Lou Lamy and 1st Canadian Parachutes
Lucien “Lou” Lamy was born in northern Manitoba in 1925. He served in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in World War Two. Every year, his group of former paratroopers would meet on the anniversary of D-Day in June to commemorate the event. Lamy is the last surviving member of this group and still plans to attend in 2020.
Born on a homestead, Lamy worked and helped on the farm when he was a young man. At 17, he heard news of the war overseas when the Airborne first came looking for volunteers.
“I read quite a bit about it and heard about it. It was exciting,” Lamy says. “I told them that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Formed in July of 1942, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was the first of its kind in Canada. Colonel E.L.M. Burns forged the path for its creation although he was first denied, due to a perceived irrelevance, when it came to defending Canada itself. Burns argued that airborne infantry would be an efficient way to get soldiers into the difficult areas of Canadian terrain if an invasion were to occur.
“They were afraid that Canada was going to be attacked,” Lamy explains. “We were supposed to stay in Canada.”
It wasn’t until the success of the Fallschirmjagers — the German division of airborne infantry — and the creation of parachute regiments by both the United States and Britain that the Canadian military granted Burns’ request.
The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was formed on July 1, 1942, with 26 officers and 590 other soldiers across other ranks.
Some trained at Fort Benning in the United States and others at the Canadian Parachute Training Wing at CFB Shilo in Manitoba.
“We had to do five jumps out of the airplane to get our wings,” Lamy says of his training. “I thought that it was a lot of fun.”
“The first time was the best of all. I didn’t know what to expect. They just march you up to the door with the captain in the back … and then you’re floating around in the air.”
After getting his wings, it was time for Lamy and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion to head overseas.
“Everything seemed to happen very fast,” Lamy says.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was training as hard as I could to get there.”
After arriving, they waited in Britain for six months, training at the RAF Ringway in England. The battalion was assigned to operate under the British 3rd Parachute Brigade, which was itself part of the British 6th Airborne Division.
After training day after day, preparing for the battles to come, it was time.
“They told us ‘that’s enough training. It’s time to go to work now’.”
The Canadian Parachute Battalion was transported to France in 50 aircraft, flying in the dark of night as the battalion participated in Operation Overlord. The Battalion was to land one hour in advance of the rest to secure the drop zone, or DZ. Then, they were to destroy bridges over the Rivers Dives and Varaville and take over strongpoints at vital intersections.
Each soldier had 70 pounds of equipment in addition to their normal armaments: a knife, a toggle rope, an escape kit with French currency and rations to last them 48 hours.
They landed after 1 a.m. on June 6 and were the first Canadian unit with their boots on the ground in France. However, poor weather and even worse nighttime visibility led to many soldiers being scattered across the countryside, some of them quite distant from their planned DZ.
While Lamy wasn’t part of that initial drop, he quickly joined up with the rest of the battalion following D-Day to reinforce them. The higher-ups in the military decided against future night drops for subsequent airborne operations.
“We dropped during the night. That wasn’t very good,” Lamy recalls. “They decided we’d never do that again.”
By mid-day, however, all objectives were successful and the soldiers of the battalion had accomplished their aims. This was the first instance of something which would become part of their extraordinary reputation: the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion never failed to complete a mission and never released an objective once captured.
Late in the summer, the entirety of the 6th Airborne Division was pulled from the line.
In total, 27 officers and 516 enlisted men fought in the battle of Normandy. The unit suffered 367 casualties and 81 soldiers were either killed or died due to their wounds.
The next major fight ahead of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was the infamous “Battle of the Bulge,” the last major German offensive which occurred between December 1944 and January 1945.
That winter was one of the coldest on record in half a century according to reports, but Lamy had a particular advantage: he had grown up in Northern Manitoba.
“The snow didn’t bother me much,” Lamy says. “In Northern Manitoba, when it’s cold, it’s cold.”
Still, conditions were not kind to the Battalion and they worked hard to keep warm and fed, all the while constantly patrolling to defend against any German incursions to infiltrate their lines.
The 1st Canadian Parachute also had the unique privilege of being the only Canadians to participate in the Battle of the Bulge, and in their next operation — named Operation Varsity — they would be the Canadians who advanced the deepest into enemy territory.
The battalion returned to Britain on March 7 following the Battle of the Bulge to train for Operation Varsity, which would involve crossing the Rhine. It would be the last airborne operation for the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
It was a warm, nice day when Lamy dropped in with the rest of his battalion at around 10 a.m. There were many soldiers: thousands and thousands of them, and unfortunately for Lamy, his drop took him directly into a tree, hanging perilously in the air.
Having trained for such a situation, Lamy made the 15-foot drop to the ground.
“That’s where your skill with the falling was displayed,” Lamy says. He picked up his Bren light machine gun and headed out, where he quickly met with a sergeant.
The two worked their way through deep, ditch-like canals, keeping low to avoid the keen eye of German snipers who could fire upon them without warning.
It was then that tragedy struck.
“We were crawling on the ground and all of a sudden [the sargent] stood up, and I told him: ‘get down!’.”
“And he was dead.”
Lamy kept low, raising his own helmet on a stick as a makeshift distraction. When a shot rang out mere seconds later, he aimed out from his position. His weapon was steadied and he aimed at a gun pit where he saw an enemy soldier, still holding a smoking rifle.
“I emptied my gun into that pit and got them all.”
“Then, I felt better.”
“By that afternoon, everything was quiet.”
The battalion had landed at around 10:00 a.m. and by 1:00 p.m., the majority of the fighting was finished. Prisoners were captured and the battalion had swiftly secured its objectives.
They would go on to advance nearly 500 kilometres in 37 days, marching or riding on tanks, eventually making their way to Wismar.
It was here where the Russian army was approaching. The battalion set up a blockade and not four hours later, their Russian counterparts arrived.
“We knew they were coming,” Lamy says. “They were very surprised. They didn’t know there was going to be someone to meet them there.”
The battalion was the only Canadian army unit to meet face-to-face with the Red Army during World War Two and it was their job to keep them from pushing farther toward Berlin.
The Russians stopped around 300 feet away and erected their own barricade to face the Canadians.
Lamy’s captain, who also happened to be from Manitoba, took a fellow soldier who spoke Russian over to speak to the other side.
“He told them ‘Any one of my men will take on any four of yours. So if you want to fight? Go for it.”
Then, a quiet, uneasy stalemate occurred between two blockades. Three days passed and then the war was over.
“When the word came out that the war was over, everyone dropped their weapons and met each other,” Lamy recounts.
“That’s what happened.”
They stayed there for ten days longer and an aircraft took them back to England. They were told they were going home.
But, as the train was leaving toward the ships that would take them home, it stopped all of a sudden.
The famous Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was there, ‘Monty’, as Lamy and many others called him. Every soldier, nearly 700 of them, lined up and Montgomery shook each one of their hands before they left.
“He always looked after us. He used to say we were “his Canadians,” and he had to keep us from getting hurt,” Lamy says. “We said ‘bye’ to him and got on the boat and went home.
Lamy returned to Canada and to Marion, whom he had known before the war. They were married within the year and most recently celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.
The 1st Parachute Battalion was officially retired on Sept. 30, 1945. Lamy would meet up with other surviving members of the battalion at a monument every year on the anniversary of the Normandy invasion on June 4.
“And now there’s only one,” Lamy says.
He may be the last of the 1st Canadian Parachutes, but there is another group now, out of Edmonton. Young folks who’ve taken up the flag and keep the tradition going for the younger generations.
When Lamy goes there now, he’s surrounded by the colour guard he proudly represents.
“I enjoy going there. The young fellows all come around and want to know what happened. There isn’t a spare minute,” Lamy says.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do it. I enjoy it”