Young, George Sherwood

Rifleman George Sherwood Young
Rifleman George Sherwood Young

Rifleman George Sherwood Young was born 13 April 1913 on the farm in Hibbert Township, Perth County, Ontario.  At age fourteen his father, Charles, passed away and the family moved to nearby Stratford where he finished his schooling.  In the mid 1930s George moved to London, Ontario where some of his older brothers and sisters lived and found employment as a waiter in a restaurant.

In May 1942 he married Margaret (Marnie) Davidson and just two months later reported for service with the Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment).  After completing basic training at Vernon, British Columbia, and based on his past vocation, George soon found himself assigned duty as a steward in the officer’s mess.  In October of that same year Private G. S. Young was promoted to Acting Lance Corporal, stationed at Seaforth Camp in Vancouver.  The Fusiliers received additional “special advanced training in amphibious operations” at Port Alberni and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island before being sent to Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. Their arrival there in August 1943 answered the threat of a reported Japanese landing.  The report was accurate but George informed his family that the only evidence the Fusiliers found of the Japanese were empty sáke bottles.  Even so, the regiment remained until January 1944 after which George received a month’s furlough to visit his wife and new eleven-month-old son, Sherwood James Young.

After his return to British Columbia, and a short stint at the Vernon Military Hospital, George’s regiment prepared for assignment in Europe.  Embarkation leave was granted allowing more time to be spent at home with his family.  Sherwood was growing and Marnie was pregnant again.  George left for England in late May, arriving there 2 June 1944, just four days before D Day.  One of the first across the English Channel that memorable morning was George’s nephew, Charles Mitchell Young, serving as an anti-aircraft gunner on the Canadian minesweeper H.M.C.S. Milltown.  Within weeks the Canadian Fusiliers were disbanded and its troops divided up to reinforce other infantry regiments fighting in France.  George was assigned to the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.  His new regiment sustained severe losses in the taking of Bernieres-sur-Mer at Juno Beach on D Day and were then in the process of driving German forces into Calais and Boulogne.

Some of George’s letters from the Front survive.  Like all soldiers, his thoughts were of home and family.  On August 16th he wrote to his mother,

“By the way do you know it was a year ago today that we made the landing on Kiska.  It hardly seems to be that long ago.  Certainly have seen an awful lot of the world since then.  Well I certainly hope I can see Canada again real soon. 

Then I think I will stay home and be a respectable married man.” 

On September 2nd he gives a glimpse of conditions in France during that time,

The weather here is good and that is always a break for us.  I just finished a letter to Marnie and Sherwood now so when this is finished that will be all for today.  I haven’t had any mail for a few days now but some will catch up to us one of these fine days.  We get along fine with the French people and they are real good to us on usual.  Have had quite a few fresh eggs the last couple of days and believe me they certainly taste good.  However our food is good even if it is field ration.  The only thing is I never seem to be able to have enough to eat.  I certainly have developed an appetite since I arrived here but I sure don’t put on any weight.  Maybe when I get home and settle down for good I will gain some tho.  Guess I am like Charlie, because all I want to do is come home to London and never roam again.  A fellow certainly does get lonely for home and familiar places.  However it shouldn’t be so awfully long now before we all can come home for good.” 

Again on September 6th he wrote about “when I come home.  Hope that day isn’t far away either.  I imagine the news sounds pretty good to you people these days.”  By September 1944 the allied forces were successfully pushing German troops out of France but at a costly toll.  Eleven days after writing this last letter, on September 17th, Rifleman G. S. Young (A/115593) was killed in action.  Twelve days after his death Marnie delivered his second son, Peter David Young, back in London, Ontario.

News clipping about Rifleman George Sherwood Young
News clipping about Rifleman George Sherwood Young

A letter dated 6 December 1944 to Marnie from Andrew Mowatt, regimental chaplain of the Queen’s Own Rifles, explained the circumstances:

Dear Mrs. Young,

You must be anxiously awaiting further news of your husband’s death in action with our regiment.  I am so sorry to have kept you waiting so long.  We have been in action or on the move so much of the time since then that I got behind in my letter writing.  I am writing this from a hospital bed where I have been sent for a rest – so please excuse the writing.

On September 16th, I visited all our lads in their areas and had a fine chat with them.  They seemed really in good spirits as they prepared all their weapons, equipment, and so on for the next day’s attack on the strong German held positions in and around the port of Boulogne in France.  Next morning we moved forward at dawn under cover of a smoke screen and heavy artillery fire.  We moved up to a wooded hill about two miles north east of the city and waited for a heavy air attack to soften up the enemy strong points.  We didn’t have long to wait.  In the bright sunshine of a very beautiful day a large number of our heavy bombers hit their targets perfectly.  Before the bombing was over, I watched all our boys march forward to take up their positions ready for the attack.  Almost before the last bomb fell our men attacked.  I was not able to learn exactly when your husband was killed, as in the excitement of battle time seems to mean very little.  It was however, a few hours after the attack started.  I understand that he was killed instantly.

Your husband’s body was brought back by his comrades to me at our forward first aid post.  Two days later on September 19th I buried him in our park-like Queen’s Own plot near a big school on Beaurepaire Street in the north east section of Boulogne.  His grave is number 8 in Row ‘A’ and is well marked with a white cross on which is painted in black his regimental number, rank, name, unit, and date of death.

After the war, Mrs. Young, all our Canadian dead will be moved to a great new permanent cemetery over here somewhere.  I have already seen the last war ones at Ypres and Vimy so I know this war’s one will be lovely too.

I must close now but do hope that things go well with you.  God be with you.

The chaplain’s prediction proved accurate of course.  Shortly after the war George’s body was exhumed from the local cemetery in Boulogne and reburied with 717 others at the Calais Canadian War Cemetery, Leubringhen, outside the small village of St. Inglevert:  plot 6, row B, grave 1.  In 1993, in company with my wife and brother, I watched the sun rise over this hallowed site.

Original grave marker for Rifleman George Sherwood Young.
Original grave marker for Rifleman George Sherwood Young.

 

George Sherwood Young’s decorations include the 1939-1945 Star, France and Germany Star, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp, and 1939-1945 War Medal.  His name is included with Canadian war casualties in the World War II Book of Remembrance kept in the Parliament Buildings Memorial Chapel in Ottawa.  A page is turned each day and his name is displayed for public viewing each October 16th on page 485.

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