John Beer's Service Medals (L-R): Order of the British Empire (member); 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp; War Medal (1939-1945); Korean Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (Korea); NATO Medal; Peacekeeping Medal; United Nations Service Medal (Korea); International Commission for Supervision and Control (Indo-China; Centennial Medal; QEIII Silver Jubilee Medal; Efficiency Medal; Canadian Forces Decoration with Clasp.Jake Beer
Retirement photo of John Beer, 1976.Jake Beer
Portrait taken after receiving his Officer's Commission, February, 1940.Jake Beer
"You know, that’s the biggest amphibious landing ever taken place in any theatre of war, at any time. It will never be done again because of atomic bombs. That’s what stands out in my mind."
The biggest thing that ever happened to me was landing in Normandy, [France] on D-Day [June 6, 1944]. I don’t see how you can top that. You know, that’s the biggest amphibious [involving forces landed from the sea] landing ever taken place in any theatre of war, at any time. It will never be done again because of atomic bombs. That’s what stands out in my mind.
Four years of training in England before going into action, that’s a long, long time. It’s a lot of training, isn’t it? And we participated like all other Canadian units, all divisions, not just the 3rd [Canadian Infantry Division]. In various scale exercises, some of them conducted by General [Sir (later Field-Marshal Lord) Bernard Law] Montgomery, himself, when he was Commander[-in-chief] of Southern Command [21st British Army Group] in England and we did amphibious training and practised landings on beaches and that sort of thing. Oh, the amount of training you did was fantastic. You know, after four years of it, you get awfully tired of training. You say, “When the hell are we going to get into action?” Then you get into action and as a consequence it is not as fun as you think it is. So, it’s a funny world.
And of course, during that time of four years, I was sent on other courses in the United Kingdom so I had a hell of a lot of training. Some of those courses were run by the British Army and other courses were run by the Canadian Army. At that time, I was second-in-command of a battery of eight guns. There was a major commanding and I was second-in-command. The strength of a battery was just under 200 people. There were two troops, each with four guns, and on D-Day itself, on the initial landing, our guns and those of the other regiments in 3[rd] Div[ision], which was the only Canadian division participating in the D-Day landing, they were firing from assault craft on to the land as they, the guns, were moved in by craft on to the land. That was all part of the preliminary bombardment on the day in question.
Now, I was not a member of one of the troops. Again, I was back doing administration as, what was known as battery captain, second-in-command of a battery. I was in charge of the administrative element of the battery. I did land on D-Day but I was in the second echelon [a formation of troops, ships, aircraft, etc., in parallel rows with the end of each row projecting further than the one in front], not the first.
I don’t mind telling you that my first action was rather embarrassing. I overshot – I was supposed to move up from where we landed on the beach, up to the first gun position, where the guns were, because I had all the extra ammunition, and food and petrol and everything else they required. And I was up this road and to turn in on the left. And I missed the turn and I kept going up the road. And I ended up in the forward lines where all the infantry were. And there was an armoured corps officer who saw me with this great line of vehicles in echelon on the road and he said, you get those, pardon me, goddamn vehicles out of here! This is the forward defence line! So we had to turn all the vehicles around and go back and retrace our steps, and on the way back, I found the infantry in the gun position. It was very embarrassing, but you learn a lot the hard way.