D-Day: 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion commemorated

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this year’s 65th Anniversry of D-Day commemorations.  However, I did jump in Normandy for the 60th Anniversary celebrations in 2004 – and this is a short account of that experience. 

Saturday, 5 June 2004

Our jump, from a WWII-era C-47 ‘Dakota’ transport plane, was part of the official programme of activities and we jumped steerable round-canopies from an altitude of 800 feet. The jump was done with The Pathfinder Parachute Group, a group of military-trained parachutists that specialises in conducting historically-authentic commemorative parachute drops.

Whilst the rest of my planeload was dressed as WWII British paratroopers, I was wearing the uniform and equipment of a soldier of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and we jumped onto an area the D-Day planners designated Drop Zone “N”, just outside of Ranville. Our jump was the first time this particular drop zone had been used as such since 1944 – the area usually being used as fields for barley and sugar snap peas.

The Drop

As a stick, we shuffled towards the open port-side door of the aircraft… “NUMBER 1 JUMPER IN THE DOOR!”… “GO!!!” One by one we moved forward and took up our position in the door, paused for 1/2 a second, then felt a slap on our left shoulder and the Dispatcher yelling “GO!!!” in our ears. Number 1 out (Patrick, veteran of the Suez campaign 1956), Number 2 out, Number 3 out, Number 4, Number 5 out (I’m next!). Now I was at the door, I pushed my static line towards the Dispatcher, placed my left hand on the left-side of the door frame and my right hand on the right side, I slid my left foot forward to the edge of the sill – my boot tip sticking out into the slip-stream – I looked down and saw the ground moving – I looked up and focused on the horizon. “GO!!” – I lept out and snapped my legs together, pressed my elbows into my sides and tucked my head down to the front. Loudly, I counted through the exit and opening drill “ONE THOUSAND” – I was falling, carried along by the slip-stream. “TWO THOUSAND” – I started to roll slightly forward and to my left. “THREE THOUSAND” – I rolled further forward and saw the tail of the aircraft passing overhead. “FOUR THOUSAND” – I saw the suspension lines play out and felt the firm tug as the parachute opened and my descent was slowed. “CHECK CANOPY” – I looked up and made sure that my parachute was fully deployed and that there were no holes or tears in it. It was perfect. I could now relax for a few seconds and enjoy the ride. What a feeling!

All too soon, I got down to about 150-200 feet above the ground and I needed to start preparing to land. I checked my direction and speed of drift, checked for obstacles and hazards on the ground – I was drifting to my left-front at about 4-5 knots, I drifted over the road and started to come down safe and sound in a field of peas. I made some final adjustments to counter the speed at which I was drifting – prepared to land – feet and knees squeezed tightly together, legs bent slightly at the knee, soles of feet level with the ground, twisted my legs slightly to the right, checked my rate of descent… and then… thump! I contacted the ground, quickly rolled into a left-front parachute landing fall, and that was it. I was down – I was okay – and my parachute collapsed. I got up quickly, gained my bearings, rolled up my parachute canopy and suspension lines, and jogged off the drop zone to the assembly point. I bagged up my main parachute and harness, placed the reserve parachute on top of it and got signed off. That was it; jump over. The local time was about 18:10-18:15hrs.

As I was sitting by the side of the road waiting for the rest of our jumpers to come in, a little French girl about 7or 8 years old came up to me with a notebook and a pen. She smiled kind of shyly and held them out to me – it took me a second to realise, she was asking me for my autograph! As I signed my name and “1st Canadian Parachute Battalion – commemorated”, I noticed that she’d already collected the signatures of several other jumpers. I was very touched by this sweet gesture.

Sunday, 06 June 2004

Due to the severe security precautions and road closures, I was unable to get to Juno Beach to witness any of the official Canadian ceremonies. So instead, two of my buddies and I went to the museum at Pegasus Bridge and got our jump log entries for the day before stamped with the “Pegasus Memorial” stamp. We also found a veteran of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry – the British glider troops who captured the bridge over the Orne River – and he signed our logbooks for us (turned out he was none other than Wally Parr!).

Later that evening, I spotted a veteran of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion entering the Cafe Gondreé next to the bridge. So of course I had to go over and talk to him and ask him to sign my logbook as well. His name is Walter Robard and he was a Signaller with 1 Can. Para. Meeting him was completely unexpected, and was the highlight of the entire weekend for me – especially when he shook my hand, patted me on the back and thanked me for jumping in his honour!

 

Photos: 

1 Can Para Bn 

canadian wings 

1 Can Para 2004

1 Can Para pre-jump

leharve
 A view from 1944

GO!

Dakota blast

Normandy 2004

d-day kid

 wreath

 

Further Reading:

tip of the spear

A fantastically thorough and high-quality book, packed with unique photographs that illustrate the full history of the battalion.  http://www.amazon.ca/Tip-Spear-Parachute-Battalion-1942-1945/dp/1550023888

 

canadian airborne forces since 1942

Published in 2006, and written by the same authors as “Tip of the Spear”, Osprey’s book provides an excellent, compact and full history of the Canadian Airborne Forces up to the present day.  http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/Canadian-Airborne-Forces-since-1942_9781841769851

 

D-Day 3 British Airborne Landings

This volume from Osprey’s 4-part Campaign series about the Normandy landings puts the missions of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion into the context of the operations of the British 6th Airborne Division, and the landings on Sword Beach that they were sopporting.  http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/D-Day-1944-(3)_9781841763668/

 

Airborne WWII Paratroopers in Combat

This hardcover book from Osprey gives an overview of airborne warfare during World War II, looking at the German, American and British paratroopers and covering their recruitment, training, tactics and an in-depth look at the battles they fought.  It combines some new material with information previously published in other Osprey volumes. http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/Airborne_9781846031960/

 

 

Also of interest:

1st SSF

This book provides an enlightening and concise history of one of the most unique combat formations of WWII – a commando brigade of integrated US and Canadian volunteers formed in 1942.  The First Special Service Force left a legacy of innovation and valour that is still recognized today.  http://www.ospreypublishing.com/store/First-Special-Service-Force-1942%e2%80%9344_9781841769684



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