When he jumped out of his landing craft into knee-deep water off the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Jack Commerford wasn’t contemplating the role he was about to play in what would become one of the most pivotal events in history.
The 20-year-old from Newfoundland and Labrador, who had joined the army three years earlier to shoot down German bombers, was too busy doing his job — and trying to stay alive — during the long-awaited Allied assault to free Europe from the Nazis.
“I was just thinking of my duties at the moment,” recalls Commerford, now 95. “Go where I was sent and do what I was told, that was primarily what I was interested in. I’m not sure how much I thought of the overall war.”
The invasion of Normandy is widely considered one of the turning points in the Second World War, as the allies smashed through Hitler’s supposedly impregnable Atlantic Wall and began the westward march to Berlin to meet the Soviets coming from the east.
But in Canada, which had come into its own in the wake of Vimy Ridge and the First World War, D-Day and the conflagration that spawned it gave the country the chance to find its feet and establish its standing in the world.
“D-Day makes us winners,” says retired major Michael Boire, an expert on Canadian military history at the Royal Military College of Canada. “It makes us winners in our own eyes. And that’s tremendously important.”