Tom Chaske was a Métis Canadian born on 3 March 1922 in Edwin, Manitoba to Tom and Nyjookwah Chaske. He enlisted in March of 1943. He ran off to marry Marjorie Thomas in April that year before being transferred to The Fort Garry Horse and later to The Winnipeg Rifles, where he would remain as a Rifleman.
He arrived in the United Kingdom in early September 1943, and participated in training until June 1944 when he landed on Juno Beach as part of the D-Day invasion Force. Chaske and The Royal Winnipeg Rifles fought their way through Putot-en-Bessin, encountering heavy resistance at Caen, Carpiquet, Falaise, and the low countries. On 7 August 1944, he was promoted temporarily to Acting Lance Corporal; he requested to be returned to the rank of Rifleman six weeks later.
On the morning of 12 December 1944, when Chaske was near Nijmegen, Holland, he was assigned to Pioneer Company of the Winnipeg Rifles under the command of Lieutenant D. C. Mackenzie. Lt. Mackenzie sent men out to repair a road, ordering ten men into the open compartment of Universal Carrier WD #Cz201179 with a driver (Rifleman E. H. Tricker, a qualified Carrier Driver, Class III), a co-driver, and himself in the front. The carrier was also towing a 5cwt trailer stacked with picks and shovels. As the carrier made its way across the top of a dyke, Rifleman Tricker lost control and the vehicle slid down an embankment, turning over and pinning seven soldiers underneath, ultimately drowning them. Killed along with Rifleman T. Chaske H8778 were: Rifleman A. H. Burrough (A104565); Rifleman J. E. Duffy (F65759); Rifleman G. Lennox (H40814); Rifleman W. H. Rutland (H42140); Rifleman J. Delipper (H41296); and Rifleman E.H. Tricker (L104439).
An official Court of Inquiry eventually determined that Lt. Mackenzie had erred, in that 12 men in full winter kit along with the trailer were an excessive weight for the carrier. He was to be held responsible and admonished, but a superior office would eventually state that the deaths of the soldiers were not caused by the fact that the carrier was overloaded and Lt. Mackenzie was absolved of the responsibility of the deaths.
Rifleman Chaske died on 12 December 1944 at the age of 22 and is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherland. On his behalf, his widow received the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal 1939-1945, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas Clasp, and the GRVI Memorial Cross.
The Juno Beach Centre recently acquired Rifleman Chaske’s medals. The medals are now on display as a part of a larger exhibit honouring the service of all Canadian First Nations and Métis soldiers in the Second World War.
UPDATE: Upon reading this article, D-Day Veteran Jim Parks (as seen on The Amazing Race Canada), a fellow Rifleman with the Winnipeg Rifles, made this reflection:
“Soon after the accident happened, we heard about it and I was one of the group who were dispatched to the site to retrieve the bodies of those pinned under the trailers. It was a sad moment indeed as we had to wrap them in blankets after the Padre had retrieved their personal belongings: dog tags etc. We loaded them in the back of a 15CWT truck. Three bodies between the wheel wells and four on top. We took them to a new cemetery, I believe it was Grosbeek near Nijmegen. Padre Horton and Father Steele conducted a short but very moving ceremony. They would be later re-interred in a permanent location.Where the accident happened was flat and partly flooded. They also had permanent smoke screens as it was under enemy observation, and shelled regularly. We had outposts from the far side. From the group, Rifleman Lennox used to hang around with our group as he was from Dauphin, Manitoba.We had a lot of Métis and First Nations soldiers in our outfit and they were a great bunch of guys.P.S. I remember this incident very well as they were members of our company. They were originally not listed in our honour roll with DND, but our Unit had that corrected.”
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.