QCT Reader identifies slain WWI Airmen

Photo: Contributed by Alec Roberts, St-Augustin-de Desmaures, father's memoires

A. Kelso Roberts, a junior officer in the Canadian army during World War I, marches in formation to the funeral services in Germany for two Canadian airmen killed while Roberts was a prisoner of war.

The November 11 issue of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph carried the story of my father as a prisoner of the Germans during the last nine months of World War I, based partly on a diary that he wrote while being imprisoned in the town of Lahr.

Part of the story described my father's attendance at the funeral of two Canadian airmen who were shot down and killed nearby on 25 June 1918. Following the burial he wrote in his diary: "I hope to learn the names of these two Canadian airmen and may someday be able to inform their relations about their last rites."

There is nothing in the subsequent pages of his diary to indicate that my father ever learned these names.

Further, because he rarely talked about his prisoner-of-war experiences with any of his children, my brothers and I were not even aware of the event until my father eventually retrieved the handwritten diary from the attic many years later and had it typed up shortly before he died.

Certainly, I have no recollection of any mention by my father of having learned the names of the airmen and contacting their respective families.

It was with great surprise and delight that I received an email from a friend, Ann Froebel (née Martin) a few days following publication of the article about my father.

Ann grew up here before leaving temporarily to study at Queen's University in Kingston and then permanently after marrying a classmate of mine from the Royal Military College. She has never lost her love of Quebec City, however, and has stayed in contact over the years through her subscription to the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph.

In her email, she wrote: "Did you ever try and locate the names of the Canadians who were killed on that Tuesday, June 25, 1918? If not, they were Donald Good Benson of Kamloops, BC and Norman Stuart Harper of Alymer, ON. I can send further details, if you're interested." Well!!!! How did she do that? Wow!! Of course I was interested, so I asked for those details. Here is what she provided.

"I got the names of those [Canadians] killed on that day in WWI, and limited the names to those who were part of the Royal Air Force (there were 8 names in all). I noticed that two of them, Benson and Harper, were buried in ‘Niederzwehren Cemetery', which sounded like Germany to me. From there I went to the attestation papers for Canadians who served in WWI, which are on the Canadian Archives and Library site. Those two names, Benson and Harper, were listed with the details required in the official form.

"By Googling the two names together, I came up with a reference to a posting by someone on an internet site who was asking who the Germans were who were responsible for shooting them down. According to this query, written in 2006, the two Canadians were operating a DH9 on a daytime bombing raid on the rail yard at Offenburg in SW Germany." Q.E.D.