in self defence. The official conclusion was the “the use of arms was justified”. There were no witnesses to the shooting.
Pte. Kerr offers a much different version of the events. According to Kerr, Johnston had been planning his escape for some time and was intending to flee to Stettin and then to Sweden. On the night of November 5, Kerr met Johnston at the fence that surrounded the camp, cut a hole in the fence, gave him a couple of chocolate bars, and watched him run up a road into the woods. Kerr says that Johnston got 75 or 100 yards away when he was confronted by the Unteroffizier mentioned above. Upon seeing him Johnston apparently turned and walked the other way, but when the Unteroffizier yelled ‘halt’, he put his hands up. Kerr couldn’t see much at this time but he heard the German ask Johnston where he was going and how did he get out. He subsequently heard a single report from a rifle. He said he wasn’t able to see Johnston’s body because there was a rut in the road he was on. This was all over by 21:30. The men in the hut also heard the rifle report and sometime later a German guard told them that Johnston had been shot but that a doctor was looking after him. Somewhat later he returned, quite afraid, to say that Johnston was dead. The Unteroffizier also came to the hut a couple of times that evening but denied that Johnston was dead. The next day the men observed a group of civilian officials where Johnston had been shot and it was later confirmed that he was dead. Requests to retrieve his body were denied and it wasn’t until the morning of November 7 that they were able to get Johnston and prepare him for burial.
Gerald Johnston was apparently very well-liked among his fellow prisoners and they actually gathered a pool of money to buy him a coffin from the near-by town. They also paid the local railway Station Agent to photograph the funeral. The Germans agreed to let 15 POWs attend the funeral ( a request for 40 was denied), which was at 7am in order to reduce the fuss it may have cause. The burial took place in the municipal cemetery in Breitenstein Friedeberg. They refused to let Johnston be buried in his uniform, however, and it was packed with his belongings, which appear to have vanished.
An unnamed fellow prisoner of Johnston’s wrote a personal letter to authorities in which he described the funeral. He closed the letter by saying, “We all miss Gerry”. Gerald Johnston’s remain were disinterred and he now rests at Heverlee War Cemetery in Belgium.
The story of Gerald Johnston, aka Gerald Kent, Gerry to his friends, does not end here. Stalag II-D was liberated by the Russians, and those freed included Mervyn Kerr, Johnston’s good friend and escape accomplice. As he was being transported through the Russian lines on February 17, 1945, Kerr noticed a detail of German prisoners doing road work under Russian guard. Among those prisoners he recognized the Unteroffizier who had murdered Gerald Johnston. In Kerr’s words, he managed to find a Serb who spoke both Russian and German and they related Kerr’s story to a Russian officer. The officer separated the Unteroffizier from the other prisoners and offered his pistol to Kerr. Apparently Kerr hesitated too long for the Russian, who shot the prisoner himself. The inquiry into Johnston’s death concluded as follows: “The perpetrator of this atrocity, if it was one, therefore having already received his just punishment and the facts having been investigated so far as it is now possible to do so, the file has been closed”.
Well, the file wasn’t closed without a bizarre bit of fantastical reporting. Somehow, the Sunday Pictorial in London reported that 1500 Canadians revolted in Stalag II-D and that Pte. Gerald. M. Johnston was their leader and was shot dead. The Army took this very seriously and used considerable resources to determine it was complete fantasy.
And, to add another twist to a remarkable story, one of the things Gerald Johnston was recruited to do while he was in England was to act as himself in a short propaganda film called “From the Four Corners” and starring no less than Leslie Howard. It is an eerie thing to be able to stare at Gerald Johnston, especially after reading his story, and even more so as he plays himself and is most likely wearing his own Black Watch uniform. Here is the link:
Martin Stewart Little was born in Meaford, Ontario, on December 15, 1920. In 1942 he enlisted in the RCAF in Montreal, where he was working as a bank clerk. Comments on his attestation papers describe him as an “All Around Athlete”. He was 5’ 10 1/2” and weighed 158 pounds. Training records in 1943 comment that he was “A fair average pupil who should develop well with practice. Needs encouragement”.
On March 24, 1944, F.O. Little and his crew of six took off in their Handley Page Halifax bomber from RAF Topcliffe, where they were stationed with the 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit, a training unit for heavy four engine bombers. Since they were not part of an operational squadron, their mission, with 146 other older bombers, was a diversionary one heading west of Paris in support of a much larger bombing mission over Berlin. The first leg of the mission went off without incident, but their troubles began on the way home, when a strong northerly wind blew them roughly 100 miles off course to the east and into the London Defence Zone. Apparently they failed to identify themselves and came under heavy Anti-Aircraft fire in the area of Slough, Buckinghamshire, where they were damaged heavily. A letter from his tail gunner, Rick Lowan, to Stewart’s parents picks up the story from here:
To “Lou”, as we knew him, the crew and myself owe our lives to-day. If it had not been for his presence of mind and ability to control an aircraft that was in reality unflyable we would not be here now. Like a true captain he saw that his crew had bailed out in time and because of his unselfishness and determination stayed at the controls and guided his ship over a populated area. In doing so he was too low to jump and as a result he gave up his life… Disregarding his own safety for that of others he did not die in vain.
‘Nicky” Cowan was the last person to see Flight Officer Little alive: “I was the last to leave the derelict and just before jumping I signalled Lou to follow. He just replied with those big brown eyes that told me to bail out and this I did immediately”.
F.O. Little managed to keep his aircraft airborne as it passed over a “populated area”, which was in the area of Little Chalfont. Once clear of the town, F.O. Little and his plane crashed into a field to the east of Little Chalfont, at a place called Lodge Farm, approximately 15 miles northeast of where they were hit by A.A. fire. F.O. Little died on impact. He was buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey at 2:30 P.M. on March 29, 1944. He was 24.
This first blog is going to look at the first and the last Regimental casualties overseas, so both England and Continental Europe. I’ll actually be looking at three people; Sgt. Ernest Grundy, who was the first to die but not in combat; Pte. Herbert Milotte, the last soldier killed in action; and, Pte. Arthur Summers, who was the last member to die in Europe. I should note two things, however. Firstly, Sgt. Grundy was, in fact, the second Black Watch casualty, but the first was a suicide and I decided not to include details of that. Secondly, the first KIA’s for the Regiment were actually in September of 1942, during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe, and I’ll try to cover those in a separate blog.
As mentioned above, Sgt. Ernest Grundy was the second Black Watch overseas casualty, dying of an apparent heart attack on November 19, 1940, while the Regiment was stationed in Aldershot, Hants, England. He was 35. Sgt. Grundy was one of the ‘originals’, having joined the Regiment on September 9, 1939 – eight days after the declaration of war on Germany. Sgt. Grundy was born on December 4, 1894 in Bolton, Lancashire and was living in Montreal at the time of his attestation. He had married Emily, almost ten years his senior, in Bolton on June 22, 1917 and they emigrated to Canada in 1923. Ernest and Emily had two kids, Ernest, who was 18 when his father died and Mavis, who was 16 in 1940. Ernest was a fairly experienced soldier, having served for four years with the 3rd. East Lancashire Brigade, which was a reserve force that served near Plymouth during the First World War. He also joined the 42nd Battalion the Black Watch (RHR) of Canada in 1935 and seems to have been with that militia unit at the outbreak of the war in 1939. This previous experience seems to have paid off as he was promoted to sergeant on June 1, 1940. Sgt. Grundy is described as being just over 5’ 7”, 171lbs, with a sandy hair, blue eyes, and a ruddy complexion. Sgt. Grundy travelled with the Regiment as they sailed to Botwood, Newfoundland, in June 1940 then back to Halifax on August 13, where they were briefly billeted in Aldershot, before finally departing for England on August 23. The Regiment arrived in Gourock, Scotland on September 9. Sgt. Grundy was in England for a very short time before his death, the impact of which is described in the War Diary:
The Battalion was unfortunate in having another casualty this month. D.81257 Sgt. Grundy, E. who died of natural causes while having lunch in the Sergeants’ Mess. A veteran of the War of 1914-1918, his loss was felt keenly by ‘E’ Company where he had been a guide and advisor to many a newly enlisted young soldier.
Sgt. Ernest Grundy is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.
The last Black Watch soldier to be killed in action was Pte. Herbert Milotte, born on May 12, 1921, in Lanark Ontario, so he was less than two weeks shy of his 24th birthday. Herbert Milotte was a mill worker and seems to have been living with his mother at the time of his attestation in Ottawa, on the 13th of August, 1942. According to his physical he was 5’ 4 1/2”, 127lbs with black hair and hazel eyes. Pte. Milotte was taken on service at the Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre in Cornwall on August 28, 1944 and remained there until he was transferred to the 71st General Transport Royal Canadian Army Service Corps back in Ottawa. On August 29th his unit was in Camp Debert, Nova Scotia. Camp Debert was ta division level training camp and the last staging area for units embarking to the U.K. All five Canadian divisions of the First Canadian Army were housed and trained in Debert prior to leaving for the European theatre. Pte. Milotte was promoted to Lance Corporal on December 13, 1942 but has reverted back to private when he arrives in Scotland on September 1, 1943. His service record gets somewhat complicated as he seems to be attached to the Royal Canadian Artillery and then back to the RCASC, but on November 18, 1944 he is with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Training Regiment. Pte. Milotte arrived in Normandy on December 16, 1944 and joins the Black Watch on the 31st, where they are dug in south of Nijmegen. According to the war diary that New Year’s Eve “all was quiet, and the moon was riding high in a cloudless sky”. I find this story quite personal as my father joined the Regiment soon after this. The Black Watch’s advance through Holland was at an almost break-neck pace and I have talked with veterans about how quickly they advanced. So, by April 1945 the Regiment are fighting their way north through central Holland to Groningen and into Germany through the Hochwald. On April 29th the Regiment was in the area of Hude, Germany and at 0800 hours left as part of an operation named ‘Stutz” and, despite some elements encountering heavy resistance, they attained their objective by 1317 hours. Pte. Herbert Milotte was the only Black Watch soldier killed on that day. Pte. Milotte was initially buried in a temporary grave “in yd in front of low thatched house East side of rd 496997 Sheey 2916 GERMANY – NW of Delmenhorst. He would have been disinterred at some time in 1946 and was reburied in Holten Cemetery in Holland.
Feb 1945 App 20 – Prisoner interview, Message from Gens. Simmonds and Crerar, Copy of The Maple Leaf, Dec. 21/45 – correcting a photo on front cover showing tank that was apparently taken out by RHC Piat but attributed to A/Tk Gun.
Feb 1945 App 21 – Transcripts of articles re. South Beveland Causeway Attack.