Posted by Vi Hughes on Jun 06, 2019
This Tuesday we were pleased to hear from Norman Leach, a historian, award winning writer, documentary producer and professional speaker. Norman has his own consulting company specialising in marketing, sales and security services for private companies. He is also the author of multiple books, a speaker and a consultant on military history related topics.
 
Norman is the father of our current Rotary exchange student, Stephanie Leach and a former Rotary exchange student himself. Norman said that as a young man he had a love of history but found that once he had graduated from the U of Manitoba, finding work in that area was tough, so he went into sales and marketing. Once he met his wife, she encouraged him to find a way to make an income from his abiding love of military history. In his search, he went to see a movie producer to ask if they had any need for a historian to help with military productions. This producer then asked him if he knew anything about Passchendaele (the first World War battle) and whether it had Canadian connections. Being the salesman that he was, and a salesman never admits ignorance, he said he did. This was fifteen years before the movie Passchendaele, the story of a young Canadian soldier from Calgary, was eventually released. Norman ended up working on the production as a historian.
 
D-Day took place on the 6th of June 1944 on the beaches of Normandy, France. In D the name comes from the planning of the operation which referred to it as simply the Day. The planning had started in 1942 when Hitler started building an Atlantic Wall, a chain of defence battlements along the coast of Normandy.  On that day one hundred fifty thousand troops hit the beaches, a mix of British, Canadian and American soldiers and support personnel. There was also air support provided by this same international mix of airmen. Canada put fifteen thousand men on Juno beach in the first day of the battle. Three hundred and eighty-nine Canadians were killed and over one thousand were wounded on the first day alone. The leader of the Canadian troops had requested a piper to lead the men off the ships. He was the first man to disembark and played his pipe all the way to the top of the embankment.
 
Norman talked about how we need to think about these men and women as individuals who risked their lives for us. He went on the give some details of the experiences of three men whose experiences have been made into three separate Historical Minute documentary films.  
 
One was Jack Hilton, a Hurricane pilot from Calgary. Jack flew three separate missions on that day alone. He had flown many bombing missions and on one of these his plane had been hit by enemy gunfire. He was only a few hundred feet above the ground and needed to get above one thousand feet before he could parachute out, so he headed upwards.  As he reached the level where he could parachute, his plane was still redlining so he started to climb out of the cockpit.  As he looked down at the controls one last time, with one foot on the wing of his plane, he noted the plane was no longer redlining, so he climbed back in, sat down and flew the crippled plane back to base.
 
The second was Archie McNaughton, an older farmer from Nova Scotia who had fought in the First World War and who left his family behind to sign up as he felt it was his duty to fight again twenty years later. Archie was one of the men who died on the beach that day.
 
The third was airman Tony Anselmo, from Calgary. Tony had been training pilots in Regina when he signed up to serve. Tony’s wife was pregnant when he left for the war and had a son shortly after. Tony flew thirty-five bombing missions over Germany. The America pilots were retired and sent home after flying this many dangerous missions, but not the Canadians.  They were simply reassigned elsewhere after a brief leave to go back home for a visit.  When Tony got off the train to meet his wife and son, his three-year old son saluted him, as he only knew that this stranger was a soldier. Tony then returned to war and was reassigned as a radio operator in Palestine. After the war Tony worked his way up from a bagboy in Calgary to manager of Canada Safeway.
 
Norman stressed that we should not forget that the people who fought that day were individuals with lives, families, adventures and losses. They were real people, not just numbers. We would like to thank Norman for his very interesting and dynamic talk.
 
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