Indigenous

Strangers connect: 2 Métis women discover their family members' shared military history

Two Métis women discover their father and grandfather served together with the Regina Rifles on D-Day in France.

Delores LaPratt's grandfather and Lena Dubray's father served with the Regina Rifles on Juno Beach in WWII

Canadian troops land at Juno Beach, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy, on June 6, 1944. (CWM 20020045-1453/George Metcalf Archival Collection/Canadian War Museum)

Two Métis women living in different provinces recently discovered they had family members who landed on Juno Beach together on D-Day.

While researching her family history, Delores LaPratt learned her Métis grandfather, Francis Xavier Le Prêtre from Peace River, Alta., landed on Juno Beach during the Second World War.

Recently LaPratt, who lives in Montreal, was able to help Lena Dubray from Beauval, Sask., discover more of her father's military history.

LaPratt realized Alex Malbeuf, Dubray's father, was in "C" Force of the Regina Rifles with LaPratt's grandfather.

"They were actually on the same ship that carried them over there," said LaPratt.

"They landed on Juno Beach, during D-Day. They both survived."

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed in Nazi-occupied France, on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats.

"C" Force during the Second World War. Dubray says she thinks her father is in the top row, seventh from the left, but other family members think he could be sixth from the bottom right. (Submitted by Delores LaPratt/Regina Rifles)

Dubray didn't know much about her father's military service as he died in 1953, when she was five. While working with the Department of Natural Resources, on Dec. 1 of that year, the vehicle he was in went through the ice on Lac Île-à-la-Crosse.

She hadn't known her father had landed at Juno Beach.

"My mom told me, my dad described, that apparently it was supposed to be a secret mission . . . the soldiers going to land on this beach," she said.

"And he told my mother that there were so many soldiers killed, because the Germans knew they were coming apparently . . . that the water turned red, the colour of the blood from the dead soldiers."

Her father's military record says he was an infantry sniper, which Dubray said had an impact on him.

"There was no wording for PTSD, but I know that's what happened. When he drank, I mean, you know, it wasn't pleasant," she said.

Rifleman Alex Malbeuf was a sniper during the Second World War. (Submitted by Lena Dubray)

Dubray said he came home with five medals, one depicting each country he served in. Dubray's cousin, whose father was also in the Second World War, recently gave her a stone from Juno Beach he received after a visit there.

LaPratt said her grandfather enlisted in 1940 with the Edmonton Fusiliers, before being transferred to the Regina Rifles, who she said had a large number of Indigenous soldiers. He died in 1963, before she was born.

"I've been reading about the Regina Rifles and their experiences. It's really harrowing what you read what these men went through," said LaPratt.

Rifleman Françis Xavier Le Prêtre in uniform. (Submitted by Delores LaPratt)

LaPratt said she discovered that soldiers on Juno Beach suffered the second-most significant loss on D-Day, after the Americans on Omaha Beach.

"He was lucky. He did get wounded two days after [D-Day] . . . it makes me kind of emotional," LaPratt said.

LaPratt has shared what information she has found with Dubray, like the type of ship they took to France, and a photo of "C" Force during the war.

Dubray was able to identify her father in the group photo.

"It's really pretty amazing having that connection with a person that I've never met," La Pratt said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous. She is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported on radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.

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