Farewell Norm Kirby (1925-2021)

| March 26, 2021

A dear friend of the Juno Beach Centre left us March 24, 2021.

With deep sadness we learned of the passing of Sergeant (ret’d) Norm Kirby, North Shore (New Brunswick) Infantry Regiment, A Company, 2nd Platoon.

The Juno Beach Centre sends its sincere condolences to his wife, family, and friends.

Norm, 96, was one of 14,000 Allied troops who landed at Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He fought through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, at age 19 becoming the youngest sergeant in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.

After the war ended in Europe, he volunteered to serve in the Pacific, but Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, ending the war before Norm shipped out again. Norm was nominated in 1945 for the Military Medal for acts of bravery “over and above his line of duty and as a lance corporal, showing no regard for his personal safety.” He never did receive his medal, however, because the ceremony was held while he was in England preparing to go to the Pacific. After the war, Norm was presented with the Field Marshal Montgomery Award for Gallantry for his leadership. He was also awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.

We are grateful for the opportunity we had to capture and share Norm’s story before his passing in our Legacy of Honour video series. One year ago, Norm was featured on Veterans Affairs Canada’s official poster commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and the Allied victory in Europe (V-E Day).

Norm was also one of 40 veterans present at Juno Beach for the official Canadian ceremony marking the 75thanniversary of D-Day on June 6th 2019, where Mr. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, paid tribute to him in his speech:

“Norman Harold Kirby. A Bren gunner from British Columbia…A member of the North Shore Infantry Regiment, he stormed Juno Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. While making its way to shore the landing craft carrying his unit hit a mine…Without any weapons save for a knife, a fork and a spoon, Norman Kirby ran across the beach towards the enemy. He would go on to fight in Belgium, Germany and Holland. He was just 19 years old.”

Norm Kirby receives a standing ovation during the official Canadian ceremony for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019.

Norm Kirby enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1943 when he was only 17 years old. Despite his experience working on tugboats since leaving school at the age of 14, he had already been turned away by the Navy due to his age. His father gave consent to the army in order for Norm to join up, and in April 1944 he shipped out to England. Once there, he was assigned to the North Shore (New Brunswick) Infantry Regiment with whom he served until the end of the war as a Bren gunner.

Norm landed at Juno Beach on D-Day, coming ashore at St-Aubin-sur-Mer after his landing craft hit a mine. But that was only the beginning of Norm’s war. He spent the next year fighting through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. He had specialized training on both the Bren gun (a light machine gun) and PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank) gun. Late in the Normandy campaign, Norm stalked and destroyed a German Tiger tank with a PIAT, no easy feat. His account of this action is preserved in our Legacy of Honour video interview.

It was in the Netherlands that Norm experienced the courage and gratitude of the Dutch people as he and his comrades liberated town after town – sometimes fighting house by house – from the terror of the Nazi forces. He remembered clearly a moment in Groningen, just after liberating the town, that stuck with him for the rest of his life:

“We got to Holland and into Groningen, and we chased the Germans out. All of a sudden out of the blue came little kids, out into the streets, with banners and paper hats in the Dutch colours, and all laughing. I’m standing there with them all around me, pistol at my side, and I just thought, wow, this is what it’s all about. This is what I’m here for.” He had no regrets about his decision to enlist.Canadian soldiers liberate Groningen in The Netherlands during WW2

Upon returning to Canada after the war, Norm was honourably discharged in September 1945. He married his wife, Victoria and built a successful real estate career in B.C. He also spent many years visiting schools and community groups sharing his story and encouraging younger generations to remember.

This past February, we were honoured to gift Norm a Canadian flag flown on Juno Beach. HLCol Don Foster, a long-time Board member of the Juno Beach Centre Association, and a great friend of Norm’s, was able to present the flag to him personally at Norm and Victoria’s home overlooking the ocean in Lions Bay, B.C.

Today, Don remembered Norm as “an exceptional Canadian”. He also reminded us once again about the mission we have been entrusted with:

“It seems so final when they pass, but their Legacy of Honour lives on within the Juno Beach Centre.”

 – HLCol Don Foster

 

Farewell, Norm. We will remember.

 

Click to read Norm Kirby’s detailed biography

 

 

 

 

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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