George Chow says he was just shy of 19 and had no idea what he was getting into when he enlisted to serve in the Second World War.
He arrived at the Vancouver train station from his home in Victoria in 1941 and boarded the eastbound train for Halifax, with a stop for training in Windsor, Ont., before embarking for Europe.
“We weren’t being patriotic, we just joined for adventure,” he said.
“Out of the 250 people in my battery, I think there’s only one or two of us left now.”
Chow was among several veterans of the Second World War who gathered at the same Via Rail Canada train station Friday for a commemorative event honouring the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.
A pair of combat boots was loaded on a train bound for Halifax and Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said they will serve as a visual representation of the journey so many Canadians made to serve.
“They traded their civilian shoes for military boots, they left their family and friends behind, and they headed halfway around the world to defend our freedom, our democracy and our peace,” MacAulay said.
The battles are among Canada’s most significant military engagements of the 20th century.
About 14,000 Canadians stormed Juno Beach in northern France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. It marked the beginning of the Battle of Normandy, in which 5,000 Canadians died and more than 13,000 were wounded.
Chow was among six veterans who served at D-Day and Normandy who were present for the commemoration. He was part of an artillery group that landed at Normandy before moving inland to Caen.
“I lost a lot of friends in Dieppe, I lost a lot of friends in Germany,” he said.
He also survived two “friendly fire” bombings, first by American troops then a British-Canadian combined force.
“Those were the bad times,” he said.
Norm Kirby said there must have been some confusion when he enlisted from the Vancouver’s North Shore but was assigned to New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment. Although almost the entire regiment was francophone, he said they found ways to communicate.
“I’ve never met and never had such fine friends as those from New Brunswick. I’m sad to say there’s only two of us left,” Kirby said.
Kirby said on his way to the beach on D-Day, his landing craft hit a mine that almost tore off the bottom of the vessel.
“Luckily, I was one of the ones who was able to get to shore,” he said.
MacAulay said commemorative ceremonies will be held in nine communities across the country as the train makes its journey.
The federal government says it is also hosting several other remembrance events for the anniversary, including events at the Sailors’ Memorial and Citadel National Historic Site in Halifax and a candlelight ceremony in Victoria in the coming months.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press