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Man hopes to return ID tag to family of soldier killed in WWII

Brian Bone found a military identification tag belonging to rifleman Gaston Clermont, who died in battle during WII. Mr. Bone is trying to find out if Mr. Clermont has relatives in Montreal, so he can return the tag to them.

Richard Ponter

Seven decades and two years ago this fall, a young man named Gaston Clermont died in battle as Allied forces fighting Nazi Germany started entering the Netherlands.

It is not clear if he was French or Canadian. What is certain is that he had family in Montreal who mourned his death.

He was fighting with a British unit, with the rank of rifleman, when he ‎died after his company came under German mortar shelling on a rainy day in the Low Countries.

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As Remembrance Day nears, Mr. Clermont's ‎life story and tragic fate is on the mind of a man in northern England.

Three years ago, Brian Bone found a metal tag on a beach near his home. On it was inscribed a name, Gaston Clermont, and a number, 6916813.

Related: A frozen moment in time that sums up pain and loss of war

Related: The forgotten WWI battle that helped define Canada as a nation

Read more: Time machine: What life in Canada was like before the First World War

It was only this fall that Mr. Bone realized, after seeing a similar object on a historical television show, that he had found a Second World War military identification tag.

Mr. Bone now hopes to find if Mr. Clermont has relatives in Canada so he could give them the identification tag. "If there's family, it's worth more to them than to me," Mr. Bone said when reached at his house in Filey, a small beach town in Yorkshire.

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Mr. Clermont, service number 6916813, is buried at the Nederweert War Cemetery in the Netherlands.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed as his next of kin an aunt in Montreal.

The tag also had an inscription, "Dieppe (SI) France, Kathleen," though there is no sign it is related to the 1942 raid by Canadian troops in that French port.

Mr. Clermont was 28 years old when he was killed on Sept. 23, 1944. He served at the time with the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, a London-raised regiment that was part of the 11th Armoured Division.

His death was briefly described in From the Beaches to the Baltic, a long-forgotten war memoir published in 1947 by Noel Bell, his company commander in the Rifle Brigade. "A sad loss to us," Major Bell wrote about losing Mr. Clermont.

Maj. Bell and other sources say Mr. Clermont died in the days after the 11th Armoured Division crossed the Dutch border in September of 1944. The division's mission was to protect the right flank of the British ground offensive in Operation Market-Garden, an unsuccessful attempt by Allied armour and airborne troops to breach into Germany through the Netherlands.

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On Sept. 23, Maj. Bell's company arrived at the village of Ommel. The Germans had pulled out, but they left large numbers of dead men and horse carcasses behind.

"Hell was then let loose," Maj. Bell wrote. "The village came in for shelling and mortaring, the like of which we had not seen since Normandy."

Three half-track vehicles were destroyed, including one for stretcher bearers that was driven by Mr. Clermont, which was turned into "a mass of twisted metal and rendering it quite unrecognizable as a vehicle."

Maj. Bell described Mr. Clermont as "a Frenchman who had joined us early after the fall of France, but who had never had the opportunity to see the realization of his dreams – his liberated home in Northern France."

However, according to the registry compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Mr. Clermont was the son of Maria Clermont and the nephew of Eugénie Rousseau of Montreal.

His headstone, written in French, says: "In memory of our nephew, killed in action, dearly beloved nephew and godson."

The 11th Armoured Division, which had been fighting since landing in Normandy a week after D-Day, eventually entered Germany in the spring, liberating the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April.

The following month, they were near Luebeck when the Germans surrendered. That night, Maj. Bell wrote, many "offered up a prayer of gratitude that we had been spared to live through this great occasion. So many had not."

Mr. Clermont and four other soldiers from the Rifle Brigade who died on that day in 1944 have lain in obscurity until Mr. Bone found that metal tag on a beach. ‎

A supervisor for a cleaning company, the 68-year-old Mr. Bone was born three years after the end of the Second World War. He said he valued the sacrifice of men such as Mr. Clermont because his father and uncles had also served in the war. "I appreciate what they did," he said.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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