Lt-Col Kenneth James Southern, DSO, CRE 1st Cdn Inf Div 23 May 1944


Kenneth James Southern was born in Port Arthur, ON, grew up in Ottawa and graduated from Queen’s University in 1934 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. He was serving as a militia RCE lieutenant in Toronto when he transferred to the active force on 3 September 1939.

He was immediately promoted to captain and appointed as the second-in-command of the 8th Workshop and Park Company in Toronto. In January 1940, he was posted to the 2nd Field Company and arrived in the UK in May. Capt Southern was promoted to major in January 1941 and posted to the 13th Field Company in October. In December 1942, he returned to Canada for a staff course at RMC. Major Southern was back in the UK in February 1943, and was appointed CO of the 3rd Field Company in March and led the company through their commando training in Kilmarnock, Scotland in preparation for the invasion of Sicily. Closer to departure from England, it is reported he personally oversaw the preparation of the company’s equipment including waterproofing vehicles until they departed in the convoy in June.  Major Southern led his company through the entire Sicilian Campaign, where he was awarded a DSO for an action he led building the first Bailey Bridge of the war under fire at Leonforte. He continued through Italy until November 1943 at which time he was appointed Brigade Major (Brigade G3 in today's parlance), of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade.  He was described as a gallant leader. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in April 1944 after having succeeded Lt-Col Geoffrey Walsh as CRE 1st Div in December 1943 just after the Ortona Battle.

Lieutenant Colonel Southern was killed in action on 27 May 1944, during the crossing of the Melfa River. Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth James Southern, DSO, was initially buried in the ‘track junction cemetery'. His remains were later moved to the Cassino War Cemetery.  He was 32 years old.

There is a staircase in Hillcrest High School in Ottawa with eighty-four large portraits of students who died in the Second World War lining both sides of the 55 stairs leading up to the school's auditorium. Most of the portraits have the rank and year of death of the student. Some portraits explain how the soldier died, but many were MIA and presumed dead. Each year, teachers from the grade 10 Canadian History course take their students to the stairway around November 11th to complete a project that deals directly with the pictures on the Stairway of Honour. One of those portraits is of Lt-Col Kenneth James Southern, DSO.

Click here to read the Leonforte story.

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