Lance Corporal Rolph Jackson was born April 6, 1921, in Toronto, a ninth generation descendant of Loyalist settlers from the U.S. Originally, the Jackson family came from County Armagh in Northern Ireland. His mother died when he was age six and his sister Lenore, two. The family struggled as their Dad had work only occasionally, especially during the lean Depression years. Rolph was sent to live with his uncle at age nine in 1930 on a farm in Grey County, near Holland Centre. His sister went to live with an aunt in the West.
Life on the farm in the 1930’s was difficult and the harsh environment in which he was raised significantly shaped his life. Rolph moved back to Toronto in 1937 to be with his father and to look for work. Rolph joined The Queen’s Own Rifles militia in December 1939, shortly after the Second World War began. When the Third Division was mobilized for overseas service, he “went active” on 5 June, 1940, at age 19, enlisting in Baker Company of the 1st Battalion. He trained with them in Newfoundland and Sussex, N.B. prior to departing for England in the summer of 1941.
During embarkation leave, Rolph came back to Toronto and had a visit with Olive Lipski and family. She wrote him faithfully and he wrote back when he could.
On D-Day, his Baker Company was especially hard-hit, only Rolph and two others (Doug Hester and Bob Nicol) in his section survived. Rolph was wounded in the hand and after recovery remained in England until the end of the war.
Following Rolph’s return, he and Olive were married on 9 October, 1945, at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Toronto. Their daughter Chrystal was born in late 1947 and they soon decided they needed more room. They bought their first house: an “ugly four room” one and lived there from 1948 to 1952. After working at a variety of temporary jobs, Rolph got work at The Toronto Star in 1950 as a pressman and he worked there until retirement.
The Jackson family moved to a larger six-room bungalow in Scarborough (Pharmacy and Eglinton-St. Clair) just one block away from a public school that Chrystal attended beginning that Fall. Olive and Rolph lived there from 1952 until 1966 when Chrystal graduated from Grade 13 and they moved to the house on Roosevelt in East York. It was reasonably close to downtown for work for Rolph and a good community to live in.
The family attended Emmanuel Lutheran for a number of years in the 1950’s and early ’60’s where Olive taught Sunday School. She was also involved with the women’s group and helped with Christmas pageants. They had a lot of fun and liked to go to dances, shows and played cards a lot. Olive and Rolph were members of RCL Branch 344 from the 1970’s, when they met in a building on Elm Street (long since demolished), before moving to its current Lakeshore Avenue location.
They also took many interesting vacations : to the eastern United States, California, Mexico, Caribbean, Hawaii and to Europe four times, including memorial trips to Normandy as well as tours to Greece and the former Yugoslavia.
Rolph loved the out-of-doors. For many years he would take a friend and go canoeing and fishing in Algonquin Park, even into his 70’s when his friends weren’t able to go any longer.
After his wife died in 2001, Rolph lived as a widower in the house with his black cat, Midnight. His health declined and he eventually sold the house at 53 Roosevelt Road in 2005. He moved into Sunnybrook Hospital, Hees Wing, where he resided at the time of his death, just three days after the 62nd anniversary of D-Day in 2006.
A number of items from Rolph’s Second World War days were donated to the Regimental Museum by Rolph before his death including his identification tags, invasion money (French five franc note), his pay books, a New Testament, and a shoe box full of letters that he had written to his eventual wife, Olive. Most of these items were taken to the Juno Beach Centre on June 5, 2014 for the visit of the Colonel-in-Chief the Duchess of Cornwall, in honour of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.
Transcript of Interview conducted in 1998 as part of a school project
Rolph Jackson was a 23-year-old Lance Corporal on D-Day. He was in charge of a Bren Gun Section of B Company which was in the first wave, landing at 0812 hours.
What was your first reaction when you heard you were going to land on June 6?
We figured it was the only way we could get home. We were awfully tired of being away from home. We’d come over in ’41 in the summer and the English got used to us and we got used to the English, but it was an awful lot of training. It was a job. We knew it was going to be tough. You people are not brought up with Canadian history, but we had our forefathers, our fathers’ generation’s reputation to live up to from World War I. And we did it.
What was it like and what were your feelings when you were coming in on the landing craft?
Let’s get it over with! When we first saw the beach, it was on the dark side of dawn. It was British war time which is two hours ahead of solar time. It was double daylight, if you follow me. You could see outlines against the dark side. The beaches were under bombardment. You could see the ships at sea, a massive flotilla, the most ships I’d ever seen. We landed while part of the bombardment was still going on. Many of us that survived felt it would have been better to land without the bombardment because the beaches were manned when we got there.
We had rocket craft that had 1400 rockets. They fired them in batteries of 20, and they killed a lot of cows. Unfortunately a Yankee Thunderbolt [aircraft] was patrolling the beach and they took out one of their Thunderbolts. That was the first casualty we saw.
What happened when the ramp dropped when you landed? What were your feelings at this time?
Our landing craft had two sections of infantry, about 20 men, and a section of engineers. They were demolition engineers. We landed at the sea wall. I’ve seen the Yankee beaches and they were very shallow, but ours was very steep. I was – if you’ll pardon me – up to my balls in water.
We hit the beach and it was a slaughterhouse. They cut us to ribbons. Of the 10 men in my section, 7 were dead and 2 of us were wounded. Two of us crossed the wall. In our platoon, there were 6 men left by 2 o’clock the next morning, 6 out of 36. I was hit in the hand in the water and knocked off my feet.
I lost a lot buddies. I seen them go down. The sea was red with blood. Most of them went down in the water, and I think quite possibly drowned rather than was shot. We had to walk 25 or 30 yards in the water.
When you first got onto the beach, what were your feelings and what did you do?
How did we feel when we were on the beach? Fairly angry. We were carrying a lot of assault equipment. If you were carrying anything but a rifle, you didn’t make it. Was I scared? You didn’t think about it.
We cleared one dugout. We presumed it was cleared – they didn’t come out after the 36 [hand grenade] went down there. German grenades were concussion, and ours were shrapnel. I have a piece of German grenade in my shoulder still. The doctor gave me some sulfa because I had been shot in the hand.
We did what the Americans didn’t do. We had Dieppe for training. At Dieppe the soldiers stopped to help the wounded. We learned you can’t stop under fire because a moving target is harder to hit. We were told under no circumstances to stop and help the wounded. No way. Get in behind the enemy and take him out.
Was I scared? I guess maybe we were. We didn’t think about it.
What did you do you after the battle?
That night I wasn’t looking forward to having to dig in with one hand. I saw the M.O. [Medical Officer] and he evacuates me because I have bones smashed. I spent most of the night getting back to the dressing station. I fell asleep against a stone wall and maybe got 3 hours sleep.