Mystery D-Day soldier featured on silver coin ID'd as Nova Scotia man
Coin was inspired by footage captured D-Day, but Pte. George Herman Baker's identity was determined recently
A reassuring pat on the shoulder and a glance back at a fellow soldier. A fleeting act of camaraderie shared between two Canadian soldiers just seconds before they joined their comrades and stormed Juno Beach in France on D-Day.
"We felt that that image certainly represented sort of the soldiers of the day. There was a lot of meaning in that image, it's very powerful," said Ian Graham with the Royal Canadian Mint.
That moment recorded on grainy black and white film lasted only a second, but it was enough to inspire the design of the Royal Canadian Mint's 2019 proof silver dollar, commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
But no one knew the identity of the soldier who was glancing back, until now.
Researchers working with the mint have identified the soldier as Pte. George Herman Baker of Liverpool, N.S. He was a member of the No. 3 Platoon, A Company of the North Shore Regiment.
He was 20 years old when he headed out to Juno Beach. He survived the war, and moved back home and raised a family. Baker died in 2003 at age 80.
On Tuesday in Liverpool, the mint presented Baker's daughter, Karen McLeod, with one of the coins inspired by her father's image.
"I've just been in a daze. I'm overwhelmed," said McLeod. "Proud, and proud of everybody, proud of the men that were there and proud of my father."
She said her father was a low-key man who rarely talked about his role in the Second World War.
"When they had the 50th anniversary of D-Day, I remember him mentioning about the landing and how the soldiers had died. It was awful. You had to walk over people and you couldn't do anything to help them."
Baker carried grim reminders of the war with him. He had shrapnel embedded deep in his shoulder and McLeod remembers pieces of it coming out even years after the war.
McLeod said Baker left the war behind and moved on with his life when he returned home. But the image captured of him preparing to land on Juno Beach had a life of its own.
And decades later, the mint wanted to find out who the captivating soldier was in the footage.
In the beginning, the only clue the mint had about the soldier's identity came from an interview done with an old platoon chief who thought the soldier might be Pte. Baker.
Researchers then reached out to the North Shore Regiment that Baker had been a part of. The regiment searched through its records and found only one soldier with that surname. Since the regiment is based out of New Brunswick, they searched the area for a Baker but didn't find one.
Eventually, with the help of some amateur historians, they realized Baker's service number started with an F, which indicated he was probably from either Nova Scotia or P.E.I.
The researchers were able to narrow the scope of their investigation and learned Baker had died in 2003, but a quick internet search revealed he had a daughter. They contacted Karen, who examined the image and confirmed it was her father.
She said she was amazed to see the footage.
"Not only the discovery of the picture — a whole new discovery of my father. You know, I look at my father in a different light, right, it's a whole new discovery of him."
The mint plans to produce 20,000 silver coins. Each sells for $59.95.
McLeod said her father would be honoured by the tribute, but embarrassed by all the attention.
"He was camera shy," she said. "He would appreciate it and he would be happy about it, but I would probably have to do some talking to get him here."
With files from Preston Mulligan