Nfld. & Labrador

'He didn't glorify war': Leo Knox, celebrated WW II veteran, dies just before 94th birthday

He was one of the last surviving members of the 166th (Newfoundland) Field Regiment, which was part of the British Royal Artillery.

He was a fixture at services at the National War Memorial in St. John's

'I was scared to death most of the time. I’ve seen the carnage, I’ve seen the destruction, I’ve seen the blood and bodies in the ditches,' Knox told CBC's Fred Hutton. 'It was no fun, I can assure you.' (Fred Hutton/CBC)

It was "a privilege and an honour" to know Second World War gunner Leo Knox, one of the last surviving members of the 166th (Newfoundland) Field Regiment, says author and retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary deputy chief Gary Browne.

"We indeed lost a veteran, hero and gentleman today in our friend Leo Knox," he said. "When we lose people like that, we're losing part of our community fabric."

Leo Knox died peacefully a few days shy of his 94th birthday, which would have been Jan. 17, "the way a good soldier would," said his youngest son, Rod Knox.

Rod was with Leo when he died.

"He knew that his time had come and that he had succeeded in everything he wanted to do."

"He created in us and our family this magnificent circle of love and it ripples down through us, through our children, to our children's children," said his other son, Pat Knox.

Both men remember their father as a loving, caring man, a devoted husband and a veteran who focused on creating a loving, caring atmosphere for his family.

Rod Knox, left, and Pat Knox, right, were both emotional as they spoke about their father. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

'What an honourable, honourable gentleman'

Knox had a long, respected career with the St. John's Regional Fire Department as a fire prevention officer, and Browne said he often worked with Knox as a young officer on the force.

He was "almost the face of the fire department," Browne said, because he was so well-known and well-respected.

Gary Browne said he admired Knox for his lack of bravado and for his honesty about his experiences fighting in the Second World War. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Knox was also a role model for veterans, Browne said.

"He told it as it was — there was no bravado," he said.

"He'd tell you how scared he was as a young person in the war. He saw bloodshed and carnage and it scared him, and he'd tell you that. He didn't glorify war."

Browne said he always kept his eye on Knox at the Remembrance Day and Memorial Day ceremonies at the War Memorial — "Regardless of the weather, Leo Knox was there," he said — and he'd see tears running down Knox's face, "remembering his comrades and the people who never came back home and what he saw."

"What an honourable, honourable gentleman."

Knox, who had been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for 71 years, sported medals from his time in the Royal Artillery at a Remembrance Day service in 2018. Knox said several other members of his family, including his father, also served. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

A statement posted on the Royal Canadian Legion Newfoundland and Labrador Command website describes Knox as "a hero and a gentleman" who was a member of the Legion for 71 years. 

Browne said Knox particularly loved singing with the Legionnaires. Browne said Knox particularly loved singing with the Legionnaires.

'Young and foolish'

At his last Remembrance Day ceremony in 2018, Knox told CBC he'd been attending services for 74 years to pay tribute to several family members who also served.

"I find it very emotional," he said, his voice breaking.

Knox also told stories of his time overseas in England and Italy.

"I was a very young man. I think we were young and foolish,"  he said.

The veteran said he lied about his age in order to join the regiment, which was part of the British Royal Artillery. Part of his job was delivering messages to various units.

"I was scared to death most of the time. I've seen the carnage, I've seen the destruction, I've seen the blood and bodies in the ditches," Knox said.

"It was no fun, I can assure you."

Knox told CBC he lied about his age to join the regiment. After the war, he worked with the city fire department for 35 years. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

After the war, Knox worked for 35 years with the St. John's Regional Fire Department and was instrumental in developing a fire prevention program.

He leaves behind his wife of 75 years, six children, 15 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild.

Knox's funeral is planned for 11 a.m. on Saturday at Barrett's in St. John's.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Fred Hutton

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