By ALAN SHACKLETON
When Guy Eisnor joined the Canadian army in 1941 at the age of 17, he told his mother not to try and stop him.
“I told my mother I was going to join up. I told her it was what I wanted to do and I asked her to please not interfere,” he said while sitting on the front porch of his home in the Bowmore and Wrenson roads area recently, remembering his Second World War experiences.
At that time, a parent could demand that a person under 18 be sent back home from the army by alerting the authorities.
His parents respected his wishes as did a senior officer who discovered Eisnor was underage after he arrived in England.
“I got called in front of the CO (commanding officer), and he said ‘Guy, you’re only 17.’ I told him I’d soon be 18 and I will just come right back, so he let me stay.”
That decision allowed Eisnor, now 95, to be part of history as Allied forces took part in the D-Day invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944.
Eisnor, who grew up in Nova Scotia, was a member of the 45th Armoured Transport division and after about two years of training in England, he was among the second wave of soldiers who landed on Juno Beach in the days immediately following D-Day.
What he remembers most about crossing the English Channel was how many of the men in the boats were getting seasick.
“The Channel was rough so lots of the guys got seasick, but I was from out east and I didn’t mind the waves. I’ve never been seasick a day in my life.”
For those who were seasick, it was an extremely unpleasant crossing. “I think they would have been happy to jump into the water just to get off the boat,” said Eisnor.
Prior to the D-Day invasion, Canadian soldiers spent most of their time training with a few excursions into the cities when they had leave.
“We did all kinds of training. We had to go across water and practice landings. I could swim so I didn’t worry about it. Though I doubt I would have been able to swim very far with big army boots on.”
Along with the training, Eisnor also remembers trips into nearby London when and he and his army buddies were on leave.
“We’d get a day pass and get a train into London and we had a great time. The trains and buses were free because we were in uniform.”
Eisnor was a despatch rider with the 45th Armoured, which meant he mostly rode a motorcycle and passed messages and information on between different units and areas.
“I was the telephone. The telephone on wheels,” he said. “I smashed up a lot of motorcycles.”
He also had to help put up Bailey Bridges (portable bridges built quickly to move troops and equipment over rivers) with the British Army’s 10th Field Regiment.
“We’d be building the bridges and the Germans would be flying over dropping bombs.”
Despite the dangers he faced in a war, and seeing others lose their lives, Eisnor said that while he was there he always knew he was going to make it home.
“I knew I was not going to die there. I wasn’t brave, but my attitude was I was going to live.”
He went through with the Canadian army as it helped liberate France, Belgium and Holland.
Eisnor spent a fair bit of time in Amsterdam after it was liberated by Canadian troops and said the civilians had had a terrible time during the war.
“That was quite a sight. In Amsterdam they were all starving.”
Canadian troops did what they could to help feed the Dutch people after liberation, including dropping bread from planes.
“The people were so appreciative for what we did, and they still are,” he said.
“Amsterdam was really the only city we stopped at. We went through Cannes (in France) pretty fast.”
When the war ended in May of 1945 Eisnor was in northern Germany near the border with Denmark.
He was in a town right on the border when the war came to an end.
“It was the German civilians who told us the war was over. I was driving in an armoured car at the time and they came out saying the war is over, the war is over. We had no communications, so we didn’t know.”
After the war ended, Eisnor came home to Nova Scotia after being discharged from the army in 1946.
He stayed one year in Nova Scotia and then headed out for British Columbia to meet an old army buddy and find work.
“I got as far as Toronto and ran out of money for the rest of the trip,” he remembered. “I was downtown with some guys and told them I was looking for a job and they said to go up to Canada Wire in Leaside, they were hiring.”
He took their advice, and it set the course for the rest of his life.
Eisnor worked for 44 years at Canada Wire and retired as plant superintendent. He also met his wife there.
“There were women working there and I fell in love with her the first time I saw her,” he said of his wife Margaret Mary Elizabeth O’Neill, who came from a family of 12 – seven girls and four boys. “All of the girls were beautiful, but I got the prettiest one.”
They were married in 1951 and moved into their house on Wrenson Road in 1954.
They raised seven children in the home, four boys and three girls, and Eisnor still lives in the home today with one of his sons. His wife died in 1999.
When he looks back on his Second World War experiences and his role in the historic D-Day invasion, he said he remembers the men he served with and the experiences they had, but said it’s hard for people who did not go through such things to really understand them.
Eisnor said he’d been asked to speak to young people on a number of occasions about the war, but he declined. “I could really only talk about it with my army buddies,” he said.
And for years, those friends he‘d made during the war would keep in contact even though they came from all across the country.
“Sometimes when it would get to be around D-Day, I’d give them a call or we’d get together,” Eisnor said. “I think of my old buddies now.”
When they were all much younger, a group of them would often come from out west and ride motorcycles across the country and visit, he remembered.
Eisnor’s service was honoured recently by Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith during a speech in the House of Commons on June 6 to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
The text of Erskine-Smith’s D-Day speech follows:
“Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of Canadians reclaimed Juno Beach, in what marked the beginning of the end for the Nazis and World War Two.
Many D-Day objectives were not met by our Allies, but Canadian servicemen won the day.
We took the beach in two hours, and at the end of that day, Canadians advanced the farthest of any Allied unit.
Three hundred and forty Canadian men died on Juno beach, and thousands of Canadians sacrificed their lives in that war, in the name of freedom, equality, and justice.
This past weekend, I marched in an annual D-Day commemoration, hosted by our local Beaches-East York legions, and I participated in a service in the cemetery at St. John’s.
Afterwards, I stopped by the home of Guy Eisnor. He is one of a smaller number of surviving World War Two veterans of the Juno Beach invasion.
We played cribbage together, a game he told me he learned to play in the foxhole, and we talked about his service, his life, and his belief that Canada is the best country in the world.
It is, and it is, because of men and women like him.
We owe Mr. Eisnor and all those who served in World War Two a debt of gratitude.