Ardenne Abbey massacre occurred during the
Battle of Normandy
Battle of Normandy at
the Ardenne Abbey, a
Premonstratensian monastery in
Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe, near Caen, France. In June 1944, 20
Canadian soldiers were massacred in a garden at the abbey by members
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend over the course of several
days and weeks. During the course of the Normandy Campaign an
estimated "156 Canadian prisoners of war are believed to have been
executed by the
12th SS Panzer Division
12th SS Panzer Division (the Hitler Youth) in the days
and weeks following the D-Day landings. In scattered groups, in
various pockets of the Normandy countryside, they were taken aside and
shot." The perpetrators of the massacre, members of the 12th SS
Panzer Division, were known for their fanaticism, as a result of the
majority of the division's personnel being drawn from the Hitlerjugend
or Hitler Youth.
1.1 Discovery of the bodies
2 Trial of Meyer
4 See also
6 External links
7 Further reading
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A memorial to the murdered Canadian soldiers in the garden of the
During the Normandy Campaign, then SS-
Standartenführer Kurt Meyer,
commander of the 25th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, used the Abbaye
d’Ardenne for his regimental headquarters, as the turret allowed for
a clear view of the battlefield. In June 1944 at the abbey, 20
Canadian soldiers were murdered by members of the 12th SS Panzer
Both the method by which the murders were carried out and upon whom
the blame rests remain points of contention. Some basic facts,
however, are certain. During the evening of 7 June, 11 Canadian
prisoners of war, soldiers from the North
Nova Scotia Highlanders and
the 27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment), were
shot in the back of the head. This was a flagrant violation of the
Geneva Conventions (of which Germany was a signatory) and therefore
these actions constituted a war crime. Specifically under the Geneva
Convention pertaining to the treatment of prisoners of war, the
Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War stipulates in
Part I: General Provisions - Art. 2. that POWS "are in the power of
the hostile Government, but not of the individuals or formation which
captured them. They shall at all times be humanely treated and
protected, particularly against acts of violence, from insults and
from public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against them are
Of the North
Nova Scotia Highlanders were:
Private Ivan Crowe
Private Charles Doucette
Corporal Joseph MacIntyre
Private Reginald Keeping
Private James Moss
Of the 27th Armoured Regiment (The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment)
Trooper James Bolt
Trooper George Gill
Trooper Thomas Henry
Trooper Roger Lockhead
Trooper Harold Philip
Lieutenant Thomas Windsor
The following day, 8 June, seven more POWs from the North Nova Scotia
Highlanders were also executed:
Private Walter Doherty
Private Hollis McKeil
Private Hugh MacDonald
Private George McNaughton
Private George Millar
Private Thomas Mont
Private Raymond Moore
On 17 June, two more Canadian soldiers, Lieutenant Frederick Williams
and Lance Corporal George Pollard, were also believed to have been
killed at or around the Abbaye. Both soldiers "had been patrolling
for disabled German tanks near
Buron and went missing. It is known
that two wounded Canadian POWs were evacuated by the Germans to the
abbey's first-aid post on June 17. Witnesses later reported hearing
shots in the vicinity of the abbey at two different times that
Discovery of the bodies
After liberating the Abbaye d’Ardenne on 8 July, members of the
Regina Rifle Regiment
Regina Rifle Regiment discovered the body of Lieutenant Williams;
Lance Corporal Pollard was never found. The bodies of those killed on
7 and 8 June were not found until the winter and spring of 1945, when
inhabitants from the abbey accidentally discovered remains throughout
the premises. Examinations of the remains revealed that the soldiers
had either been shot or bludgeoned directly in the head; the exact
weapon used to bludgeon the heads of the soldiers was indeterminate
but was most likely the butt of a rifle or an entrenching tool. All
the remains were taken to the cemeteries at
Bretteville-sur-Laize, except for Private McKeil, who was taken to
Ryes War Cemetery, Bazenville.
Trial of Meyer
Kurt Meyer stands trial in Aurich, Germany for 5 counts of war crimes
in December 1945
Over the course of a year of investigation, from August 1944 to August
1945, the Canadian War Crimes Commission (CWCC), led by
Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce Macdonald, strove to discover the details of
the murders and who bore the responsibility. As commander of the
regiment that was responsible for the massacre,
Kurt Meyer remained
the prime suspect and believed to be responsible for the actions of
his men. At Meyer’s war crimes trial in December 1945, the incident
at the Abbaye formed the core of the charges. In total, five charges
were laid against him:
1. Inciting and advising soldiers under his command to refuse quarter
to Allied troops. 2. Commanding his troops to kill 23 POWs at or near
the villages of
Buron and Authie on 7 June 1944. 3. Commanding his
troops, on 8 June 1944, to kill seven prisoners of war at the Abbaye
d’Ardenne, as a result of which the prisoners were shot and killed.
4. (Alternative to third charge) Responsibility for the killing of
seven Canadian POWs at the Abbaye d'Ardenne on 8 June 1944. 5.
Ordering the killing of 11 Canadian POWs at the Abbaye Ardenne on 7
Former SS Private Alfred Helzel was the prosecution’s first major
witness. While in prison in Quebec, Helzel revealed that in June 1944
Meyer had directed his troops to take no prisoners. On the stand,
however, Helzel denied that Meyer made such a declaration.
Macdonald eventually managed to have Helzel verify his original
statement, thus helping to establish Meyer’s guilt.
Citizens of the towns of Authie and
Buron testified against the 12th
SS and confirmed various atrocities committed against Canadian
soldiers. Canadian soldiers themselves testified, the most important
being Sergeant Stanley Dudka. He maintained that his column of
prisoners arrived at the Abbaye Ardenne on 7 June, after which
military police demanded 10 volunteers step forward. Since no one
volunteered, 10 men were randomly taken, including Private Moss, later
identified as one of the men executed at the Abbaye.
The prosecution’s central witness, however, was Polish soldier Jan
Jesionek. At the Abbaye on 8 June 1944, Jesionek was approached by two
SS troopers who were escorting seven Canadian prisoners, and watched
as the POWs were directed into a stall adjoining the Abbaye. One of
the troopers asked for the regimental commander, whereby Jesionek led
him to Kurt Meyer. In response to learning of the seven prisoners,
Meyer reportedly said: ‘What should we do with these prisoners; they
only eat up our rations?’ Afterwards, he turned to one of the
officers, spoke softly so that others could not hear, and then
announced: ‘In the future, no more prisoners are to be taken.’
Jesionek then saw each prisoner questioned by the officer to whom
Meyer had spoken. A name was called out, a prisoner walked up from the
passageway leading to the garden in the Abbaye. As soon as the
prisoner turned, the officer shot him in the head with a machine
pistol; this was repeated for the remaining six prisoners. After the
officer and guards left, Jesionek and three fellow drivers examined
the bodies, all lying in the garden and surrounded by blood. According
to Jesionek, the Canadians realized what was happening, each prisoner
shaking hands with his comrades before walking to the garden and being
shot. Uncertainty over Meyer’s commands remained since Jesionek
never heard Meyer give the order to kill the Canadians.
Meyer originally claimed to have had no knowledge of the murders at
the Abbaye. He later insisted, however, that he was aware of the
bodies’ presence but had not seen them until two days after the
killings. Disgusted, Meyer apparently ordered for the burial of the
bodies and the admonishment, albeit unsuccessfully, of those
responsible. These claims were refuted by French teenagers, however,
who lived in the Abbaye and testified that no bodies were visible in
the garden when they went there the day after the murders.
Throughout the trial, Meyer maintained that he never commanded his
troops not to take prisoners.
Meyer was found guilty of inciting his troops to commit murder and of
being responsible as a commander for the killings at the Abbaye; he
was acquitted on the second and third charges. Sentenced to death
on 28 December 1945, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on
14 January 1946. After serving nearly nine years in prison, Meyer
was released on 7 September 1954.
The role Meyer played in the execution of the twenty Canadian
prisoners remains a point of contention. Currently, in the garden of
the Abbaye rests a memorial to the soldiers, unveiled on 6 June 1984.
The inscription, followed by the names of those killed, reads: "On the
night of June 7/8, 1944, 18 Canadian soldiers were murdered in this
garden while being held here as prisoners of war. Two more prisoners
died here or nearby on June 17. They are gone but not forgotten."
France during World War II
^ N/A. "Abbaye d'Ardenne". Veterans Affairs Canada. Government of
Canada. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
^ Chris, McNab (Oct 22, 2013). Hitler's Elite: The SS 1939-45 (First
ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 295. ISBN 978-1782000884.
^ Margolian, 44.
^ N/A. "Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
Geneva, 27 July 1929". International Committee of the Red Cross.
International Committee of the Red Cross. Retrieved October 21,
^ Veterans Affairs Canada. "Abbaye d’Ardenne".
^ a b N/A. "Abbaye d'Ardenne". Veterans Affairs Canada. Government of
Canada. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
^ Campbell, 124–126.
^ Priestman, 22.
^ Brode, 232.
^ Brode, 69.
^ Priestman, 24.
^ Brode, 71.
^ a b Margolian, 72.
^ Campbell, 146.
^ Brode, 97.
^ Brode, 106.
^ Campbell, 160.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ardenne Abbey.
Webpage about the memorial.
Provides a detailed account of the massacre from the perspective of
the Canadian Government. There are access links for the 11 executed
soldiers that provides information related to their day of birth, data
of enlistment, unit that they served with and the location of the
cemetery in which they are buried, along with a brief description of
the burial ground.
Kurt Meyer on Trial: A Documentary Record. Kingston: CDA Press, 2007
Available as a PDF download with free registration.
Brode, Patrick. Casual Slaughters and Accidental Judgments: Canadian
War Crimes Prosecutions, 1944-1948. Toronto: The Osgoode Society for
Canadian Legal History, 1997.
Campbell, Ian. Murder at the Abbaye: The Story of Twenty Canadian
Soldiers Murdered at the Abbaye d’Ardenne. Ottawa: The Golden Dog
Margolian, Howard. Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of
Canadian Prisoners of War in Normandy. Toronto: University of Toronto
Priestman, Karen. The
Kurt Meyer Case: The Press and the Canadian
People’s Response to Canada’s First War Crimes Trial. Waterloo:
Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2003.
Veterans Affairs Canada. "Abbaye d’Ardenne" Accessed 8 July 2013.
Coordinates: 49°11′47″N 0°24′50″W / 49.1964917°N
0.4138917°W / 49.1