For six months, a Dutch researcher searched for family members of a 26-year-old Second World War soldier, who hailed from “Beverly, Alberta” and whose final resting place is a war cemetery in the Netherlands.
“Sometimes it happens … that the family doesn’t know where he was killed in action or where he was buried,” Edwin van der Wolf, who works at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, told CBC News from his home in Hattem, Netherlands.
Van der Wolf was searching for Pte. Alexander Serediak, who enlisted on May 1, 1944 when he was living in the village that would later be amalgamated into the city of Edmonton.
Serediak was killed in action near Zwolle, Netherlands, on April 14, 1945, the same day the town was liberated. He is buried in the Holten cemetery along with almost 1,400 soldiers, most of whom died during the last stages of the war in Holland.
The researcher is creating memorial plaques for members of The Canadian Scottish Regiment, of which Serediak was a member.
“We want to let [soldiers’ families] know that we do something for their family member,” van der Wolf said.
Patricia Farrus, Serediak’s grand-niece, said the family knew the whereabouts of the young soldier’s grave — in fact, she visited it in 2016 — but was still remarkably touched by Van der Wolf’s efforts to find them.
Farrus said most people who knew her uncle well have died, which means no one in the family knows much about him.
“We didn’t know if anybody knew anything,” she said. “When we started digging into this information … there was nobody left to ask about what really happened to him.”
Van der Wolf scoured phone books and had a colleague search through online social media sites. He called every Serediak he could find but kept coming up empty. Finally he contacted the CBC Edmonton newsroom, which helped connect him to Farrus.
Farrus, 57, said she’s excited about the prospect of learning more about her great-uncle.
[My mother] said that … they have pictures of him, but that was about it. They never were really told what happened,” she said. “They were just told he passed away during the war.”
Farrus visited the Holten Canadian War Cemetery in 2016 and laid flowers on Serediak’s grave.
“It was almost like a closure to know that he actually did exist because all we’ve seen was … a few pictures of him,” she said.
“It was an honour, actually, just to see… that grave put out for him.”
Van der Wolf said he hopes to unveil Serediak’s plaque in Zwolle next spring, 75 years after his death and the town’s liberation. He has been in contact with Farrus over email, and hopes she can be there.
Farrus said she wants to attend.
“It’s such a special thing to honour somebody … that died in war and to understand what he did,” she said.