Selkirk lads born to serve
Tradition, loyalty inspired young men
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2013 (3408 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There were many ties that bound the 29 men from a single block on Dufferin Avenue in Selkirk to serving in the Second World War, says the last known surviving member.
“Most of the people you see there, their fathers were in the First World War and there was definitely a family tradition of loyalty to the Crown and to the Queen,” said Bill Little, 93, in a telephone interview from Ottawa, where he still lives independently in a residential home.
But another factor was the military regiment called the Fort Garry Horse had a squadron in Selkirk, started in the 1930s, that ran a summer camp most of the soldiers attended as kids. Kids got to ride horses and learn military horsemanship, including the care and grooming of horses.
In fact, those summer camps started Little on both a military career and a lifelong love affair with horses. Later in life, Little became executive director of the Canadian Equestrian Association. He was director of the equestrian event at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
A third factor for the high rate of enlistees, said Little, was that the economy was the pits in 1939 and there were no jobs.
Of the 29 men in the Dufferin Gang who went overseas, four didn’t come back: Lawson Dillabough, Charles Griffiths, Jack Norquay (Little’s cousin), and Charles Tetroe (Little’s stepbrother).
Even so, that was a relatively high ratio of survivors, Little said. A total of 45,000 Canadians lost their lives in the Second World War.
Little is indirectly responsible for the story of the Dufferin Gang becoming public. He was interviewed a decade ago by military history writer Ted Barris about his role in the D-Day assault. Little told Barris 29 men from his block in Selkirk served in the war. Barris researched that and found it to be true. He mentions the feat in his book, Juno: Canadians at War June 6, 1944 (2004).
People in Selkirk believe it to be a record. Barris, who has written 17 books on military history, isn’t sure but has never heard of any street surpassing it.
Two men in Selkirk, Blaine McVety of Blaine’s Books, and podiatrist Dr. Lorne Canvin, are now fundraising to erect a monument on Dufferin marking the feat. The block is on Dufferin between Main and Jemima streets.
Selkirk had a high ratio of volunteers. “It just kept pouring the young into the military,” said Little, who was the recruiting sergeant for the Fort Garry Horse. About half the Dufferin Gang were Fort Garrys, the rest were mostly air force and navy, he said.
The Fort Garry Horse is one of the oldest Canadian regiments, founded in 1912. It was originally a mounted infantry, then a calvary in the First World War. By the start of the Second World War, it had morphed into the tank division. It traces its origins to the Boulton Scouts, formed in 1885 to arrest Louis Riel in the Northwest Rebellion. When one order is shut down, a new order will often attempt to perpetuate it, which was the case with the Fort Garry Horse and the Boulton Scouts.
When Canada declared war against Germany on Sept. 9, 1939, men affiliated with the Fort Garry Horse packed a military bus to Winnipeg to enlist, said Little. In many cases, two or three or more families members enlisted. The Gunters, who lived a short walk from Little’s home, had three sons, Blair, Gerald and Jack Gunter, in Little’s squadron alone. “Blair was my gunner,” operating the gun on the Sherman tank. Little was the squadron commander.
Little was captain of the Fort Garry Horse regiment during the D-Day assault on Juno Beach in France. The Fort Garrys had two squadrons, B and D squadrons, that stormed Normandy. They were equipped with swimming tanks that had two propellers on the back and air tubes underneath a large canvas covering.
Little made it ashore with two tanks. “From then on it was straight fighting Germans until we finished up, May 3 in Oldenberg, Germany. That’s where we ended the war.”
“We lost a lot of men. I was wounded once. I had a body full of shrapnel, which I still carry, from a grenade. We were attacking a town and out on the ground with the infantry chatting about the next move. It was a walled town, and a German threw a grenade over the wall and missed everyone but me.”
He was treated and returned to the front in just two weeks.
Little was awarded the Military Cross at the war’s conclusion. Last week, he was one of a handful of Second World War veterans from Manitoba named to the Legion of Honour in France for his role in D-Day and the liberation of France.
Little never returned to Manitoba, except to visit family. His career in the military included a stint in intelligence in Ottawa and concluded as military attaché to the Canadian High Commission in Cyprus, advising on Greek and Turkish armies.
“He was a great guy and still is a great guy,” said Gary Solar, a former commanding officer with Fort Garry Horse, and current adviser to the Manitoba government on military affairs. Solar and Little have been friends for half a century. “He has an incredibly positive attitude and character.”