Three miles or so south of Caen the present-day tourist, driving down the arrow-straight road that leads to Falaise, sees immediately to his right a rounded hill crowned by farm buildings. If the traveller be Canadian, he would do well to stay the wheels at this point and cast his mind back to the events of 1944; for this apparently insignificant eminence is the Verrières Ridge. Well may the wheat and sugar-beet grow green and lush upon its gentle slopes, for in that now half-forgotten summer the best blood of Canada was freely poured out upon them.C.P. Stacey, The Victory Campaign
Seventy-five years ago this summer the Canadian Army was engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting in history. By some estimates, the daily casualty rate in the Battle of Normandy exceeded that of many First World War battles associated with atrocious slaughter — Verdun, the Somme, or Passchendaele. Indeed, Verrières Ridge resembles Vimy Ridge in that both were the sites of bloody clashes featuring Canadian troops in the lead. In part, this was because Operation Spring, the II Canadian Corps assault up the ridge, was the largest Canadian Army operation since Vimy Ridge 27 years earlier. Unlike Vimy, however, the Canadian corps did not succeed in capturing the ridge as planned.
Best-selling author David O’Keefe joins us to explore the Battle of Verrières Ridge through the senses of a storied but doomed Canadian infantry battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. Proud of their past, new to action, and in the midst of an evolving military culture, the situation on 25 July 1944 challenged the Black Watch’s sense of honour.
3:58 To Normandy
5:37 The Battalion & the Scout Platoon
9:14 The Scouts
16:39 Operation Spring
32:00 A Question of Honour
41:41 Surviving Verrières Ridge
48:23 Historical Meddling
David O’Keefe is an award-winning historian, documentarian and professor at Marionopolis College in Westmount, Quebec. He served with The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada in Montreal and worked as a Signals Intelligence research historian for the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH). He executive produced the docu-drama Black Watch Snipers (2016) and his second book, Seven Days in Hell: Verrières Ridge and the Birth of the Black Watch Snipers, will be available across Canada in fall 2019. His first book is One Day in August: The Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe.
The following links offer more information on the topics discussed in this episode:
Weapons & Formations
Juno Beach & Beyond is hosted and edited by Alex Fitzgerald-Black, the centre’s Digital Projects Coordinator.
Garth Webb’s quote about D-Day from the Testaments of Honour Historical Archive and the Defining Moments Canada website: https://definingmomentscanada.ca/jbc75/dday/webb/
Mackenzie King’s speech to British Parliament from the British Pathé YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SlEvclY5LE&t=48s
Artillery firing sounds from the CBC News: The National YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsCSQ4uWR1Y
Winston Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech from Jonathan Thomas’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB5wZtV1MWM
Spitfire sound effect from Jason Kirby’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgZI4tAoMN0
Dramatic Interlude by Alexander Nakarada | https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.