Friday, December 23, 2016

Research: In Comox and Courtenay, BC (4).

More Microfiche at the Courtenay Library.

Comox and Courtenay, eastern coast of Vancouver Is., BC

Map of downtown Courtenay, Vancouver Island, BC.

People visiting Courtenay and Comox on Vancouver Island will likely enjoy walk-abouts as much as I did (during three trips) for the pleasant scenery alone. If doing research related to military matters (as I did related to Canadians in Combined Operations, WW2), people will find a few key resources and sites very close to Courtenay's centre, within easy walking distances from one another.

On the map above I recommend visits to the following, near the town centre situated at Cliffe Ave. and Fifth St. (the broader and middle street - running left to right - between 3RD and 8TH:

Courtenay Library (LIB.) at intersection of Duncan Ave. and 6TH St.
Courtenay Museum (M) at corner of Cliffe Ave. and 4TH St. 
Commemorative plaque (P) (re Courtenay Slough and Landing Crafts) left of the entrance to Simms Park. Simms Park is separated from Lewis Park by 5TH St., and bounded by the Courtenay River and Slough.

Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, April 27, 1944

About one month before June 6, 1944 and the commencement of Operation OVERLORD (D-Day Normandy), a dress rehearsal for the event took place on or near the Combined Operations School on Goose Spit, Comox, BC. The Invasion Preview was advertised as a "Small Scale Version of Second Front Before Your Very Eyes" with dive bombers, ack ack guns, bombs, live ammunition and landing barges, with an 'Actual Attack on Beach Objective by Storm Troops'.

The preview was not just a practice exercise but also an event 'in aid of a sixth victory loan', so spectators were invited to a Combined Ops Carnival in the afternoon and treated to - among many other entertainments - free ferry service by landing craft. Admission was 25 cents. Sounds like a bargain to me.

Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, April 27, 1944

Large ads in the local newspaper were accompanied by an informative article. Who would be able to resist going to an invasion and carnival, the Big Show?

Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, April 27, 1944

We read:

"The display will be presented as the chief attraction at a great carnival which Givenchy III, the naval wing of the Combined Operations School (COS), is putting on in aid of the Sixth Victory Loan Drive. The public of the entire Comox District are issued a cordial invitation to visit the Spit, enjoy the various attractions offered for their pleasure and witness the landing operation which will be conducted under thrilling realistic conditions.

Landings will be made on the beach by barge from which a force of storm troops will attack an enemy position. Dive-bombing planes will provide an overhead cover for the operation while the objective will be strongly defended by Ack-Ack guns, land mines and shore batteries using live ammunition.

The Carnival will have many added attractions including bond raffles, shooting gallery, midway, games and refreshments.... The Carnival will be climaxed in the evening by a grand dance in the Native Sons' Hall.... The entire event is under the sponsorship of the Commandant of the Combined Operations School, Brigadier D.R. Sargent."

On the day the above article appeared, the three clippings that follow also ran, reminders that there was a war on and everybody was pitching in, facing restrictions, and expected to do more with less:

"Men of Givenchy III.... veterans of overseas service"

 Anyone remember Keen's dry egg powder?

"More Victory Gardens, please"
Three clippings from the Comox District Free Press, April 27, 1944

On May 3rd the Invasion Preview (and the "great Carnival") took place and two lengthy reports appeared the next day in the Comox District Free Press, under the banner 'C.O.S. Presents Preview of 'D' Day'.

Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, May 4, 1944

We read:

Every branch of the services was in action in the simulated invasion, including infantry and artillery defence units supported by airplanes and an attacking force of infantry which forced a landing on the beach from their invasion barges, wiped out the enemy defences, blew up the objective, which was a supposed radio location unit, then withdrew again to their landing craft under cover of smoke screens.

Col. C.H. Cook, who supplied a running commentary on the action over a public address system, explained that the landing was the type known as a raid in which the attackers would establish a beach head, destroy their objective and withdraw. In actual practice such an action would probably be performed at night.

Four landing craft were discerned offshore, manoeuvering to come into the beach. They were attacked by enemy Kittyhawk fighter planes which dive-bombed and strafed them continuously throughout the action. The enemy coast being thoroughly alerted, the invaders were harassed by artillery and machine gun fire. Despite this opposition, the craft made their way to the beach, dropped their ramps and unloaded their troops who soon took out the enemy machine gun opposition with grenades and rifle fire. Success in this phase of the attack was indicated by a green Very light, fired by the company commander.

The last of the four ships had by this time unloaded its combined navy-army demolition squad which placed charges at the objective and retired to the beach. The landing craft which had withdrawn to a safe rendezvous offshore now came in again, still under enemy attack from the air. In the meantime stretcher bearers were removing casualties to a beach dressing station and the entire party withdrew to the beach at a signal from the company commander, leaving only rearguards to cover their withdrawal.

On the beach smoke generators created an effective screen to cover the troops should the enemy try to counterattack the position. The scene took on the aspect of a miniature Dunkirk as the soldiers waded waist-deep in the water to re-embark, still under attack by the aircraft. But the mission had been successful, the objective was blown up in a terrific explosion and the withdrawal was successfully achieved.

In announcing the conclusion of the display, Col. Cook stated that although an effort had been made to simulate actual conditions, the use of artillery fire and beach mines had been minimized in the interests of safety. However, for the excited crowd it was realistic enough with the roaring, diving planes and the rattle of machine guns, the flashing trails of yellow and red tracer bullets  and the booming of exploding shells, grenades and mines.

 "But there are no safety officers over there to see that no one gets hurt," Col. Cook concluded. "I now commend you to the booths where men's lives are for sale - the booths where you can buy Victory Bonds."

The second article about the Preview follows and in the photo below we learn that the West Coast's Combined Operations School was "the only one of its kind in Canada."

Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, May 4, 1944

We also learn that, though Combined Ops rehearsals and exercises were common practice in the UK, the Invasion Preview on Goose Spit was "the most extensive public demonstration ever given in this country of combined operations tactics." As well, we read:

The day was a success in all its many phases.... The Spit, long forbidden territory to civilians, was the mecca for people of all ages and landing craft and speed boats were kept in continuous service.... transporting people to and from Comox and Royston wharves and the naval jetty.... The barracks and surrounding territory on the sand-covered base made a colourful scene.... Host for the afternoon was the genial O.C. of Givenchy III, Commander G.S. Windeyer, D.S.O., RCN....

In news the same day we read of a Navy baseball team getting thumped by the Prince Edward Highlanders.

 Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, May 4, 1944

From the article I learned that it was "the first game of the season for the Navy, (and) they presented a number of likely looking players..." The reporter felt that "after a few more workouts and a game or two they will be hard to beat."

The Navy lineup was listed as follows:

Landblom, Rose, Metcalfe, Brown, Grycan, Mack, Brawner, Arney, Spencer, Gibbons and Ivison.

Some of the names are very familiar to me and readers will find part of that day's lineup in the photo below (My father is not listed in the lineup, he was on leave): 

 A typical summer's afternoon at Lewis Park, Courtenay? (1944)

Navy No. 1 Ball Team. Photo credit - Doug Harrison

In other news, on May 11, 1944 we read that the Navy team from the Combined Ops base will play in a highly-anticipated Senior League, with a start-up date of May 14. "In an evening fixture, starting at 6 p.m., Native Sons will meet Navy on the same field" (i.e., in Lewis Park). The May 18th paper showed that the Navy boys lost that game as well.

Though baseball and other recreational activities were a regular part of the Armed Forces' routine on the West Coast, serious military training continued as well, some of it very dangerous, a constant reminder there was a war on elsewhere. A member of the aforementioned Prince Edward Highlanders (but not a member of their ball team as far as the record shows), during an exercise at the Camp 3 Artillery Range, was killed by a trench mortar shell a few days before this report appeared:

Microfiche - Comox District Free Press, May 18, 1944

More to follow.

Photos GH

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