John Mitges

World War II vet awarded French honour

South Surrey man recognized for bravery during D-Day by French government

A South Surrey veteran has been recognized by the French government for his contribution to freeing the country from Nazis during the Second World War.

Retired chief warrant officer John Mitges, 93, was announced as the recipient of the French Legion of Honour last week, for his valiant efforts during the Battle of the Liberation of France.

The French order was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. It is the highest decoration in France and is awarded for bravery and service.

The Royal Canadian Engineers veteran sustained a number of injuries in France during the Second World War, and each time returned to carry on with his mission.

The reconnaissance sergeant – who was 22 at the time – was a member of 18 Field Company.

In the battle to liberate France, Mitges landed with the Nova Scotia Highlanders at Bernieres sur Mer on D-Day, June 6, 1944, where he moved out with the lead troops, clearing mines and destroying obstacles along the route of the advance, as well as sending information back about engineer tasks to be worked on.

There was heavy fighting, and the advance was halted north of Caen on the first night. On June 11, Mitges was wounded in the head, chest and leg, and evacuated to a field hospital where he was treated for 10 days.

But that barely slowed Mitges down. Once released, he made his way back to his unit.

The sergeant stayed with the 18 Field Company as they advanced across the Rhine and went up the Baltic Coast, where the unit primarily focused on clearing German mines. As the war was nearing its end, supplies were low, and the Germans has resorted to planting sea mines in the ground. It was during the clearing of those mines that Mitges was once again injured in the leg after one of the explosive devices detonated.

He was evacuated to hospital, but later re-joined his unit before it returned to England.

Mitges returned to Canada in December 1945, where he was transferred to the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering in Chilliwack.

In 1947, he was one of three RCE personnel seconded – or temporarily transferred – to the United Kingdom, where he qualified as a glider pilot.

With that new qualification, Mitges was posted to the Canadian Joint Airborne Training Centre at Rivers, Man., where he did a considerable amount of glider training and indoctrination flights for parachute-training students.

During the Korean war, Mitges was again seconded to the British Army and had two trips to erect Nissen huts there in 1950 to 1952.

His career was marked by the appointment of Sergeant Major of 1 Airborne Troop RCE and as a Squadron Sergeant Major of 4 Field Squadron. Later, Mitges was selected for a two-year attachment with the Royal School of Military Engineering in the U.K.

The long-serving sergeant finished his last appointment as the senior RCE Chief Warrant Officer – the most senior rank for a non-commissioned officer – at Mobile Command Headquarters before taking his release in 1976.

Mitges moved to South Surrey in 1985 and has resided on the Peninsula since.

He will be celebrated locally with a small, private award ceremony.


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