COVER

THE STORMING OFORTRESS EUROPE

June 11 1984
COVER

THE STORMING OFORTRESS EUROPE

June 11 1984

THE STORMING OFORTRESS EUROPE

Maj. CHARLES DALTON, the Queen’s Own Rifles. Now 7U, he commanded one of the first companies of the Queen’s Own from Toronto to land on D-Day and he was wounded trying to destroy a German pillbox.

Everyone was saying, ‘We will fix them.’ And even though I was older and understood that this was not going to be such a lark, we were all green. We had drawn lots, and my brother Elliot and I were each to lead our companies on the first wave—what they used to call the ‘forlorn hope.’ A lot of the men got violently seasick as we tossed and pitched toward shore in the flat-bottomed landing craft, but as long as we were bobbing around the German bullets could not hit us. We had anticipated that the water would be two to three feet deep when we jumped out, but obstacles made us stop farther offshore. I always laugh now that I shouted, ‘Follow me,’ and disappeared into 10 feet of water. Running up the beach was impossible. We were just filled with water—our equipment and uniforms—so we just walked up even though the Germans, of course, were firing madly at us. Of the 134 men I started with, 32 had drifted off when the landing craft malfunctioned, and of the 102 who landed, all but eight or nine were killed or wounded. I could not believe I had lost everybody in such a short time. Meanwhile, the Germans were still spraying us, including the wounded, with machine-gun fire. I managed to fire at an angle into the opening in the pillbox. One of the Germans got up through the ventilator and fired right through my helmet, giving me a scalp wound. I just blacked out. I found out later that I had at least stopped the Germans from firing, so that the wounded could crawl up from the rising tide. My stretcher bearer dressed my wounds, and I lay on the beach for 16 hours. What was amazing was the way everyone had reacted to a horrible situation. Everything was happening in a way we were told it would not happen, but everyone was making the best of it. As my father used to say in the First World War, ‘We know God is on our side because nobody could be so bloody inefficient and still win.’

Rifleman ROBERT NICOL, the Queen’s Own Rifles. Now a Verdun, Que., resident, he was a shy, single 19-year-old when the Allied troops invaded Normandy on June 6.

There English was Channel a storm brewing that morning. in the The sky was cloudy and grey. The sea was so rough that it was impossible to launch the tanks. We had to start inland on our own. We knew D-Day was going to happen. We just did not know when or where until we left the landing craft and began running ashore. We had had lots of training in Britain. There was a 50-km march daily. We would walk and then run with as much as 70 lb. of equipment on our backs. But no matter how much training you have, you are never ready for the real thing. Everybody thought that this was going to be a picnic until we came within yards of the beach. Then we were just a bunch of guys without experience. That is when we all grew up—right there on the beach. We had the honor of being the first Allied soldiers to land. In other words, we were the joe-guys. We filed off the ship and into the landing craft to head inland. Everywhere Germans were firing machine-guns and cannon at us. I do not recall too many names now but I will always remember the guys. They were running and just disappearing. I turned around to see where everybody was. Only seven of the 49 of us who landed made it. The rest were dead or injured. Me and another guy were dragging a 20-foot ladder to a seawall. Suddenly my end got heavy. I looked back and the other guy was dead. I had to crawl through a shell hole under the wall. As long as you kept low and kept moving you were all right. But some of the guys were affected by the bombing and shelling. One thing about the Queen’s Own, though, everybody looked after everybody else. Even the regiment’s priest and doctor fought alongside the others. We leapfrogged up the beach with Le Régiment de la Chaudière section by section, using a railway line for cover. It took four days for the weather to clear and reinforcements to arrive with supplies. All we could do in those days was to try to stay alive and counter enemy moves. Nostalgia is now luring me back to those beaches. My wife insisted I go to get it out of my system. We will be in better company hitting the beaches this time around. Too bad all the guys are probably bald or grey.

WILLIAM CURRAN, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. He was a 19-year-old rifleman during the D-Day landings. Now Curran, 59, works for CP Rail

I remember we had a meal on the landing ship and it did not stay down. It was typical army food— stew, I think—and it was god-awful. About half an hour later we got into the landing craft. There was rocket fire on both sides of us. It was very noisy. We suddenly realized that this was not a

training exercise and everyone became very quiet. As the craft was being lowered, the cables were tangled and the forward end smacked the water. We were all sick. I guess it was about six in the morning and, while it was not bright outside, it was not dark either. It was cold, though—bitterly cold. We hit an open area on the beach where there were no pillboxes but there were barbed-wire entanglements. When we

hit the sand, there was a chap lying in front of me. His name was Melvin Clisby. He was on his back with his hand up to his head like he had laid down for a rest. He was perfectly still. I figured an injured man would move in his pain. About 50 m farther we saw two more casualties. One in particular was a pitiful sight because he had no head. We kept going, dodging and going, damn fast. It was like a bad, bad dream. You see something terrible in front of you and you think that you will wake up. I remember a German scout car zipping

through the cross roads close to the beach. He was knocked off real fast. That made you realize that this was for real. An hour or so later prisoners were taken. I was delegated to take a German prisoner to the beach. I was scared, real scared. I did not think that I would make it home. By noon that day, any 19year-old who was lucky enough to get off the beach became about 30 years old. You aged quickly.

Chaplain JOHN (JOCK) ANDERSON, Galt, Ont. Highland Light Infantry. He was a Presbyterian chaplain on D-Day and he received two Military Crosses.

It I was was like to go having in with a grandstand the reserve seat. brigade, but our landing craft got stuck and we lay offshore all day. You could see everything—the planes going over and dropping bombs. You could hear the navy way back, and it sounded like an express train going through the air as their big guns roared. And then you saw some bodies floating in the water. It was pretty scary. Finally an American Rhino, a large, flat barge, took us on and we headed for shore. I was in the third truck in our convoy and content to follow the other trucks to the rendezvous. Unfortunately, our truck stalled. When we finally got going, I told the driver he had to make up on the others because I did not know where we were going. After some hard driving, we pulled off the road among some trees and just sat there. I could hear troops marching toward us and I was just about to run out and ask where the assembly point was when I realized they were marching toward the beach—they were Germans. We had obviously gone into enemy territory. About daybreak we headed back. On the beach the worst thing was seeing all the bodies floating in the water. Then, later, we had to get busy and bury them. A padre’s battle station is the regimental aid post. You cannot just say, ‘Let us pray.’ You have to organize stretcher parties and bring in wounded and help bury the dead. After the battle the saddest thing of all was hunting for the dead and burying them. When people see cemeteries with neat rows, they do not realize that those fellows were first buried in groups or wherever you were able to do it. Even as a padre, I did not resent the war. I felt it was something that had to be done. We know we should not go to war. I am more of a pacifist than anybody. But when I realized what was going to happen if we did not stop them, we knew we had to. There was one point when the Germans hit my Jeep and I jumped out thinking I could not go on. But the good Lord helped me to do what I had to do—carry on picking up the wounded. No one liked what they were doing. D-Day never shook my faith in God. It is what man does. It is not God’s will that we were doing that. But it is something we had to do to have peace again.

WILLIAM BURY, trooper, the 1st Hussars. Now a resident of Dundas, Ont., he went in on the first wave of the D-Day landing as a machine-gunner and co-driver of a tank.

As overhead. we went The in, rockets firepower screamed of the ships was devastating, and the way they hit the beaches from those cruisers, firing right over our heads—I was scared. Who wouldn’t be, going in on an invasion? The shore was just jumping as the barrages of shells and rockets slammed into it. I kept thinking that nothing was going to live through that. I will never forget it. Those guns kept on blazing. We were in Sherman tanks that had been specially fitted with propellers, but there were lots of problems because of the waves. Luckily, not many men drowned, even though half the tanks went down. Mine made it to shore—or almost. When we hit the sand, the waves washed over us and knocked out the motor, leaving us like sitting ducks. The infantry had not yet landed to give us support. German bullets were whizzing all about us. Finally the infantry came and we swam to shore. One of my buddies was so seasick he wanted to quit, but I persuaded him to keep swimming with me. As soon as we hit the beach we started to help the wounded and pull bodies out of the water. Afterward, I discovered a German dugout and since I was soaking wet, I helped myself to a pair of German pants and boots. Eventually I heard some shooting from a nearby town, so I picked up a German gun and set off by myself. As I did, one of the Queen’s Own regiment infantrymen came toward me with about 25 prisoners and asked me to take them. I did, and they sure gave me some strange looks—me with my German pants, boots and gun, as I marched them back to the beach. The irony is that I was not even sure if I could fire the gun.

The rest of the day the German planes were coming over, strafing us. But when the tide went out, I could see my tank, left high and dry. So I went out to it and got out the picture of my girlfriend, now my wife, Elizabeth, put on my beret and walked back to the beach.

Correspondent ROSS MUNRO, The Canadian Press. A Toronto resident, he is the dean of Canadian war correspondents and he was the only Allied reporter to publish same-day reports from the D-Day beaches.

It made a great change from writing politics in Ottawa. That is what I had been doing when Gil Purcell (former CP general manager) phoned me and asked if I wanted to go overseas. I had been getting pretty fed up sitting around while a lot of my friends were overseas, so I said, ‘Yeah.’ I had just three hours to catch a train to Halifax, but I made it and, in August, 1940,1 was on my way to England to be a war correspondent.

My most vivid recollection of D-Day was right at dawn, before we started to land. The soldiers were all as scared as I was. I was scared most of the time. Then there was the noise of gunfire. Having 4,000 ships lined up a mile offshore just waiting to go in made me feel I was covering one of the greatest events in the history of the world. The 8th Army and the Americans had just captured Rome, and we realized we were going to knock them off the front page totally the next day, which we did. It gave me a certain joy. I was very lucky to be working for CP then because we were serving all the papers and we had a tremendous audience every day. I landed on the beach near Bernières-surMer on the heels of the Queen’s Own Rifles. I dug a trench behind a stone wall, unwrapped my typewriter and wrote my first story. It was about 700 words, and I simply said the Canadians had made it, had breached the West Wall and were moving inland. I wrote the story about 10:30 in the morning, about two hours after the attack. I figured that the big strategic thing was to get a landing, a beachhead, and I said in my story that we had done that. You could tell then because the guys were through Bernières and getting out through the fields. You could not mention casualties, but I indicated that it was pretty tough going. I met a naval officer who was going back on a destroyer, and he said he would help me out. Somehow my story got through all the mess to the ministry of information and down to CP’s London offices on Fleet Street. I went back for the 35th anniversary. I did not feel I wanted to go back this time. You see a lot of ghosts when you go back.

Lieut. WILLIAM GRAYSON, the Regina Rifle Regiment. He won a Military Cross for his efforts in single-handedly capturing soldiers in a German pillbox on the beach.

We waded hip-deep in water to the beach. We had an awful lot of casualties on the beach. It was a numbing experience. I saw an opportunity to take a pillbox. I was able to get beside a house on the blind side of the pillbox and went across to the corner of it and threw in a grenade. The fouror five-man German gun crew saw the grenade come in and ran out the rear entrance into a communications trench. They went down the trench into an enclosed underground area that they

apparently used to relax in between shifts. I followed them the 200 feet down the trench and when I stuck my head into the dark I realized that there was a group of them inside. One of them hollered, Kamerad, and waved a white handkerchief. I was fortunate that all 35 of them came out and surrendered. As it turned out, I was the only one to take the pillbox because so many had been hit I had to do it alone.

Sgt. Maj. NICK HOWES, the Third Canadian Division. One of his proudest memories is when Gen. Bernard Montgomery decorated him with the Military Medal for his actions on D-Day.

The landing craft anchored about 600 yards from the beach. The gangplanks went down and struck a mine. Several men were killed even before they reached the shore. I jumped to get ashore but there were several other lads trying to swim and could not, so I swam back out and brought them to shore and tied them to the seawall. The day was really a shattering experience. Some poor lads had their guts flying about 15 feet away from their bodies because of the mines. The beach was not

the spot to stay because you were an easy target. I was so scared that I did not have time to think. At one point we were in a field of dead bodies, dead cows and lots of flies. At 11 p.m. I saw a group of Canadian infantry marching by— about a thousand of them, led by a pipe band, whistling down the road after fighting. It really moved me because that was the spirit of the Canadian bunch.