Infantrymen of Le Régiment de la Chaudière resting behind a Universal Carrier in a low ground position in the Normandy beachhead, France, ca. 8-9 June 1944. Mr. Joncas was part of C Company of the Regiment on D-Day.
Credit: Lieut. Ken Bell / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-140849
Restrictions on use: Nil
Mr. Joncas and Labranche.
Source: Guy LaBranche
Mr. Joncas and LaBranche.
Source: Guy LaBranche
"They took my men as prisoners and they retreated with them. There wasn’t any fight. They retreated with them and the minute they were under cover, they killed them. Guys from Gaspé, (…) guys from Caraquet."
The chaplain came to give me communion. He was a guy from our town, from Rimouski (Quebec). He knew my family. He came by often to give us communion. Sometimes I would say to him: “You gave me communion earlier.” He would reply: “Take it again; you’re going to need it.” That night, I didn’t sleep very much anyways. I didn’t have any experience with landing. We knew a lot about what happened in (19)42 (during the raid of Dieppe on August 19). That was… But maybe they didn’t tell us everything. Afterwards, when we took Dieppe from behind (on September 1st, 1944), we saw the crosses. There were a lot of French Canadians who were struck down there (mainly soldiers from the Fusiliers Mont-Royal regiment). So we had that in our heads a bit. People were nervous as well.
When we loaded onto the landing crafts, they were lowered into the water and we stayed alongside the ship. We stayed there for a long time, a really long time. At the time, we didn’t know why. We wondered what was going on. There was a lot of movement stationed beside a big ship like that; the waves made the ship rock back and forth. It became bothersome. Luckily, we were punished. That punishment gave us a chance for the landing, because the others hadn’t practised landings or practised taking the pills (for seasickness). They must have been sick in the hundreds. We were there for at least forty-five minutes before departing, since we had to wait for the waves to die down a bit. Probably, if we had disembarked right away at dawn like they had wanted us to (the allied high command), we would have had it (water) up to the waist. It would have been too much. You can’t run very easily with water up to your waist.
No one spoke. That’s when hell broke loose. When we disembarked, we didn’t have time to look at our partner to see if he’d fallen down or if he’d been shot. You aimed for the wall. Our primary objective was to bring down the wall in order to have as few injured as possible. Except we weren’t able to jump the wall, it was high and it had barbed wire. Others disembarked with big tanks and dynamite in order to make a hole. They made a hole in the middle, a bit farther away from us. We, in the C Company (from the Régiment de la Chaudière), were the first to take the hole. It worked out that way. When they broke through the wall, we had to slip through. The officer gave orders. We knew everything because we had been briefed. That was how you had to do it.
We were pinned down. There was a lot of noise. It was just the officers who looked out. People were injured but we couldn’t get to them right away. We were being fired at from all sides. We were eager for them to make a hole in the wall in order to get out of there, and to take our positions. After that, there was fighting. The minute that we went through the hole, they fired at us. We also had to… I was in charge of the Bren guns (lightweight British machine gun). Three of us got set up so that we could see our positions and start firing as well.
Time passes quickly. Our positions… The company got separated quite a bit. We said: “We’ll do this, we’ll do that.” But once you’re in front of the enemy, it’s easier to fire at certain areas and harder at others. There were bunkers to be neutralized. There were automatic firearms on top of them. They had made bunkers with cracks facing the channel. They fired at that with straps (cartridges), firing thousands of bullets a minute.
We were stuck on the road. We were under cover. They were firing but they couldn’t… We set up our Bren. We were firing at a building. The major had requested tanks and the four Sherman tanks arrived (M4 Sherman, a mid-sized American tank). When they showed up, that’s when a lot of men were injured. Maybe we made a mistake because they had tanks as well (the Germans) and we couldn’t see them. They were at the corner of the building. They fired at our tanks. Tanks were swerving, that’s all they could see. They fired after. That caused a lot of injured people. One of my friends… had a piece of steel in his kidneys. I had a piece in the eye.
Finally, when we got back, Major Sévigny (Georges Sévigny, the commander of the C Company from the Régiment de la Chaudière in June 1944), he told us in advance: “Don’t be afraid, you’re going to see some dead people” due to the (British) commanders who had tried to enter there, I don’t know in any case. We went in and it was true, we saw the dead to the side. They were all black on the side of the road. It was so calm but we were also nervous. One of my friends became shell-shocked just with the noise. It grated on your nerves. We wanted that barrage (of artillery) to stop, it’s going to stop, it’s going to stop. We were all along one side and the other, spread out among houses. We needed to cross through to assume a defensive line. It didn’t happen. It decreased. Some of us were injured. Finally, we were able to reunite a bit.
Major Sévigny delegated me to assume the defensive line. We were chatting quite a bit. Time was ticking. It became time to… it was around four o’clock. We had to advance some more, and to go around the side. We didn’t know where the positions were either. We knew approximately how the briefing went. You can see it today, the bunker, where it was at the centre of Carpiquet (Normandy). We went beside it. The barrage (fire) didn’t stop. We had to assume a defensive line beside a farm we had been designated. It made a wall, and we started at the corner of the wall. The men were supposed to dig trenches underneath the mortars. The other platoons from our Company attacked the bunker. The major sent men to tell us that they had destroyed the bunker. Around us, we were afraid of being… that they would come from behind. We knew that they had positions but we went around them. We assumed a defensive line.
I went into the house, into the basement. I collapsed in the corner and I didn’t move. I could hear the tanks moving. They took my men as prisoners and they retreated with them. There wasn’t any fight. They retreated with them and the minute they were under cover, they killed them. Guys from Gaspé, (…) guys from Caraquet. Guys who had been with me for three years.