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Preserving the history of Canada’s heroes

Bill Sexsmith (left) and Wally Uden take a photo at the White Rock Legion, in front of a wall of war heroes. - Contributed photo
Bill Sexsmith (left) and Wally Uden take a photo at the White Rock Legion, in front of a wall of war heroes.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Landing on the beach of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Walter Uden looked at the tide coming in, the water, now stained red with the blood of his fellow soldiers, served as an ominous warning about what lay ahead.

Nazis.

“We were the first on the beaches,” the longtime South Surrey resident said.

“When we landed, the troops started coming in off the boats and the Germans had the machine guns and were shooting the soldiers. Blood was just pouring into the ocean and it stayed there for about three weeks.

“The tide went out and came back in and it was still red.”

Born in Lambeth, London on Sept. 22, 1922, Uden joined the British army at the age of 18 to fight in the Second World War.

As part of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME), Uden painted the army trucks and cars being repaired. Soon, he was moved to the 20th Beach Group Recovery REME based in Scotland and in June 1943, he and his crew were moved to a village outside of Portsmouth, located in Hampshire on the southeast coast of England.

A year later, when the call came in and troops were sent out to the beaches of Normandy, many believed it was practice, Uden said.

That was, until the bombs and shells began to rain from the sky.

Despite the treacherous waters, a high tide helped Uden’s landing craft make it over the defences, where they waited for a landing craft to come in. Once it arrived, the team unloaded their vehicles and ripped out the waterproofing to prepare for action.

All the while, Nazis were shooting at the men.

Remembering his time at one of the most epic and pivotal battles in the Second World War, Uden can recall details as if it was only days ago, despite celebrating his 91st birthday last year.

In order to keep the story alive, friend and fellow veteran Bill Sexsmith submitted Uden’s story for the eighth edition of the Military Service Recognition book.

The ongoing effort by the Royal Canadian Legion aims to preserve the stories of wartime heroes with short profiles of members, both late and living, along with photographs.

Sexsmith, who served in the Navy during Vietnam, had his story printed in the seventh edition of the book.

Under his name, Sexsmith’s achievements include 35 years of service with the navy, including a tour with the United Nations in Syria in 1979.

In 1997, the decorated veteran received the Meritorious Service Medal.

Now, Sexsmith is White Rock Legion Branch 8 representative and will be submitting Uden’s story for the book, set to be published in October.

“It’s a good way to connect because this book goes all over the whole province,” he said, noting the book includes stories from both World Wars and Vietnam, as well as stories during peace time.

Now, with Uden set to return to the beaches of Normandy on June 3 to commemorate the historic day, it was the perfect time to include his story.

“I’m doing this for all the veterans. There are very few D-Day veterans left,” he said.

The committee responsible for publishing the book annually is putting out a call for more profiles and photographs.

Once published, the book is available free of charge at all legion branches.

The best way to be included in the next edition of the BC Yukon Command Military Service Recognition book is by contacting the program co-ordinator, Gary Peters, online.

Visit www.legionbcyukon.ca to fill out an online form, and then email garypeters@shaw.ca

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