Seventy-one years ago, Canadians were part of an assault on Fortress Europe. Although this was billed as the first landings in Europe, Canadians had been part of the assault on Sicily and Italy in 1943. Rome had fallen on June 4, 1944, an event overshadowed by the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.
The first Canadians ashore were members of the First Canadian Parachute Battalion who had jumped with a British Parachute Division shortly after midnight.
Stephen Ambrose, in his book on D-Day, had described the invasion force as a conscripted army, but the Canadians were all volunteers and the most highly trained of all the assault forces. Many of the Canadian snipers had put thousands of rounds through their barrels. In honour of these men, I present two stories of the Normandy fighting.
The first is that of Stretcher Bearer, Rifleman Gilbert D. Boxall of The Regina Rifles. On June 9, Rifleman Boxall was attempting to help a wounded man when he was killed. It was found that Rifleman Boxall had been wounded five times since landing on June 6. He had bound his own wounds and carried on tending to other wounded..
Several days later, a German counterattack tried to come through the London Hussars (Canadian) front.
“During the afternoon Tpr. A. Chapman, crack gunner in Lieut. G. K. Henry’s tank, established a bridgehead record. When six tanks penetrated his position he held his fire until all were visible; then with Tpr. "Sass" Seaman slapping the rounds into the 17 pdr., he fired five times. Five rounds—five Panthers.”
The British had developed a 17 pounder anti-tank gun to penetrate the German armour. The Americans didn’t use it and their armour paid the price by only disabling German tanks by good fortune.
Almost 150 Canadians were killed after capture by the Germans. It was argued that the Germans had been brutalized by their experience in Russia. The German SS; however, had done the same thing to British troops in 1940, long before Russia.
Here’s to the assault troops of 71 years ago. There are few of them left, but their devotion to duty lives.