Challenges of Military Research

| July 21, 2014
Tribute marker for James Patrick Williams

To determine the exact death date of the men who lost their lives during major, multi-day campaigns can often be very difficult. There is always a margin of error.

As soon as it was safe following a period of fighting, the dead would be gathered and placed in a communal place, and as soon after as possible, buried in a temporary grave before being moved to a permanent cemetery. In the case of those who died on 6 June 1944 on Juno Beach, a place called “Mr. Guddeville’s Orchard” served as the temporary grave site before the soldiers were moved to Bény-sur-Mer or other Canadian War Cemeteries in the area. If a soldier was declared missing, his body washed away or simply never found, determining the exact date he died is left to speculation.

Several of the men honoured as a part of Canada’s D-Day Tribute have death dates that leave room for doubt. Both James Patrick Williams and Joseph Phillipe Rousseau both have an “official” death date of 7 June 1944, but research (done by the Lest We Forget program and by the Royal Canadian Military College Archives) shows that they most likely died late in the night on the 6th. Contrarily, Walter Leslie Brown has an official death date of 6 June 1944, but some research and witness accounts show that he may not have been killed until 8 June 1944. Many men died in the days after D-Day from wounds they received as they landed on the beach.

The Royal Canadian Engineers and their official historian, Ken Holmes, are working to gather research on the servicemen they lost during the Normandy Campaign. This includes 18 men who died on D-Day, and many others who died in the weeks afterward, such as William Francis Stewart and George Henry Cooper, who died on June 7 and June 8, respectively.

Their sacrifices were no less than any of the men who died before them. Lest we forget.

Written by Program Coordinator Jen Sguigna

Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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