A story in last week’s Independent asking for people in the community to help build the history of Second World War lance corporal Dwight Earl Welch has resulted in an outpouring of information from family and friends still in the Erskine area, as well as all over Canada.
Mike Muntain, a piper with the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment Fife and Drum band, contacted The Independent with nothing except Welch’s name and service number, and now he says Welch will be one of those he won’t be able to get out of his head, all due to the touching contacts he’s had with Welch’s family.
“He was really loved,” he said.
Welch, who was known by friends and family as Johnny, did not die in Dieppe as originally thought. Welch was wounded and captured at Dieppe and taken to a prison camp in Meiningen, Germany. On Aug. 27, 1942 he was admitted to the hospital and died four days later during surgery. The cause of death was listed as septicaemia.
Welch was buried in Meiningen, but was later exhumed and reburied in Holten’s Canadian War Cemetery.
The town where Welch is buried, Holten in the Netherlands, is trying to rebuild the history of the nearly 1,400 Canadian soldiers interred there. That project led to Muntain, which then led to Stettler.
“The small community newspapers, especially in Alberta, have had some of the best response,” Muntain said. “(Welch) was indeed a loved man and by all accounts seems like a great guy. With all the correspondence with his family, I got to know the man, not just the soldier. Johnny is one guy that stuck with me and this makes this an emotional project at times.”
Welch’s actions at Dieppe, which had him pulling the wounded from the beach despite the danger to his own life, and while wounded himself, earned him a commendation from his commanding officer.
“He should not even have been on the Dieppe Raid,” wrote Welch’s nephew, Douglas Earl Welch in an email, “but threatened to transfer to another regiment if he was not allowed to accompany his ‘buddies’ on the raid.”
The surviving Welch was 11 when his uncle died.
“The grief and loss felt by us all is still quite vivid in my mind even after more than 70 years,” he said. “He was so sure the war would be short and decisive and he would soon be back home with his girl and family.”
As the family historian, Welch remembers “Uncle Johnny” quite clearly, aided by the young soldier’s journals and letters, which started before he enlisted and continued through training and all the way to the front.
“Both his confidence and his impatience come through clearly in his letters,” Welch’s email explained. “Now that Canada was on the scene – along with the United States, whose soldiers he found arrogant and highly overrated – Germany would soon get the ‘drubbing’ it deserved.”
Through the outpouring of information from readers of the story, Muntain said that Johnny Welch will be one of the soldiers whose face he will never forget and, even after 70 years, Welch’s nephew knows the feeling quite well.
“Undoubtedly the raid was a tragedy of errors in high places, but deciding who was to blame does not bring back any of those who died,” he wrote in his email.
“Something went out of my Grandpa that day – something vital – and he was never the same. Johnny had been a ‘favourite’ for all of us. Johnny’s life had been cut off after 22 years and nearly 11 months, but we were still alive – alive but never to be the same. And thus war never ends.”