David “Dave” Robert Arksey was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1921. He finished high school at Lawrence Park Collegiate in 1940 and in June enrolled in the Queen’s Own Rifles militia. On 11 Dec 1940 he commenced active service and went overseas.
Dave Arksey was a rifleman in “D” Company, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. He landed on Juno Beach in the second wave at Bernières-sur-Mer. Although most of the fighting had moved on, Dave and his fellow soldiers had to contend with German mines and mortar fire as they made their way off the beach.
Dave’s first real taste of battle came on 11 June 1944 in an ill-fated assault on Le Mesnil-Patry. “D” Company and two squadrons of tanks from the First Hussars (6th Canadian Armoured Regiment) made the attack. Fierce German resistance wiped out one squadron of tanks and the infantry company. Rifleman Arksey surrendered soon after the man he was with – Lou Bridges – was shot through the head.
Now a prisoner of the 12th SS Panzer Division, made up of fanatical Hitler Youth led by hardened Nazi veterans, Dave had another close brush with death. His Nazi captors threatened execution if he wouldn’t give them information about his unit. Thankfully, the Germans spared Arksey, but he did witness other brutal activities in his brief time in captivity near the front.
The Germans sent Dave Arksey to work forced labour with other Allied prisoners of war at a coal mine in Poland. As the Russians neared in early 1945, the guards forced Dave and his fellow prisoners to march west and south into Germany. They left on 14 January 1945 and covered some 800 miles by 18 April 1945. Only 219 of the 429 Allied prisoners survived the march (Dave marched with thousands of Jews, political prisoners, and others as well) and Dave witnessed Jews being executed in the final stages of the Holocaust.
The US Army liberated Dave Arksey and his fellow survivors in late April. In early May 1945, Dave returned to England. He weighed just 119 pounds, down from the 175 pounds he weighed when he left England before D-Day. Dave returned to Canada just after New Year’s in 1946. Later David joined the Royal Canadian Regiment and served in Korea from 1950 to 1954.
Dave was a 21 year member of The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 499 in Angus, Ont.
Dave Arksey passed away on 24 April 2012, aged 91. He left behind his wife, Josephine, and four children.
See an interview with Dave Arksey by Blake Heathcote on Vimeo.