Though their numbers have shrunk to a handful who are no longer able to make the long journey to the beaches of Normandy, Métis Nation veterans of the Second World War live on in the thoughts and memories of succeeding generations. The resolve of the Métis Nation to commemorate the remarkable achievements of the veterans was on full display at events in France to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing of Allied forces in Normandy on June 6, 1944 and the campaign to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.
On June 5, 2019, MNC Vice-President and Veterans Affairs Minister David Chartrand led a Métis Nation delegation to the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery for a commemoration attended by the Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, and French dignitaries. On the same day, Frank Godon from Boissevain, Manitoba presented the uniform of his father, Francis, a prominent Métis Second World War veteran, to the Juno Beach Centre, a museum at the site Canadian soldiers landed on D-Day.
“It’s not the uniform that really matters, it’s the man who wore it,” said Mr. Godon.
Five years ago, Francis Godon told the Juno Beach Centre’s curator that when he passed away he wanted to donate his uniform to the museum. He died on Jan. 12, 2019 at the age of 94.
An anti-tank gunner in the Winnipeg Rifles, Francis Godon stormed Juno Beach on June 6, and advancing inland was captured by the Germans on a scouting patrol. He was taken to a location where prisoners were being executed and was spared by a British attack. After being force-marched by the Germans for 20 days in June, he spent 28 days in a seething box car being transported to a labour camp in Germany where he spent over 11 months as a POW.
Francis Godon was part of the Métis Nation delegation that visited the Juno Beach Centre in 2009 to open a Métis exhibit to which the uniform and boots will be added.
For his son Frank: “It’s an honour to showcase what my father helped do during the war — the liberation of France, putting a stop to fascism. Personally, I don’t think here in Canada we appreciate it as much.”
On June 6, 2019, Veterans Affairs Minister Chartrand led 40 delegates of the Métis Nation to the official commemoration at Juno Beach to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Canadian forces suffered 1,074 casualties including 359 killed on D-Day itself and a total of 18,700 casualties including 5,000 soldiers killed during the overall Normandy campaign. Prime Minister Trudeau provided a moving tribute to the sacrifices and contributions of the Canadian veterans including Indigenous veterans.
On June 7, the delegation participated in commemoration services at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize containing Canadian soldiers killed during the later stages of the Battle of Normandy. Here, members of the Métis Nation delegation reflected on their special connection to the veterans.
For Marc LeClair, a chance encounter with Mr. Bill Tymchuk, a Normandy veteran from the Lake Superior Regiment, shone light on his grandfather, J.H. Genaille who was killed on August 12, 1944 in the Battle of the Falaise Gap to complete the encirclement of German forces in Normandy.
“The death of my grandfather had a profound effect on our family,” said LeClair. “My grandfather was a hero we never knew. I wasn’t born yet and even my father barely knew him since he was only 8 years old when my grandfather died fighting to close the Falaise Gap. I have visited my grandfathers’ grave a number of times and always wondered what he actually experienced. Mr. Tymchuk was able to provide me with a step by step account of what the “Lake Sups” went through from the time of their landing in Normandy on July 20, 1944 and the closing of the Gap on August 21, 1944, nine days after my grandfather died. I am forever grateful to him.”
For Tiffany Monkman of Winnipeg, the 75th Anniversary events allowed her to honour the contributions of her grandfather, Ronald Monkman, of Victoria Beach, Manitoba who died last year. Ron Monkman served in Holland and Germany during the war and was part of the Métis Nation delegation that attended the opening of the Métis Exhibition at the Juno Beach Centre in 2009. She said her grandfather had long been silent on his war experiences but his involvement with the Métis Nation veterans and the Juno Beach Memorial had made him more receptive to sharing his experiences and accepting the gratitude of his country. In his absence, she brought his medals to Normandy.
For Métis Nation President Clément Chartier and Veterans Affairs Minister David Chartrand, the return to Juno Beach for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day is an integral part of the everlasting commitment of the Métis Nation to never forget the contributions of its heroes.
“This year we negotiated a $30 million settlement with the Trudeau Government that enables us to provide some compensation to our veterans in recognition of their invaluable wartime service and the hardships they encountered upon their return to Canada,” said Minister Chartrand. “With the remaining funds, we will establish a trust fund that will ensure that their legacy will inspire future generations.”
“The love and respect shown here by the Métis Nation delegates for our veterans speaks to the importance of what they did for our people and all mankind,” said President Chartier. “We will remember them, today, tomorrow, forever.”
The events in Normandy mark the first stage of a journey that will now take Minister Chartrand to London, England, to visit Mr. Paul DeLorme, a Métis veteran from Saskatchewan who participated in the the ill-fated Canadian assault on Dieppe on August 19th, 1942 where he was taken prisoner of war. Minister Chartrand will present Mr. DeLorme with a cheque for $20,000, making him the first recipient of benefits from the $30 million settlement with the Trudeau Government.
Métis veteran Mr. Alex Maurice