He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named….
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.
Henry V, Act IV, Scene III.
REVEILLE, on D Day 6 June 1944, was at 0315 hrs. The water in the Channel was rough; the spirits of the men boisterously high. For years they had trained for and dreamed of this day. Now, in a few hours, their fortunes would be put to the touch. A and B Companies, the first-wave assault troops, were on the S.S. Monoway, a Red Ensign ship from New Zealand. An excellent breakfast was served. By 0500 hrs everything was completely ready for the transfer to the L.C.A. (Landing Craft Assault) manned by Royal Marines. At 0600 hrs, seven miles off the French coast, the order came. The troops filed silently into the craft and the boats were away. The rough water soon made a goodly number of men seasick; nevertheless, the anti-seasick pills did help the great majority.
The dull roar of far distant bombing could be heard but all was quiet around the assault craft. Thanks to our Navy and Air Force not once was the immense D Day flotilla really menaced by enemy ships or aircraft. Steadily the L.C.A. forged ahead. Suddenly, at 0725 hrs, with Bernières-sur-Mer just in sight, the air was filled with screaming shells; later the rockets joined in; a veritable inferno that numbed the senses and shattered coherent thought. To the men bobbing about on the flimsy craft it was tremendously reassuring that this great weight of metal was all going in the right direction.
The original H hour had been 0745 hrs. Now word was received that H hour would be delayed for at least ten minutes. At that moment the assault craft were only a few hundred yards from shore. The sea was now so rough that the D.D. tanks, designed to swim in with the infantry, were ordered to land in the normal way from their craft. This delay meant that The Queen’s Own would have to capture Bernières without tank assistance. The A.V.R.Es., (Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers), landed with the second wave but were held up on the beach until suitable exits could be made.
The supporting fire was now thickened by artillery firing from their craft. Everyone prayed for the order to land. Soon the guns would cease and the men well knew that the longer the elapsed interval between the cessation of fire and the actual attack the greater the enemy’s chance of recovery. The fast-rising tide was also hiding the mines and obstacles that the craft would have to sweep through. It was a grim few minutes; the craft circled slowly; an occasional shell whined out from shore; then, at 0805 hrs, came the glad word to go in.
D-Day film footage shot on Juno beach by Sergeant Bill Grant, showing Canadian troops of the Queen’s Own Rifles, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landing at Bernieres-sur-Mer, Juno Beach, D-Day.
A Company on the right and B Company on the left touched down at 0812 hrs. The line between the companies was the railway station. Several L.C.A. hit mines on the run in but casualties were light. Nevertheless, of the ten L.C.A.’s that carried A and B Company in, only two managed to get off the shore. Strangely enough the battalion lost all its flame-throwers at this point—one by enemy action, the rest by waves soaking the mechanism. The rising tide had now left about two hundred yards or so of beach between the water’s edge and the sea-wall. The strip was swept by enemy enfilade fire but, with a rush, A Company, under Major H. E. Dalton, was over; clambered up the sea-wall, and reached the railway line.
Charlie Martin, Company Sergeant-Major, ‘A’ Company described the landing in his book Battle Diary:
“As we moved farther from the mother ship and closer to shore, it came as a shock to realize that the assault fleet was disappearing from view. Suddenly there was just us and an awful lot of ocean, or English Channel if you prefer. All that remained within sight was our own fleet of ten assault craft, moving abreast in the early-morning silence in a gradually extending line facing the shore, the A Company boats on the right and the B Company boats on the left.”
“Our part of the beach was clear but there were mines buried in the sand. On the dead run you just chose the path that looked best. Bert Shepard, Bill Bettridge and I were running at top speed and firing from the hip. To our left we spotted a small gap in the wall. They had placed a belt-fed machine gun there as part of the defence and only one man was on it. We knew from our training that you cannot be on the move and fire accurately at the same time. If you stop you become a target. In any case, Bill did stop for a split second. He took his aim and that seemed to be the bullet that took the gunner out, although Bert and I were firing too. We got to the wall and over it, then raced across the railway line.”
9 Platoon, A Company, was on the extreme right flank of the 8th Brigade attack. Their area of the beach was covered by an 88 mm. gun position which had not shown on the air photos. Before it was silenced this gun caused heavy casualties to the platoon. Lieutenant P. C. Rea was wounded twice, the Forward Observation Officer was wounded, Lance Sergeant. J. M. Simpson killed and two-thirds of the platoon killed or wounded. Sergeant C. W. Smith, later awarded the Military Medal, gathered together the ten or so men remaining and, although wounded, fought his way through to the railway station. Here he collapsed and a corporal took over. Now house-to-house fighting began. Here the enemy put up a stubborn resistance and numerous casualties resulted; but the attack was pushed relentlessly.
B Company, under Major C.O. Dalton, was even less fortunate. The company had landed directly in front of a concrete strongpoint that was still in action. Almost one half of the company was lost in the initial dash across the beach. A supporting flak ship was wirelessed for support. The flak ship came in so close that it almost ran aground and began firing at point-blank range. Doug Hester, ‘B’ Company:
“Then we saw the five pillboxes on top of the sea-wall. These were our first objective. About 500 yards out, they had us in their sites of their small arms and began shooting. When the craft got into shallower water, the Royal Marines lowered the door. The three in front of me including Doug Reed were hit and killed. By luck I jumped out between bursts into their rising blood. Cold and soaking wet, I caught up to Gibby…the first burst went through his back pack. He turned his head grinning at me and said, “that was close, Dougie.”…the next burst killed him.”
Finally, Lieutenant W.G. Herbert, Corporal R. J. Tessier and Rifleman W. Chicoski did a very neat job in silencing the strongpoint with grenades and Sten guns. By now Major C.O. Dalton, Lieutenant J.D. McLean, Lieutenant W.G. Herbert and CSM W. Wallis were wounded. Sergeant F.B. Harris and Sergeant S. G.W. Morrison had been killed. Lieutenant H.C. F. Elliot took over command until relieved by Captain J. I. Mills. Corporals were playing the leading roles; the smashing impetus never faltered.
An initial mischance now turned out to be a determining factor in B Company’s success. One L.C.A. had its rudder jammed and ran ashore off course. Here there was no enemy defence. Quickly, Lieutenant H.C. F. Elliot, the platoon commander, seized the opportunity and worked his way inland along the shore. The unexpected flank attack convinced the enemy that they had had enough. It was as well, for by now the rest of B Company had been practically wiped out.
At 0830 hrs C Company, under Major O.A. Nickson; D. Company under Major J. N. Gordon, and alternate B.H.Q. (Battalion Headquarters) landed. Half of the L.C.A. had struck mines but, by a miracle, few of the men were wounded and all swam or waded ashore. B Squadron, Fort Garry Horse, had also landed. An exit was breached in the sea-wall and very soon the armour joined the forward companies of the Queen’s Own.
C and D companies immediately pressed forward along the brigade Centre Line: Bernières-sur-Mer, Beny-sur-Mer, Basly, Colomby sur-Thaon, Anguerny Heights. Great stress was placed on the capture of the last mentioned which was of great tactical importance to the division. By 0900 hrs Bernières had been cleared, so A Company followed in support of C and D. The few remaining in B Company re-organized and were held back in Bernières until the afternoon. In the original plan B Company were to remain to form a firm base. Now there was no choice.
The brigade reserve, The Régiment de la Chaudière, had landed; so too had The 14th Field Regiment R.C.A. with its S.P. (self-propelled) guns. Their initial progress was held up by an enemy 88 mm. gun on high ground overlooking the town. So deadly was the fire that four Priests (Sherman tanks carrying a 105 mm. gun) were knocked out. Then a detachment of The QOR of C, riding on a tank, outflanked the position and put the quietus on the crew.
Steadily the advance continued down the road forming the Centre Line. The tanks ranged far and wide and did valuable work in locating and destroying pockets of the enemy. It was a tank-infantry fight against scattered nests of enemy resistance and never did the co-operation work more smoothly. Finally, at 1730 hrs, the battalion reached its D-Day objective, Anguerny Heights, and dug in around the village of Anguerny; the Carrier Platoon, under Lieutenant S. C. Biggs, occupied, after a sharp fight, a prominent local feature—ring contour 70 on the map, but Big 2 Hill to the carrier platoon. The most forward position was the village of Anisy which had been taken by D Company after a sharp brush with the enemy.
Chester Wilmot remarks in The Struggle for Europe:
“So fast did The Queen’s Own move against this and other positions that when The Régiment de la Chaudière began to land behind them fifteen minutes later, the only fire on the beach was coming from snipers.”
To merit these words everyone had given to the limit. Never did the rifleman’s creed of dash and initiative reap a richer reward. Let the padre be taken as an exemplar. He was everywhere; cheering up the wounded and exhorting the men still fighting. While comforting Sergeant Morrison in his last moments a bullet inflicted a flesh wound in the padre’s foot. The next day, when the first opportunity came to take off his boots, as the blood-soaked sock was cut away the bullet fell out!
The Régiment de la Chaudière and The North Shore Regiment had made good progress also so that, by the evening, the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade was loosely conformed into a jutting salient with The QOR at the apex. In error, The Queen’s Own first line reinforcement, who were sorely needed by the battalion, had been sent to Régiment de la Chaudière. Two or three days elapsed before the mix-up was straightened away.
Napoleon once taunted the British with being a nation of shopkeepers. It would be a little difficult, however, to evince a shopkeeping instinct stronger than that possessed by the owner of an estaminet in Bernières. No sooner had the troops cleared the area round his place than the proprietor popped up from the cellar and, with bullets still flying, started to sell wine. He did no business with The Queen’s Own; nevertheless, many factors combine to impede the orderly progress of an attack!
The night of 6-7 June was full of alarms and excursions. Everyone was waiting for the expected counter-attack; but it never came. At 0100 hrs, 7 June, a truck load of Germans drove into Anguerny. All were taken prisoner. Later, an enemy patrol broke into A Company in the rear of B.H.Q. The patrol was fought off and the officer in command captured after being bayoneted by Rifleman Frank Mumberson, 7 Platoon. Throughout the night our patrols brought in prisoners. One was identified as belonging to the 21st S.S. Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend). S.S. is the abbreviation for Schutzstaffein or Staff Guards. They were all hand-picked, fanatical Nazis.
At day break, 7 June, small parties were sent back to search for missing personnel. Fighting patrols roamed the area looking for enemy snipers; some were rooted out in Anguerny itself. Captain A. Kirsch R.C.A.M.C., who had worked unceasingly looking after the wounded on D Day, left for hospital on 7 June. He had been wounded on 6 June but refused to leave at such a critical time. On that day while giving Lieutenant. P. C. Rea morphine to ease his pain a mortar shell landed nearby. Captain Kirsch was wounded—so, for the third time, was Lieutenant Rea. Captain Kirsch dragged Lieutenant Rea to a more sheltered spot, dressed the wounds, and carried on as before, calmly and efficiently. It was the ultimate in the depiction of a medical officer in action. Major M. Bruser became the battalion Medical Officer until 13 July. Then Captain R. D. Oatway R.C.A.M.C. took over and remained until the end of the war. Throughout he served the battalion well and faithfully. Seventy first-line reinforcements arrived on D+l. They were badly needed. That day saw the expected counterattack hurled against the 9th Brigade on the battalion’s left. The brigade fought gallantly and the 12th S.S. Panzer Division was held.
Now the troops were well dug in, a little reflection was in order. The probabilities that the two first-wave assault companies would be commanded by brothers were rather remote; but so it was; and both Major C.O. Dalton and Major H. E. Dalton were in the regiment in the old N.P.A.M. (Non-Permanent Active Militia) days. It was a pleasing thought too, that, of the four battalions in the initial Canadian assault wave, three had been rifle regiments: The Queen’s Own Rifles, The Royal Winnipeg Rifles and The Regina Rifles. The Green Jackets seem to produce what is required for crucial moments. The reflections closed on a note of pride. The battalion had proven itself; it had fought its way almost seven miles in from the beach; it had captured the objective as laid down; and was part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, which, of all the allied divisions engaged, had made the deepest penetration.
The casualties had been heavy; in fact, the heaviest suffered by any Canadian unit that day. Fifty-six other ranks had been killed in action; seven died of wounds. Six officers and sixty-nine other ranks had been wounded; five other ranks suffered battle injuries. These were the men who paid most dearly, and, in so doing, wrote another illustrious page in the annals of the regiment.
For gallantry displayed in smashing the defending 716th German Infantry Division on that memorable day the following awards were made:
- Major C.O. Dalton— Distinguished Service Order (DSO);
- Lieutenant W. G. Herbert—Military Cross (MC);
- Sergeant C. William Smith, Corporal R. J. Tessier and Rifleman W. Chicoski—Medal of Merit (MM).
ROLL OF OFFICERS, WARRANT OFFICERS AND SERGEANTS
Commanding Officer: Lieutenant-Colonel J. G. Spragge
Second-in-Command: Major S. M. Lett
Adjutant: Captain W. J. Weir
Intelligence Officer: Lieutenant R. C. Rae
Medical Officer: Captain A. Kirsch, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps
Padre: Honorary Captain J. C. Clough C.C.S.
- Regimental Sergeant Major E.W. Hartnell;
- Medical Sergeant R. Wilson;
- Orderly Room Sergeant S. D. Watson;
- Intelligence Sergeant S. B. Roberts
- Provost Sergeant C. R. Webber.
Officer Commanding: Captain T. E. Parkinson
- Lieutenant D. Hogarth, Transport Officer
- Captain R.I.O. Stewart, Quartermaster
- Lieutenant D.M. Philp, R.C.C.S.
- Company Sergeant Major R. Hess
- Sergeant A. J. Cornett, Signals
- Sergeant T. E. Tidy, Signals
- Sergeant N. A. Tims, Technical Stores
- Arm/Sergeant C. E. Craig, RCEME
- Sergeant E. D. Shaw, RCASC
Officer Commanding: Captain R. A. Cottrill
- Lieutenant B. Dunkelman, 3 Pl. (Mortars)
- Captain J.G. Price, Lieutenant S. C. Biggs, 4 PI. (Carriers)
- Captain T. A. Staunton, Lieutenant I. S. Waldie, 5 Pl. (Anti-Tank)
- Lieutenant J. D. Pickup, 6 Pl. (Pioneer)
- Company Sergeant Major G. A. Cronkrite
- Company Quartermaster SergeantG.C. Sutherland
- Sergeants. D. A. Clute, R. M. Guiton, L. C. Warner, F. L. Styles, 3 Pl.
- Sergeants. W. A. Nethery, K. A. Lang, A. Mair, F. J. M. Killick, 4 Pl.
- Sergeants. A. W. Stiff, G. D. Tarzwell, W. B. Laffradi, C. D. Mackaskell, 5 Pl.
- Sergeant. W. Ward, 6 Pl.
- and Sergeantss. J. A. Selley, W. S. Clarke, A. W. Lambie, C. T. Ashby.
Officer Commanding: Major H. E. Dalton
- Captain R. D. Medland (2nd-in-Command)
- Lieutenants D.D. Owen, J. L. Pond and P. C. Rea
- Company Sergeant Major C. C. Martin
- Company Quartermaster Sergeant G. C. Garrett
- Sergeants J.S. Browne W. A. Overholt, C. W. Smith, J. M. Simpson and E. R. Screen
Officer Commanding: Major C.O. Dalton
- Captain J. I. Mills (2nd-in-Command);
- Lieutenants H.C.F. Elliot, W.G. Herbert and J. D. McLean.
- Company Sergeant Major W. Wallis
- Company Quartermaster Sergeant H. Gale
- Sergeants F.R.Gaines; Forshaw; F.B. Harris. W.H. Middleton and G.W. Morrison.
Officer Commanding: Major O.A. Nickson
- Captain W. D. Stewart, (2nd-in-Command)
- Lieutenants J.C. Arber, J.A.C. Auld and J. P. Harris.
- Company Sergeant Major T. J. Chivers
- Company Quartermaster Sergeant W.H. Ives
- Sergeants D.M. Kingstone, W. G. Murray, C. Anderson, C. B. Bell and K. D. Jamieson.
Officer Commanding: Major J. N. Gordon
- Captain R.W. Sawyer (2nd-in-Command)
- Lieutenants. R.W. Barker; H.G.W. Bean and R. Fleming.
- Company Sergeant Major J.Forbes
- Company Quartermaster Sergeant G. Saltstone
- Sergeants S. Cole, S.T. Scrutton, T.C. McLaughlin, J.M. Mitchell and H.S. Webb.