d'Ardenne is a walled assortment of medieval buildings,
principally an early gothic church, one of only a few
remaining in Europe, a large stone barn supported by sixteen
stone pillars, several farm buildings and enclosed gardens.
The Vico family has lived at the Abbaye since the early twenties. Mme. Francine Vico who up until recently lived there was a most alert and charming person whose activities with the underground during the war has made her a legend. Her husband Roland Vico was the mayor of Saint-Germaine-La-Blache-Herbe, the community in which the Abbaye is situated. His active and loyal service to the resistance led to his arrest by the German police on 15 December 1943. He was deported to a concentration camp at Mauthausen where he presumable died or was executed. The eldest son Jacques Vico was responsible to the resistance for a cache of weapons dropped into France by parachute. The German Gestapo found out about this cache of weapons located on the grounds of the Abbaye and were intent on arresting Jacques Vico. He was forced to go into hiding while his younger brother Jean-Marie Vico relocated the weapons to an underground quarry at nearby La Maladerie after which he joined his brother in hiding. The Gestapo arrested Mme. Vico just before Christmas 1943. She was placed in a local prison in Caen until March 1944 and was eventually able to move back into the family house at the Abbaye in August 1944. She had been most fortunate at being released from the prison at that time as the remaining French Resistance inmates of the Caen prison were all executed by the Gestapo in the morning of 6 June 1944 at the time of the D-Day landing.
A plaque in memory of those who were executed has been placed at the main entrance wall of the prison and inside the prison is a list of the names of those gallant people who had given their lives for France.
Once the war had ended and the Vico family were back in their home, Jean-Marie busied himself in the garden gathering firewood from the trees that had been damaged by shell and mortar fire. By doing this his younger brother Michel had a place where he could play. Thus it came to pass that Michel Vico found a human jawbone in the soft ground. He told Jean-Marie who confirmed that there was a grave there and even the excess earth had been carried away as if to conceal it. This find was reported to the authorities in Caen, who came and placed a cross on the grave, and returned on 08 February 1945 to recover the bodies for burial. When the grave was properly opened it was found to contain six Canadian soldiers stacked in two layers of three. They were identified as George Gill, Ton Henry, Jim Bolt, Charles Doucette, Reg Keeping and James Moss. All had been reported as missing on 07 June 1944.
A month later Mme Vico noticed that her snow drops, these little white early spring flowers, were coming up nicely but they were not growing as she had planted them, in a ring around her garden. They were popping up everywhere somehow her bulbs got scattered. Mme Vico wondered "have the Germans buried something important here, documents perhaps or weapons?" Not long ago she had found important papers in her yard. This time however, her investigation revealed not documents but yet another unmarked grave containing five bodies.
Jacques Vico was home on leave in April from the Leclerc Division of the Free French Army. He found the third grave in the garden, which contained one body. This corpse at first was thought to be that of an unidentified British soldier and the British Graves Registration personnel were called in to recover the body. They however identified the body by the identification tags as Hollis Leslie Mc Keil a Canadian soldier from the North Novies who had been wounded in the chest and feet back in Buron ten months earlier. The cause of death was a head wound.
Two more graves containing two and four bodies respectively were found in early May. This brought the total number of bodies found in the Vico garden to eighteen. All had been members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders or 27 CAR Tank Regiment captured in the battles around Buron and Authie on 07 June 1944.
Another body found in a shallow unmarked grave against the outside wall of the Abbaye. For a time the body was unidentified subsequently the investigation proved it to be Fred Williams the one time Platoon Commander from the Stormond Dundass & Glengarry Highlanders. Now nineteen men had been found on the Abbeye's grounds.
In the meantime a young Polish man who had been originally drafted into the service with the German SS but had deserted in 1944 reported that he had witnessed the murder of seven Canadian prisoners of war at the Abbaye d'Ardenne. Pieces began to fall together. Evidence gathered by pathologists had shown that the eight men in the garden had died from shots to the back of the head, or in some cases were clubbed to death. As the gruesome facts began to clear the call went out to find the man who's Regimental Headquarters had been at the Abbaye d'Ardenne between 06 and 17th June 1944. The man whose name was to become a household word in Canada was SS Brigadfueher Kurt Meyer.
Kurt Meyer was born on 23 December 1910. In 1928 at the age of 18 he enlisted in the Mecklenburg Armed Provincial Police with whom he stayed until 1934. In 1930 he joined the Nazi Party (Party No. 316714) and the parties Para Military Force the SA. He left the Provincial Police for the SS in 1934 (SS No. 17559) and served as a Platoon Commander until 1936 in the 1st Division Waffen SS (Leibstandart SS Adolf Hitler). Thereafter he rose rapidly in rank, Company Commander 1936 - 1940, then Battle Group Commander 1940 - 1943. He became Commander of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 12th Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend) when the division was formed in Beverloo, Belgium in August 1943 and went with his division to the reserve location in France.
Meyer was a fighting soldier. In Poland he had been wounded in action and decorated with the Iron Cross (Second Class). Later he was awarded the Iron Cross (First Class) and the Infantry Assault Badge. He received the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross for his courage in Greece and also was awarded the Bulgarian and Romanian decorations. In the Russian Campaign he had won the German Cross in Gold for the action at Kharkov, the Oak Leafs for his Kings Cross and the Silver Decoration for close combat. He picked up the nickname of which he was intensely proud and which stuck with him "Panzer Meyer". For his action in Normandy to his Knights Cross the second highest German award of the Sword to the Oak Leaf, he received for his bravery in action.
Meyer was brought to trial in December 1945. Throughout the trial he denied any knowledge of the specific events in question. His attorney carefully cross-examined prosecution witnesses and he called character witnesses of his own. On 29 December 1945 Meyer was found guilty and sentenced to death, the first criminal to be sentenced in the post war crimes trial.
Evidence at the trial revealed that on the night of 07 June 1944 Lt. Windsor had refused to answer questions other that Name, Rank and Number and had been slapped in the face. He and ten others had been led into the garden and shot or clubbed to death. In the early hours on 08 June seven more prisoners had been brought to the headquarters. Meyer's had screamed something to the effect "why do you bring me all of these prisoners?" After a quiet discussion and some chuckling between Meyer's and a few of his men, the seven were led out of the Chapel and across the courtyard to the corner entrance to the garden. Witnesses stated that the seven each in turn shook hands with the other, one man wept. They were then led one at a time into the garden and shot in the back of the head by one of the SS NCO's.
Lt. Williams and L/Cpl. Pollard were probably both wounded when captured on patrol and brought to the Abbaye early on 17 June 1944. Shots were fired in the area of the Abbaye between 0400 and 0600 hours that morning and an NCO from the Military Police Company attached to Meyer's Regiment stated that he had been told that a prisoner of war had been shot. Later that day more shots were heard coming from the vicinity of the Abbaye and a witness stated that he had been told that another prisoner had been shot. One of these prisoners was probably Lt. Williams whose body was later found buried against the outside wall of the Abbaye.
According to French civilians, Williams body showed signs of torture but this was a variance with evidence presented at the trial. Now his body lies in the Beny-Sur-Mer cemetery. The other prisoner shot that day was probably L/Cpl. Pollard. His body has never been found and he is officially listed as missing since 17 June 1944. His name is listed on the Bayeaux Memorial. Although Pollard declared his age as eighteen on enlistment, he was only fifteen at the time, thus he was only nineteen years old when he was killed and not twenty one as is officially recorded.
General Chris Volkes, the responsible Canadian Officer at the trial, committed Meyer's death sentence to life imprisonment. In his view, Meyer's degree of responsibility for the crimes did not warrant the death penalty. The sentence of life imprisonment in Canada at that time meant serving at least twenty years. Meyer's who had served the first period of his prison term at Dorchester, New Brunswick, eventually ended up under the British/German jurisdiction where the sentence meant fourteen years. Meyer's who was a model prisoner and time off for good behavior was released from prison on 7 September 1954 after serving six years. General Volkes has never regretted his decision.
During the pretrial and trial period two of Meyer's guards came to know him very well and visited him after his release. During one such visit Meyer's made an interesting revelation to his ex-guards. During the pretrial period Meyer's who was a real fitness buff, was taken for exercise each day. Meyer's liked to run, so naively each day at the same time handcuffed to one guard and followed by the other they would go jogging. A group of ex-SS developed a plan to free Meyer's by ambushing and killing the two guards and cutting him free of the handcuffs with bolt cutters. With the plan made the leader of the group told Frau Meyer's of their intentions but she disapproved. The two guards had shown kindness and understanding towards her and she said neither she nor the Brigade Fuehrer would want to see them killed. With that the idea was dropped. It was some years later that the ex-guards would meet their would-be assassins.
Kurt Meyer went back to the Abbaye for a visit after his release and Jean-Marie Vico accompanied him through the garden. When they came to the steps up into the garden where the NCO had shot the seven men, Jean-Marie asked him point blank why he had lied at the trial. Meyer's replied to Jean-Marie simply that it was difficult for an Officer to admit to the enemy court that such things had been done. He then told Jean-Marie that he had sent the SS NCO, who had actually killed at least seven of the Canadians, to an untenable outpost right after the incident, and that he had been killed there the next day. Mme. Francine Vico when she found out he was present on the property put the run to him with her broom. Meyer's died in 1961 of a heart attack.
Most of the men who were the victims of the incident were from the Maritimes. Cpl. Joseph Mac Intyre and Pte. Charles Doucette had joined up at the recruiting centre in Sydney. Pte. James Alvin Mass was from Stellarton and joined up in Mulgrove, Nova Scotia. Pte. Walter Michael Doherty and Pte. Raymond Moore joined in Aldershot. Pte. Thomas Edward Mont was from Truro and Hollis Leslie Mc Keil from Lower Selmah, Nova Scotia. On 31 July 1941 these seven men landed in England with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (NNSH).
Landing on the same date was Lance Corporal George Gerald Pollard of the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders (SD&GH). He was born raised and enlisted in Cornwall, Ontario.
More North Novies arrived in England in 1942 and 1943. Among them were Pte. Hugh Allan Mc Donald and Pte. Ivan Lee Crowe from New Glasgow. Pte. Reginald Keeping from Newfoundland and George Richard Mc Naughton from Sidney, both of whom had joined up in Halifax. Pte. George Edward Miller was born in Pembrooke, Ontario and joined up in Ottawa. He was under age at seventeen years old arriving in England in October 1942.
Twenty year old Fred Williams had been born in Dalton, England. Having settled in Canada he joined the Army in Kingston, Ontario and arrived back in England on 25 January 1942 as a Lieutenant in the SD&GH.
The last six men in the story served in the 27th Canadian Armoured Regiment (27 CAR) of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. Tpr. Roger Lockhead had been in England since 1942. Lieutenant Thomas Alfred Lee Windsor, Tpr. George Vincent Gill and Tpr. Herold George Philp arrived together on 22 May 1943. Troopers Thomas Haliburton Henry and James Elgin Bolt followed a month later. Bolt and Lockhead were members of Windsor's tank crew during the landing on D-Day, 06 June 1944. At the landing on Juno Beach the North Novies of the 9th Brigade were in reserve during the landings of the 3rd Division.
The major assault of the group from the beach area had as it's objective the Capriquet Airfield west of Caen. Initially the advance went well but "C" Company ran head on into a fight at Villon-Les-Buissons and "A" Company coming in on the right had a fight on it's hands at Colomby-Sur-Thaon. These delays dashed their hopes of reaching Caprequet by nightfall and so keeping their general formations the Canadians dug in for the night. Overnight elements of the 21st Panzer Division attacked with infantry in half-track, but the attack was effectively beaten off. The North Novies had suffered D-Day casualties of four killed and six wounded. The next 24 hours were to be a lot tougher.
07 June dawned clear and warm, the countryside in this part of Normandy was wide open with broad low hills and gentle slopes. The grain was already standing quite tall and the trees and shrubs were green and lush from the recent rains. Standing at the edge of the woods on the high ground south of Villons-Les-Buissons one could see the church spires of nearby villages poking up from the lower ground and off in the distance to the left the tall chapel at Abbaye d'Ardenne.
At 0745 hours the troops moved off in the same formation as the day before, Recce Troop of 27 CAR as a screen, a beefed up "C" Company leading with "B" Company on the left and "A" Company right, "D" Company in depth. Their axis of advance was Villans-Les-Bissons, Buron, Authie, Franqueville and Capriquet. Two hours later "C" Company had cleared Villons-Les-Bruissons and by 1150 hours Buron was in their hands. Meanwhile "B" Company came up on the left intending to move through the fields around Buron and take up position just short of Authie. Around noon enemy shellfire came in on them and one burst hit Hollis Mc Keil, the young Private that had joined up in Amherst, severely wounding him in the chest and ankle. He and another wounded soldier were given first aid and left together for the stretcher-bearers. Later the second soldier was able to make his way back to Buron and was eventually evacuated to England.
"B" Company moved on to a point between Buron and Authie here the supporting tanks engaged targets in Authie. It was decided that "C" Company should move right on to take Authie and leave Buron for "D" Company to mop up. Following a fierce but short fight "C" Company reported that Authie was in their hands. The Battalion reported the same facts to Brigade at 1300 hours. The enemy shelling and small arms fire were becoming increasingly intense and two Platoons from "C" Company began digging in around the southern edge of town. Recce Troop in their Stuart Tanks pushed on past Authie heading toward Franqueville.
Twenty three year old Tom Mont at this time moving up with his mortar platoon near Buron, about a mile from where his friend Mc Keik lay wounded, when they came under shell fire at about 1300 hours. He and several others dove into a ditch but Mont took a bad shrapnel wound in his right arm. A Sergeant bandaged him up and told him to make it back to Buron when the going got better. It was about this time that things began to come unraveled for the North Novies. The Battalion was stretched along its axis of advance with an unprotected left flank that was being swept by accurate and extremely heavy fire. Elements of "C" Company in Authie was out of range of their supporting artillery and it would be some hours before the guns could be brought up. A communications breakdown rendered useless fire support from the big naval guns that could have silenced a lot of the German artillery as well as re-arranged a lot of the picturesque Normandy countryside. A Troop of 27 CAR was sent up to assist "C" Company and every single tank was knocked out by the wickedly effective German 88's. The Commanding Officer sent out orders for "C" Company to prepare to pull back to higher ground behind Authie and for "B" Company to move over beside "A" Company which was digging in on high ground in the vicinity of Gruchy. As yet "A" Company had taken no casualties.
Around 1500 hours as the time approached for "C" Company to pull back, the Germans launched a counter attack with tanks and infantry. Two platoons of "C" Company were trapped in front of Authie, and tanks of 27 CAR rushed to their assistance through the gap between Authie and Buron. A ferocious tank battle ensued and over the next couple of hours losses on both sides were heavy with over 25 tanks of 27 CAR destroyed or disabled. The infantry fought it out but were overwhelmed. Thirty-seven were killed and today the first street corner at the south end of Authie is named "Place des 37 Canadians". Most of the remainder was captured, including Ivan Crowe who was a mortar man with 14 platoon. George Gill and Tom Henry from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers were also captured about this time.
Tom Windsor's tank was one that had gone to Authie to assist "C" Company. His tank was knocked out around 1700 hours and he and his crew, Philp, Bolt, Lockhead and Marcel Dagenais were captured. Trooper Dagenais was the only French speaking member of the crew and because his captors were able to question him, he was separated from the rest of the crew and sent to the rear. Dagenais would be liberated from a POW Camp in April 1945.
The Germans secured Authie by late afternoon and then swung against "A" Company that was dug in near Gruchy. "A" Company was quickly encircled and cut off. While many soldiers were able to escape by crawling away through the standing grain, many others were killed or like Walter Doherty captured. Buron fell to the enemy. It was now late in the day but the attack did not slow as the Germans attacked next into "B" and "D" Company positions. Two platoons were quickly overrun as 16 platoon ran out of ammunitions. Finally the Canadian Artillery had been brought forward within range and the German attack at last faltered. With the remaining tanks the North Novies launched an attack which successfully blunted the enemy thrust. At nightfall the initial casualty assessment showed only eleven confirmed dead and thirty wounded but two hundred and four men were listed as missing. Most of the latter in fact had also been killed like the 37 men at Authie, or captured like the 18 members of the NNSH and 27 CAR introduced in this chronicle. The German Regimental Headquarters at Abbaye d'Ardenne was bursting with these prisoners that night.
For the next several days the action was less intense in the area. The 9th Brigade engaged in patrolling aimed especially at destroying the many disabled German tanks in no-mans land. Tanks that the Germans had great success in recovering at night. The Germans were looking not only to recover and repair their damaged tanks but were also trying to take prisoners for questioning to assess the speed of the build up in their front. A week had passed and fortunately the enemy had no success in this latest venture.
On 16 June at 1540 hours a Liaison Officer from Brigade arrived at the SD&GH Battalion Command Post with orders for a fighting and demolition patrol. Fred Williams, Commander of 18 Platoon, of "D" Company received his orders at 1700 hours. "Search for and destroy enemy disabled tanks in the vicinity of Gruchy". At 1805 hours a section of Engineers from 18 Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers arrived to support his patrol. The weather was cool and cloudy a good night for such a patrol. They set off at 2300 hours from their location at Vieux Cairon heading for Gruchy some 800 meters away. Williams was in front, behind him and to one side was his NCO in charge of 7 Section, L/Cpl. George Pollard. The details of exactly what had happened are sketchy but the patrol instead of bearing south strayed into the enemy's defenses around Buron. At about 0100 hours when the patrol was about 600 yards out all hell broke loose. Someone stepped on a mine, flares went off, machine guns opened up, and small arms fire rained in on them from close range. Williams and Pollard were both hit and one Sapper, William Mustoe from Winnipeg was killed.
By 0220 hours the password "Mustard Cress" was being muttered all along the front of "B" Company of the SD&GH, as the remnants of the patrol made it's way back in two's and threes. Corporal Johnny Labonte who was now the senior man reported in at 0330 hours. At first light a patrol went out towards Gauchy to look for the wounded but came back around noon empty handed. The Germans had taken their prisoners to their Regimental Headquarters at the Abbaye d' Ardenne.
In October of 1964 the Vico Family were able to obtain the names of the twenty victims of murder that took place at the Abbaye d'Ardenne. This enabled them to erect a memorial cairn in their garden where the executions took place. The existing bronze plaque attached to the monument contains their names in memory.
In 1988 during a visit by the Zone Germany Legion Branches information was gathered about the Vico Family to enable us to prepare a request to have the family receive the Royal Canadian Legion Friendship Award. At the 45th Anniversary of the D-Day Landing this medal and award certificate was presented to Michel Vico who accepted it on behalf of his family.
An interesting point brought up during the visit with the Vico Family, was one of the statements made by Jean-Marie regarding the papers which had been found by Mme. Vico that was buried close to the wall of a building on the west side of the garden. Evidently it had been assumed that the German military clerk in Kurt Meyer's staff had been instructed to destroy all incriminating documentation prior to the unit's quick departure from the Abbaye. Realizing the significance of this tragedy that had occurred there, the German soldier had specifically buried the information to be found at a later date.
This story is dedicated to our late friend Mr. Robert Bennett who investigated and prepared this information on this incident that occurred in 1944. Mr. Bennett lived for many years in Authie. He was a university professor at Caen and is now buried in the Communal Cemetery in Authie. Robert Bennett was a true Canadian whom we shall always remember.
Those brave Canadian Soldiers Murdered on 7 - 8 June 1944
Trooper James Elgin BOLT, 27 CAR Age 24 from St Thomas, Ontario
Corporal Joseph Francis MacINTYRE, NNSH Age 28 from Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia
Private Ivan Lee CROWE, NNSH Age 22 from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
Private Hollis Leslie McKEIL, NNSH Age 23 from Lower Selmah, Nova Scotia
Private Walter Michael DOHERTY, NNSH Age 22 from Galway, New Brunswick
Private George Richard McNAUGHTON, NNSH Age 20 from Sydney, Nova Scotia
Private Charles DOUCETTE, NNSH Age 31 from Sydney, Nova Scotia
Private George Edward MILLAR, NNSH Age 19 from Pembroke, Ontario
Trooper George Vincent GILL, 27 CAR Age 23 from England
Private Edward MONT, NNSH Age 23 from Truro, Nova Scotia
Trooper Thomas Haliburton HENRY, 27 CAR Age 22 from Montreal, Quebec
Private Raymond MOORE, NNSH Age 27 from Kentville, Nova Scotia
Private Reginald KEEPING, NNSH Age 21 from Burgeo, Newfoundland
Private James Alvin MOSS, NNSH Age 22 from Stellarton, Nova Scotia
Trooper Roger LOCKHEAD, 27 CAR Age 25 from Montreal, Quebec
Trooper Harold George PHILP, 27 CAR Age 32 from Manilla, Ontario
Private Hugh Allan MacDONALD, NNSH Age 24 from Morvan, Nova Scotia
Lt. Thomas Alfred Lee WINDSOR, 27 CAR Age 29 from Montreal, Quebec
Those brave Canadian Soldiers Murdered on 17 June 1944
L/Corporal George Gerald POLLARD, SD&GH Age 19 from Cornwall, Ontario
Lieutenant Fred WILLIAMS, SD&GH Age 22 from Dalton, England
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