Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen played a critical role in the Allied invasion of Normandy. There were 14,000 Canadians that landed at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the RCAF contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties (“casualties” includes those wounded as well as those killed), including more than 18,700 Canadians; over 5,000 of the Canadian soldiers died.
A Canadian soldier who fought at the Battle of Normandy was Simpcw First Nation’s Louis Matthew, who hailed from Chu Chua in the North Thompson Valley.Although Louis is no longer with us, his son, Nathan Matthew, tells that his father was a gunner in the army during World War II, and that his battalion landed on the beaches of Normandy on the second day of the invasion.
Louis trained in Manitoba, then was moved to just south of London for further training and to wait for the invasion. Nathan recalls his dad talking about the war.
“Seeing the dead soldiers really made an impression on him,” said Nathan, “One of his first jobs during the invasion was burying many of the dead Canadian soldiers who had been killed on day one of the invasion. Also, witnessing the destruction of Caen and the other towns they went through as they made their way towards the Netherlands left a lasting impression on him.”
From the beaches of Normandy Louis and his regiment fought their way up to the Netherlands, wintering in Nijmegen. Nathan recalls his father talking fondly about this dutch town.
“He spent a lot of time with one of the families there, and he continued to correspond with them long after the war was over,” said Nathan.
Nathan and his dad traveled back to Europe in 1995 and he commented, “Dad could still remember accurately the landscape, even after all the years that had passed.”
Nathan’s uncle (his mom’s brother) Ernest Celesta, also fought in the war, and was killed in action on Jan. 26, 1945, a mere 21 years old. He was a Lance Corporal, with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, R.C.I.C., which was part of the 4th Armoured Division, 10th Infantry Brigade. On 25 July, 1944, this regiment landed in France and continued to fight in North-West Europe until the end of the war.