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Second World War soldier laid to rest

His was one Canadian death among dozens on the day 70 years ago, and among 7,600 of the nine-month campaign to liberate the Netherlands near the end of the Second World War. Yet Dutch families who never knew Private Albert Laubenstein came in tribute to his sacrifice when he was finally laid to rest in May.

“This is a special opportunity,” said Anni Hamer, who, with her husband Ruud, brought grandchildren Ilse, 12, and Jaap, 9, to Laubenstein’s military funeral at Bergen op Zoom Canadian War Cemetery during commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.

The family attends the annual ceremony held at the cemetery at the end of October commemorating the liberation of the area, but this funeral helps bring it down to the personal level for the children.   

“It’s touching for me and for all Canadians to realize how strongly the people of the Netherlands remember what Canada did for them 70 years ago,” said the soldier’s nephew, Glen Laubenstein of Victoria, who attended the funeral with his daughter, Sarah Penton of Winnipeg.

Laubenstein, of Saskatoon, Sask., joined up in 1940 and was a member of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, which bore the brunt of the Battle of Kapelsche Veer on Jan. 26-31, 1945. German paratroopers had established a bridgehead on an island north of the Maas River in the Netherlands and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division was tasked with clearing them out after three earlier failed attempts.

Casualties were heavy in the snow and icy water during five days of fighting. Tracked flamethrowers were mired and unable to climb the high, wide and steeply angled dikes protecting part of the island. Canoes carrying troops came under heavy fire and some were sunk. Weapons froze solid, rendering them useless. Laubenstein, 30, died on the first day of the battle.

There were hundreds of Canadian casualties from wounds and frostbite—and 65 deaths. Of 50 soldiers of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment who were killed, six, including Laubenstein, had no known grave. He had been given a battlefield burial, but location of his grave was lost in the fog of war.

In the summer of 2014, remains and artifacts, including a Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, were discovered on the bank of the Maas and reported to the Recovery and Identification Unit of the Royal Netherlands Army. The Canadian Armed Forces’ Directorate of History and Heritage used dental records, historical context and artifacts to confirm the remains are those of Laubenstein, the fourth of the regiment’s missing men from Kapelsche Veer to be recently identified.

Engraved on the Groesbeek Memorial, in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, are the names of Canadian personnel who died between the crossing of the Seine in 1944 and the end of the war and have no known grave. Lubenstein’s name will now appear on a gravestone in Bergen op Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, next to regimental comrades. The Hamer family will again pay their respects there in October.

Glen Laubenstein had heard stories about Albert from time to time while he was growing up, but attending the funeral and learning as an adult about the conditions under which his uncle had died “really made it hit home.” 


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