- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 May 2004, p. 418-433
- Barris, Ted, Speaker
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- The speaker introduced his address as a talk "about a generation of Canadians, that 60 years ago, gave every person who ever gave a speech here (since 1945) the freedom to do so. He read excerpts from his book "Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944" and also showed footage shot during the assault at Bernieres-sur-Mer made by the Queen's Own Rifles. He also relates the story behind, and importance of, this footage. Some very moving concluding remarks acknowledging the veterans.
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- 27 May 2004
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Ted BarrisHead Table Guests
Author, Broadcaster and Professor
JUNO, WHERE CITIZEN SOLDIERS FROM CANADA MADE HISTORY
Chairman: John C. Koopman
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Sharon Rudy, Vice-President, Spencer Stuart and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Laura Swan, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Major The Rev. Canon Ken Maxted, OMM, CD, Chaplain, Royal Canadian Military Institute; Major. William A. Duncan, CD, Member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada in WWII, Retired Chief of Personnel, Canada Post and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Rudyard Griffith, President, Dominion Institute of Canada; Robin V. Sears, Director, The Empire Club of Canada; MGen. Bruce J. Legge, CMM, CM, KStJ, ED, CD, QC, Former Major, General Reserves, Former Colonel Commandant, The Logistics Branch, Partner, Legge & Legge and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; and Mike Mallott, History Instructor.
Introduction by John Koopman
Tom Brokaw, in his book "The Greatest Generation" paid homage to the men who came of age during World War II. He argued they were the greatest generation ever and that no society ever produced a generation so united by a common purpose and common values such as honour, service, patriotism and responsibility for oneself. As Europe darkened in the late '30s, Winston Churchill understood what would be asked of this generation. He said: "When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men's souls, drawing them from their firesides...we learn that something is going on in space and time and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty."
War is the business of young men, and in 1940 the western world turned toward its young to carry the heaviest burden. These young men understood what was required of them and willingly volunteered for duty.
At a time in their lives when their days should have been filled with innocent adventure, love and the work-a-day lessons of the world, they were fighting across bloodied landscapes from old Europe to the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from two of the most monstrous tyrannies ever seen.
Many did not return. The poet A.E. Housman caught their emotions in verse:
Here (lead we lie because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is; and we were young.
Can one generation really be greater than another? We will never know. What we do know is, as Franklin Roosevelt said, it was this generation that had a rendezvous with destiny. Because of the sacrifices made by this generation, we will happily never know how my generation might have responded to a similar challenge.
Our guest today is going to talk to us about a very particular slice of one of the seminal deeds of the greatest generation--the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. D-Day saw a vast allied armada deliver 150,000 soldiers to the shores of Normandy. Fifteen thousand of the soldiers that day were Canadian and most of them landed at Juno Beach.
Mr. Barris's recent book entitled "JUNO" is the story of those 15,000 Canadians. In it he describes not high military strategy, but what individual Canadian soldiers experienced in the air, at sea and as they landed on the sands of Juno beach.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mr. Ted Barris to the podium of the Empire Club of Canada.
First, my thanks to the Empire Club for its kind invitation to speak here today. Some of you may know that last year this organization celebrated its centennial and among the ways the club observed the milestone was by way of a 100th-anniversary video. I had the pleasure of creating the script for that production.
One of the historical facts I discovered while researching the script was that the Empire Club, right from its inception, was a unique platform for its guest speakers. Monarchs, world leaders and every prime minister since John A. Macdonald have spoken on the Empire Club stage to offer predictions, pronouncements and political points of view. For 101 years the Empire Club has been Canada's speakers' forum of record.
I'm here today to talk about a generation of Canadians, that 60 years ago, gave every person who ever gave a speech here (since 1945) the freedom to do so.
It was the generation of Canadians, that, on June 6, 1944, joined the greatest amphibious invasion force in history to take back Nazi-occupied Europe. The liberation of northwestern Europe would all begin with a 24-hour dash from the south coast of England across the 100-mile wide English Channel to the beaches of Normandy. It would involve more than 7,000 naval vessels (110 of them Royal Canadian Navy ships). It would be supported by thousands of bombers, fighters and reconnaissance aircraft (including scores of squadrons from the Royal Canadian Air Force). And at the tip of the spear would be nearly 200,000 assault troops, 15,000 of them Canadian infantrymen and nearly a thousand Canadian paratroops, all focused on about 10 miles of Normandy beach, code-named JUNO.
That was the big picture. It was the picture that commanders, generals and historians tend to paint. It was an important picture, yes. But I contend (in my book, "Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944") that it was the many individual acts of courage and survival that made the big picture happen. In other words, as one D-Day survivor told me: "You're not concerned about the big things when you're a private in the infantry. You're mostly interested in the sight you have in front of you--the platoon's problems. You're not interested in the war's problems."
I want to make my point by showing you pictures and describing experiences of some of those ordinary Canadians who did an extraordinary thing on D-Day. They made the biggest gamble of the Second World War pay off. They succeeded in breaching Hitler's previously impenetrable Atlantic Wall. They took the first deadly steps into an occupied Europe to free its oppressed citizens. They did the work of volunteer citizen soldiers in a cause they felt was as important as their father's cause in the First World War. They fought what American journalist Studs Terkel later described as "the good war."
Who were the Canadian citizen soldiers on D-Day?
One was Robert Dale, an RCAF navigator, standing there in front of one of the legendary plywood Mosquito fighter-bombers. Navigator Dale had been on scores of bombing and strafing operations over occupied Europe in 1942 and '43. In fact, he had already completed two full tours of duty and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. He could easily have requested repatriation to Canada. Instead, in May of 1944, he agreed to fly critical weather reconnaissance sorties. Sunday, June 4, 1944 turned out to be among the most memorable.
I offer an excerpt from my book:
Just after 2:30 navigator Bob Dale and his Mosquito pilot partner, Nigel Bicknell met in the ops room of RAF Station Wyton for a briefing on the day's solo operation. The duo was to fly a weather reconnaissance pattern east from central England, out over the North Sea, inland over Holland, south and west across the northern coastal region of France, south as far as Brest, then a final leg back across the English Channel home to RAF Wyton as quickly as possible. The chosen route was nothing out of the ordinary for either the Mosquito crew or any German defenders who might observe the aircraft on their radar. Along the route of roughly 1,000 miles, the duo was directed to make standard weather recordings and report their findings in a debriefing when they landed later that day.
As ordered, airmen Bicknell and Dale directed their Mosquito out over the Channel en route to Holland and then southward across France. They climbed up through the heavy cloud cover, entering clear sky above 20,000 feet. All along the flight path they recorded the cloud thickness, winds and the conditions below the ceiling of the weather system.
"We saw the front at its maximum intensity, low cloud and rain, " Dale said. "We marked front stems on our chart ... They wanted to know the height of the cloud and the cloud base. So we went down and figured we were in solid cloud at 8, 000 feet or so. Then down to the base at about 500 feet... The weather was really bad. "
After three hours' flying time, the duo was back out over water, the Bay of Biscay, off northwestern France and heading home across the Channel. However, instead of returning to RAF Wyton, the Mosquito was diverted to RAF Ford, a fighter station on the south coast of England. Immediately after landing? Dale remembers being hustled into a room and plugged into a telephone conference call. There were few pleasantries, just a short and to-the-point debriefing of the crew's findings. In a few minutes the Canadian navigator had given his superiors details of cloud height, thickness and weather conditions associated with the system.
"I got the feeling they already had the picture of things in their minds, " said Dale, sensing a resignation among the officers' voices on the other end of the phone line. "We just confirmed their thoughts about what conditions would be like in the next 24 hours over the Channel. " Dale's weather readings were apparently confirmed by other reconnaissance aircrews up that afternoon and by Royal Navy vessels strategically positioned at points around the British Isles. Strong southwesterly winds were now blowing over the English Channel. Cloud and rain were lying low along the coast of western Europe. All the weather data seemed persuasive. General Dwight D. Eisenhower officially confirmed that the invasion would not happen as planned. A coded message, `Ripcord plus 24, " was issued. Canadian Bob Dale didn't realize it immediately, but his weather information had helped determine that D-Day for June 5 was off for at least 24 hours.
If the gravity he heard on the telephone line during his stop at Ford fighter station hadn't told Bob Dale that big things were about to happen, what Dale saw when he got back to his Wyton air base later that afternoon certainly did. As he and Bicknell taxied their Mosquito to a stop on the flight line, they saw that the station was a hive of activity. It seemed that ground crews surrounded every aircraft on the tarmac But they weren't conducting their regular rigger and fitter duties.
"They were starting to paint black and white stripes on the wings and fuselages of all the aircraft, " Dale said. And he knew these zebra stripes were a definite signal. "This was it. "
Here's another citizen soldier who was just concerned with the few feet of war in front of and on either side of him. Royal Canadian Navy Stoker Ray Mecoy.
Despite the reported swells of five and six feet and nearly gale-force winds on the English Channel on Sunday, June 4, it wasn't the weather that bothered Ray Mecoy. At the beginning of the war he'd worked in an electronics factory building anti-submarine technology. By 1942, he'd joined the Canadian Navy and served as a mechanic, welder and boiler cleaner before becoming a stoker aboard HMCS Fort William, a Bangor-class minesweeper in April 1943. It would be his job to clear the English Channel of German mines in the dark on the eve of D-Day. That didn't scare him, however. What bothered Mecoy most was what his captain and a navy chaplain had said at Sunday service that morning as they laid out generally what was going to happen on D-Day, whenever it occurred.
Another book passage:
"(We) figure two-thirds of all the ships in the invasion are going to be hit (and) won't make it back, "Mecoy remembered them saying "There's a good chance you're going to end tip in the water and nobody is going to pick you up right away. You'll be on your own. "
Stoker Ray Mecoy remembered that HMCS Fort William set sail late in the afternoon of June 5. As it moved toward the middle of the English Channel the flotilla began to spread out into a formation for sweeping its allotted section of water--approach channel number three--roughly 1,200 yards in breadth. Each sweeper plied the channel 800 yards astern and 200 yards to port of the ship ahead. At 7 o'clock that evening the 31st Canadian Minesweeper Flotilla entered the tninebelt.
"First wed swing the (Oropesa) float (tethered to the stern of sweeper) with underwater fins out several hundred yards from the ship, " Mecoy .said. `A sweep wire dragging under the surface of the water was razor sharp and it would saw through the cables anchoring the (German) mines. And the mines would come up to the surface ... Normally, once we had done the sweep, we'd come back to blow the mines tip with fire from the Oerlikon (guns) or wed put enough holes in them that they'd sink. But not on D-Day... "
The planners had decided that detonating the mines would draw too much attention to the sweeping activity. So orders stated that the crews were to allow all mines that floated to the surface to daft out of the approach lanes by the strong English Channel current. To ensure the safe passage of the thousands of assault ships that would sail through the lanes just a few hours later, British trawlers followed the sweepers dropping lighted Dan buoys at half-mile intervals along the borders of each channel.
The entire operation depended upon absolute precision. Correct navigation through every mile of each channel put tremendous pressure on the sweeper-crews. Also, the Dan buoys had to go overboard at the correct moment, each with two 175 pound weights tethered to about 600 feet of wire. The entire operation went on in complete darkness. In addition, if at any time the flotilla encountered German warships, Operation Neptune orders prescribed that the sweep had to be continued without deviation no matter what opposition confronted them. There was no room for error, because by the titne the sweepers and Dan layers had completed their fifth mile, the first invasion landing craft would be entering the channels they had created.
By 5 a.m. the work of the sweeping-Dan-laying tandems was done and all ships in those vanguard flotillas were headed to their anchorage stations.
"When I came up off my watch, we were anchored, " Mecoy said. `7 carne on deck to see what was going on and all I could see were all these ships going the opposite way we were facing. Of course, they were on their way in to the beaches.
Despite the dire predictions of two-thirds losses, that Mecoy's superior officers had made at Sunday church service, not one sweeper was lost that night.
Even as the thousands of zebra-striped Allied bomber, fighter and reconnaissance aircraft took off on their June 6 D-Day operations, one group of Canadians was already on the ground in France. Here's one of them. Mark Lockyer was a paratrooper in the First Canadian Parachute Battalion. It was the battalion's job to secure or destroy the bridges over the rivers and canals to the east of the Normandy beaches to prevent or slow down the inevitable German counter-attack against the troops landing on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno beaches. Another excerpt from my book:
Born in 1924, on a 125-acre farm in Whitby Township north of Lake Ontario, and the youngest of three sons, Mark Lockyer generally got the hand-me-down jobs, including moving hay bales to the highest point in the hip-roof barn, some 50 feet off the ground Heights never bothered him.
Not advancing beyond Grade 10, when the war broke out, Mark chose to stay and help out on the farm. He might have stayed there in an essential service, except that when Lloyd Brush, his older sister, Dorothy's husband, was taken prisoner in the ill-fated Dieppe raid, Mark knew he had to enlist, even if he was only 17. When he joined the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, they accepted him, but wouldn't send him overseas with the rest of the battalion because he was underage. Instead they sent him to Wainwright, Alberta, for an additional training course.
When he finally turned 18 and was allowed to join the battalion in England, Pte. Lockyer had his jump wings, was a trained sniper and had additional expertise in the use of explosives. He joined B' Company during the final preparations for the jump into Normandy. The paratroops with which Lockyer jumped, would have the responsibility of reconnoitering seizing and destroying a small but strategic bridge over the River Dives near the village of Robehomme. They would rendezvous at the objective in the middle of the night and with the assistance of Royal Engineers (carrying explosives) would then destroy the bridge. The objective, was to stop or slow down any mechanized counter-attack by German tanks on the Allied left flank.
Though he knew he was just another citizen soldier, Pte. Lockyer treated every aspect of a jump professionally Each step went like clockwork.
"Once out, you got rid of the pack on your leg, " he said. "It was tied in two places with a slip knot, that let the pack down to the end of a 20-foot rope. That'll tell you where the ground is as you come down ... In my case, though, I hear a splash and think 'Oh-oh, water. ' So I had my hand on the harness release, because if the water below is going to be deep, I want to get the hell out of that harness. "
Despite his worst fears, when he hit the water his descent stopped when his jump boots hit terra firma about four feet beneath the water's surface. Oddly, he felt at home. The ground was mucky, but grassy. It was farm pasture. But for as far as he could see in the darkness, there was water. He quickly released his chute, retrieved the waterproof kapok container with his Lee Enfield rifle inside and faced his next challenge. Where was Robehomme? Where was the River Dives? And the bridge they were supposed to destroy?
Singly and in groups of two and three, members of Lockyer's group collected what weapons and ammunition they could muster and set out for their D-Day objective, the Robehomme bridge over the. River Dives. By 2 o'clock, in the darkness, about a dozen paratroopers had rendezvoused at the bridge, but the entire party had to sit tight until the designated demolition crew of Royal Engineers arrived to complete the mission. It was nearly .3 o'clock and none of the sappers had arrived.
"Anybody worked with plastic high explosive?" an officer asked.
"I have, sir," Lockyer said. Not only did he know about PHE, Lockyer had trained others back in Wainwright how to use it. It would now be up to him to find enough explosive on hand, place it correctly along the two supporting girders of the bridge and cripple or destroy the crossing.
As Pte. Lockyer gather red about 30 pounds of PHE and the explosive from some disarmed Gamon bombs arid grenades, a Royal Engineer arrived and the two men worked to prepare the bridge for demolition. In fact, at one point, the engineer stood on Lockyer's feet so that he could dangle over the edge of the bridge and tape the explosive along the bridge supports. Within 20 minutes, they had strung out explosive wire and warned everybody to take cover.
"Okay, Canada, "the Royal Engineer said, "it's yours. At .3 a.m., Lockyer pushed the plunger. When the dust cleared, the I-beams had been broken and the centre of the bridge had collapsed down on itself making it impassible.
Here are two more citizen soldiers. Fred Barnard and his younger brother Donald had grown up with a group of friends in East York (in Toronto). Unlike the "Saving Private Ryan" movie scenario, in which U.S. military leaders attempted to keep family members from serving in the same theatre of war, the Canadian army actually encouraged fathers and sons, or brothers to serve together. (I guess the notion was that a unit would have more cohesion and exhibit a stronger esprit de corps with blood relations together in it.) At any rate, soon after Fred Barnard joined up, his brother Don did the same and Fred requested Don be transferred into his company with the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada regiment. They went into Juno Beach together in the first wave on D-Day.
When the front ramp dropped on the Landing Craft Assault containing No. I2 Platoon from B' Company, Corporal Fred Barnard was about halfway back. Joining him in the leap into waist-deep water in front of Bernieres-sur-Mer were his younger brother, Rillernan Donald Barnard, and his childhood friend, Rifleman Gordon Arthur. The three had all grown up together on the same street in east-end Toronto. But this wasn't Sutherland Avenue in East York.
'As we were going down the ramp, " Fred Barnard .said, "I yelled to my brother, `Give 'em hell.'And the next thing I know I'm in four feet of water. "
Immediately in hont of him, and his only concern in those first few moments, was the maze of obstacles that sat exposed by the low tide. Barnard quickly realized that the mines on the hedgehogs were the source of the explosions around him. There seemed to be continuous explosions as several of the Queen's Own landing craft triggered the mines. As he reached dry beach, he saw one of the youngest men in his platoon, a 19-year-old whose stomach had been cut open by shrapnel. Ahead of Barnard, his chum Gord Arthur had made it to some cover.
"Then I saw my brother Don lying on his back as if he was asleep, "Barna d said. "There was just a black hole in his uniform right in the middle_ of his chest. No blood. He must have died instantly. "
While he had scored best marksman in the company, 20-year-old Don Barnard hadn't been able to get off a single shot. Just 23 himself, what Fred Barnard experienced in his first moments ashore might have been enough to paralyze Irirn with fright on the .spat. Despite his shocked condition, though, he knew he couldn't delay, not even long enough to drag his brother's body with him. `B' Company had come ashore 200 yards east of its intended landing, directly in front of the main (German) resistance nest at Bernieres. Within the first few minutes of the engagement, the company suffered 6.5 casualties.
One last story of a citizen soldier on June 6, 1944 and it's the story of a Canadian contribution on D-Day that has gone unheralded, indeed unnoticed.
This is a single frame of motion picture film shot during the assault at Bernieres-sur-Mer made by the Queen's Own Rifles (Fred and Don Barnard's regiment). It is perhaps the most famous piece of D-Day movie film taken. It is generally included in any documentary portrayal of the Normandy landings. The viewer sees the infantrymen readying themselves in the last seconds of the run-in; (one man pats the back of the soldier ahead of him, the hand clearly shows a wedding band). The landing craft doors swing open. The seawall and beachfront houses appear in the bright June sunlight. And then the riflemen sprint down the ramp across the sand and into the defenders' fire. As Sir John Keegan describes it in the foreword of my book "The footage is one of the most graphic depictions of combat ever recorded."
What makes the movie footage even more compelling is the story behind the story. Current wisdom (in fact, the details recorded in history texts and most military diaries) is that this famous footage was shot from a camera mounted or attached to the rear wall of the landing craft and that the camera was merely triggered by the free hand of a seaman aboard the navy landing craft. I wasn't quite satisfied with that story, so I tracked down the wife of this man, Capt. Ken Bell (whose 35 mm still photographs of Canadians on D-Day and beyond now comprise the heart of the National Archives wartime collection in Ottawa). Ken's widow Mary Lea Bell couldn't tell me definitively that the footage was from a fixed camera, but she thought Ken had said so.
Mary Lea Bell did, however, direct me to Chuck Ross, another cinematographer in the Canadian Film and Photo Unit that went in with the troops on D-Day. They were volunteer soldiers recruited to serve in the publicity arm of the infantry. When I reached Pte. Ross in Edmonton I asked him to describe the movie cameras they used on D-Day. He said they were 35 mm Bell and Howell Model-Q Eymo cameras. He said the cameraman wound up the camera with a key like a child's wind-up toy. That powered the film through the camera gate behind the lens.
"How much shooting time would each wind-up give the cameraman?" I asked.
"About 35 or 36 seconds," Ross said.
"That's it. Only half a minute's worth of shooting," I said with surprise. "What do you think of the belief that this famous landing footage was taken by a mounted camera at the back of the landing craft?" I asked.
"Not true," Ross said. "It was shot by Sgt. Bill Grant." And Chuck Ross proceeded to tell me how his colleague Bill Grant had set up several times during the run-in to film men preparing, waiting and (as the doors swung open) leaving the landing craft. Ross told me that Grant then scooped up his camera, tripod and two more rolls of unexposed film and scrambled ashore with the troops, seeking cover among the sand dunes in front of Bernieres-sur-Mer. There on the beach and then shortly afterward in the village, he shot the rest of his movie film. Grant then packed the exposed film in tins that were marked "Press--Rush by whatever means possible--To Ministry of Information, London."
"Is there any way to verify that?" I asked Chuck Ross. "Sure can," Ross answered. "You can call the man who edited the film, Staff Sgt. Ken Ewart."
When I contacted Ewart in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, he told me that yes he remembered receiving the D-Day landing film cans, clearly marked with Bill Grant's name on them. It was Ewart's job to clear the footage with the censors, cut together a sequence from the raw footage, and then pass it along to a script writer, who added the voice-over description of the assault for the final 60- or 90-second newsreel story.
To complete my detective work on the true story behind this most famous D-Day film footage, I received a letter from a journalist friend, who related a conversation she'd had with a D-Day dispatch rider, motorcyclist Brian O'Regan. In the letter, O'Regan states: "I picked up a white-taped aluminum can containing tine reel number one by Sgt. Bill Grant and got it to the beach movement control officer for transport to England."
Within 48 hours (by Friday, June 9, 1944) the Newsreel theatres in England, Canada and the U.S. were showing audiences the first images of the D-Day invasion landings in France. The irony, however, was that as Britons, Americans and Canadians viewed these famous sequences of the D-Day landings, little or no mention was made that the troops were Canadian, that the landing area was in the Canadian sector at Juno Beach and the cinematographer was Sgt. Bill Grant of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit.
A Canadian photo-journalist had scooped the world press and even historians (60 years later) had overlooked or never bothered to document his achievement. I am fortunate to have been given the gift of veterans' memories to correct that oversight.
Exactly 10 days from today, I will be walking on the sand in front of Courseulles-sur-Mer, France, the same part of Normandy that more than 15,000 Canadians stormed 60 years ago. I will walk there on the beaches, in front of the brand new Juno Beach museum anti interpretive centre (built principally by veteran donations).
I will walk there casually, quietly and freely.
And I'll be able to do that because many of my father's generation--a bunch of 19 and 20-year-olds--chose to become citizen soldiers until Europe was free again. And this June 6, I'll be able to re-tell some of that remarkable history because people such as RCAF navigator Bob Dale, RCN stoker Ray Mecoy, Canadian paratrooper Mark Lockyer, Canadian infantrymen Fred Barnard and Canadian army photographer Bill Grant chose to serve their country in what they believed was a noble cause.
They served. They succeeded. And we are the beneficiaries of that service and D-Day victory.
This veteran's son... This speaker's forum of record... This nation, Canada... We all must never forget.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Robin V. Sears, Director, The Empire Club of Canada.