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Letter: The courage of young women and men

A volunteer gives us a harrowing account of what Canadians faced in 1944
Reinforcements go ashore from a Landing Craft Assault from H.M.C.S. Prince Henry off the Normandy bridgehead. |Dennis Sullivan / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-190123.

Dear Editor,

On Remembrance Day, look at the old veterans gathered at your local cenotaph, standing proudly, or seated with a warm blanket on their lap. Try to imagine what they experienced many decades ago when they were young, and the world was at war.

The great invasion to kick the Nazis out of France took place on June 6, 1944. The largest allied armada of warships readied for the Battle of Normandy. Those onboard would face an array of deadly obstacles – barbed wire, mines, and heavy concrete fortifications containing cannons and machine guns.

This was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany’s grip on Western Europe. Many years of preparation had taken place to get the Allies ready for this day. Canada was already fighting in Italy, slowly pushing their way up the Italian boot. What had been called the soft underbelly of Europe was instead a meat grinder where battles like Ortona were hard won by the men of Vancouver’s famed Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Alberta’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment, and Quebec’s Three Rivers Regiment.

The D-Day landings on the French coast and subsequent liberation campaign saw Canada fighting against an experienced and ruthless enemy. With every footstep taken, soldiers died and many more suffered injuries, and for some, their injuries would remain with them for their entire lives. The D-Day landing itself cost our nation 359 war dead.

One small militia unit from North Vancouver was called 6th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. They found themselves in the first wave of troops storming Juno beach on June 6. When they charged off their landing ship, the Engineers were met with a tremendous barrage of gunfire. One sapper was shot more than 30 times with bullets from an enemy machine gun tearing through his body. The Engineers continued forward, blasting gaps through barbed wire and other obstacles. When the day was over, the engineer company from North Vancouver had lost more than half of its men.

Nearly 80 years have passed, and these brave men and women who were once young have grown old and sadly, very few remain. It is their eleventh hour, probably the last opportunity to properly thank them.

The government of France would like to pay tribute to all living Canadian veterans who participated in the D-Day landings, Dieppe raid or campaign to liberate France in 1944. If you were in the Canadian army, navy, air force or merchant navy, you may be eligible to receive France’s highest award, the National Order of the Legion of Honour.

If you would like more information, please send an email to me a [email protected]. The subject line should say “Veteran.” I am an unofficial volunteer and recipient of Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation who is willing to help.

Guy Black
Port Moody

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