Howard Davies remembers the weather was beautiful on that fateful Aug. 8, when the mortar hit just outside Falaise, France.
“I had shrapnel wounds in my arm, in my chest…,” he said. “My right leg was across here, the bone was sticking out. I said (to my fellow soldiers), ‘don’t worry, I’ll be back in a week’s time’.”
Davies never returned to battle; his injuries kept him in hospital for the next four years, during which he endured a multitude of surgeries and 18 body casts. His right leg is two inches shorter than his left.
It’s the kind of sacrifice future generations should not forget, said Wendy Breaks, Davies’ daughter.
“We want the generations in the future to be able to remember what our Canadian men gave up to be able to do this,” she said, in sharing news her father was to be presented with France’s highest honour for his involvement in the country’s 1944 liberation.
“My dad has a stiff leg from the war, and he has for the past 70 years. He cannot bend his knee because of the war injuries.
“Imagine one cast on your arm, but imagine 18 full body casts.”
Sitting in Breaks’ White Rock home, Davies, 91, was as loath to revel in the award – the Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour – as he was to expound on his injuries.
“I did my job. That is enough,” he said.
But his memories are clear, nonetheless.
Born in Victoria, Davies joined the Calgary Highlanders second division in 1942, at the age of 19, and left Canada via ship for England in 1943.
Arriving in France off of Juno Beach in June 1944, Davies remembers battleships firing over the troops’ heads as they headed for shore; and later, “a thousand” planes bombing Caen. Later still, he remembers a fellow soldier standing “right beside me” taking a sniper’s bullet in the heart.
Davies described the type of bomb that wounded him as “like 10 mortars all together.”
“When it’s in the air coming at you it sounds like a cow vomiting,” he said. “The ones you hear, you know it’s gone. The ones you don’t, you know they got you.”
After he was injured, Davies was transported to England, where he stayed until Christmas Day, then he travelled by hospital ship to Halifax, followed by train to Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Hospital, where he remained until June of 1948.
The experience wasn’t all bad – in hospital is where Davies met his wife-to-be, Thelma.
“Everybody else in the hospital always married the nurse,” he quipped.
Thelma, however, had come in to visit her sister’s boyfriend.
“I was in the bed next to him, that’s how we met.”
The couple went on to have four children, 11 grandchildren – including White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer – and 14 great-children.
Davies, who now lives in Port Moody, said he learned “a great deal” from his time in the army, including to think of others when the going gets tough.
“You’re always there for the other fellow,” he said. “When you’re out there and things are getting rough, you have to think of your other buddy as well.”
Discipline through military service, he added, is something he believes all young people should experience.
Davies received his medal with six other veterans in a May 10 ceremony at Mountainview Cemetery in Vancouver.