Bryce Foster won’t be for­got­ten

Simcoe Reformer - - OPINION - Gord Christ­mas

I thought I’d found him. A name on a brown gran­ite marker rest­ing on the verge of a well-groomed lawn near the ham­let of Ry, just east of Rouen in Nor­mandy: Trooper B. Foster Man­i­toba Dra­goons 31 Au­gust 1944.

Foster, had he lived, would be my cousin, the son of my Great Aunt An­nie and her hus­band Sid­ney.

He was born on a farm just north of Wals­ing­ham in 1923 and at­tended the vil­lage’s one-room school. When it came to his height, he was a fire­plug of a kid, short and sturdy with farm boy mus­cle, as his teacher would dis­cover.

When the ped­a­gogue was hit in the back of the head with a spit­wad one morn­ing he, for what­ever rea­son, blamed the ca­per on young Bryce Foster, who twice de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tion. The third time Bryce knocked the teacher on his ass and left school for­ever.

The Sec­ond World War found him stook­ing wheat on the prairies and he en­listed in the 12th Man­i­toba Dra­goons aka the 18th Ar­moured Car Reg­i­ment, a for­mer cav­alry out­fit which had traded in its beloved horses for wheels.

Pic­tures from the time show a se­ri­ous young man who bore a re­sem­blance to the ac­tor James Cag­ney. Bryce shipped over­seas in Oct. 1942 aboard the Queen Mary, very likely the same con­tin­gent that con­tained my fa­ther and his 6th Light Anti Air­craft Reg­i­ment. Whether they met no­body knows but con­sid­er­ing that the “Queens” car­ried up­ward of 20,000 troops at a time it is doubt­ful. At any rate I don’t re­call my dad say­ing any­thing about a matchup on board.

By some freak of mil­i­tary bu­reau­cracy both reg­i­ments and a sur­vey out­fit were des­ig­nated as corps troops. This meant that they would be uti­lized as a fire bri­gade to be stuck into the line to aid whichever of the three Cana­dian and one Pol­ish di­vi­sions ran into trou­ble.

Both reg­i­ments landed in Nor­mandy in mid-july 1944 and fought their way through the heat and dust to­wards Falaise where the Ger­man army was all but sur­rounded and des­per­ately try­ing to es­cape through a nar­row gap which was rapidly be­ing closed by Cana­dian, British, Pol­ish and Amer­i­can forces although it is con­sid­ered now by his­to­ri­ans to be pri­mar­ily a Cana­dian bat­tle.

It was bru­tal, hun­dreds of bod­ies lay rot­ting in the Au­gust sun, but the Wehrma­cht, with its as­tound­ing abil­ity to piece shat­tered units to­gether, led the Al­lies in a run­ning bat­tle to­ward the bridges cross­ing the Seine River.

Ac­cord­ing to my Dad’s di­ary Au­gust 31 was rainy and the 6th LAA was stood down to re­place worn gun bar­rels and re-sup­ply be­tween Cintheaux and Bret­teville Sur Laize. Two miles away a pair of scout cars from the Man­i­to­bas were run­ning a recce out of Bret­teville and later in the day ran into trou­ble. Foster’s car was hit by a 75mm an­ti­tank round and caught fire.

Sixty years later I be­came the first fam­ily mem­ber to see that road­side mon­u­ment since 1952. Bryce’s per­sonal ef­fects in­cluded a watch the fam­ily (in­clud­ing my mother) had given him, a cig­a­rette case and a 9mm car­tridge which, I be­lieve, was in­tended for use in a Sten gun as an al­ter­na­tive to dy­ing by fire, a fate dreaded by all ar­moured crew and an in­di­ca­tion that he died in­stantly.

Ev­ery year the town of Ry has a small re­mem­brance cer­e­mony for their two Cana­di­ans. This year, I hope to be there. Bryce Foster is in­terred in the mil­i­tary ceme­tery at Calais.

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