William D’Arcy Shaughnessy, Junior spent the first six months of his military career being trained, first at a base in Brampton, Ontario and then at the University of Toronto. The army let him spend Christmas 1943 at home on a week long furlough.
In January 1944, his military career accelerated a bit when he was sent to Camp Borden, near his father’s birthplace of Barrie, Ontario. At Camp Borden, D’Arcy was trained as a gunner operator. On 14 Jun 1944, D’Arcy’s skills were tested by Army Captain Bashaw, Captain Scott and Lieut. Davies. He passed, preparing him for the next leg of his adventure – joining the fight in Europe.
D’Arcy’s military service records tell us that he left Canada and arrived in the United Kingdom (presumably England) on 27 Jun 1944. There, he underwent further training and by mid-October 1944, he had completed his re-qualification as a Gunner Operator C meaning he was qualified as a tank operator. The winter of 1944-1945 was spent with various armoured units depending on where he was needed most. Christmas 1944 was D’Arcy’s first away from his family.
In March 1945, D’Arcy was assigned to the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment and was with his unit as they began liberating Holland, part of the Allied Forces march to Berlin. D’Arcy’s war however was cut short. He would never see the end of the war. On April 14, 1945, just five weeks before Victory in Europe, D’Arcy’s tank was hit. D’Arcy was killed.
The Army routine of filling out forms immediately kicked into action. D’Arcy’s military file is filled with all and sundry of forms that were completed documenting his service and death in the military. There is the inventory of his personal effects: six pairs of socks, two packets of playing cards, a plastic crucifix, a postcard of Holland – I wonder if that was to be a souvenir or something he was going to use to write home.
The Army also began the gruesome steps involved in family notification.
On 20 April 1945, six days after her son had died, a telegram was sent to “Mrs. Margaret B. Shaughnessy,” addressed to her Lansing, Ontario home: “REGRET DEEPLY B148771 TROOPER WILLIAM DARCY SHAUGHNESSY JUNIOR HAS BEEN OFFICIALLY REPORTED KILLED IN ACTION FOURTEENTH APRIL 1945 STOP YOU SHOULD RECEIVE FURTHER DETAILS BY MAIL DIRECT FROM THE UNIT IN THE THEATRE OF WAR STOP TO PREVENT POSSIBLE AID TO OUR ENEMIES DO NOT DIVULGE DATE OF CASUALTY OF NAME OF UNIT”
It is hard to imagine the shock, pain, and grief that the Shaughnessy family would have experienced on the day the telegram arrived at their door. It is easier to understand why families dreaded the appearance of a telegram delivery person during those war years.
What is known is that William and Margaret placed a short obituary or death notice in the Toronto Star newspaper on 23 April 1945. As instructed, they did not include their son’s date of death nor the name of his unit, rather the notice simply stated that D’Arcy was the “beloved elder son of Mr. and Mrs. D’Arcy Shaughnessy, dear brother of Catherine and Louis.” A requiem mass was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday 24 April 1945 at St. Edward’s Roman Catholic Church.
The appearance of William D’Arcy Shaughnessy’s name on his parent’s gravestone is a memorial tribute. As was the case in the First World War, the bodies of fallen soldiers were typically not repatriated but interred in the area in which they had been killed. Such was the case for young D’Arcy. One month after the war’s end, on 23 Jun 1945, the Shaughnessy family was informed that D’Arcy “was buried with religious rites” in a temporary military cemetery near Deventer, Holland, his grave temporarily marked with a wooden cross.
Just as the Army had explained would happen to the family, D’Arcy’s remains were subsequently exhumed and he was re-buried at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery near Overijssel, Holland. Now a proper gravestone marks the place where D’Arcy rests in peace.
Gravestone of Trooper William D’Arcy Shaughnessy, Junior, Holten Canadian War Cemetery, Overijssel, The Netherlands (Photo courtesy Maple Leaf Legacy Project – www.mapleleaflegacy.ca)
The Canadian Government maintains Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower, the central architectural structure of the Canadian Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada. Each day a page of the book is turned so if you are in Ottawa on November 25th this year, page 563 of the Second World War Book of Remembrance will display the name of Trooper William D’Arcy Shaughnessy, a true Canadian hero!
Second World War Book of Remembrance, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Ontario
(photo courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada – http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/books)