It’s Remembrance Day here in Canada and I thought I’d share with you a story that I learned while visiting Normandy, France.
Earlier this year marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It’s been 75 years since the Allied forces landed in Normandy under Operation Overlord, taking part in the largest seaborne invasion in history, and setting in motion the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. The coastline was split into 5 targeted sections and given the code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
The Canadian Forces focused on Juno. The initial attack was treacherous and many did not survive. Those who did were then tasked to move inland to cut the Caen-Bayeux road, seize the Carpiquet airport, and form a link between the two British beaches on either side. This inland mission took almost 3 months, and was hard fought and resulted in hundreds of casualties.
On June 7, 1944 – the day after the Juno Beach Landing – dozens of Canadian soldiers were taken prisoner by the German 12th SS Panzer Division (many of whom were from Hitler’s Nazi Youth, a particularly fanatic group) near the town of Authrie.
One such soldier was Private Charles Doucette, 31, of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, RCIC.
Private Doucette and his comrades were taken to l’Abbaye d’Ardenne, an ancient stone church where Colonel Kurt Meyer, one of the 12th SS commanders, had set up his headquarters after D-Day. Over the next 24 hours, 18 of these POWs were marched outside to the Abbey’s garden and shot or bludgeoned in the head before being unceremoniously dumped.
Private Doucette was one of those murdered in the Abbaye d’Ardenne Massacre. Sadly, it wasn’t until several months later that many of the bodies were discovered throughout the grounds of the Abbey by the residents.
Precisely how many Canadians were murdered in Normandy by the 12th SS Panzer Division is unknown, but the number is estimated to be approximately 150.
Because these murders were in direct contradiction to Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of POWs, Colonel Meyer was subsequently tried and found guilty for his war crimes before serving many years in prison.
Prior to joining the Army, Charles Doucette was a carpenter and a proud member of the First Nations Miꞌgmaq. He was also a son, a brother, an husband and a father to 4 young daughters. His family remembers the kind and funny man who they sorely miss. Mr. Doucette was laid to rest at Beny-sur Mer Canadian War Cemetery.
In the garden of Abbaye d’Ardenne is a moving memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives during the massacre.
May Mr. Doucette, and all those who lost their lives fighting for the freedom of others, forever rest in peace.
Lest we forget.