Badge of the 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment. Major General then Captain Roland Reid served in this unit as a company commander for most of the Northwest Campaign (1944-1945).
Major General Roland Reid addressing the crowd at the Place de l'Ancienne Boucherie in Caen (Normandy) in 2002.
"The British soldiers were very intrigued by Canadian officers. The Canadian officers were different than the British officers in the sense that, without being too informal, they took more time with the troops than the British officers."
As I was born in 1920, I did my studies in French. At the time, there were classical colleges and I was at the Jesuits in Montréal (Québec) on Bleury Street. From there, with a bachelor’s degree from l’Université de Montréal, I went to study engineering at McGill in 1940. Evidently, between both wars from 1918 to 1939, all universities had a COTC (Canadian Officer Training Corps) and l’Université de Montréal had a French one called the CEOC (“Corps école d'élèves officiers"). That’s when I started wearing a uniform. At the beginning of 1944, the British Army had a severe shortage of infantry officers. They received permission from the Canadian government to send military representatives from the British Army from Victoria (British Columbia) all the way to Halifax (Nova Scotia) to ask Canadian infantry officers if they had a surplus of officers at that time in Montreal or Canada. Because except for Dieppe, (the Dieppe Raid in Normandy on August 19, 1942), we hadn’t been involved in large-scale military battles during the Second World War. So, we had a surplus of infantry officers across Canada. So that’s how the British government received authorization from the Canadian government to come and request volunteers among the Canadian infantry officers to go and serve with the British Army.
The British soldiers were very intrigued by Canadian officers. The Canadian officers were different than the British officers in the sense that, without being too informal, they took more time with the troops than the British officers. The troops would go through their marching exercises and when they were finished, the British officer would say, “Sergeant!” and then “Over to you sergeant.” He left the troops with the sergeant or with the sergeant-major and then he would leave. Canadian officers were used to being closer to the troops and speaking with them. If they were having problems, we would try to solve them, and so on. The British soldiers really appreciated that; the way Canadian officers worked which was very different than the British officers. Without being overly informal with the troops, the Canadian officers took a little more time with the troops. So, in general we, the Canadian officers, were very popular with the British Army.
I was assigned to the Devonshire Regiment, 231st Brigade of the 50th British Division. It was a division of the Regular Army so there were older servicemen from before the war. It wasn’t a regiment of military militia that was mobilised during the war; it was a regiment of the Regular Army from before the war.
First and foremost, in Normandy after the landing (June 1944), after the initial push and until the end of June, war in the trenches, like in 1914-1918, had started again. There were night patrols, we pushed and every week or every other week, there were surprise attacks in various areas. Until the end of July or the beginning of August, it was a big push from the British and Canadian troops who were closer to the sea. The British were in the middle. The Americans were in lower France. We pushed directly across Germany to make it to Denmark. The Americans went towards Berlin. The British Army made its way to Denmark while the Canadians went to Holland. The war ended on the German and Danish borders and we celebrated with the British Army.
I saw some difficult things but that’s life. You have to forget and keep going. One becomes rather fatalistic with the war. You know that some people are being killed and others are being injured, losing members and so on. But man being what he is, you always hope that it won’t be you. It’s always the other guy who will be injured and crippled. That’s how you survive and adapt better to everything that happens in life.