A Re­luc­tant Hero:

A daugh­ter re­counts her fa­ther’s ex­pe­ri­ence fight­ing at Juno Beach in World War II

Our Canada - - Contents - by Blanche Allen, Lit­tle Bri­tain, Ont.

A proud daugh­ter re­counts her dad’s World War II ex­pe­ri­ences fight­ing at Juno Beach.

June 6, 1944, 19-year-old Harold “Rowdy” Row­den (my fa­ther) stepped into the cold water of the English Chan­nel at Juno Beach and be­came part of his­tory. It was a day that played a large role in chang­ing the out­come of the Sec­ond World War and the course of his­tory.

Along­side Utah Beach ( the Amer­i­can land­ing zone), the as­sault on Juno is widely con­sid­ered the most strate­gi­cally suc­cess­ful of the D-day land­ings. Juno Beach, a ten- kilo­me­tre stretch of French coast­line, was one of five beaches in the Al­lied in­va­sion of Ger­man- oc­cu­pied France known as the Nor­mandy land­ings. It was pri­mar­ily the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Cana­di­ans to take Juno with some air power, sea trans­port and mine sweep­ing be­ing pro­vided by other Al­lies.

It’s said that the code name Juno arose be­cause Win­ston Churchill con­sid­ered the orig­i­nal name— Jelly—in­ap­pro­pri­ate for a beach on which so many men might die. He in­sisted on a change to the more dig­ni­fied name of Juno.

As a young boy grow­ing up in Port Hope, Ont., Harold never imag­ined that he would one day travel to Europe to fight with 90,000 other Al­lied sol­diers in the Nor­mandy in­va­sion to oust the Nazis. He’d signed up at 15 years of age be­cause there was “noth­ing go­ing on in Port Hope“and he’d make $1 and 10 cents a day— a hefty enough sum in those days. He was as­signed to the 3rd Divi­sion of the 13th Field Reg­i­ment and trained to be a dis­patch rider.

Train­ing in Scot­land helped pre­pare Harold for bat­tle and for fol­low­ing or­ders, and it changed him from a boy into a man. On June 5, 1944, at Southamp­ton, Eng­land, when he boarded his ship for the trip across the Chan­nel, he be­gan to truly un­der­stand what he would face. The Chan­nel was rough, with waves two me­tres high, which made the cross­ing very dif­fi­cult. The ships, land­ing craft and men were tossed around so much that many of the young re­cruits be­came vi­o­lently sea­sick. By dawn, the weather was still bad, but the land­ings were a go. In prepa­ra­tion, de­stroy­ers be­gan pound­ing the Ger- man coastal de­fence po­si­tions, while the bombers over­head dropped thou­sands of tons of bombs. Ev­ery­thing was on fire— the sky and the en­tire coast­line. Harold thought it must be like hell. The noise was deaf­en­ing as thou­sands of en­gines roared and bombs ex­ploded around them; the air the men breathed was crack­ling and filled with smoke.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

Gen­eral Eisen­hower’s voice came over the loud­speaker and told them, “You are about to em­bark on the Great Cru­sade... the eyes and ears of the world are upon you.” Their train­ing had in­volved fir­ing a gun with no one fir­ing

back; now Harold and his com­rades were about to face a bat­tle­hard­ened en­emy. It was into this may­hem that Harold en­tered when the land­ing ramp dropped and he be­gan the dead­li­est run of his life to the sound of a loud­speaker blar­ing, “Get off the beach, get off the beach!” As well as cop­ing with the rough and cold wa­ters, there were ob­sta­cles and mine­fields to be avoided. Sadly, many young men didn’t even make it to the shore; they drowned be­fore they even started. Harold, with his bike, and his com­rades waded ashore and di- rectly into the killing zones of the Ger­man gun po­si­tions. The Ger­mans were shielded by the brick sea­wall and many Cana­dian sol­diers were gunned down in the water or on the beach. It was hard com­bat and the sol­diers used raw courage, grenades, ri­fles and bay­o­nets to storm the Ger­man nests.

The brave Cana­dian sol­diers didn’t hes­i­tate to ad­vance de­spite the loss of count­less num­bers of their pla­toons. Through the ter­ror of bat­tle, they found the courage to keep go­ing. Four­teen thou- sand Cana­di­ans stormed Juno Beach on D-day and their brav­ery and achieve­ments were re­mark­able. By the end of the day, they had pro­gressed fur­ther in­land than any of their al­lies and had smashed the first line of Ger­man de­fences. Harold fought be­side his friends, peo­ple he had signed up with, lived with and trained with, and they found the courage to en­dure the fierce and fright­en­ing bat­tle. They had hun­dreds of ca­su­al­ties, wounded and many oth­ers taken pris­oner, but or­di­nary young Cana­dian boys ac­com­plished what many had thought was im­pos­si­ble.

Harold went ashore near the town of Courseulles-sur-mer and once the beach had been se­cured and the ad­vance in­land be­gan, his “job,” as a dis­patch rider, truly be­gan. His task was to trans­mit coded mes­sages to his com­man­der from var­i­ous ob­ser­va­tion posts. He was a vul­ner­a­ble tar­get, rid­ing out alone mul­ti­ple times a day on his Nor­ton mo­tor­bike— easy pick­ings for any sniper.

Af­ter only a few days in France, Harold’s reg­i­ment again came un­der di­rect at­tack. He was knocked flat by a deaf­en­ing, vi­o­lent con­cus­sion and when he stag­gered to his feet he found four of his com­rades dead and his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer on the ground, bleed­ing pro­fusely from a piece of shrap­nel through the neck. With only the field dress­ing he had stuffed into his hel­met, Harold cov­ered the wound and ap­plied pres­sure un­til help ar­rived—he is cred­ited with sav­ing his of­fi­cer’s life.

On July 29, at the Bat­tle for Caen, dur­ing in­tense en­emy shelling, Harold was hit with a blast and thrown against a truck, los­ing con­scious­ness. He only re­mem­bers wak­ing up in a field hos­pi­tal. His left leg was com­pletely man­gled, with the tibia busted to bits. Harold doesn’t know how the doc­tors coped that day as sol­diers were be­ing bought in by the hun­dreds, many bleed­ing pro­fusely with se­ri­ous wounds. Many had their legs or arms blown off; Harold was un­able to walk but he was alive! His ser­vice to his coun­try was over.

In De­cem­ber 1944, he was trans­ported across the At­lantic aboard the SS Leti­tia, an ocean liner turned hos­pi­tal ship. Back in On­tario, he spent six months in Kingston Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal as his wounds healed.

AF­TER­MATH

Since par­tic­i­pat­ing in the D-day raids of 1944, the 93- year- old vet­eran has been back to France six times, mainly to Juno Beach. His name is among those of vet­er­ans en­graved on the mon­u­ments in front of the Cana­dian Juno Beach Cen­tre in Courseulles-sur-mer—the same beach where he went ashore all those years ago. Harold has eight medals for his ser­vice, with the lat­est be­ing France’s high­est hon­our, the rank of Knight of the French Na­tional Or­der of the Le­gion of Hon­our. France has never for­got­ten the sac­ri­fice of those Cana­di­ans who went to lib­er­ate French soil.

My sib­lings and I are very proud of our fa­ther. He doesn’t like to talk about the war and has never con­sid­ered him­self a hero. He says he did only what was asked of him and he’d do it again to help pro­tect his coun­try— a land as mag­nif­i­cent as Canada. He says he’ll an­swer ques­tions when he needs to, but “there’s no glory in killing a man, you just try to get it out of your mind.“

Harold was 19 (left) when he par­tic­i­pated in D-day; the proud vet­eran (above) is now 93 years old.

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