Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy in Northern France and the beginning of the end for the Nazi occupation of Europe.
The first day of the assault saw the landing of 24,000 Canadian, British and US Allied forces on a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy Coast. Allied casualties were 10,000 men on the first day with confirmed dead of 4,414.
The Ladysmith Archives provided access to 1944 issues of the the Ladysmith Chronicle from the period of the invasion. One page included photos of B.C.’s navy men who had participated in the first wave that hit the beaches.
Among the photos were four men from Vancouver Island — two from Port Alberni, one from Cobble Hill and John B. Cloke from Ladysmith.
Cloke’s relative, June Ehmig, remembers when he left
“Before John left he visited all of the members of his family. He was afraid he was not coming back. He had a hard time but he returned and lived for many more years.”
Frank Jameson was also at the battle. He was a member of the crew of a mine sweeper clearing the approach to the beaches. Jameson later became a mayor of Ladysmith and Frank Jameson Community Centre is named after him.
Apparently the Town of Ladysmith was sending cartons of cigarettes to local soldiers serving in the war. C. (Carl?) Ryan letter sent to the city clerk just after the invasion thanking the town for its generosity. The letter was received on July 12, 1944 and printed in the Chronicle.
Ryan wrote: “My main purpose of writing now is to acknowledge the receipt of two lots of ‘fags’ from the city in the past two weeks — sort of a bonus for our successful landing. I wish you would convey my thanks to the good people of the city for your gracious gifts. You folks certainly have stood by the lads over here and I know that each one of us thinks that Ladysmith is just that much better than other cities, and the knowledge that you folks think of us at least once in a while is quite a boost to morale.”
Between June 6 and the end of August the Allies landed more than two million soldiers in Northern France and suffered approximately 226,000 casualties in the battle of Normandy alone. Canadian Casualties were 18,444 with 5,021 killed.
During the liberation of Normandy between 14,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed. In all more than a million Canadians served in World War 2 with over 44,000 dead and 55,000 wounded.
Today these numbers are hard to grasp. In one day of fighting, in one battle alone, well over the entire population of Ladysmith was killed or wounded.
Only one soldier from Ladysmith, who served in World War II is alive today. Barney Bains served in the Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. When asked what it was like by a reporter he said: “It was hell.”
The Ladysmith Legion is hosting a service at the Ladysmith cenotaph tonight at 7 p.m. to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The public is encouraged to attend.