Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery and Cenotaph

Flight Sergeant Erle Mayne Milks
570 (RAF) Sqdn, Royal Canadian Air Force,
23rd September 1944, aged 20.
Son of Erle Kenneth and Helen Catherine Milks, of Chelsea, Province of Quebec.
Commemoration at the Heteren General Cemetery, Netherlands.

See also The Chelsea Cenotaph Story published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 28.

Heteren General Cemetery, Netherlands
Heteren is a small village 12 kilometres south-west of Arnhem, on the south bank of the Neder (Lower) Rhine.

See also the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. External Link

The following was compiled by Jim Milks and and posted on sites.google.com/site/erlemaynemilks. Photo credit of the collection is to Sydney Wheatley, with the exception of the photo of Harky, to which the photo credit is to Jocelyne Milks.

In memory of a Canadian airman

Erle Maynard Milks
Erle Milks

Erle Maynard Milks was born in Ottawa, Ontario, on July 29th, 1924, to parents Erle and Helen. Having been hit particularly hard by the Great Depression, the once well-to-do family moved to the rural village of Chelsea, Quebec, in the early 1930s where housing was more affordable.

Erle Jr., the eldest of an ever growing family, was a typical teenager and was an avid skier and baseball player. He studied at St. Stephen's school until the summer of 1939 when he completed grade nine and then worked as an Apiarist's assistant for one Mr. Henry Clegg in Chelsea. By this time the Second World War had broken out, with Canada entering the effort in September.

Now 16, Erle chose not to return to school and took odd jobs to help support his family. The following year he took a job in Ottawa with the Royal Canadian Air Force as an office clerk as he was still too young to enlist, something he would do on his 18th birthday, July 29th, 1942, at the # 12 recruitment centre in Ottawa. Among his references was a letter from Sister Anna Marie, the Principal of St. Stephen's which simply read "Erle is an honourable, trustworthy boy and a good student". The notes made by military interviewer C.A. Summers were less forgiving; "Shows average ability to learn - though unimpressive in appearance. Young rural chap who does not look too bright yet. Promises faithfully to buckle down to study if given a chance." Perhaps his 5,7 and 127 lb stature contributed to this sentiment, but it wasn't enough to deem him unsuitable, and he was recommended for an RCAF air crew.

He would then head off to training in St. John's, Quebec (St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu) and Dunnville, Ontario, ultimately becoming an Air Bomber and earning his flying badge on July 22, 1943, one week before his nineteenth birthday. After one last visit to home to say goodbye, he headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia where he would board a ship bound for the UK on August 26 and arrive at Greenock, Scotland, on September 1, 1943, and soon after joined Squadron 570 as a crew member on a British Stirling Bomber. The crew of young men would become good friends, as is apparent in the photographs below which are from the collection of crew member Sydney Wheatley.

Stirling Bomber Squadron 570
"Stirling Bomber Squadron 570

Erle Milks on his nineteenth birthday on July 29th, 1943
"Erle Milks on his nineteenth birthday on July 29th, 1943

From left: "Erle Milks (RCAF Bomber), Sydney Wheatley (RAF Wireless Operator),
John McGarrie (RAFVR Flight Engineer), Cliff Beck (RCAF Flying Officer),
Simon Cormier (RCAF Navigator), Harold Stell (RCAF Tail Gunner)

On September 23, 1944, the crew of Stirling IV LJ 991, Squadron 570 left on a routine resupply mission over Holland when the aircraft was hit by German ant-aircraft fire (FLAK). Only Wireless Operator Wheatley had parachuted from the stricken plane moments before Pilot Officer Cliff Beck rescinded the order to "abandon plane", believing that the crew had a better chance of surviving a crash landing given the low altitude of the aircraft. Once Dutch locals arrived at the crash site near Heteren they found a flaming fuselage and the bodies of Milks, Cormier, Stell and McGarrie. Only Beck would survive the crash landing and later be reunited with Wheatley at a makeshift hospital. The four fallen airmen were laid to rest by locals in the Protestant cemetery at Heteren in unmarked graves.

On September 27, 1944, the following telegram was sent from an RCAF casualties officer to the attention of Erle and Helen in Chelsea:


On September 30, the Canadian Casualty Branch of the Air Ministry sent a letter to Erle's sister Marian who was also serving in the RCAF confirming that Erle's status had been reclassified as killed in action. Erle left behind his parents, five sisters and five brothers, two of which he never met, as the last born were a set of twins, born on November 12, 1943.

In March of 1947, Deputy Director Graves of the Missing Research and Enquiry unit of the Royal Air Force issued a request to investigate the graves of the crew of Stirling LJ991. On July 23 of 1946, Search Officer L.R. St. Vincent ordered the exhumation of 14 graves at the cemetery in Heteren, which contained the bodies of 15 unknown airmen and soldiers. In what can only be described as a gruesome report filed by investigator St. Vincent on July 29, which would have been Erle's 22nd birthday, crew members Stell and Cormier are positively identified by their id discs, while the description of grave 15A read "Contained the body of an airman, Canada flash, F/Sgt. "B" brevet. assumed to be E.M. Milks". The graves now fall under the stewardship of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. External Link

In 2001, thanks to the efforts of Allan Richens and members of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, a cenotaph with a memorial plaque with the names and details of nine men from Chelsea who lost their lives in World Wars I and II was dedicated at Chelsea's Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery is also the resting place of another soldier named Richard Rowland Thompson, who has the distinction of being the only Canadian to be honoured with the Queen's Scarfe of Honour. On November 11 of each year, Erle's youngest brother Harold who was one of the twins born while he was at war participates in a remembrance day ceremony and lays a wreath in his honour.

In 1967, Erle's nephew Bill Anderson was the first family member to visit the grave in Holland. In April of 2012, Harold "Harky" Milks travelled to Heteren to visit the grave of the brother he never knew. He is the only sibling of Erle to have visited the grave. He brought along poppies and Canadian flags to adorn the graves of each Canadian serviceman. Way to go dad.

Harold Milks visitng the grave of his brother Erle at Heteren Cemetery
Harold Milks visitng the grave of his brother Erle at Heteren Cemetery

Questions, comments, corrections?
Please contact James Milks @ james.milks@gmail.com

Special thanks to Allan Richens, Margaret Owen, Philip and Sydney Wheatley, GVHS website.

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