Bryce Foster won’t be forgotten
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.