Post­cards will de­tail war link

The Sudbury Star - - CANADA - MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

Hun­dreds of Cana­di­ans are about to re­ceive proof of their per­sonal, largely un­known links to one of the defin­ing events of the 20th cen­tury.

An or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to com­mem­o­rat­ing Canada’s role in the Sec­ond World War will be mail­ing out post­cards to the for­mer homes of sol­diers who died in the first five days of the piv­otal D-Day cam­paign, which helped se­cure vic­tory for al­lied troops against Ger­many.

The post­cards, pre­pared and mailed by the Juno Beach Cen­tre As­so­ci­a­tion, will in­form present-day res­i­dents about the soldier who en­listed from their ad­dress decades be­fore. The mes­sages will con­tain ba­sic bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails, the soldier’s rank and mil­i­tary af­fil­i­a­tion, and in­for­ma­tion about when and where he was killed.

The com­mem­o­ra­tive project, meant to hon­our the 75th an­niver­sary of the D-Day cam­paign, has Toronto res­i­dent Paula Mon­a­han ea­gerly check­ing her mailbox for the doc­u­ment she says will serve as a tan­gi­ble link to an im­por­tant yet tragic part of Canada’s past.

“There’s some­thing very solemn about the fact that you live in a house (from where) a 22-yearold went off to bat­tle and never came back,” Mon­a­han said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “We will cer­tainly cher­ish the post­card when we get it.”

The 22-year-old in ques­tion was Ri­fle­man Thomas Joseph Pierce, who listed Mon­a­han’s west-Toronto ad­dress on the at­tes­ta­tion pa­pers he com­pleted upon join­ing the armed forces.

Pierce, son of Thomas and Mary Pierce, served in the sec­ond bat­tal­ion of the Queen’s Own Ri­fles of Canada be­fore his death on D-Day.

He was one of the es­ti­mated 156,000 Bri­tish, Amer­i­can and Cana­dian troops to storm a 75-kilo­me­tre stretch of beach in north­ern France be­gin­ning on June 6, 1944. The 14,000 Cana­dian sol­diers were as­signed to an area dubbed Juno Beach, where they were even­tu­ally tasked with reach­ing a lo­cal rail line and beat­ing back the assault from Ger­man troops.

Mike Bechthold, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Juno Beach Cen­tre As­so­ci­a­tion, said the 76-day cam­paign ex­acted a high death toll from all na­tions in­volved, with 903 Cana­di­ans per­ish­ing in the first five days.

Bechthold said those tasked with pre­par­ing the post­cards mined at­tes­ta­tion records from those sol­diers, which are pre­served in a com­bi­na­tion of govern­ment archives and on­line ge­neal­ogy sites.

He said more than half of the ad­dresses listed on those doc­u­ments are no longer valid, re­placed by new de­vel­op­ments or ren­dered ob­so­lete by chang­ing ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries. But he said valid ad­dresses were found in nearly 400 cases, and res­i­dents at those homes should ex­pect to re­ceive their post­cards over the next week or two.

Bechthold — a his­to­rian by trade — said the post­cards should be seen as the let­ters that the slain sol­diers “would have sent home if they could have.” He said he hopes they will also help Cana­di­ans to con­nect the dots be­tween the in­creas­ingly dis­tant past and the lives they lead to­day.

Mon­a­han, for her part, in­tends to en­list her mil­i­tary buff brother to do some re­search and learn what he can about Pierce.

Mean­while Richard Sawyers, who ex­pects to re­ceive a post­card at the mid­town Toronto seafood shop where he now serves as man­ager, is ea­ger to take on the re­search him­self.

Lance Sgt. Ge­orge Wil­fred Mor­ri­son of the Queen’s Own Ri­fles, who died on D-Day at age 27, en­listed from the ad­dress where Sawyers’ work­place now stands.

“I’ll be straight on Google to find out more in­for­ma­tion, see if I can track him down,” Sawyers said. “In Toronto ev­ery­thing’s al­ways very new, so a wee bit of his­tory about the place is al­ways very nice.”

JUNO BEACH CEN­TRE AS­SO­CI­A­TION

An or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to com­mem­o­rat­ing Canada’s role in the Sec­ond World War will be mail­ing out post­cards, one of which is shown in a handout, to the for­mer homes of sol­diers who died in the first five days of the piv­otal D-Day cam­paign.

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