WWII and D-Day - June 6, 1944 (extracted from a news article by Claudia Smith and combined with the stories Allie told his family)
In 1941, when the news came of the bombing blitz of London, many young men of Lanark County volunteered to fight. Alexander (Allie) James McKay enlisted in October of 1942 and after helping bring in the fall harvest on the farm, he joined the other recruits at Cornwall, Ontario to receive basic training. After basic training, they went by train to Halifax, Nova Scotia. In June 1943, they boarded a ship bound for England.
It was nearly a year later that Allie and his regiment left Cove Barracks in the south of England and went to the Midlands, across the Channel from Dunkirk. Allie remembered:
- there were plywood tanks, trucks ad artillery pieces that all looked natural enough. Green nets were spread over them to make it look as if they were being camouflaged. There were lots of tents that no one ever slept in.
The diversion succeeded and the Germans were focused on the activity in the Midlands, unaware that the real plans were being prepared elsewhere.
The invasion of the beaches of Normandy occurred June 6, 1944. Many of the soldiers drowned when they jumped from the troop carriers because the bottom was just too far down. Thousands of others were killed by the Nazis as they waded toward shore, trying to hold their guns above the water. Those who did make it to shore were exhausted and unable to run across the open beach to cover. Many were gunned down.
This first wave of young soldiers took heavy losses. They fought valiantly and within 24 hours, 60 miles of Normandy beaches had been captured. 250,000 troops had landed. A large contingent of the Queen's Own Rifles had been among this first wave. Allie's section, however, was not. On the 10th of June, 1944, Allie's regiment got the call to head for France, as reinforcements.
Allie was a sergeant in the No. 1 Section, 13th Platoon, of the 2nd Battalion of the Queen's Own Rifles. He and the other men could see the bodies in the water long before they reached shore. The sight of their dead comrades caused a sort of numbness to creep in. Somehow they found the courage to keep going. Allie's regiment landed at Bernieres-Sur-Mer. One of his first duties once on shore was to bury the dead from the first day's assault. Allie remembered seeing The Queen's Own flashes on the shoulders of many of the dead.
Their fallen comrades had been surrounded by Nazi troops, taken prisoner and then lined up against a stone wall and shot dead. Allie's job was to identify the fallen soldiers for army records. He remembered reaching in under their chins for their necklace of tags. One of the numbers on the tags he recovered was only a single digit off his own.
On June 12, 1944 Allie's regiment joined in the push for Caen. Houses were flattened and used to build roads. One day, Allie was on watch behind a stone wall. Stones had been removed from the wall for site holes. A shell fell very close to where he was taking cover. The concussion of the blast knocked the wind out of him, but he was otherwise unharmed.
When they reached Boulogne, the Nazis retreated. The town was liberated and the citizens rejoiced by giving the soldiers flowers and decorated their jeeps. Allie had been promoted to Corporal at this point. Allie and his section continued to move on through Holland. It was winter and the weather was cold. Snow made life even more uncomfortable. One particular mission was to capture a hill in no-man's land and hold it. Many were lost, but Allie's regiment made it through. He was then promoted again, to Lance Sergeant.
On February 26, 1945, the soldiers advanced under the fire of a creeping barrage, where the artillery behind Allie and his men shot over their heads to push back the enemy. Allie remembered: Tanks sent a carpet of shells ahead of us and we all had to follow.
One shell, however, fell short of its intended target and exploded in a group of six Canadian soldiers. Allie was severely wounded in the leg. He managed to drag another wounded man into a shell hole and their Sergeant, Aubrey Cosens, leaped in front of an oncoming tank to guide it around them.
Back at Home
On the second of March, the telegram that everyone was dreading, came. Wounded in Action was the only information provided in the telegram that Allie's grandfather carried out to the McKay farm. Allie had been sent to England to recover, and was soon able to contact his family again. Victory was declared in May, 1945. In July, the Middleville community packed the town hall to welcome home from overseas several of their local heros. Every returning soldier was provided with a gold signet ring in gratitude for their courage and loyalty in the war.