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D-Day Canadian Casualties – Remembering their stories

Canadian forces played a vital role in the Invasion of Normandy. Here, we pay tribute to the Canadian casualties of D-Day by sharing and remembering their stories.

Canadian D-Day Casualties

Canada and D-Day

Canadian soldiers marching up Juno Beach. A landing craft can be seen in the background as can an array of buildings on the beachfront.

Image: Canadian soldiers come ashore on Juno Beach following the bitter fighting to take the beach (Wikimedia Commons)

As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada was obliged to fight in the Second World War.

And fight it did. Canada’s contribution to the Second World War Allied victory was huge, relative to its then-small population.

The Canadians fought in Italy, Belgium and Germany in the Second World War but the nation’s main military effort came in Normandy, France.

Canada was one of 12 Allied nations that fought in Operation Overlord and the Invasion of Normandy. It was one of three nations, alongside the UK and the United States, that spearheaded the D-Day landings on June 6 1944.

Juno Beach

A map showing the Commonwealth landing zones on D-Day.

Image: Map of the British and Canadian D-Day landing beaches with the nearest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries.(CWGC)

Canadian forces on D-Day were assigned to Juno Beach.

Juno was the fourth of five beaches assaulted by the Allies on D-Day. It was the second most easterly beach, situated between the British Gold and Sword beaches.

The Canadian landing zone at Juno covered 10 kilometres of Normandy coast, across the fishing village of Courseulles-sur-Mer. Buildings along the seafront had been occupied by German soldiers.

The Wehrmacht had reinforced the area around Juno Beach with concrete bunkers, machine-gun nests, and artillery emplacements. The beach had been littered with obstacles designed to slow down any assault.

In addition to these man-made defences, the Canadians on D-Day also had to contend with the Normandy geography.

The sea leading to Juno Beach hid reefs and shoals that would prove hazardous to the Canadian landing craft. 30% of Canadian D-Day landing craft were damaged or destroyed during the first assault wave.

How many Canadian soldiers fought on D-Day?

Canadian soldiers leaving their landing craft on D-Day.

Image: Canadian soldiers leave their landing craft during the assault on Juno Beach (© IWM (IWM FLM 2570))

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, approximately 14,000 Canadian troops took part in the invasion of Normandy. 

These soldiers were part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, landing on Juno Beach alongside British and other Allied forces.

The Canadian 1st Parachute Brigade also fought on D-Day. Dropped in on the night of 5 June, the Canadians fought alongside British Airborne soldiers. 

Their objectives were to capture important river and canal bridges and to engage and destroy enemy artillery emplacements overlooking the D-Day landing beaches.

In addition to the infantry, paratroopers and tanks, Canadian forces on D-Day also included the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Royal Canadian Navy vessels, including destroyers and landing craft, provided crucial support to the infantry during the assault. The RCN contributed 10,000 sailors and 109 vessels to Operation Overlord.

Additionally, Canadian pilots from the Royal Canadian Air Force participated in bombing missions and provided air cover for the landing forces. 15 RCAF fighter and bomber squadrons operated in Normandy. 

How many Canadian soldiers died on D-Day?

Canadian Sherman tank follows a British minesweeper down a ruined Normandy village road.

Image: A Canadian Sherman tank follows a British minesweeper through a ruined village as the Allies push into Normandy (© IWM (B 8946))

Juno was one of the toughest landing beaches the Allied faced on D-Day.

Starting late because of tidal conditions, whipped off course by choppy waters, and running into a heavily defended killing zone, Canadian D-Day casualties were heavy.

Canada forces on D-Day took a total of 1,096 casualties, of which 381 were killed in action. 

Total Allied D-Day casualties reached more than 10,000.

By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties. Canadian casualties in Normandy exceeded 18,700. Over 5,000 Canadian soldiers were killed.

Stories of Canadians in Normandy

As the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy campaign approaches, we delve into some of the incredible stories of bravery from Canadians who lost their lives.

Warrant Officer Class II Harold Harrison Burr

Warrant Officer Class II Harold Burr with his wife Mary.Image: Warrant Officer Class II Harold Burr with is wife Mary Edna

Warrant Officer Class II Harold Burr served with the 10th Armoured Regiment (Fort Garry Horse). 

He was born in December 1913 in Owen Sound, Ontario, the son of Freeman and Henrietta Burr. Married to Mary Edna Burr of Owen Sound, he worked as a salesman before enlisting in June 1940.

After training in Canada and England, Harold arrived in Normandy on 12 July 1944, and his unit was involved in some of the most ferocious fighting around Caen.

He was killed in action on 8 August 1944 and buried in Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. He was 31. 
His widow chose the words inscribed on his headstone: ‘Beloved husband of Mary Edna Burr’.

Private William Skirving Ducker

Private William DuckerImage: Private William Skirving Ducker 

Private William Skirving Ducker was born on the 18th of February 1921 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

A steel rigger and truck driver by trade before the war, he enlisted into the Canadian Engineers on the 13th of January 1941, before later transferring to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, Royal Canadian Infantry Corps in 1943. Upon requesting this transfer, he received the following recommendation from Captain. W.A. Bryce (Army Examiner): 

"This man, 180 lbs in weight – 6’ in height – sturdy, active, physically unusually strong, plenty of nerve, and rather quick witted and possesses a sense of humour. 

“He has been active in Y.M.C.A. work and in the Independent Order of Grand Templars and jobs as delivering coal and ice, working in a steel factory and steel construction which would seem to demonstrate physical stamina. He sings with a fairly good baritone voice and he claims he can harmonize. He appears to be the sort that would fit in with a ‘gang’ and go his share.

“He is the 3rd of eight children. His father is a veteran slightly gassed and shell-shocked in the last war. He has a brother in C.A.C. and another in R.C.A.S.C. This man has a slight lowering of his left eyelid which gives one the impression he is squinting – he claims, however, that he has normal vision. In manner slightly truculent, in physique impressive and he gives promise of being a sound paratrooper prospect."

He also received the following recommendation from Captain J.E.L. Black:

“Has been 2½ years in the Army in R.C.E. - always anxious to proceed overseas but held back. Is qualified driver i.c. and motor mechanic, Group C. Was rigger in civilian life:, used to heights. Has held fairly responsible jobs in the army. States he is ‘tough’ physically, likes ‘ju-ju’ etc. Was called ‘Wild Bill’, aggressive, daring, steady in nerve. Worldly Wise. Plenty of self-assurance. States he only has Grade 8 education and never had technical schooling.”

William was one of the first Canadians to arrive in Normandy on D-Day. Landing in the early hours of the morning on June the 6th alongside the British Paratroopers of the 3rd Parachute Brigade. The 1st Battalion achieved all their objectives and gained a fierce reputation for fighting ability and reliability.

In the days following D-Day, whilst under enemy fire he entered a building that was being used as a shelter by his comrades but which had received a direct hit. Out of the four men inside, three were dead or beyond medical care but William managed to safely rescue the fourth man.

In doing so he sustained wounds which would cause his death a few days later on the 19th of June. For these actions he was awarded the Military Medal posthumously.

With thanks to Kieran Reed for this entry.

Private George Westlake

The Westlake Brothers

Image: The Westlake Brothers

Thomas, Albert and George Westlake were three sons of the Westlake family of York Township, Toronto, Canada. The Westlake brothers experienced a number of hardships during their childhoods, including losing their father in 1936, which meant that they formed extremely close bonds as brothers – even during their wartime service.

George, serving with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, faced a German counterattack on 7 June 1944, while holding the villages of Authie and Buron. In an orchard on the outskirts of Authie, George and many of his comrades were killed as the North Nova Scotia Highlanders suffered a large number of casualties.
George was killed aged 23. 

Just four days later on 11 June, Thomas and Albert, both serving with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, were also killed. Taking part in an attack, riding on the backs of Sherman tanks towards le Mesnil-Patry, the regiment suffered significant casualties while waiting for the German troops. 

Albert was aged 25 when he was killed and Thomas aged 29. Vera Westlake, George's wife, initially received a telegram stating he was missing in action. Similarly, their brother Edward and Thomas's sister-in-law Dorothy were notified of their respective missing statuses. However, George's body was found earlier than Thomas and Albert's.

Vera received confirmation of George's death on July 19, 1944. The task of retrieving Albert and Thomas' bodies fell to Garnet Watson – a friend to the Westlake family. Despite the challenging circumstances, Watson ensured they were properly buried. His detailed account, sent to Vera in Toronto, provided the Westlake family with more information than the official notices and brought the realities of war in Normandy closer to home. 

Despite the tragic loss, the Westlake family likely found some comfort in knowing that a trusted friend had looked after their loved ones' remains.

The Westlake brothers were interred side-by-side marking a poignant testament to their brotherly bond in Plot III, Row D, Graves 7 and 8. Thomas and Albert both share the same personal inscription of ‘God’s Greatest Gift, Remembrance’. 

George is buried just a few rows away from his brothers in Plot VIII, Row F, Grave 12. The Westlake brothers are just one set of nine brothers buried at Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.

Sergeant David Mills

Sergeant David Mills was born in Gananoque, Ontario, Canada on 27th September, 1912. He was enlisted on 15 June, 1940 and served in the 32/34th battery, 14th Field Regiment, RCA. After arriving in England in July 1941, he was promoted to sergeant in October, 1943. 

Sergeant Mills landed on Nan White Sector of Juno beach on D-Day, commanding an M7 “priest”...a self-propelled 105mm howitzer, in support of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada.

He was killed in action on July 13, 1944 in the northern section of the city of Caen in an area called Coteaux des Sablons. 

He is buried in Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian military cemetery, Reviers, France, plot C 3 XVI. He is also commemorated on page 395 of the Second World War Book of Remembrance, Peace Tower, Ottawa, as well as the cenotaph in Gananoque, Ontario. 

David’s brother, Robert, also served in the 14th Field Regiment and survived the war.

With thanks to Bob Harding.

Private Lyall Wright Wotton

Private Lyall Wright Wotton and his wife. Image: Private Lyall Wright Wotton and wife, Iris, on their wedding day 

Private Lyall Wright Wotton of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s) Regiment, was born at Foxwarren, Manitoba, Canada on the 7th of February 1923. He was the eldest of four children of Herbert Wotton and Ella Mae Campbell of Birch River, where the family had a farm on which Lyall went to work until 1940 when he went to work for the Hudsons Bay Mining and Smelting Company.

In 1943 he enlisted at Winnipeg into the army. The army interviewers said that he was quiet, stable and willing with a pleasant manner and a sense of humour. He was not a drinker and was a member of a church group.

Following basic training, Lyall trained on the 6pdr anti-tank gun at Camp Shilo, Manitoba before joining the Argylls at Niagara Camp on the 5th of July 1943, where he joined the anti-tank platoon commanded by Lt Bill Whiteside. Later that month the regiment came to the UK and were based in the Uckfield district from November 1943.

Here, he met Iris Verona Wickham at a local church and the couple fell in love and married without military permission on the 14th of June 1944.

In late July, his unit embarked for France. Lyall was a very religious man troubled by the thought of killing another man and declared that he would never kill a German and had in fact stated that he would rather do first aid work. His platoon Sergeant decided not to put him into the fighting echelon but to place him in the forward support element.

On the 3rd of August Lyall was one of three men in a truck carrying equipment from Bras to the front line when it was hit by fire from an 88mm gun. He suffered a very serious head wound and was rendered unconscious. He was immediately evacuated back to a hospital in the UK where he died without regaining consciousness. His wife was by his bedside when he passed.

After the war Iris went to Canada to live with Lyall’s family for a couple of years before returning to live at Uckfield where she eventually remarried to John Howard Cord.

Lyall is buried in a non-CWGC grave, along with Iris Cord, (13th of August 1926 to the 21st of May 2006). Also named on the grave is John “Jim” Howard Cord, (January 1928 to the 13th of February 2008).

With thanks to Philip Baldock.

Remembering Canadian forces on D-Day

Headstones with carved Canadian maple leaf in Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

Image: The headstones of Canadian D-Day and Normandy casualties in Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

The Canadian casualties of D-Day exemplified the bravery, determination, and enormous effort that defined the effort to liberate Europe in WW2.

Their stories serve as a poignant reminder of the human cost of war. 

Today, the Canadian war dead of Normandy are commemorated in Commonwealth War Graves Commission war cemeteries and D-Day memorials. We are charged with their perpetual care to ensure the memories of those remain alive forever. 

As we commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, we honour the Canadian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, ensuring that their courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

You can learn more about Canadian war records here.

Want to tell us about a relative, loved one or someone who is commemorated by CWGC around the world? Upload your story on For Evermore, our new online commemorative resource.

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