WINNIPEG — Marie Butler never met Frankie Mombourquette. She couldn’t have. Mombourquette died May 1, 1945, at the end of the Second World War — 13 years before she was born.
Yet, she says she knows him better than some of her uncles.
Mombourquette and Butler’s father, Leo Sampson, were best friends. When Mombourquette died, Sampson made sure his pal’s memory was kept alive by telling stories to his own children.
"My father kept him alive all my life. He talked about him all the time ... he had a picture of him," Butler said, from her home in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Mombourquette, a native Islander, is one of 1,355 Canadians buried in the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Now, a Kingston, Ont., man is going around Canada trying to find pictures and stories of the fallen soldiers, to put a face to every name at the cemetery.
Mike Muntain has already located pictures and stories for more than 700 soldiers, but still needs help finding surviving friends and family of the rest.
And he’s just getting going in Manitoba.
There are 83 Manitoba soldiers buried in Holten. Muntain is putting a call out to anyone who recognizes one of the names, so their stories can also be told.
Every story collected is sent to the Netherlands, where it becomes part of an interactive database in the visitors’ centre of the cemetery.
"(Visitors) can pick by regiment, by country or by name, and they can touch that name, and all the information will come up," he said.
Mombourquette’s story is one of the most comprehensive of those already completed.
He and Sampson had known each other since their childhood in P.E.I., and, from a young age were inseparable, Butler said.
When the Second World War started, they agreed to enlist together, although one was still underage (Butler doesn’t recall who that was).
Mombourquette and Sampson made a deal: the youngest of the two would try to sign up first and, if not accepted, would tell his buddy and they’d walk out of the recruitment office together.
Back then, no one looked that closely at birth certificates, so both joined the military, Butler recalled her father saying.
Mombourquette died a couple of days after fighting in his region had stopped. Though the details are muddy, it’s believed he was on patrol on May 1, when he and his troupe encountered German soldiers waving a white flag.
When the soldiers got closer, the Germans ambushed them, gunning down Mombourquette and the others. Sampson wasn’t on the patrol and returned home when the war ended to tell Mombourquette’s story.
Muntain said the project has introduced him to hundreds of soldiers he now feels he knows as friends, much in the same way Butler knew Mombourquette.
"You hear all these stories, and you read all this information and pass it on. It’s almost like passing on information about one of your buddies. Getting to know these boys so well, I didn’t expect that," Muntain said.
» Winnipeg Free Press