Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
Military Might
History Home
Canadian troops land in Normandy as part of the largest invasion in history
On June 5, 1944, tension ran high as Canadian soldier Frank Curry and his shipmates were ordered to stay aboard their vessel docked on the coast of England. By morning they would be part of the largest invasion in history - known as D-Day.
More than 100,000 men, including 15,000 Canadians, made up the D-Day invasion force on June 6, 1944. (National Archives of Canada)
More than 100,000 men, including 15,000 Canadians, made up the D-Day invasion force on June 6, 1944. (National Archives of Canada)

"Our ship was sealed at 2400 last night which means IT is very close now. Padres (chaplains) on board today, another sign. No one can leave the ship under any circumstances," Curry wrote in his diary.

Curry's ship, the Caraquet, was one of the minesweepers that would clear the way for an invasion force of 7,000 ships and more than 156,000 Allied troops, including 15,000 Canadians. Hitler had conquered Europe four years earlier and now the Allies would begin to take back the continent in a massive assault on the beaches of Normandy in northern France.

On another ship docked at Southampton, Navy chaplain Reverend Raymond Hickey and the 850 men of the North Shore New Brunswick regiment ready for their beach landing.

"Maps were unrolled - and there was our landing place, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer a tiny village on the French coast. At that moment, St. Aubin was living in blessed obscurity; another day, and its name would be flashed around the world. Another day and its gray-pebbled shore would turn crimson red and be strewn with dead and dying."

At 10 p.m. on June 5, Currys ship slipped out of Portland Harbour towards Normandy. He was terrified.

"The moon played hide and seek with the clouds and we expected any moment to be the target for shore batteries. RAF blasting away all along the coast, so close that we could feel the jar of the bombs continuously. Great fires started all along and over fifty planes came down in flames throughout the long and terrible night."

At daybreak, the Allied battleships opened full fire on the German coastal defenses. Now, the invasion force was no more than a mile from the Normandy coast.

Charlie Martin a Sergeant Major in the Queens Own Rifles prepared for the landing. He carried a letter from Vi, the English girl he had just married. In it, she told him that he would always be the love of her life.
D-Day was a triumph for Canadian troops. By nightfall, they have advanced farther inland than any of the other Allied soldiers. Picture here, Canadian troops guard German prisoners on D-Day (National Archives of Canada, PA-136280)
D-Day was a triumph for Canadian troops. By nightfall, they have advanced farther inland than any of the other Allied soldiers. Picture here, Canadian troops guard German prisoners on D-Day (National Archives of Canada, PA-136280)

"We had never felt so alone in our lives. The assault craft plowed steadily forward. There was mist and rain. Bernière-sur-Mer became visible. Fifteen hundred yards of beach stretched from the far left to the far right. Everything was dead quiet. Except at any second we were expecting the German shelling to start. And it did."

In Canada, news of the invasion was broadcast across the country. After years of war, the news was electrifying. Like other Canadians, Edna Jaques embraced it with fear and with hope.

"Thousands of people jammed the churches. I went to St. Andrews, and sat quietly with the rest of them, each one just sitting there, everyone praying, wiping the tears away, not saying a word. We all seemed one; humanity, I guess you would call it, united, in an overwhelming prayer that somehow, some way peace would come."

Under heavy fire from German fortifications, Canadian soldiers landed on the stretch sand code-named Juno Beach. Many men were killed as soon as they left their landing craft, shot down in chest-high water. The survivors made their way across the beach. D-day is a triumph for Canadian troops.

By nightfall of June 6, the Canadian troops had advanced farther inland than any other Allied force. The D-Day assault had claimed 340 Canadians lives, another 574 had been wounded and 47 taken prisoner. At the end of the day, Charles Martin of the Queens Own Rifles tallied the cost.

"Half of our original company - those I had joined up with in June 1940 - had been killed or wounded. The tears came. I went behind a wall. So many had been taken."

D-Day launched the Battle of Normandy. In the first days on French soil the Canadians would initially fight the Wehrmacht troops, but were soon facing the fanatical teenaged members of the Hitler Youth in the 12th SS Panzer Division, and the 25th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment.

One of the German commanders was the ruthless SS Brigadenfuhrer Kurt Meyer who ordered the murder of recently captured soldiers. The bodies of Canadian soldiers in the Queen's Own Rifles and other regiments were found with bullet holes in their temples. Martin came upon some of the victims.

"The six bodies didnt look quite right somehow because we could, even at a distance, see the field dressings on the wounds, and the prayer books had come out and were strewn around about. Then we came close and saw that each had been pistol shot in the temple. But these murders of our men, wounded, all of them prisoners with their weapons gone and hunkered down out of action in this little draw, stayed with us. "

In the first six days in the Battle of Normandy, 3,000 Canadians were killed or wounded. During a lull in the fighting, Reverend Hickey of the North Shore regiment returned to the scene of a battle, a field of wheat near the town of Capriquet.

"In the gathering dusk you could fancy how the wheat field had been just like any of our wheat fields back home, but now the wheat was trampled into the earth; the ground was torn with shell holes and everywhere you could see the pale upturned faces of the dead. That night alone we buried forty."

D-Day was the beginning of the end of the Second World War. By the spring of 1945, the war was almost over and Charlie Martin was the only one of a handful of the original group of the Queen's Own Rifles who was still in active combat. Most of his regiment spent less than six weeks in combat before they were killed or injured. Martin would be injured during the liberation of Holland but he survived the war.

Frank Curry also made it home. Back in Winnipeg for the first time in five years, he took out his diary one last time.

"This is the last, very last entry in my more than five long years of jotting thoughts and incidents. Quite a day in anyones life to arrive back in ones home town after a terrible war, all in one piece, home, a discharge round the corner and a new life in University ahead with all the prospects of a very peaceful home life to make life seem very, very wonderful."

Battle Diary by Charles Cromwell Martin may be purchased by contacting Rick Martin at 905-453-1906 or email at martinrick@home.com

People wishing to support the Charlie Martin Memorial Fund, may send their donation payable to The Charles Martin Memorial, at St. Hilaries Church, 2055 Hurontario St. Mississauga, L5A 2E6. The Church is constructing and maintaining a memorial dedicated to the Fallen Comrades of Charles Martin.

top of page

Last Topic:
Disaster at Dieppe

Current Topic:

Next Topic:
Letters Home
The Battle of Britain
Canadian pilots do battle in the skies over England during the war's first crucial battle
read more ...

"Miserable, rotten, hopeless life"
With little training and unstable ships, Canadian sailors face the dreaded German U-boats
read more ...

Disaster at Dieppe
A quick raid becomes one of the worst disasters in Canadian military history
read more ...

Letters Home
A young Canadian soldier prepares for battle far from home
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC