This story was originally published in the Westman Journal but Jack’s tale is so incredible- I wanted to share it with all of you as well.
“Just don’t call me a hero.” D-day veteran Jack Hamilton laughs, his hand moving absentmindedly to his cheek where another piece of lead shrapnel is migrating to the surface. “You know, I’ve been 65 years selling Poppies?” he says attempting to change the subject.
John ‘Jack’ Hamilton was born in Brandon in 1922. The first of five children, Jack felt he was pretty hard done by. He walked around with a chip on his shoulder, a self-proclaimed miserable son of a gun. Then, when he was twenty, he got his notice. “[the draft] was the best thing that ever happened,” he explains, “the army made a man out of me.”
“I didn’t come from a military family,” he explains, “I had my basic training [in Winnipeg] and then the Rifles sent me to the north end of New Brunswick. We called that ‘Camp Utopia’- it was tough.” Jack trained hard in Canada and expected he’d be called into duty soon enough but he never wanted to become an officer. After all, he says, “Jerry always shoots the officers first.”
The good ship Queen Mary carried Jack and his company across the pond in 1943. “She was loaded,” Jack reminisces. The boat was packed with soldiers, officers, nurses, and doctors all making their way over to fight with the Allies. But getting across the ocean was a tricky challenge, “the reason the Jerrys never caught those ships, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, is because they criss-crossed and the subs couldn’t catch them.” Jack explained.
With safe ocean passage behind him, Jack found himself stationed in England awaiting orders. The plan of attack finally materialized and on June 6th, Jack found himself along with the rest of the 7th platoon of ‘A’ company in the First battalion floating in a landing craft destined for Juno beach. “It was pretty choppy coming off of the mother ship,” Jack tells, “we were coming in at an angle and the back of our landing craft got crushed against the ship and put our engine out of commission. The waves were breaking over us and we were bailing with our helmets. Andy was so sick, he was just slumped over the motor. A big wave came over and washed him overboard. That was our first casualty.”
At 8:40 am, the first wave of soldiers pulled up on Juno beach. Jack’s heart was in his throat as the front of the amphibious craft disengaged and he and his comrades stormed out onto the beach. “I was second in,” says Jack, “the lad in front of me took a machine gun burst to the stomach and died.” Jack stepped over the body of his fallen friend and continued up the beach, “I only got two or three paces off the craft when I got hit in the face with shrapnel. It knocked me out.” Jack figures he must have lay in the sand for five or six hours while all around him his fellow soldiers were being gunned down. A second wave of solders and tanks landed on the beach and Jack still amazes over the fact that not bullet, or shrapnel or tank found it’s mark in his body as he lay inert and unconscious on the ground. When he finally came to, Jack was considered ‘walking wounded’. “How can you bandage a nose [in the midst of it all]?” he asks, “you’ve got to breath! I dripped blood all over.”
Jack’s company were on the defensive all day and made it up to a gravel pit near a town called Cruelly. “The doctor that cleansed my wound said, ‘Jack I think you’ve got a glancing blow, you’ll be alright’- but I wasn’t alright,” says Jack.
He carried on with the regiment to initial an attack at Carpiquet airport near Caen. “We were taking casualties pretty badly…our outfit underestimated the defense of Carpiquet. I looked up and had to hear the story of what happened next from friends who’d seen it happen. “A sniper put a bead in the side of my head. The round went under my chin and hit my machine gun. It smashed through my shoulder and upper arm and the sniper’s bullet fragmented into my eye.”
Jack was in and out after that, morphine kept the pain at bay but fogged his memory, the sulfa drugs made him sick but kept his wounds from festering. He was moved from hospital tent to a makeshift school-made-hospital, then finally carried back across the channel where he eventually ended up at Horley hospital, There, a Canadian medical officer examined him and said, “Hamilton, if you let me, I think I can save your eye.” Jack still can’t recall how many times they had to operate but the procedures were a success and he’s glad to able to see, even if there are “flies all over the place.” Finally ‘Johnny Canuk’ was ready to come home.
The Queen Elizabeth arrived New York City in February of ’46. From there Jack made his way back to Manitoba by land. He remarks on how well he ate once he returned to North America. “The food was terrific! Eggs, butter, milk…things we hadn’t seen for years.” Jack was home again and happy to get back to civilization.
Jack went on to marry, raise a family and work. He remained active with the Canadian legion and never-ever forgot the lessons he learned in war. “I thank God everyday that I get upright,” says Jack, “The number of casualties in the first and second world wars was horrific- a terrible loss of life. The cost of our freedom was terrible.” World War One will forever be a part of who Jack Hamilton is. He asked not to be called a hero, he didn’t want to be glorified- but Jack Hamilton is a hero. A man who sacrificed and suffered for the freedoms we enjoy today. Thank you Jack and thank you to all of the brave men and women who gave their best in service to Canada. Lest we Forget.