Finding Lyle Boice
By Darren Lum
The following story marks Legion Week, a provincial celebration of the organizations dedicated to veterans.
When the parachute bomb silently fell in Nijmegen, The Netherlands during the Second World War, 22-year-old Lyle Laverne Boice of West Guilford didn’t even know they were dropped until he was left in a nearby hospital hoping to see morning.
The sergeant with the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders unfortunately succumbed that night, dying from the abdomen wound. He left behind mother, Ethel, father, Bert, and older sister Muriel, who later became a Welch, marrying Reg.
The Dutch national Remembrance Day is May 4 while Liberation Day is on May 5 because back in 1945 Canadian General Charles Foulkes accepted the German surrender on the same date. Since 1985, every five years a week-long country-wide celebration that includes dignitaries such as the royal family, heads of state and returning veterans is held along with the national ceremonies.
They went to pay their respects to an uncle they never met, but knew so well from those who served with him and the stories told reverently by their mother.
As part of a Canadian contingent, they were met in Apledoorn from the airport by a welcome fit for heroes like their uncle who never came home. More than 7,600 Canadians died as part of the liberation of the Netherlands over a nine month span.
Banners hung above the LaLoon street, a dinner was held to honour the returning veterans and surviving family members of veterans like Hamilton, an emergency room nurse in Minden hospital, and Welch, retired.
“We were just treated like royals,” Hamilton said.
One of those banners was brought home by Welch, who convinced the organizing committee of the event to take one of three that were mailed back to Canada. The banner was presented and given to the Royal Canadian Legion in Minden this past Monday afternoon.
It was truly a humbling experience for Hamilton and Welch, who found a connection to their past and closure to move from into the future.
Their uncle was considered a giant of a man, standing six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.
Boice was a gunner in the artillery, well-versed in signalling and also worked the switchboard before he joined the Highlanders. He also instructed soldiers on how to use a six-pound anti-tank gun just before D-Day.
Before he died, he had already escaped death twice.
When he was approaching the shores of Normandy on D-Day the boat he was travelling in exploded. He survived for eight hours, floating in the cold waters of the ocean until he was rescued. Boice was part of a regiment that was the first Allies to enter the city of Caen and was then promoted to sergeant.
Then in France, a bullet shot his beret off, missing his head. The third time while in Nijmegen he wasn’t so lucky.
On Nov. 26, 1944, Boice was forming up for the church parade when a bomb fell in the area. The blast was so great it destroyed a house near the parade ground, breaking windows in the battalion headquarters and nearby buildings. Two soldiers were killed instantly while 15 others were wounded, including Boice and a number of civilians including two sisters, aged nine and six. With food scarce, the children often ran to the soldiers in hopes of handouts.
Boice eventually died of his wound and was buried in Nijmegen. He was later moved to a permanent grave at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in Gelderland.
Although he never actually met Hamilton and Welch, Boice lived on through the many colourful stories told by his older sister.
“Mom loved to drive and was always bugging her dad to use the car. She kept bugging Lyle and asking him why he didn’t want to learn to drive. This went on for some time and one day she was bugging him about driving and their dad got into the mix of it and asked Lyle why he didn’t want to learn to drive. His response to both of them was ‘I already know how to drive.’ Both of them challenged Lyle on his claim. They all went out to the garage and Grandpa opened the door. Lyle jumped into the car backed it out of the garage and drove away down the road much to the dismay of his dad and sister,” he wrote in an email. “Mom said he must have watched both of them drive the car and just put the technique in his brain. They were both speechless when he returned home with the car. I’m not sure his big sister challenged him on too many more issues after that experience. Mom always chuckled when she told that story.”
Hamilton’s mother regularly made a point of reminding her three grandsons of the importance of peace and the price paid, particularly by the Boice family.
Her mother died five years ago. She was 93.
“My mother talked about her brother every day,” she said.
Although the Second World War seems distant to Canadians, it is still alive among the Dutch she met, Hamilton said.
There’s a greater emotional connection when you hear people speak about the past. It brings it to life, bringing weight to history that is otherwise remote, she adds.
Hamilton learned the Dutch depended greatly on tulip bulbs as a main source of food.
“You know they would take the tulip bulb and make them into soups, but we don’t remember [the war] as much, I don’t think, because we weren’t there. We didn’t live through it,” she said.
There is a reverence for the Canadians who served and died in the Netherlands.
“It was sombre at our house. She just didn’t like Novembers,” she said, speaking of her mother. “We always watched anything military as far as Remembrance Day.”
“My mom said this was almost an adventure for these young men. It was an adventure. Gosh, they’re going to go on a boat, get training,” she said. “They had no idea what they were in for and probably a lot of people didn’t.”
This past spring Minden residents Mary Hamilton and John Welch, his only niece and nephew, returned to where he died as part of the ceremonies for the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. With many veterans in their 90s, The Netherlands have opened their doors to the children, grandchildren and nephews and nieces like Hamilton and Welch.
The Minden siblings went as part of the Welcome Again Veterans program, which enabled them to be billeted with an Apeldoorn host family, Trude and Ted Molenaar. This program has arranged accommodations and commemoration programs for returning veterans and their families every five years since 1990, according to Legion Magazine.
At the end of the week, the National Liberation Parade in Apeldoorn was held.
Welch recounts one story that demonstrated how his uncle was a bit of a character with a sense of humour.
Hamilton adds there are other reminders of her uncle everywhere from the painted portrait in her childhood home, growing up, to how boys and men from within the family and outside are named Lyle.
It’s as if he will live forever.
The son of Mack Jamieson, who is from Pembroke and uncle of Janet Denniston who served with Hamilton’s uncle is named Lyle Jamieson. Jamieson has since met with Hamilton.
“My mother always hugged them and said, ‘I hope you never have to go to war’,” she said.
“There are 2,338 Canadian Soldiers resting in Groesbeek War Cemetery and it is situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by mature trees. It is immaculately kept by Dutch school children, which is part of their school curriculum. I came away from that visit with a sense of peace. The Dutch people will always be grateful for their ultimate sacrifice,” Welch said.
Besides the banner, Hamilton and Welch also returned with a unique keepsake that chronicled the lives and the duties of the regiment that served in Nijmegen, protecting the town and the strategic Waal Bridge and holding the line.
Produced by Dutch graphic designer Wigger K.F. van der Horst., the book is called The Winter Fighting and covers the period of Nov. 9, 1944 to Feb. 11, 1945. Horst was a five-year-old boy, living in Nijmegen and knew of the regiment well, particularly the bombing that killed Boice. Horst also designed stamps that recognized the sacrifice of the regiment for the area. He appreciated the Canadians and never forgot what they did,.
“It was a trip that was just unbelievable. I could just feel that much closer to him I think,” Hamilton said.
The month of November, like the weather in the Highlands, was not a happy time in the Welch household.
Boice, a teenager, had just finished high school before he enlisted to go overseas and be part of a “great adventure,” Hamilton said, repeating what her mother said during an interview with the Times before she died.