Gordon Thygesen Holm was born in Sydney River, NS, on March 11, 1911, but grew up in New Waterford, NS. He was the son of Danish immigrant parents Hans S. and Petrine Pauline Holm, and the middle child of five children. Although not the oldest child in the family, when Gordon’s father passed away, he took responsibility for the support of the family. Gordon worked in the coal mining industry as a stationary engineer for the Dominion Steel & Coal Company.
Gordon served in the Cape Breton Highlanders militia for nine years prior to the start of the Second World War. Upon mobilization of the battalion on September 1, 1939, he was immediately called up, and signed on to the Canadian Active Service Force Cape Breton Highlanders, the following day. His rank was private and he was given the service number F54634. The Cape Breton Highlanders spent the first year of the war in and around the industrial area of Cape Breton, guarding installations, providing coastal defence, recruiting and training. By June 1, 1940, Gordon had risen through the ranks and attained the rank of sergeant.
In early June, 1940, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, who were headquartered in Amherst, NS, were notified that they would soon be proceeding overseas with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. To help bring the battalion up to strength, three other Maritime highland battalions were ordered to supply the North Nova Scotia Highlanders with drafts of men. As a result, the Cape Breton Highlanders in mid June, 1941, transferred 165 officers and men to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. One of those men was Gordon Holm. Upon transfer, he reverted back to the rank of corporal.
The North Nova Scotia Highlanders, more commonly known as the North Novas, spent the next year training in and around Amherst, NS. In mid May, the battalion relocated to Debert, NS, prior to departing for overseas. In July, 1941, they departed Halifax for England on the troop ship Orion. The battalion was destined to remain in England for the next three years preparing for the time they would first see action.
The North Nova Scotia Highlander’s baptism of fire occurred on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Gordon was with the battalion when they landed on Juno Beach in France as part of the invasion force. The battalion fought their way off the beach and during the day, pushed almost seven kilometers inland. The following morning, June 7th, the North Novas, with tanks from the Sherbrook Fusiliers, captured the village of Buron, and then pushed toward and into the village of Authie. Unfortunately their advance collided with strong counterattacking forces consisting of panzergrenadiers and tanks of the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth” who had just arrived at the front and were attacking toward the beaches. The division was newly formed from recruits from the Hitler Youth and was led by experienced battle hardened officers and NCO’s from other SS divisions.
Brutal, close quarter fighting took place between the Canadians and the Germans in and around the two French villages. Many of the tanks supporting the North Novas were knocked out. With strong artillery fire and superior numbers, the SS troops eventually surrounded and overran the Canadian positions. Gordon was with the North Nova forces who had made it into Authie. According to “No Retreating Footsteps The Story of the North Novas,” by Will R. Bird, Gordon and the small group of men he was with, were attacked by German tanks. They tried to fight them off but with only small arms against tanks they were eventually overwhelmed. With his comrades killed around him, Gordon and another man attempted to escape over a hedge. His comrade made it but Gordon was hit by German fire and killed.
The surviving North Novas pulled back to the village of les Buissons, where they formed a defensive line with other Canadian troops, and with the aid of Canadian artillery, which was finally coming into action, halted the German attack. Close to 250 North Novas were either killed, wounded or taken prisoner that day. Some of the men that were captured and disarmed were shot by their SS captors shortly after surrendering, or in the days that followed.
Gordon’s family was initially notified that Gordon was missing. It was almost six weeks after his death, on July 20th, that his mother received a telegram that her son had been killed in action. The reason for the discrepancy was probably due to the fact that the two French villages of Buron and Authie were not retaken by Canadian forces until a month after the fierce fighting that occurred there on June 7, 1944.
Gordon Holm was eventually laid to rest in Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France. He was 33 years old when he died.
For additional information on Gordon Holm, refer to the following online source:
The Canadian Virtual War Memorial – A website by Veterans Affairs Canada. The page on Gordon Holm contains basic information, some photos, and cemetery details.
Thanks to Andrew and Charlene Pedersen of Millville, Cape Breton for providing family information and high resolution scans of the photos and newspaper clipping in Sections 1 and 2. Gordon Holm was Andrew Pedersen's great uncle. Thanks also to Marie Beach for providing the photo of Gordon Holm's grave in France.