Volume 94, Issue 3

Friday, June 2, 2000


The day the world stood still

Charging the beach:
D-Day remembered

Charging the beach:
D-Day remembered

Gazette File Photo
STILL STANDING ON GUARD. Nicknamed the "Bold" this was one of many tanks that sunk before making the beach on D-Day. It now stands as a monument to the First Hussars in France.

By Antonia Reed
Gazette Writer

The seas were choppy off the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, as boats carrying the First Hussars, a tank regiment with squadrons from London, Hamilton and Sarnia, edged towards Juno beach – one of the five beaches stormed in the D-Day assault.

Jim Paisley remembers the day vividly. He was only 20 years old then and serving with the A-squadron of the First Hussars. Finally, after three years of training in England, he and his comrades were about to see action for the first time.

"We were dumped off six or seven thousand yards out in the ocean. We went ashore driven by propellers and landed on the beach. We then deflated the flotation device and were ready to fight," Paisley said, describing how they maneuvered their amphibious Sherman tanks.

"The First Hussars were part of the original landing on D-Day. The beach itself [Juno] was north of the French town of Caen and they [the Canadians] landed at Courseulles-sur-Mer," said Captain James Mackay, media relations officer for the regiment. "The First Hussars were one of the only units among all the allied armies to reach their designated objective on the first day."

Paisley described the assault as a very uncertain and dangerous proposition. His squadron experienced many casualties coming to shore.

"There were several tanks on a landing craft which hit a mine and blew up. These tanks were basically lost until the next day when they were salvaged and put back into action later on. I think we landed about nine or 10 tanks out of 19."

Despite the confusion of storming the beach, the First Hussars had driven further into enemy territory, than any other allied regiment by the end of D-Day.

"The regiment had much more difficulty down the road having to fight the Waffen SS formations. These were the toughest and most heavily indoctrinated Nazi troops: the 12th SS Panzer division. They put up a very strong fight," Mackay said.

Mackay also explained Canadians faced a far better equipped force in the German opposition.

"One of the problems was that the Canadian tanks were technologically inferior to the German Panzers. The Canadian advantage came from the fact that the German supply lines were interrupted by aerial interdiction so they tended to have fewer tanks and less fuel."

One of the Hussars' Shermans now sits in Victoria Park as a memorial to fallen members of the unit. The tank, named the Holy Roller, was one of the only tanks to last from D-Day to VE Day, the day the allies declared victory at the end of the war.

Yet the march to VE Day was not without its problems. On the June 11 1944, the Hussars, along with the Queens Own Rifles, tried to take the town of Le Mesnel-Patry when the Waffen SS destroyed a quarter of the regiment. This day is still known among the Hussars as their 'Black day'.

Paisley remembers that day as "an outright catastrophe." Squadron B from Hamilton was almost completely obliterated, he said. The Hussars had to quickly rebuild the squadron using tanks and men from the other squadrons in order to carry on with their offensive. "In the army you don't have time to mourn," Paisley said.

Lieutenant Colonel Murray, the current commanding officer of the First Hussars, described the annual ceremony to be held on June 4 at 10:45 a.m. in Victoria Park to remember fallen comrades from D-Day and the 'Black day.'

"The service will last for about half an hour," Murray said. "We will read the names of all the Hussars who were killed, just so their names will never be forgotten." Murray added the public is always welcome.

"It's important for people to realize what the Hussars have done and for people to realize why they have freedom."

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