A Dutch woman has seen the face of the Edinburgh-born soldier whose final resting place she has tended for more than 60 years, thanks to the painstaking research of a War Graves Volunteer.
Tonnie Thijssen, 91, has visited the grave of lance-corporal Harold Ewen three times a year after being asked to adopt the grave of a soldier in 1948.
Lance-cpl Ewen, who was born in Portobello and served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, died in 1945 during the liberation of the Netherlands from the Germans.
He was one of six casualties suffered by 5th KOSB’s “C Company” during “Operation Veritable”, when his regiment, charged with taking Broederbosch Wood near Afferden, was hit by a “moaning minnies” rocket strike. The nebelwerfer rockets were so named by Allied soldiers because of the terrible sound they made as they rained down.
Last Christmas Eve, Paul Ten Broeke, a volunteer for the War Graves Photographic Project, saw Mrs Thijssen placing flowers on the soldier’s grave. She told him she had kept up her thrice-yearly pilgrimage for so long to show that those who fell attempting to free her country would never be forgotten.
Mr Ten Broeke said: “Mrs Thijssen told me she had been visiting this grave three times a year for 64 years because she felt grateful for his sacrifice so that she, her children and grandchildren can live in freedom.
Mrs Thijssen said: “It is important for the Scottish public to know that Harold is not lying at a dark place but that his grave is being visited regularly.” Touched by her continued effort, Mr Ten Broeke endeavoured to find out more about the soldier, with the help of organisations such as the KOSB and the War Graves Commission. He discovered that Harold had been born in Portobello on October 26, 1919 but lived in Dumfriesshire after his parents George and Martha Ewen moved there in the early 1920s.
His name is inscribed on the headstone in the Milsbeek war cemetery in the Netherlands where he is buried and is also on the memorials at Dunscore and Glencairn.
Paul continued: “After painstaking work she also now has a photograph of him, which takes pride of place in her home.”