Canada in the Second World War


Léo Gariepy

GIVEN NAME: Léonard Roger
DATE OF BIRTH: October 3, 1912
PLACE OF BIRTH: St-François de Sales, Laval, Québec, Canada
RANK: Sergeant
CORPS: 6th Armoured Regiment – First Hussars

Léonard “Léo” Gariépy was born on October 3, 1912, in the parish of St-François de Sales, in Laval, Québec, Canada. He was the son of Télésphore Gariépy and Alberta Tremblay, the eldest of 12 children. Between 1931 and 1935, he studied pathology at Montreal’s General Hospital.
In 1936, Léo enlisted in the active non-permanent militia with the Canadian Grenadier Guards. The day after his enlistment, he was promoted to the rank of trooper in “A” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
On September 1, 1939, Léo was placed on active duty within the army. International tensions were rising and a new war seemed inevitable.

On March 1, 1940, Private Gariépy was transferred to the Canadian Cavalry regiment. On February 18, 1941, this regiment would become the 6th Armoured Regiment – First Hussars from London, Ontario. It is with this armoured regiment that Léo landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.
As of August 1, 1941, Léo is qualified as a driver within his armoured regiment. On November 13, 1941, he left Halifax, Nova Scotia on board the HMS Orons for Great-Britain. The crossing was long and dangerous, with many German U-Boats attacking Allied ships as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

On November 23, 1941 Léo arrived in Liverpool, England, and was then immediately transferred to Aldershot. This is where he began his intensive training. As early as January 1942, the first regimental exercise took place on Salisbury Plain. Through the course of 1942, Léo would be promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

The First Hussars regiment landed in the first wave on Juno Beach shortly after 08:00 on June 6, 1944. Bad curent and winds hindered the regiment from landing their amphibious Duplex Drive (DD) tanks. As a result, the regiment suffered many casualties.
The amphibious “DD” tanks were manufactured to operate at a speed of 3 knots in force 3 weather conditions. On the morning of June 6, 1944, the sea was much rougher. Once on the ground, these tanks could be driven at more than 40 km/h, despite weighing 32 tons.
The objective of the First Hussars was to support both the Canadian Scottish and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles regiments on “Mike” sector of Juno Beach (Graye-sur-Mer and western half of Courseulles-sur-Mer) as well as the Regina Rifles on “Nan” sector (eastern half of Courseulles-sur-Mer).
In “B” squadron, Sergeant Gariépy commanded a tank named Bucéphale, one of the many amphibious tanks to land on Juno Beach on D-Day. He had four men under his command:  William McGinnis, driver, Robert Neal, driver-assistant, Marcus Silverbery, gunner and L. Nells, radio-operator.  As commander, Léo was  at the periscope to control the direction of the tank.

Léo Gariépy remained in the Canadian Armed Forces until 1947 and was tasked to several different armoured regiments. He was also appointed instructing officer for young recruits. On September 11, 1947, he was discharged from the military in Toronto. After many years at war, Léo’s return to civilian life was difficult and included financial, health, and marital problems. In 1947, he was hired by the West Steel Company in Toronto, Ontario. In 1949, he moved to Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Québec with his new partner and their two sons. He worked for the British American Oil Company for nearly 17 years.
In March 1964, Léo is preparing his first trip back to Normandy for the 20th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. In 1967, his application was accepted for the position of technical assistant of the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer. At this point, he decided to move to France permanently but his family did not follow him.
At the end of the 1960s, Léo led the initiative to fish out of the water a DD tank named « Bold », which had sank in front of Courseulles on D-Day. The tank was re-surfaced, restored, and offered to the town. It is presented « Place Léo Gariépy », on the other side of the harbour, visible from the Juno Beach Centre.
Léo Gariépy died abruptly on May 8, 1972. “Honourary citizen” of Courseulles-sur-Mer, he rests in the military section of Courseulles’ the municipal cemetery.