A bridge for remembrance

On Easter Monday in the Netherlands nearly 60 years ago, two young Canadian soldiers from the 12th Manitoba Dragoons set out in an armoured Ford Lynx scout car. Their orders were to locate a squadron of “the Dukes,” the 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars, near the towns of Zevenaar and Didam in the province of Gelderland, close to the German border. But the area had not been totally cleared of the enemy as had been reported.

The crossing gates were down where the two expected to traverse the railway tracks at Zevenaar. The rail line was an important route linking western Holland and Germany. On this evening, as Lieut. Maurice Farr reversed the Lynx, German soldiers masquerading as civilians opened fire with an anti-tank weapon known as a Panzerfaust, damaging a rear wheel. Lance-Cpl. Kenneth Ferguson quickly responded, first with a Bren gun, then with a machine gun mounted on the Lynx.

As three more rounds from the Panzerfaust exploded around them, a bullet struck 19-year-old Ferguson in the back of head. He died a short time later and is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. The incident would be the only significant clash in Zevenaar before Ferguson’s regent and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles liberated the town the next day.

His death came only weeks before he was to go on leave to marry his sweetheart in England and slightly more than a month before the war in Europe ended. The native of Lanark, Ont., had lied about his age in 1940, joining the army just shy of his 16th birthday. Two older brothers, Russell and Cecil, were already soldiers. After serving as an instructor for a year and a half at the Canadian Armoured Corps Training Centre in England, he was sent to France where he was assigned to the 12th Manitoba Dragoons in September 1944.

Lost, but not forgotten
But the young soldier would not be forgotten by family in Canada nor by the people of Zevenaar, who would find a special way to keep his name alive.

The only survivor of his nine siblings, Eunice Gore-Hickman of Saskatoon fondly recalls a daredevil older brother who liked to tease. She and husband Des were among 11 relatives who travelled to Zevenaar last April to witness the dedication of Fergusonbrug (Ferguson Bridge), the starkly modern, cable-supported bridge built at the site where the Canadian teenager was killed. It spans the Betuweroute, a re-engineering of the freight railway route from the port of Rotterdam to Germany.

The town had no monuments honouring its Canadian liberators so its council readily agreed to the local historical society’s suggestion to name the new bridge in Ferguson’s honour as a gesture of gratitude to the Canadians who freed Zevenaar.

Barry Ferguson of Lanark, Ont., a nephew who attended the dedication with his wife, Cyndy, found the experience both poignant and thought provoking. “It’s quite emotional to have a bridge like that dedicated to just a soldier who wasn’t a hero or anything, just a regular soldier,” he says.

He still marvels at the attitude of their Dutch hosts. “They treated us like gold and were so dedicated to remembering the war and what Canadians, in particular, did for the country — even more so that we do [in Canada].” Ferguson adds that he’ll now think of the sacrifices of Canadians more often than on Remembrance Day alone.

But on that special day, he’ll no doubt pay special tribute to Lance-Cpl. Kenneth Scott Ferguson, the young uncle he never had a chance to know.