Canada's D-Day veterans recall taste of revenge

24th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

MONTREAL, May 23 (AFP) - As D-Day dawned over his crammed landing craft, Romeo Boulanger looked out in awe at wave upon wave of boats and warplanes lining up to be flung at Nazi-occupied France.

MONTREAL, May 23 (AFP) - As D-Day dawned over his crammed landing craft, Romeo Boulanger looked out in awe at wave upon wave of boats and warplanes lining up to be flung at Nazi-occupied France.

Sixty years on, Boulanger, a retired major in Canada's storied Chaudiere Regiment, is among many Canadian veterans, remembering the death, confusion, and heroism of the day when they punctured a deep hole in German defences.

For many Canadian soldiers, D-Day was a shot at revenge, for a blood soaked-day in 1942, when British and Canadian troops launched an ill-fated bid to seize the French coastal port of Dieppe.

In that debacle, conceived as a morale boost for weary allied populations after a string of stinging Nazi defeats, 900 Canadians died, 2,000 were wounded and 1,900 were taken prisoner.

But when Boulanger, saw the formidable array of military hardware massing for the invasion on June 6, 1944, he knew D-Day would be different.

"When we took up position off Bernieres-sur-Mer, I knew right then that we couldn't fail," said Boulanger, who on D-Day commanded a unit of flame throwers, which were used to torch the enemy out its trenches, told AFP.

"It wasn't like Dieppe, where I lost some of my friends. When day broke, there were so many boats around us you could hardly see the sea, and the sky was covered in planes," Boulanger, now 86 told AFP.

The regiment's 800 men, attached to the Third Canadian division, were in the the first wave of landings on Juno beach, behind the Queen's Own Rifles, from Toronto, which were to establish a beachhead with their tanks.

The Queen's Own, however, had a hard time of it, coming up against German defenses barely touched in artillery barrages laid down across Normandy prior to the invasion.

At around 8:30 am, the Chaudiere Regiment slipped off their landing craft into the water, to begin their assault on Juno beach.

"Despite taking some casualties, we were able to link up with the Queen's Own Rifles at Bernières-sur-Mer", Boulanger remembered.

Another veteran from the same regiment, retired Lieutenant William Foy, 83, marvelled that many of his charges emerged from the landing unscathed.

"We were lucky, we hit a mine, but I didn't lose a single man in the explosion," he said.

"I just lost one man, a bit later, who drowned - one man out of 34," he said.

Another member of the regiment, nicknamed the "Chauds" Cyril Bariau, 81, said his band of brothers had a narrow escape.

"The Germans fired a mortar at us but the rounds were falling off to the side. But when we had all got out, a round hit our barge, which was flung into the air and the two sailors on board were killed."

Foy remembers marvelling at the vast array of men, weaponry and kit, piled up and clogging the Canadian beachhead.

"It was discouraging, we couldn't move, we were piled on top of one another because the reinforcements were moving in quicker than we could advance."

But later, on the streets of Bernières, the French Canadians of the "Chauds" got a special welcome, greeted with open arms by their French cousins liberated from Nazi occupation.

As the day went on, the regiment swallowed up the ground, so much so that by the time they stood down for the day, at 2:00 am on June 7, near the town of Colomby-sur-Thaon, the "Chauds" had annihilated the first German line.

For the loss of 105 men, they had advanced a good 10 kilometres (six miles) - "the most of any allied unit" according to a Canadian military veterans website.

Of all the Canadian forces thrown into battle on D-Day, 340 Canadians were killed, 574 were wounded and 47 were captured at Juno Beach.

For the Chaudiere Regiment, D-Day was only the the beginning.

Over the next 55 days, until the end of July, the regiment was in the thick os the most bloody fighting of the Battle of Normandy, before advancing on to Belgium, the Netherlands and finally to Germany.


Subject: French news

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