75th Anniversary of Juno Beach – memories brought to life by grandson of Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Earl A. Olmsted

(General R.F.L. Keller middle of photo with his officials on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Normandy, France. All photos provided by Geoff Osborne) 

Geoff Osborne has been extensively researching his Grandfather’s military life and voluntary foray into World War II. A handwritten account of D-Day activities written by the late Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Earl A. Olmsted set in motion Geoff’s research.

(These notes were discovered by Geoff during his research, whereby his Grandfather, Lt.-Col. Earl Olmsted, had written in his personal diary an account of the activities taking place on D-Day – June 6, 1944).

Earl A. Olmsted joined the military in 1939 to serve ‘His King and Country’.  We are sharing a part of his life with you in appreciation of the service Lt.-Col. Olmsted gave to his country and to bring awareness to the importance of the 75th D-Day Anniversary on June 6, 2019. Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Earl A. Olmsted lived in Stittsville’s Amberwood neighbourhood for 14 years and passed away in 2008.

Through an email to Stittsville Central, Geoff asked for help in locating some old newspaper articles he had come across, but were not complete. This Editor stepped in to assist in Geoff’s research and uncovered the newspaper articles he was seeking. We are also pursuing the location of a video from the 1990s where several soldiers from the local area were interviewed about their D-Day experiences. (The Richmond Legion, the Stittsville Legion and the original writer, Helen Cowick (who has passed away) are referenced in the original articles). If you know of this video and where it might be, please get in touch at feedback@stittvsillecentral.ca. Your uncovering of this video will be extremely appreciated and add a valuable piece of history to Geoff’s research (he would also love to hear his Grandfather’s voice again).

Other members of the Goulbourn community who served the cause of freedom by participating directly in the Allied Invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944, with the D-Day landings and subsequent liberation of Europe were: Jack Tennant, Lester Mitchell, Sheldon Spearman, Richard Jamieson, Des Coughtrey, Robert Loverock, Earl Geddes, George Murphy, Roy Schmelzer, Benny Ryan, Frank Glennon, William Howe, Earl Olmsted, Leonard Saull, Ted Earle.

(Article from the newspaper clippings that were located)

In 1939, Earl Olmsted was a young man of 25 working as an accounting assistant in the federal government’s Architecture Department. With the upsurge of war, a call for volunteers was conveyed across Canada. Earl came forward and was quickly commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in the artillery and sent to aid in the defense of Britain. In June of 1944, at 29 years of age and following four years of war, Captain Olmsted found himself aboard the HMS Hilary while serving in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division Headquarters. He was in the staff of General R.F.L. Keller — acting as his personal liaison, helping to organize divisional operations. The 3rd Division took part in the largest invasion force ever assembled and were headed straight into one of the most well defended and fortified areas of the world – Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. D-Day will be remembered for the landings in Normandy as being ‘the beginning of the end of the war’.

Excerpt of D-Day from Lt. Col. E.A. Olmsted’s Personal Diary –

“I awakened about 5:30am on [June 6, 1944] too excited to sleep any longer. HQ 3 Canadian Infantry Division was en route to [Normandy aboard the] H.M.S. Hilary… Going on deck I could see ships in every direction… The sky was cloudy and heavily overcast with a lot of noise in the distance, but the shore line was too fogged over to be visible…

It was the intention that HQ 3 Canadian Infantry Division would land near Berniers sur Mer. About 8AM the rumble and roar in the distance intensified as our assault troops began to land… Finally, about 12 o’clock noon the LCA (landing craft) came for our group. We hurried down the rope ladders into the rocking boat. As we headed for shore waves broke over the ramp at the front – all of us were wet and a few were seasick. The naval officer in charge announced that we would be unable to land at Bernieres because of the congestion on the beach and the change in tide. He headed for Courselles-sur-Mer, about a mile and a half West. What a way to start the day!

I expected the boat to run up on shore but instead it stopped about 100 feet from shore where the ramp was lowered and we jumped off into water up to our armpits. We hurried across the beach along the lanes roughly marked earlier by the beachmaster’s team. There were a number of killed and wounded Canadians lying around with a few stretcher bearers providing first aid… Fortunately my group of about 30 men, which included most of Div. Artillery HQ, four war correspondents, senior medical ordinance, chaplain and various other HQ personnel, was intact and we walked through the beach exits into the Normandy countryside… From a neighbouring farm house a small girl about 8 years old rushed up to me as I was leading our group and handed me a flower. All I could do was say ‘Merci, thank you’, and carry on…

It was mid-afternoon when we reached the HQ assembly area [an orchard behind Bernieres-sur-mer]. Luckily all members of the HQ had arrived safely and it was now operational… General R.F.L Keller called me over and said he would like me to go up to 7 Brigade HQ and try to find out what was holding them up [as radio communications were quite poor]… Taking the road to Beny-Sur-Mer [on a Famous James motorcycle] I proceeded South for a couple of miles. There were a few dead soldiers along the roadside and in the fields, most of them marked by a rifle stuck in the ground with its butt up. Some of them were Canadian, others German. I could hear rifle and machine gun fire from several directions but no signs of life… As I rode along, near Colombiers, I saw Brig. Foster, Commander of 7 Brigade…[he] took me by the arm to the side of the house and pointed in three directions, explaining that the enemy were to his East and West and that his battalion…[were] facing heavy resistance and were in danger of being cut off… On his eastern flank 9 Brigade, having run into serious delays on the beaches, had not been able to move as far forward as 7 Brigade and there was an area three or four miles wide still in enemy hands. Later I realized that this was the area I had just ridden through!”

(HMS Hilary – 1944)

It must be noted that at the same time as Olmsted was in the fight of his life, his wife, Marjorie, was back home in Canada courageously delivering their first child. Marjorie went into labour on June 6 and Erick was born on June 7, 1944. Olmsted found out via telegraph message while on Juno Beach.

(Lt.-Col. Olmsted learned from this telegram that he became a father the day after D-Day)

After the battle for Normandy, Olmsted was promoted to Major and went on regimental duty with the 13th Canadian Field, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA), helping to liberate France, Belgium and Holland in their wage to defeat Germany. Olmsted was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and played a key role with NORAD – overseeing cold war ballistic missile testing at Fort Churchill. He went on to be the National Secretary of the Canadian Army Benevolent Fund, and retired after a distinguished 27 year military career.

Lt.-Col. Olmsted received many decorations and medals for his part in the war effort – 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp; War Medal 1939-45; Mentioned in Despatches; and the Canadian Forces’ Decoration with 1st Clasp.

(Medals and Clasps earned by Lt.-Col. Earl Olmsted for his participation in D-Day, Invasion of Normandy – June 6, 1944)

Lt.-Col. Olmsted returned to Canada via New York aboard the S.S. Queen Elizabeth on December 28, 1945.

 (The actual compass and maps used by Lt.-Col. Earl Olmsted on D-Day, June 6, 1944)

The Battle of Normandy persisted from June to August 1944 with Canadians playing a crucial role in the Allied invasion. Canadians, in the number of 14,000, took part in the battle at Juno Beach, with not quite 150,000 Allied troops landing or parachuting into the invasion zone on D-Day. By the end of August, more than 90,000 Canadians participated in the fighting from Juno to the closing of Falaise Pocket. Nearly 5,500 Canadians were killed in Normandy and remain there today.

Veterans Affairs Canada has indicated that “some 359 Canadian soldiers were killed on D-Day alone, and a total of more than 5,000 of our men would die during the two-and-a-half months of fighting in Normandy”.

The 75th Anniversary of the Juno Beach invasion is a historic Second World War anniversary that should be remembered and commemorated by all Canadians on June 6th.

Geoff, ironically also 29 years of age, is currently in the United Kingdom (updating me daily with new discoveries) to follow in his Grandfather’s footsteps and discover more of the story his Grandfather Olmsted left behind. Geoff will also be attending the ceremonies being held to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Invasion of Normandy, (Juno Beach) on June 5 and 6 in Normandy, France.

(Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Earl A. Olmsted – may he Rest in Peace)

Editor’s Note: As Geoff travels the path that his Grandfather took from the UK to France, he is attempting to connect with those who may have any information on 3rd Can Inf Div HQ and the 13th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. If you have any documentation, photos or information that could add to Geoff’s mission to gather more details about his Grandfather, or this time in history, please contact us at feedback@stittsvillecentral.ca and the information will be forwarded to Geoff. Thank you.


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2 thoughts on “75th Anniversary of Juno Beach – memories brought to life by grandson of Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Earl A. Olmsted”

  1. Husband and I visited that area years ago, most moving to see all those graves row on row.

    So beautifully kept. A big “thank you” to the Canadians and allied forces who helped win that terrible War, many of whom never returned.

    Deep appreciation, Red Rose.

  2. Looking at the map of France around that time, Ken and I were over near Juno Beach and that is where a lot of the Americans landed but the same coastal area. Big celebrations in Portsmouth, UK and, of course, France. The Canadians were very well thought of in England. Bless them all.

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