Aubrey Cosens

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Aubrey Cosens
Aubrey Cosens VC.jpg
Born (1921-05-21)21 May 1921
Latchford, Ontario
Died 26 February 1945(1945-02-26) (aged 23)
Mooshof, near Uedem, Germany
Buried at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, The Netherlands
Allegiance Canada
Service/branch Canadian Army
Years of service 1940 - 1945
Rank Sergeant
Unit The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
Battles/wars World War II  
Awards Victoria Cross (UK) ribbon.png Victoria Cross

Aubrey Cosens, VC, (21 May 1921 - 26 February 1945) was a Canadian (born in Latchford, Ontario) posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Military service[edit]

Aubrey Cosens Awarded the Victoria Cross by Angus Scully

By February 1945 the green Allied formations that landed on D-Day had become hard professional armies. Army, Corps, and Division commands had been shaken down and were operating efficiently. The supply problem that had plagued operations in the autumn had been solved, but most crucial for winning on the battlefield against the still formidable Germans were the officers and NCOs of the front line infantry battalions. Those who had survived the previous eight months of combat had gained invaluable experience. When Allied offensive operations resumed after the end of the Battle of the Bulge, the German armies were fighting desperately for their lives in their own fatherland. They were still very dangerous, but the seasoned officers and NCOs leading Allied battalions into action were their match by 1945. The story of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada shows the impact on the battlefield of experienced infantry leaders. How young civilians from a great variety of backgrounds became such effective leaders is a fascinating story.

At 0430 hours on February 26, 1945, two outstanding riflemen lead an attack against German Paratroopers in their fortified positions in Mooshof, Germany. It was and is an obscure hamlet, but it held the key to the advance of an entire Canadian Corps. Aubrey Cosens was from a remote mining and lumber frontier and had been a railway laborer before enlisting. That day he personally killed twenty of the enemy and captured twenty more, leading his platoon of teenagers to a famous victory. But only minutes after securing his position he was killed by a sniper on his way to report to his Company commander. For his courage and leadership, Platoon Sergeant Aubrey Cosens was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The VC is rarely given out and can only be earned in the presence of the enemy. Cosens was the first to earn one in the Third Canadian Division in this war - and this was a division that had landed on D-Day, taken 76% casualties in Normandy, and used its amphibious warfare experience to defeat the Germans in Holland. When the VC was announced, it created a sensation in Northern Ontario where Cosens had grown up. One news paper article attributed to Cosens, “The Spirit of the North - a spirit that enables men to perform noble deeds spontaneously and without regard for their personal safety. It has often been said that the North does something to a man, something fine and generous and loyal.” This sentiment may seem a little over the top today but Aubrey Cosens is still remembered and commemorated in the small towns of Northern Ontario.

Cosens’ company commander was Major Ben Dunkelman. His D Company had crossed the start line that morning with 115 men. By nightfall only 36 were left. Dunkelman survived - the only unwounded officer.

Dunkelman had a very different background from Cosens. He grew up in a wealthy family, attended the best schools in Canada, and was an executive in the family business, Tip Top Tailors, when the war began, then after the war he joined the Israeli Army and, as commander of its Seventh Brigade, took the Galilee for Israel in 1948.

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada is a storied regiment which can trace its illustrious and distinguished history back to 1861, priding itself in the traditions of rifle regiments. Riflemen were expected to act with initiative, speed, and resolve, and always to support one another. Having been a D-Day assault battalion, the Queen’s Own were, by 1945, a hard fighting and close knit outfit. They had fought through the Battle of Normandy, helped close the Falaise Gap, taken part in the siege of Boulogne, and become “water rats” in the flood and mud battles of the Scheldt. The battalion had been green when they ran across the beaches on D-Day morning, but in February 1945, they were professional warriors.

The story of Cosens and Dunkelman on February 26, 1945 is one of outstanding infantry leadership. What brought these two men from very different walks of life to a battlefield in Germany?

Frontier Kid - Aubrey Cosens

Aubrey Cosens was born in 1921. His father, Charlie, was a First World War veteran, whose job with the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad took him to the tiny, isolated village of Porquis Junction. It was accessible only by rail and existed to serve the railway. There Charlie, his wife Yvonne, and young Aubrey lived in a converted rail car, a common way of housing railway personnel in the North. Then in 1924, Yvonne died of cancer, leaving Charlie with a four-year-old son to care for. As was typical of remote settlements, the neighbours all helped Charlie, taking in Aubrey while Yvonne was ill, and, after her death, taking on the job of caring for the little boy while Charlie was at work. Mrs. Dorothy Smith, whose husband worked with Charlie, ended up looking after Aubrey full time, becoming in effect his foster mother. When the Smiths later moved to the gold mining town of Timmins, Aubrey went with them, and Charlie visited when he could. In Porquis Junction and Timmins Aubrey grew up in a loving, extended family. Remembered as a lad who was always on the go, he grew up crazy for sports, playing hockey with the Timmins Police Amateur Athletic League and for teams from the mines around Timmins. In the summer he played baseball. The discipline and hard work of sports helped shape the character of the young man, as much as the people of his small communities and family.

At age 16 Aubrey left school as so many did during the Depression years, although his family connections got him seasonal work on a section gang for 32 cents an hour. It was hard outdoor labor, in cold, rain, or heat, and often surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies. Aubrey worked for the railway in several small towns throughout the north, but spent the winters with the Smiths or with Charlie who had moved to the lumber town of Latchford, still with the railway. Canada declared war on Germany in September of 1939, but Aubrey stayed on the job, spending the winter cutting and selling firewood.

The British defeat and retreat from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940 seems to have been the catalyst that prompted Aubrey to enlist. He was working on a section gang with Cecil Holmes who today remembers that when they heard about Dunkirk, Aubrey came into the bunk car and announced that they were needed in Europe. The two boys went down to North Bay to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, but Aubrey was turned away as he had forgotten his school records. He returned to work, and his foster mother Mrs. Smith told him he really didn’t have to go - he was just 19, but Aubrey insisted he would and when the Fall work season ended in November 1940, he took the train to Toronto and enlisted in the infantry - with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada.

Almost immediately the Argyll’s were sent to Jamaica for two years of garrison duty. The raw, partially trained Canadian militia battalion relieved British regulars desperately needed at home. It was an eye opening adventure for the young man from the remote north - indeed it was an exotic posting for all of the Argylls. The battalion returned to Canada briefly in 1943, and was then posted overseas to became part of the Fourth Canadian Armoured Division. In England, Aubrey was promoted to Corporal and sent to the Army School of Physical Training - his athleticism marking him as a PT instructor. After that he was transferred to the Third Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (a holding and training unit), and from that posting was sent as a replacement into Normandy in July 1944, with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. The orientation talk for Aubrey and the other new men was given by the mortar platoon commander - Ben Dunkelman. From then on Aubrey was in the thick of it, and was soon promoted to Sergeant. In a letter to his girlfriend, he wrote, “So it’s Sergeant now and what a lot of work there is to do and do I ever have a lot of dirt flung at me from all angles. But I’ll beat it if it kills me. I was platoon commander for two weeks or more. That was a lot of responsibility to take and it makes you think am I doing this right... how many men will come back... If I get grey hairs you can guess the reason. The word responsibility is a big one in the Army. I have learned that.” The boy had become a man, and to the teen aged soldiers of his platoon in February he seemed an old veteran.

The men of D Company recall Aubrey Cosens as a remarkable man and leader,

Don Chittenden, 16 Platoon

“With all due respect to the platoon commander, it was Cosens who ran the platoon, who took care of morale, who knew tactics.”

“... while the rest of us were trying to save ourselves, Cosens was off trying to win the war.”

Bill Ives, Company Sergeant Major

“The very first thing he did was look after his men. He was just more caring about other people than about himself. He always seemed to know how to lift morale.”

Jack Staples, 16 Platoon

“Cosens liked to be with the boys and was always joking. He was also very commanding. He knew how to handle our platoon of 38.”

Ben Dunkelman, Commander D Company

“He was an outstanding, good looking man, a perfect non-commissioned officer, and carried as much as 80 pounds of ammunition on his back when his platoon went into action. I cannot speak of him too highly as a fine, clean-living soldier...”

Was Cosens really such a remarkable man? Were his former comrades just extending the image of the man who became a hero? Is it really too much to expect that a recipient of the Victoria Cross be strong, good looking,, and “clean living?” We have only their recorded memories, and Cosens military record, but that record does contain one, and only one, blemish. In Jamaica, on January 4, 1943, Cosens was found guilty of being absent without leave and was confined to barracks for five days. Cosens was absent from 2254 hours December 31, to 0600 hours on January 1. This New Years celebration far from home, and from danger, seems only to confirm the image created by his comrades.

Ben Dunkelman - a born leader.

Ben Dunkelman came from a very different background. He was born in 1913 in Toronto to a wealthy Jewish family. His father owned Tip Top Tailors - Canada’s largest manufacturer and seller of men’s clothing. His mother was a leader in the Canadian Red Cross, founded a newspaper, The Jewish Standard, and was an enthusiastic Zionist. As a boy, Ben met prominent Zionists who came to stay at the family’s 90 acre estate on the outskirts of Toronto. One of them was Chaim Weizmann, who was President of the World Zionist Organization, and later became the first President of Israel. At home and at the family’s summer home on Lake Simcoe, Ben grew to love the outdoors and sailing. He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto, Ontario, an elite private boys school whose cadet corps was affiliated with the Queen’s Own Rifles. The college placed a great deal of emphasis on patriotism and loyalty to King and country. Ben was a so-so student, but an excellent athlete, playing hockey and football. For the football team, at six feet two and 200 pounds, he often played both offense and defense for the whole game. He was so good that the team basically had one play - give the ball to Dunkelman.

Nothing perhaps shows his privileged background more than the gift his parents presented him with for his eighteenth birthday - in the middle of the worst of the Great Depression. It was a round trip ticket to Palestine, and $500 spending money. He went on his own, first to Europe where he took in the sights, including a cruise on the Rhine, and then on to Jerusalem. There, not surprisingly given his childhood, he decided to stay for a while. What he did, might not have been expected from a rich boy from Canada who grew up with servants, summer homes, and the best private schools. Ben went to work at the Jewish settlement of Tel Asher, 30 miles north of Tel Aviv. It was a rough and primitive place - Ben had a bug infested straw mattress to sleep on after long exhausting days stooped over a short handled hoe. But being naturally strong, he quickly toughened up and soon reveled in the hard work , companionship with the other laborers, and the pay of a dollar a day. His parents wanted him to return home but he kept cashing in the tickets they sent and bought himself a shotgun, which allowed him to become a watchman, protecting the settlement from thieves and trespassers. This led him to several fights, but he was a big man and toughened by manual labor - he won all his scraps. After a year at Tel Asher, Ben was persuaded by a family friend to return to Canada. The boy of privilege had received a good upbringing in a loving family, but there is no doubt that his year at Tel Asher made him an individual who could deal with a harsh life.

Back in Toronto, Ben was a dutiful son and entered into the family business - starting at the bottom and doing a bit of every job in the factory and stores, but he longed to return to Palestine and his great adventure. He did go back in 1935 to try to set up a farm, but the deal fell through and illness forced him to return to Canada. Back in Toronto again, he was something of a party animal, and admitted to heavy drinking and fast cars, although the Depression was hurting the family finances and the family estate, Sunnybrook, was sold off to pay debts. Ben threw himself into the business and introduced new ladies wear and sportswear departments into the stores. The business survived, and Ben lead the life of a single playboy.

When Canada entered the war, Ben announced that he was going to enlist. His family was very opposed, especially as Ben would have been exempt from service as the executive in the clothing industry which was needed for the production of uniforms. When Ben’s father arranged for him to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (RCOC) with responsibilities for military supplies, Ben refused. He first tried to join the Royal Canadian Navy, but it considered him over qualified to be a seaman, and put him on a waiting list to be trained as an officer. After waiting to be called all winter, he found out that the Navy had a policy of not accepting Jews as officers (later reversed). Angry but not deterred, Ben joined the militia , as a Rifleman (private) in the second battalion of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, training evenings and weekends. A natural leader and an experienced businessman, Ben was promoted to Sergeant and sent on an NCO’s course and then served as an acting Company Sergeant Major. After six months as an NCO he was accepted for officers training. At 28 he was older than the average and no longer a lean and hard teenager, but he was determined to serve and fight the Nazis. After being commissioned a Lieutenant, he was placed on duty training new recruits, but he strained to get into combat. He was shipped overseas in 1943, to rejoin the First Battalion of the Queen’s Own Rifles where he immediately exerted his personality and leadership in command of the mortar platoon. The regimental history of the Queen’s Own tells about the Christmas party given for English children in 1943. “Soldiers provided goodies from their own parcels from home. The outstanding feature of the party was Lt. Ben Dunkelman’s interpretation of Santa Claus. His commanding height, resounding voice and histrionic ability all combined to keep the children in ecstasies.” On D-Day, June 6 1944, Ben and his mortar platoon hit the beach at H +45. Within minutes they were in the thick of it.

The Queen’s Own Rifles

On February 9 the Queen’s Own were facing action yet again. They had spent the previous three months in defensive lines on the Maas River, securing the Nijmegen Salient. This time had been used in training and integrating replacements to make up for the infantry shortages produced by the ferocious fighting of the summer and autumn of 1944. The Third Canadian Infantry Division had the highest number of casualties of any Allied Division in the Normandy campaign. On the Maas, intensive patrolling kept the men sharp and by February 9 morale was very high as the battalion took the Dutch town of Millingen on the left flank of Operation Veritable.

By February 23 orders for the next phase of action for the QOR were starting to arrive in detail. To keep up the spirit of the men, Cosens organized a company sports meet then won quite a few of the events himself.

On February 24 and 25 the Lt. Col. Steve Lett and his battalion officers made a recce of the proposed front. What they saw was daunting. They knew their opposition would be the German 6th and 8th Parachute Regiments in reinforced concrete positions in farm houses and tiny villages across their front. The Queen’s Own would have to attack over flat open country, overlooked by the enemy on the Udem-Calcar Ridge. Lett decided not to follow standard procedure of following close behind the moving barrage. He said, “Enemy artillery is not very flexible. His defensive fire is brought down very accurately. However, once the limitation of the area is determined, it can be circumvented with comparative safety.” Therefore Lett delayed the QOR assault by half an hour, but the plan to advance over open ground against German paratroopers had a sobering effect on the officers.

Major Dick Medland of A Company told his officers, “This could be the toughest fight we’ve ever been in. A lot of us won’t make it.”

The QOR spent the night in their slit trenches in a cold rain. The men were called out at 0330 hrs, fed sandwiches and coffee laced with rum. Cosens checked his men and finding private Don Chittenden struggling with his wet web equipment, knelt in front of him to get the buckles done up. Chittenden felt as if he were being fussed over by an anxious mother and when he looked down at Cosens they both broke up. Private Don Cowling knew it was going to be a different affair from their experience when he saw Dunkelman walking around waving his pistol and yelling, “Who’s ready for war?”

At 0430 hrs the Queen’s Own started forward under the artificial moonlight created by anti-aircraft searchlights reflecting off the overcast. Quite a few of the riflemen thought it helped the enemy more than it helped them. While Lett might have wanted to avoid the German artillery counter-fire, in fact the QOR came under ferocious fire from automatic weapons and mortars. D Coy suffered heavy casualties crossing the 500 yards of open ground, and only a few men from 16 Platoon made it up to the buildings. Corporal E.W. Fraser was one of the few who did and he called back for the others to speed things up, just before he was cut down by a point blank burst of MP-38 Schmeisser fire from the window of the farm house.

Dunkelman ordered his men to dig in away from the buildings, expecting a German counterattack and prearranged German bombardment of the farm. But 16 platoon did not get away before the German fire started. As Dunkelman later put it, “All hell had broken loose. The bodies of the dead, wounded, and dying lie everywhere you look. It’s a nightmare. The struggle for Mooshof hangs in the balance.” The rest of the story is best told by the eyewitnesses, whose testimony was collected as part of the investigation into awarding a Victoria Cross.

After action testimony of Corporal H. F. Gough

After our Platoon Commander, Lt. Lloyd McKay was wounded, Sgt Cosens took over. He asked me to gather up the men who were not wounded. There were only four of us left. He asked us to give covering fire while he made a dash to find a tank. He appeared on the top of the tank and directed fire which broke up the German counter attack. The Germans in disorderly fashion ran for their building. They started to open fire on us from there with automatic weapons. As he could not stop the withering fire he crouched on the tank and had it ram the first building. With his pistol in hand he wounded one German. After clearing the first building he had the tank move towards the building alongside. Before reaching the building he jumped off the tank to remove L/Cpl Fraser’s body from the path of the tank. He had the tank fire a shell into the second building. The tank then gave covering fire while he himself cleared the building. He forced his way in the front door and alone cleared the building. He then continued across the road with covering fire from the tank and cleared the third building. We followed him from building to building gathering the prisoners. The last I saw of him was when he told me where to sight my BREN gun and then he dashed off to seek the company commander to tell him that the counter attack had been broken up and the objective taken.

After action testimony of Sgt Charles Anderson, 6 Cdn Armd Regt.

"I, B19526 Sgt Anderson C R, 6 Cdn Armd Regt testify that during the battle of 26 February 1945 which took place after we had reached our objective(Mooshof), a Sgt of the Queen’s Own Rifles climbed on my tank and directed my fire upon the enemy who were making a heavy counter attack. Then he directed me towards some buildings where there were heavily held positions, all the while he was on top of the tank. In all his movements he was harassed by snipers. He directed me to ram the building with my tank which I did. After that he went into the building to clean out the enemy. He took several prisoners out of the building. The Sgt then went to other buildings to clean them out while my tank gave him covering fire. There was a great deal of sniping and mortar and shell fire during the whole action in which he directed my tank."

Trooper Bill Adams was the driver in Anderson’s tank and he later recalled,

"I put her in bull-low and advanced. When I hit, I bounced back about two feet and didn’t do too much. Then I tried again and this time I did a pretty good job and went in quite a way. I was pretty careful about ramming those stone walls. Usually there’s some kind of basement. We wouldn’t be much use to anyone with a 30 ton Sherman tank lying around in a cellar. "

Sgt Aubrey Cosens killed twenty of the enemy and took twenty prisoners. He set out to report to Dunkelman but got only 25 yards before he was shot through the head by a sniper and killed instantly. His action was not only considered brave but decisive to the success of the whole attack. By taking and holding Mooshof, Cosens was responsible for D Company seizing its objective, which allowed B Company to pass through to seize the battalion’s final objective and thus protect the right flank of 6 Canadian Infantry Brigade as the Division advanced to the high ground overlooking Calcar and on Keppeln.

Apart from D-Day itself, February 26 was the hardest day of the war for the Queen’s Own. D company had crossed the start line with 115 men. That night, Dunkelman was the only officer left standing. He could count only one NCO and 35 fighting men left. He later said, “I was exhausted: sick in body, and even sicker in spirit. For all my exhaustion, I did not sleep well that night.”

Although D Coy was nearly destroyed, the action did not let up. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division had passed through while the QOR was engaged in Mooshof and gone on to the Hochwald, but in the close forested area, infantry was needed, so the 3rd Div and the QOR with it were called upon to attack again. Tank support was nearly impossible, so again the QOR went at it hand to hand with the enemy. What was left of D Coy was in the thick of things and Dunkelman’s leadership and bravery were rewarded with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). On March 11 the battalion went into reserve until March 28 when it crossed the Rhine and moved on to take part in the liberation of northern Holland. On May 5 the QOR was in Germany and attacking a cross roads near Ostersander. Then the cease fire order was received, and the war in Europe was over. First Canadian Army moved back into the Netherlands to rest and await return to Canada. Dunkelman was very ill with malaria and fed up with war. When offered command of the 1st Battalion of the Queen’s Own, he turned it down, desperate to return to civilian life. The battalion returned to Toronto in late 1945, and Dunkelman returned to life as a business executive at Tip Top Tailors.

Ben Dunkelman and Israel

While he enjoyed peacetime life, and recovered his health, Palestine was never far from Dunkelman’s mind. The full impact of the Holocaust was revealed, and the news was full of stories about Jewish refugees being kept out of Palestine by the British. As a prominent decorated war hero and member of an important Zionist family, Ben Dunkelman was drawn into activities supporting the cause in Palestine. He became the head of the Haganah Committee in Canada, raising funds and finding volunteers and war surplus equipment to send to Palestine. He took an active role in countering anti-Jewish comments published in a Toronto newspaper. Then he was personally encouraged to use his military experience by two outstanding supporters of Israel. Lady Lorna Wingate, widow of General Orde Wingate of Burma fame, was, like her husband, and ardent Zionist. On a visit to Toronto, she challenged Ben to return to Palestine where trained combat officers were needed. Colonel David Marcus (US Army) was a West Point grad who was actively working to get volunteers for the Israeli cause. He wanted Ben to raise a brigade of English speaking volunteers, which Ben could legally do in Canada. US volunteers would, under US law, forfeit their US citizenship. Given Ben’s background it seems now that his departure for Palestine was inevitable.

Ben Dunkelman arrived in Palestine under a false British passport in March 1948 and started working with the Palmach. He was then attached to the Harel Brigade as a supernumerary staff officer. At first the brigade did not know what to do with Ben, but his experience soon told, and the Brigade commander, Yitzhak Rabin, gave Ben more and more responsibility. Ben planned the Harel Brigade’s breakout from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in May 1948. On a broader front he solved problems with mortar production, distribution, and training for the whole Israeli army. Again Ben’s leadership and experience were rewarded when David Ben Gurion appointed him commander of the 7th Brigade of the Israeli Army.

The 7th brigade was made up of many recent immigrants and had suffered high casualties at the hands of the regulars of the Jordanian Army. To restore morale, Ben worked hard at training, organizing courses for officers and NCO’s. To find out if new arrivals really had the military experience many claimed, Ben used a former USMC officer to put them through a course of unarmed combat, and a former sergeant major of the Black Watch who put them through a parade ground routine. Those who had never served in an infantry outfit were quickly exposed. The revitalized brigade was now more than a match for the Arab armies it faced. In July 1948 it attacked and captured Nazareth. In October, in Operation Hiram, Ben devised an unorthodox plan relying on silent movement, surprise and speed to capture the whole of the Galilee in just 36 hours, with few casualties.

After Operation Hiram Ben married Yael Lifshitz who had been a secretary at Norethern Command HQ of the Israeli Army. While on a brief honeymoon trip to Canada and armistice was arranged. Upon their return to Israel, Ben Gurion offered Dunkelman command of the armored corps. Dunkelman turned it down, saying he was not a soldier. A year later he and Yael moved to Canada, and once again Ben Dunkelman took over the family business. Ben and Yael had six children and maintained close ties with Israel. Ben sold the family business in 19 and, with Yael, opened an art gallery in Toronto.

Although Ben Dunkelman always thought of himself as a civilian, he proved he was a formidable combat leader in two wars. He rose to high command in Israel and in business, yet when he wrote his memoirs, he remembered Aubrey Cosens and the Queen’s Own with these words, “Never in my life, either before or since, have I found a body of men who were closer or dearer to me than the young soldiers of D Company. They had put their trust in me, and I had always done my best to justify that.”

The Big Picture

While the Battle of the Bulge was still on, General Eisenhower and the planners at SHAEF had no intention of waiting for spring to renew their offensives. Ike’s plan of December 31, 1944 said that once the Ardennes salient was reduced it was his intention, “...to destroy enemy forces west of Rhine, north of the Moselle and to prepare for crossing the Rhine.” The task was given to Montgomery’s 21 Army Group which planned a pincer movement. In operations Veritable and Blockbuster, First Canadian Army (Crerar) would attack south from the Nijmegen salient. The Ninth US Army (Simpson) was transferred to 21 Army Group and would, in Operation Grenade, attack north. Eisenhower met with General Bradley on January 30 and, the Germans having been defeated in the Bulge, shut down operations there and moved the weight of Allied operations to the North. Veritable was scheduled for February 7 and Grenade for February 9. There was a great deal of controversy at the highest levels of the Allied forces over strategy and command structures, but however much that may entertain historians today, the reality for the men on the ground then was to prepare to fight the Germans on their own soil.

First Canadian Army had actually begun planning for the Rhineland campaign on December 7, 1944, with a target start for January 1, 1945. Field Marshal Montgomery transferred XXX British Corps (Horrocks) to First Canadian Army for the attack. The Germans had other ideas, and their Ardennes offensive of December 16 caused Montgomery to remove XXX Corps from Canadian command on December 19, and to shut down planning for Veritable. First Canadian Army spent the ensuing month on high alert in case of an enemy attack on the Nijmegen salient. On January 16, active planning for Veritable was resumed, XXX British Corps was returned to Canadian command on January 18, and the start date was set for February 8. The cost to the Germans of the failed Ardennes was high, not jut because of the battlefield defeat, but also because the Allies only had to delay the clearing of the west bank of the Rhine by five weeks. Allied success in Veritable and Grenade would doom the Germans in the West.

For Veritable, General Harry Crerar’s First Canadian Army would have XXX British Corps and II Canadian Corps. Crerar was a capable but colorless Army commander, who had several majors run-ins with Montgomery (as indeed did many non- British generals under Monty’s command). It was no accident on Montgomery’s part that Veritable would be carried out by two of his favorite Corps commanders - Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks of XXX British Corps, and Lt. Gen. Guy Simonds of II Canadian Corps. When Simonds had commanded First Canadian Infantry Div., he had served under Monty in Sicily and Italy and become Monty’s protege. Simonds then commanded II Cdn. Corps in the controversial closing of the Falaise Gap in Normandy, and had been in temporary command of First Canadian Army, while Crerar was ill, for the Battle of the Scheldt in October and November 1944. Simonds was known as a cold, ruthless, and innovative general who did not lead, but commanded.

The administrative build up by Crerar’s headquarters was immense, and it needed to be. The enemy was expected to fight fanatically, defending their own country from the prepared positions of the Siegfried Line. The weather was cold (5 degrees on January 26), the ground was muddy - flooded in many areas, and suitable for tanks only on roads. Cities had been bombed to rubble and were obstacles to the planned advance. Two forests, the Reichswald and the Hochwald, would be difficult to take from determined defenders. With 450 000 men under command, Crerar’s HQ used 50 companies of Engineers, 3 road construction companies, and 29 pioneer companies to prepare roads and depots. Gasoline stores were built up to provide 153 operational miles for XXX Brit. Corps and 200 operational miles for II Cdn Corps and Army troops. Crerar said, “If the ammunition allotment for the operation, which consisted of 350 types, were stacked side by side and five feet high, it would line a road for 30 miles. The total ammunition tonnage...would be the equivalent in weight to the bomb-drop of 25 000 medium bombers” The opening artillery barrage on February 8 was the most concentrated of the war in the west. It lasted over five hours and 1.5 million shells were fired on a seven mile front by 1034 guns. On this narrow front, XXX Brit Corps attacked with the Second and Third Canadian Infantry Divisions under command. A 30 000 yard smoke screen covered the operation from German observation on the other side of the Rhine. The rest of II Cdn Corps was not brought into the line until February 15 when the front had opened out.

German Defences

German defences in the Rhineland consisted of the north end of the Siegfried Line (called the Schlieffen Line by the Germans). In front of the Hochwald there were two or three lines of entrenchments, anti-tank ditches and wire 600 to 1000 yards apart. Villages had been converted into islands of resistance surrounded by wire and trenches. Buildings were strengthened with concrete. The area was manned by the First Parachute Army (Schlemm), which had the II Parachute Corps, and XLVII Panzer Corps. In front of Calcar facing Dunkelman and Cosens and the rest of the Queen’s Own of Feb. 26 were the Seventeenth and Eighteenth parachute regiments - all first class men. German resistance would be ferocious they fighting on their own soil and Hitler had issued a no retreat order. It was to be a fight to the death for the Fatherland.

Part of the German defensive plan was flooding. They had broken the banks of the Rhine and flooded the low lying areas, limiting the area in which the Canadian Army could operate. The German command also opened the Roer Dams in front of the Ninth US Army, which had planned its attack (Operation Grenade) on the Rhineland for February 10. The flood stopped the Americans until February 23. With the flood guarding their backs, the Germans were able to move their reserves, including two parachute and two panzer divisions, to meet First Canadian Army. Where there had been one German division facing XXX Brit Corps on Feb. 8, there were nine German divisions in action two weeks later.

Blockbuster - II Cdn Corps assumes the weight of attack.


By February 21, First Canadian Army had advanced 20 miles over terrible ground conditions, but the enemy still maintained an unbroken front and the prepared defences of the Hochwald section of the Siegfried Line. Crerar met with his corps and divisional commanders on Feb 21, and decided to shift the weight of his operations from XXX Brit Corps to II Cdn Corps. This second part of Veritable was called Blockbuster and would launch on Feb 26. Simonds planned an all out blow, first taking the ridge that ran from Calcar south west to Udem with attacks by the Second and Third Canadian Infantry Divisions. This would be followed by a break out attack by the Fourth Canadian Armoured Division and Eleventh British Armoured Division.. The Armoured Divisions were to take the Hochwald and exploit towards Xanten. Engineers would turn a rail line into a dry road for supplies, and the attack would be backed by 19 regiments of field artillery, eight medium regiments, and 3 heavy regiments of artillery.

For Valour - The Victoria Cross -

The Victoria Cross was founded in 1856 by Queen Victoria to reward outstanding gallantry in the Crimean War. The medal itself was designed by Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. Although commonly associated with Britain, the VC was awarded to Empire and Commonwealth troops as well, and Canada has retained it today as the highest Canadian decoration. The action leading to the award must be performed n the presence of the enemy. Since 1902 a posthumous award has been possible. In such a case the award is made to the next of kin.

The VC has been awarded to 93 Canadians, of which 69 were won in the First World War. The award is rarely made as the approval process is so stringent. For Aubrey Cosens, a general officer walked over the Mooshof site and the award went not just to Gen Crerar, but on up to Montgomery himself. The award to Cosens was announced after the war in Europe had ended and the formal investiture took place in Ottawa on February 28, 1946. Charles Cosens, Aubrey’s father, accepted the medal for his son. It is now in the possession of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

Dorothy Smith, Aubrey’s foster mother, was not at the ceremony. Indeed, with Charlie Cosens listed as Aubrey’s next of kin, she was not even officially notified of his death. In April 1945, when Lt Col Steve Lett found out about her role in Aubrey’s life, he wrote Mrs Smith and described the action. Lett said, “It was a magnificent effort and a great credit to himself, the regiment, and to you.” In 1979, the Royal Canadian Legion, a veterans group, successfully sought formal recognition of Mrs. Smith and she was finally given the Memorial Cross, a medal given to the mothers of all Canadians killed in the War.

Notes

. 1. Editorial. The North Bay Daily Nugget. August 4, 1945. 
. 2. Interview, Nancy Richards, North Bay, 2001, 2002. Her father and uncles grew up with Aubrey in Porquis Junction.
. 3. “Victoria Cross hero’s foster mother honored,” Sault Star. August 31, 1979, page 16. Also, “The Citation of 2 VC’s the Major, the Sergeant,” news clipping with no source or date found in the Haldimand County Museum and Archives, Ontario. 
. 4. Employment record for Aubrey Cosens, Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway. Latchford House of Memories Museum, Latchford, Ontario.
. 5. Interview, Cecil Holmes, North Bay, Ontario, 2002.
. 6. Sault Star. August 31, 1979.
. 7. Service papers and records related to Aubrey Cosens, Queen’s Own Rifles Museum, Toronto. ( Attestation Paper, Record of Service, witness statements)
. 8. Dunkelman, Ben. Dual Allegiance. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976) page 111.
. 9. Sault Star. August 31, 1979        
. 10. Morton, Desmond and J. L. Granatstein. Victory 1945:Canadians from War to Peace. (Toronto: Harper Collins, 1995) page 54. 
.11. Strickland, Michael. “Many remember Aubrey Cosens,” Temiskaming Speaker. May 31. 1986.
. 12. Strickland.
. 13. Gray-Donald, Alice. “Jack Staples remembers Victoria Cross WWII hero,” Enterprise. July 27, 1988.
. 14. Whitsted, Roy. Canadians: A Battalion at War. (Mississauga: Burlington Books, 1996) page 337.
. 15. Dunkelman, Ben. Dual Allegiance. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976) page 13.
. 16. Dunkelman, Ben. Dual Allegiance. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976) page 23.
. 17. Dunkelman, Ben. Dual Allegiance. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976) page 46.
. 18. Barnard, Lt. Col. W. T. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, 1860 - 1960.  (Don Mills: The Ontario Publishing Company, 1960). Page 185.
. 19. Morton, Desmond. A Military History of Canada. 216, and Stacey. Victory Campaign. 270.
. 20. Barnard. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. 241.
. 21. North Bay Nugget. June 13, 1945. Page 8.
. 22. Major Dick Medland, A Coy. Quoted in Whitsted, page 138-39
. 23. Lett to Historical section officer in after action interview, quoted in T. Copp and R. Vogel. Maple Lea Route: Victory (Alma ON: Maple Leaf Route, 1988) page 62.
. 24. Whitsted, page 140.
. 25. Legion Magazine. February, 1994.
. 26. Whitsted, page 154.
. 27. Rfn. Norm Selby. Quoted in Jean Portugal. We Were There, vol.2. pp627-8. 
. 28. Selby.
. 29. Dunkelman. Page 134.
. 30. Signed statement of witness, B 134865 Cpl Gough, H F. Queen’s Own Rifles Museum, Toronto.
. 31. Signed statement of witness, B19526 Sgt Anderson, C R. 9 March, 1945. Queen’s Own Rifles Museum, Toronto.
. 32. Bill Adams quoted in John Marteinson and Michael McHorgan. The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps: An Illustrated History. (Toronto: Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Association, 2000) page 311.
. 33. Quoted in Whitsted, page 152.
. 34. Dunkelman, Ben. Dual Allegiance: An Autobiography. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976) 136.
. 35. Dunkelman. Page 237.
. 36.  Wilmot. 664.
. 37. Montgomery. Memoirs. 287-88.
. 38. Stacey. Victory Campaign. 438. Also Montgomery Memoirs. 287-88.
. 39. Graham, D. The Price of Command. (Toronto: Stoddart, 1993) 281-82.
. 40. Granatstein, J. L. The Generals. 172.
. 41. Wilmot. 671
. 42. Stacey. Victory Campaign. 458.
. 43. Wilmot. 671.
. 44. Wilmot. 671
. 45. Stacey. 463.
. 46. Wilmot. 673.
. 47. Stacey. 493.
. 48. Letter from Lt Col Steve Lett to Mrs. Dorothy Smith, 10 April, 1945. Copy in author’s possession.


Contributed by Angus Scully, author of Gallant Riflemen, WWII History Magazine, July 2007.

Legacy[edit]

Aubrey Cosens was mentioned in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, albeit misspelled.[1]

"Little ships, the ones named for foot sloggers: Horatius, Alvin York, Swamp Fox, the Rog herself, bless her heart, Colonel Bowie, Devereux, Vercingetorix, Sandino, Aubrey Cousens, Kamehameha, Audie Murphy, Xenophon, Aguinaldo --"

Grave/memorial at Buried at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands. Plot VIII. row H. Grave 2. Headstone.

Photo by Geoff Winnington-Ball - Jul 2000

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]