D-Day On Land, By Sea, and In the Air
June 6, 2014 was a memorable day for forty-one people in Wetaskiwin, Alberta as they obtained their Canadian citizenship. Dignitaries speaking at the Ceremony proudly remarked that June 6th, seventy years earlier was also a very memorable day when Canadians played a very important role in a historical battle that has become known as D- Day. 155,000 troops from 12 Allied nations made history when they stormed German defences at various locations on the beaches of Normandy (France) in a battle to open the way to Germany from the West. Many Canadian soldiers in the Normandy campaign were young and new to battle, but their courage and skill meant they often helped lead the Allied advance against a determined enemy The Canadians suffered the most casualties of any division in the British Army Group.
Members of the Canadian military and the Wetaskiwin Royal Canadian Legion attending the Citizenship Ceremony were asked to stand and face the audience. They received a standing ovation for their efforts in defending our country.
On Land, By Sea, In the Air
Allied aircraft paved the way for the landings, bombing the coastal defence in the months leading up to the attack. On June 6, 1944 a massive Allied force crossed the English Channel to engage in Operation Overlord. Their destination was an 80-kilometre stretch of the heavily-defended coast of Normandy. The task was formidable. The Germans had turned the coastline into a continuous fortress of guns, pillboxes, razor wire, mines and beach obstacles. By the spring of 1944, Germany had occupied France and much of the European continent for almost four years.
The Allies knew they would have to defeat Germany in Western Europe to win the war. Planning lasted more than a year, taking great effort and involving many elements. Ground, sea and air forces rehearsed endlessly to make sure their timing and coordination was perfect. Great numbers of troops, boats, tanks, supplies and equipment were gathered in total secrecy in southern England.
World War II veteran, Mr. Roy Foster commented on the importance of this battle. “It was the largest assembly of combined of combined forces in history. Troops from 12 Allied nations met heavy opposition from the German forces. Advancement was slow and casualties were heavy against the strong concentration of German troops situated in bunkers along the coast of France. After several days of attacks from Naval and Airforce bombardment, the Ground Forces were able to establish several strong locations.”
WWII veteran – Mr. Greenslade shares his experiences
Mr. Greenslade, who passed away April 5, 2014, shared his experiences in WW II at the 2011 Remembrance Day in Millet. “I was raised on a farm and the quarter section wasn’t big enough for my Dad, my brother and myself so we decided to join the army. My Dad, my brother and two neighbor boys went to North Battleford to join up but my Dad was too old and my brother had polio so they wouldn’t take them. So I was the only one. I was 17 and they said I was a little too young. So I waited and in 1940 joined up. Went to Saskatoon to get my uniform and then to Calgary for my basic training.”
Mr. Greenslade took sick while in Calgary and was in the hospital for a year. “When I came out of the hospital I had to go Red Deer for my training but after I finished they said I was too young to go overseas so they held me back until the next draft. A year afterwards in 1941 was when I went to England and then to France. To Dieppe. That’s where the big raid was. We went from England to France on little ships, 18 of us bouncing like a duck on the water but anyway we made it.”
Mr. Greenslade recalls numerous hardships they encountered. He recounts arriving in Dieppe in rainy and muddy weather and the discomforts associated with sleeping in tents in the mud and water. From Dieppe he went to Antwerp. “I joined the outfit (in Antwerp) and from then on we hauled food, petrol and ammunition to the front lines. I stayed with it until the end”.
Note: Mr. Greenslade was in the midst of the campaign to free up Antwerp. It cost the Allies dearly. They had lost 703 officers and 12,170 other ranks were killed, wounded or lost in action and presumed dead. Over half of these casualties were Canadian men. However, the capture of Antwerp and the ability to use its port facilities was vital for the Allies as they drove on to Germany.
Canadians soon captured three shoreline positions on D-Day and established themselves near the village of Creully. Fighting continued through the summer of 1944. The conditions were terrible and the enemy was ruthless, but the troops moved forward. On August 25, 1944, Paris was liberated by the Allies, bringing the Normandy campaign officially to a close.
Victory in the Normandy campaign came at a terrible cost. Three hundred and forty Canadians were killed on Juno Beach on D-Day alone and more than 5,000 made the ultimate sacrifice. The brave Canadians who served in the Normandy Campaign were among the more than one million men and women who served in the cause of peace and freedom during the Second World War.