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British Columbia

Terrace
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Private Berger War Mystery

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Prince Rupert
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Grand Trunk Pacific History
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War Time Mystery

Below is a local mystery,
which originates during the war years,
in the Terrace area.
Name we are trying to locate Pte. Berger

While doing manoeuvres in the Zymoetz (Copper) river area
the military had some serious accidents.
Not much was written about these accidents
in the newspapers of the time.
Probably as to not demoralize the troops, and future recruits.

Anyway the following part of a tree, which is engraved,
was found by George Therrien of Usk, about 17 miles up the Copper
in a waste pile of wood.
It was given to Bill McRae, who cleaned and varnished it,
and gave it to the Heritage Park Museum.

Engraving

P.W.R. Pte. Berger
Bn. H.Q. Coy
SIG. PLT.
May 7, 1944

PWR= Prince of Wales Rangers (Peterbourgh Regiment) R.C.I.C.
Battalion Headquarter Company
Signal Platoon

Now we don't know if this is in Memory of a Soldier that
drowned on the river,
or was it a, "I was here", engraving?

If you know anything about this Soldier, please send me a note

Reason we are not sure if it was for a fellow that drowned
we have the following notes and articles
that were sent to me today.

So who was Pte. Berger?  A request was put in the Legion Magazine in 2001.

It wasn’t until 2004 that a letter was received from a veteran, Harold Fidler, of Hanover, Ontario, who had been with the Prince of Wales Rangers, Peterborough unit in the Terrace area in the 1940’s.  Fidler told the story that a group of soldiers went up the Copper River on a training exercise.

They were to cross the river to an island and spend the night.  They cut a tree and laid it across the river to form a bridge to the island.  One soldier became dizzy while crossing and fell into the river.  The rushing water caught the 80-pound pack on the man’s back, causing him to be carried away.  His comrades made an attempt to rescue him but failed.  His buddies had carved his name on a tree, and according to Mr. Fidler, he had seen them doing the carving. He could not recall a name. 

Thinking the carving was in memory of Berger, the McRae’s put the article in a Peterborough Newspaper, asking if anyone recalled the accident.  The only reply was from Hal Webb who recalled the accident, but not the name,
He was able to give Berger’s army number, which was L-609364, from a list of soldiers that he obtained. 

Mystery solved?  Not so!  In 2006, a visitor to Terrace made inquiries about his father, Pte. C. Matts, who had been here in the army and was drowned in the Zymoetz River while crossing a log.   He had several newspaper clippings telling of the accident. 

"SOLDIER DROWNS IN MANOEUVRES  -     Toronto, May 17 (year unknown)  (actually May 10, 1944)
Swept away in a mountain stream in British Columbia on May 14.  Pte. C. Matts of Toronto was drowned.  According to reports his body has not yet been recovered.  Pte. Matts was one of a party of 180 who left Terrace, B.C. to travel to Smithers, some 90 miles away, over bush and mountain trails and across rivers.  Ninety men were crossing a turbulent river on a log bridge, clinging to hand ropes.  Matts overbalanced, but clung to a rope.  Then he lost his grip, fell into the water, and was swept away.

The War Diary of the Prince of Wales Rangers was checked, and on their report for May 13, 1944, it reads, “81 men who left for Smithers with “B” Coy, returned today bearing the sad news of the death of one of the party.  In crossing a fast flowing river on a fallen tree, Pte. C. W. Matts (B-620357) of the Signal Platoon, lost his footing and plunged into the ice cold water.  Burdened with an 80 lb. pack, he had no chance and he was swept away.”
We now know this was Charles Wilfred Matts, see info below


Wed. Dec. 1, 1943- Terrace Omineca Herald
   Two Soldiers Lost Their Lives in Skeena River 
"Two soldiers lost their lives around noon on Wednesday, (Dec 1) when training operations were being carried on in the slough at the north end of Ferry Island .  At the time of the accident five men were crossing from the Island on a raft which tipped, spilling four into the water.  One man managed to get back onto the raft and a third was picked up by boats that were close by.  The other two went down.  Dragging operations were started immediately and about mid-afternoon both bodies were recovered." 

Mr. Fidler had mentioned about the other drowning, so looked at the old newspapers for 43 and 44.  There is very little mention of the army in any of the papers.  Nothing about the drowning up the Copper on May 7th but there was the above item  - so Mr. Fidler was right about that story, although he said three.


Charles Wilfred Matts, B-620357
b- Feb 20, 1916 in ON
d- May 10, 1944, age 28
Rank Private
body not recovered
Drowned near Terrace BC
HQ file- 869-M-6540
Panel 54, Plaque 16, Halifax Memorial Part 2
Anglican
next of kin-  Mother- Mrs Nelly "Ellen" Matts, nee Clark (possibly)
32 Wyatt Ave, Toronto, ON
Father- William Matts, same address
father was a Press Hand in 1921 in Toronto
Charles was not married
Brothers, Frank and Edward
all born in ON


 So now you can see the confusion.
If you know any of the men, involved in these incidents,
please let me know

Military Graves
 in Kitsumgallum, "Terrace Pioneer" Cemetery
Headstones

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