D-Day remembered

By ALLISON DUNFIELD

On June 6, 1944, Canadian soldiers, along with British and U.S. troops - 130,000 men in all - landed on Juno Beach in Normandy, France for the historic D-Day invasion that led to the liberation of France from German occupation. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien formally opened the Juno Beach Centre on June 6, commemorating the invasion, which led to the deaths of 340 Canadians and forever changed the lives of those who took part. The events of that day are still vivid to 80-year-old veteran Bruce Evans.

This article is part of a new occasional series organized by Globe and Mail.com and the Dominion Institute to commemorate significant events in Canada's military history, and to honour living Canadian veterans for their service and sacrifice

Mr. Evans, who served in the First Hussars Armoured Tank Regiment of London, Ont., remembers being so sea-sick on the way to Juno Beach that he couldn't wait to get there.

"On the way over everybody was pretty sick because of the treacherous [water], the winds had been very high...we were glad to see land."

He remembers tense moments once the ships arrived at the beach.

"Going down, getting close to the beaches they were laying down an awful lot of fire from the ships to knock out any guns that were there."

The area the regiment landed had been partially cleared that morning, "so there was no-one shooting at us when we got on the beach."

However, he said some Canadian soldiers who had already been killed were still lying in the water as they approached.

"But this was part of war. You're young and you know its going to happen and you're sort of fortified for it." Mr. Evans's task that day was to keep in touch with his squadron commander and also with the Winnipeg Rifles. He was equipped with a jeep and two wireless sets.

But a half-hour after he landed, Mr. Evans experienced some of the horrors of war firsthand.

Two mortar shells were dropped near the jeep, wounding Mr. Evans and his driver.

"I took some shrapnel in my shoulder and my hip but he was quite severely wounded."

That evening, the pain was so bad he went to a temporary hospital. The doctor took one look at him and told him he was to return to England in the morning. Mr. Evans protested but he was sent back to recover anyway.

He said he doesn't see himself as a hero that day.

"It was not very heroic, just being wounded and not being of much use to anybody.

"The truth is I didn't fire a shot that day. I didn't carry out any heroic role on D-Day," says the modest veteran. But he said he knew that June 6 was an important day. He remembers "seeing the tanks move off and seeing our guys move inland and knowing were moving ahead."

He returned to his unit in July and eventually made commander of his own tank. He stayed on until the Germans surrendered in May, 1945.

These days, Mr. Evans spends his time talking to schoolchildren about his experiences and volunteering with a local hospital.

"This is my way of giving back some of the privileges I've had for years."

He speaks to schoolchildren who are slightly younger than he was at 19 in 1942 when he joined the Canadian Forces.

"We are not there to glorify war. We are there to give them our personal experiences," Mr. Evans said. "They're eager to talk about it, they don't know very much about it, it was a long time ago."

He joined a tank regiment because he came from a farm just outside of Woodbridge, Ont. and was used to running machinery and heavy equipment.

He went to a basic training centre in Newmarket, Ont. then to advanced trainining in Camp Borden Ont. He eventually made his way to England in 1943 where he joined the Hussars.

Although he planned to watch this year's D-Day celebrations at home, next year he may try to attend ceremonies in Normandy. He's visited Juno Beach a number of times over the years, where a tank from the First Hussars has been placed as a memorial.

He still keeps in touch with members who are still alive.

"We did accomplish a lot that day."

The Top 85 artifacts by category

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.