Wednesday, June 8, 2016

World War Wednesdays: The Elgin County Men of D-Day

     As I'm sure you've likely been aware, this past Monday, June 6 marked 72 years since the Allied D-Day  landings during the Second World War. Some of the dedicated followers over the almost two years of this blog will know that this anniversary has brought different means of reflection every year for me (check out one of my very first posts from back when I was just a guest blogger here: This year, I can't help but think about a gentleman I met during my periodic stays last year at Library and Archives Canada. I always seemed to be there when a certain older security guard was on duty, and if you've ever been to LAC you'll know how involved the security team is in the research process! During our frequent chats he'd always impart some wisdom or funny story, but one thing he always said has stuck with me most of all. He'd often ask about what I was looking for that day and what I was studying at school, and whenever I mentioned my interest in the Second World War he'd always respond with, "my dad did D-Day". For some reason, I always think about how proud he looked when he said it, and what an incredible thing it must be to have such a personal connection to this event. It makes me think about just how many people there are who can say with the same pride that someone they loved was part of something so absolutely terrifying, dramatic, and significant, and got me wondering about some other ties to that momentous day in history. For this year's post, I decided to explore the involvement of some hometown heroes, as well as to do a bit of bragging myself about some of the men who helped "do" D-Day.

     The above photo shows Corporal Albert Cook of Crinan ca. 1939. A son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cook, he enlisted in September 1939 with the First Hussars, 6th Regiment. Cpl. Cook took part in the D-Day operations, during which he was wounded, but ultimately served for all six years of the Second World War. (Photo and information courtesy of the Crinan Women's Institute Tweedsmuir History, Vol. 1).

     This ca. 1942 photo shows Able Seaman Robert A, McAlpine, also of Crinan. The son of Mr. and Mrs. M. A. McAlpine, he had enlisted as a member of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve at Hamilton on October 15, 1924. He later went on to participate in the D-Day operations. (Photo and information courtesy of the Crinan Women's Institute Tweedsmuir History, Vol. 1).

     This ca. 1943 photo shows Gunner Donald Foster of Kingsmill-Mapleton, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bert Foster and husband of Norma Light. Donald enlisted and served as a wireless operator, and on September 1, 1943, he was among the 19,000 soldiers to board the Queen Mary for England. He served in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division at Normandy on D-Day, and remained in action with the 12th Field Regiment until VJ Day. Following that, he was in hospital for two months, but after the war's end he returned to the Kingsmill community where he and his wife farmed. (Photo and information courtesy of the Kingsmill-Mapleton Women's Institute Tweedsmuir History, Vol. 1). 
Karl Kristoff
Frederick Howard Davis
     The two men pictured above, Karl Kristoff of St. Thomas and former St. Thomas Fire Chief Frederick Howard Davis, also were veterans of D-Day. A St. Thomas Times-Journal article from July 10, 1969 describes a showing of the D-Day film The Longest Day at the Capitol Theatre in St. Thomas, at which both Karl Kristoff and Fred Davis discussed their experiences during the intermission. The Elgin Regiment band members and their wives were also guests at the showing. 

     Finally, to end on a bit of a lighter note, I thought I'd share a little excerpt from the St. Thomas Times-Journal in 1946, as shared earlier this week by the Elgin Military Museum:
Boys in “C” Squadron Hit
the Dirt Fast When Bombing
Started on Normandy Beach
By Major F.O. Lewis, M.B.E.,
Commanding “C” Squadron, Elgin Regiment
Just prior to the invasion, “C” Squadron of the Elgins was stationed at Gosport on the southern coast of England. The men had been warned of air raids and told to dig slit trenches, as learned in previous training. But they had not done so. The second night the squadron was there, the German Air Force carried out a heavy raid on Portsmouth and Gosport and several bombs were dropped nearby. Don McLachlin, Charlie Raven and I went to get into our slit trench but found it was already occupied. The next morning there was dirt flying in all directions as the men dug deep into old Mother Earth.
When we landed in Normandy it was funny to see big fellows like Bill Taylor, Squadron Quartermaster George Martyn, Machinist-Sergeant Jim Chapman; the Corporal cook, Bill Couse; the Squadron Clerk, Corporal George Gilbert; the Glaab brothers, tank electricians; Jim Wilson, a mechanic, and Corporal Norm Darnforth hit the ground running with a shovel, even before the trucks stopped when we pulled into our camp area. Bill Taylor said he never would pay 50 cents to see fireworks again.
     Thanks so much for taking the time to read about some of our local D-Day participants, and I welcome any further contributions of D-Day veterans for next year!
     Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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