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‘If we are here today, it’s because of them’

From left: Honorary Consul of France in Winnipeg, Bruno Burnichon, congratulates Earl Stewart and Roy Snaith on their  induction into France’s National Order of the Legion of Honour
Photo by Kate Jackman-Atkinson

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson
For the second time in four days, a hall was packed in support of two exceptional members of Gladstone’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch #110. On Tuesday, Earl Stewart and Roy Snaith were officially recognized as members of the French Legion of Honour, when the Honorary Consul of France in Winnipeg, Bruno Burnichon, pinned the medals to their chests at a special ceremony in the Legion Clubroom.
On Saturday night, the men were also recognized at the annual Gladstone Veterans’ Banquet. Close to 150 people filled the Gladstone District Community Centre for this event.
As part of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the landings in Normandy and Provence, the French government chose to recognize all veterans who took part in the combat or military landing operations, or the liberation of France with the Legion of Honour.
The National Order of the Legion of Honour is the highest decoration that France can bestow, regardless of nationality. Those who have been awarded this prestigious medal hold the rank of Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour.
The Gladstone Legion submitted applications for two members who took part in the liberation of France in the summer of 1944. In total, there were 15 medals to be given out in Manitoba.
Gladstone resident Earl Stewart, 90, was a Gunner Sergeant in the 5th Field, 28th Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery. His regiment landed in Caen, near Le Havre, on July 7. The regiment first saw action on July 12, at Authie, in support of 3 Canadian Infantry Division. They fired the first 25-pdr round fired by Division Artillery. While at Authie, they captured the first German taken by 2 Canadian Division.
A few days later, the regiment moved forward to a position near Carpiquet Airport. There, they faced enemy shelling which continued intermittently for several days. The regiment suffered several casualties in this position.
Beginning on July 19, the regiment supported 2 Division in all of its operations and participated in tough fighting in front of Caen. Over 19 days, they fired 83,000 25-pdr rounds.
On Aug. 9, they began operation “Totalizer”, the breakout from Caen.  From there, they advanced through France providing support, principally to the 5 Brigade in their advance through Bretteville-Sur-Laize, Falaise, Liyarot, Orbec, Bernay, Elbeuf, Rouen and on to Dieppe.
After receiving the medal, Stewart said that he much appreciated the honour.  He added that his French isn’t good, but after all these year, he still remembers how to ask, “Have you any eggs?”
Roy Snaith, 93, of Austin, was a Trooper in the 12 Manitoba Dragoons. He landed at St. Croix Sur Mer on July 7 to 8, 1944.
After landing in the Caen area, the regiment came under command of the 3rd Canadian Division at Beauregard on July 13-14. They were involved in the clearing of Caen. They suffered heavy losses at Tillie la Campaine, Verrieres Ridge, Bras and Grentheville.
From they they moved through Falaise Pocket, Bernay and the Seine River, Umale and Oisemont.  They crossed the Somme River at Abbeville and moved on to St. Omer, Popringe and into Belgium.
Snaith presently lives in Portage la Prairie but remains a member of the Gladstone Legion.
Snaith also thanked all those who attended the ceremony. “It’s quite an honour,” he said.
In presenting the medals, Burnichon noted that the Legion of Honour was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest honour of the French Republic. He explained, “It is awarded in recognition of outstanding achievement made in service to the French Republic in either a civilian or military capacity. The distinction illustrates the profound gratitude that France would like to extend to you in recognition of your determination and courage in the liberation of our country. France remembers the sacrifice of all of your compatriots who came to help liberate my country.”
Burnichon added, “Even though these gentlemen are not French citizens, they are French to us…If we are here today, it’s because of them.” He added that he has a personal connection to the wars, he lost a grandfather in the First World War and two uncles in the Second World War.  Additionally, his father was a prisoner of war. He said that he was happy to be able to thank the soldiers personally for their contributions, saying, “It’s an honour to pin this medal on their jackets, its the greatest thing anyone can do.”
In a letter to the recipients from the French Ambassador to Canada, Philippe Zeller, said, “Proudly wear this insignia, which attests to your courage and your devotion to the ideals of liberty and peace.”