French couple helps locate Prince Albert soldiers’ graves

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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A couple from Larré, France is helping Canadian families learn about the men who died in the Second World War.

Alain Berthelot, who is in Prince Albert visiting families who lost someone in the Second World War, holds a book he and his wife Catherine made documenting all the Prince Albert graves near his village Larré, France.

Alain Berthelot and his wife Catherine are in Prince Albert to visit the families of the soldiers who gave their lives in the war and are buried in cemeteries near their home village.

“In 1944, a plane crashed into our village with three British men and three Canadian,” Berthelot said. “They were killed on the scene in a small village in Normandy.

“In 2001, I was elected mayor of this village and I tried to find where these men came from,” he added.

One of the men, Wilfred Fournier, was from Prince Albert, which prompted him to reach out to the Fourniers in the city.

They also found the families of the other two men, in Penticton and Vancouver.

“The year after, in 2004, for many months we decided to have a monument in our village with the name of the six men,” he said. “Since this time we talk to other Canadians and we go for many family in country, not just Canada.”

Near their village, there are two huge cemeteries with 6,000 Canadians buried there, who died in the Second World War between June 6 and August 22, 1944.

“Sometimes people come from Canada to our small village,” Berthelot said. “Last year, three families came from Canada to our village and we had ceremonies with them. Two came from Prince Albert.”

Although many travel to France to search out their fallen family members, the Berthelots will do the legwork for them.

“We can go to the Canadian cemetery for them,” he said.

They have visited the cemeteries many times before to help find soldiers for Canadian families.

“With my wife, we read all the names in the register in the cemetery to find if there were other people from Prince Albert and we found 17,” Berthelot said. “My wife did this book with all the graves with different names -- a picture of the grave and what was written on the register and what was written on the grave.”

The two are not paid for their work -- it is all voluntary.

“It is very moving. The first time we went to Prince Albert, we cried every day because we didn’t find any family who came to this cemetery in France because it is far from Saskatchewan,” he said. “When they were younger, to take the plane was very expensive.”

They also help out families of fallen soldiers because they appreciate the sacrifice they made in the war.

“I was not born during the war but our parents taught us how you can live in a country when the country is occupied by other people,” Berthelot said. “There is no liberty, you can do nothing and it was very difficult. The word liberty is important in France and we are so, so grateful.”

Berthelot feels a connection to the city, since his mother was also born in Prince Albert in 1922. She moved back to France with her family when she was 10.

The first time the Berthelots came to Prince Albert in 2003, they had a lot of response from families who appreciated their efforts and others who asked them to find their family members.

“We met many people we know in Prince Albert (such as) family Fournier,” Berthelot said. “Last week, I met a man whose two brothers were killed during the Second World War and he said, ‘I don’t know where are my brothers.’

“When we get back to France, we will try to find where these guys are buried and we will go for him,” he added. “For the moment, we find the one is buried in Belgium but we will go to Belgium. We have been in Belgium many times for Canadian families because there is cemetery everywhere in north of France and Normandy, of course.”

Since he has documented the 17 graves of Prince Albert soldiers, sometimes he will surprise family members.

“I met a man who worked for police, a young man, we talked about Normandy and he said a member of my family who died in Normandy -- I think he tried to find him,” Berthelot said.

Luckily, Berthelot had already documented the grave of the soldier in question, Albert Jacques.

“He was so surprised and could not imagine it,” Berthelot said. “I said, ‘We will go for you to this grave.’”

They are willing to go to the graves to put poppies flags or messages for the family members.

“We know some families, but not all the families. We go to thank them and take a picture,” Berthelot said. “We want to say we are still there … all these soldiers were born in Prince Albert, but many others were not born in Prince Albert and we go.”

Anyone interested in contacted Berthelot about a fallen Second World War family member can email him at alcathe.berthelot@orange.fr

Organizations: Prince Albert

Geographic location: Normandy, France, Canada Penticton Vancouver Belgium Saskatchewan

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