Pay­ing trib­ute to a Cum­ber­land County war hero

Lay­ton Schur­man died a day af­ter sav­ing French man and child near Nor­mandy

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAR­RELL COLE AMHERST NEWS

Carl Schur­man still chokes up when he thinks of the price his un­cle paid for the free­dom he, and other Cana­di­ans, en­joy today.

Schur­man and sev­eral rel­a­tives were in France sev­eral months ago to visit the place where Sgt. Lay­ton Oliver Schur­man of Ox­ford, N.S. fought and died in the early days of the Nor­mandy cam­paign in June 1944.

“When I was at his gravesite this un­be­liev­able sense of sor­row came over me, but there was also a lot of pride in that this man was my un­cle,” said Schur­man from his Ge­orge­town, Ont. home. “It was a very mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

is was some­thing that was on my bucket list and I’m glad I had the priv­i­lege to go there and see where he fought, where he died and to see where he’s buried.”

Lay­ton Schur­man was born in 1904. When war broke out in Septem­ber 1939, he was 35 years old and while no longer a young man he chose to join the North Nova Sco­tia High­landers.

Af­ter train­ing in Canada he was sent to Eng­land in 1941 and

nally to the south­ern part of the coun­try in June 1944 to pre­pare for the D-Day land­ings in France.

A ec­tion­ately known as Moose by his fel­low sol­diers, Schur­man was looked upon as a nat­u­ral leader and a fa­ther fig­ure to many of the younger sol­diers. He was tasked to lead the com­bat sec­tion of a re­con­nais­sance unit equipped with a Bren gun car­rier.

He was 40 when he landed on the beach of Bernieres-sur-Mer in the early af­ter­noon of June 6, 1944. From the beach­head his team quickly moved in­land and cap­tured Beny with­out much re­sis­tance.

From there the group headed to­wards its ob­jec­tive of Capri­quet, near Caen, where a key Luft­waffe air­field is lo­cated. Headed by the Sher­brooke Fusiliers and fol­lowed by Schur­man’s Bren gun car­ri­ers, the Cameron High­landers, the Royal Cana­dian En­gi­neers and the North Novies, the group ad­vanced to­ward its ob­jec­tive and by night­fall they had reached the junc­tion of the Caen-Anisy roads and Vil­lons les Buis­sons, where they de­feated a Ger­man pla­toon and set­tled in for the night.

Early on June 7, the or­der was given to move out. It would be Schur­man’s last few hours alive.

Schur­man’s Bren gun car­ri­ers took ad­van­tage of the flat coun­try and made good time to­ward Buron, where a large chateau emerged from the trees in the right cen­tre of the vil­lage and stone walls stretched along the left side of the en­trance to the vil­lage.

The Ger­mans put up strong re­sis­tance with a large anti-tank ditch on the open plain re­quir­ing tanks to ad­vance one by one. At this time, shells started to fall from St-Con­test.

Schur­man and his men got out of their Bren gun car­ri­ers to pro­tect them­selves from the shelling un­til an anti-tank gun took out the tower at St-Con­test and the group once again be­gan to move.

They don’t get far be­fore the shelling re­sumed and ca­su­al­ties be­came heavy as tanks from the Sher­brooke Fusiliers turned to­ward the vil­lage and launched suc­ces­sive bar­rages at the guns in the vil­lage.

Buron his­to­rian Do­minique Buron gave this ac­count of the bat­tle.

“The air is heavy, the cries and or­ders in Eng­land and French in­ter­min­gle, in­ter­rupted by bursts of gun­fire and ex­plo­sions of all kinds. The men are as­tounded. Blocked be­fore Buron, the No­vas see the first real re­sis­tance. Col. Petch or­ders them to take the vil­lage and to get rid of the iso­lated sharp­shoot­ers. Capt. Gray or­ders his of­fi­cers of the re­con­nais­sance group to clear out the area,” Barbe wrote in his per­sonal trib­ute to Schur­man. “Lay­ton rushes for­ward to the head of his group, chin thrust out, face black­ened like the fight­ers, wear­ing pulled over his uni­form the sleeve­less leather vest like all the boys in his group. With his Bren gun in the bend of his el­bow he leads them briskly, ‘Move on, boys!’”

The first house at the en­trance to the vil­lage seemed to have been over­run and they cleared it with a grenade to be sure. Schur­man’s at­ten­tion was drawn to a trench in the house gar­den where a Ger­man non-com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer sat calmly as if he were await­ing their ap­proach.

The Ger­man lev­elled a pis­tol at Schur­man’s group and Schur­man took out a grenade, pulled the pin and was pre­pared to hurl it at the trench when he heard a French voice and saw a French civil­ian car­ry­ing a child.

It was Barbe’s fa­ther and his brother.

Fol­low­ing a few tense mo­ments, the Ger­man SS of­fi­cer sur­ren­dered upon the di­rec­tion of his wounded cap­tain, who was at the bot­tom of the trench. Af­ter learn­ing of Ger­man po­si­tions from the civil­ian he just res­cued, Schur­man gave the man cig­a­rettes and choco­late for the young boy.

From there his ground con­tin­ued fur­ther into Buron and then to Authie, which fell with­out too much re­sis­tance. Lit­tle did he, or other Al­lied sol­diers know that they were walk­ing into a trap. It was then the Ger­man SS launched the mas­sive coun­ter­at­tack that would claim Schur­man’s life.

“All hap­pens very quickly. The Cana­di­ans are rest­ing, frat­er­niz­ing with the peo­ple, when sud­denly, like the first drops of rain, the first shells whis­tle down rais­ing big col­umns of earth. Civil­ians and Cana­di­ans wait. The sit­u­a­tion quickly be­comes in­tense; a bren gun car­rier ex­plodes in a spray of fire with its oc­cu­pants seated around it. Each one seizes his weapon, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to fight. The Ger­mans at­tack in force. They are the SS,” Barbe writes. “The Cana­di­ans fight with des­per­a­tion and de­spair, but they are crushed in Authie and must fall back to Buron. The men look in vain for pro­tec­tion, the houses fly to pieces, one af­ter the other. Scenes of ghastly slaugh­ter un­fold in Authie. The Cana­dian tanks fight with rage, but ex­plode one af­ter an­other like a shoot­ing gallery. The strug­gle is un­equal, there is no way out, they are too ad­vanced.”

Schur­man no longer has a ve­hi­cle and his men are scat­tered or killed. He fights bravely and fires at the ad­vanc­ing SS.

“To pro­tect him­self, he goes into a house. It is the last sight that any of his com­rades will have of him,” Barbe wrote. “A tank fires sev­eral times into the house, blow­ing up the stone walls which fi­nally tum­ble down, bury­ing Sgt. Schur­man in an omi­nous and thick cloud of dust. Fi­nally, the roof falls in. The smoke comes down, all is fin­ished. It is a huge mas­sacre, the sur­vivors are prison­ers — and cer­tainly killed in the Ar­dennes monastery.”

It would be two months be­fore Schur­man’s re­mains are dis­cov­ered in the ru­ins of Authie. His body was taken to the Cana­dian ceme­tery at Bret­teville-sur-Laize, Cintheaux.

SUB­MIT­TED

His­to­rian Do­minique Barbe talks to rel­a­tives of Sgt. Lay­ton Schur­man in­clud­ing (from left) Julie-Anne Austin, Marc Schur­man, Aaron Schur­man, Carl. R. Schur­man, Anne Marie Schur­man, Carl L. Schur­man, Mar­ian Leveille and Gil­bert Leveille. They vis­ited France and Schur­man’s grave ear­lier this year. †

Sub­mIt­ted

Sgt. Lay­ton Oliver Schur­man of Ox­ford, N.S., was born in 1904 and went to war in 1939 at age 35. Known af­fec­tion­ately as Moose, he was killed in Buron, France on June 7, 1944.

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