November 6th, 2019, 12th Field Regiment, veteran gunner, Russell Kaye at 95 years, recounts the tragic bombing on August 14, 1944, during an interview with journalist, Alan Cochrane, Moncton Times & Transcript. Vivid memories of the bombing attack gone wrong during Operation Tractable in the Falaise Pocket, in France are recalled with clarity and sorrow for the loss of so many lives.
The 12th Field Regiment lost 16 soldiers and at least 51 wounded.

Gunner, Bittle, Walter Culhane, was one of the many casualties, killed in action while trying to rescue a severely wounded soldier; a bomb killed them both.

Sir Russell Kaye received the rank Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour from the Government of France on September 30th 2019.

photo credit: Alan Cochrane, Moncton Times & Transcript

Transcript from the interview by Alan Cochrane, Moncton Times & Transcript.

Riverview veteran Russell Kaye visited the graves of long-lost friends during his trip to France in June, but when he saw an unmarked gravel pit along the highway between the cities of Caen and Falaise, he knew it was the spot where much of his regiment was wiped out by a bombing attack gone wrong.
“That was the worst,” said Kay, 95, who served with the Canadian army’s 12th Field Artillery Regiment during the Second World War. His regiment was among the first to land on Juno Beach during the June 6, 1944, landings in Normandy, and continued fighting through France, Holland and Germany until the war ended on May 8, 1945.

On Aug. 14, 1944, the Canadians had their 25-pounder field guns lined up facing south in support of a major attack planned for that day, when heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force appeared early in the afternoon and dropped their bombs onto the Canadian artillery headquarters.

“The planes were so low, you could almost look up and read the writing on the bombs,” Kaye said. “You could see the bombs coming down. I was with a Polish armoured regiment, and we were all in our holes in the ground.”

Kaye said men on the ground used yellow smoke signals and waved frantically at the planes, but wave after wave dropped their bombs on the same spot. The regimental history book describes the incident as a “terrible nightmare” as waves of British planes dropped their bombs on the horrified Canadian and Polish soldiers. Kaye said dozens were killed and many vehicles destroyed as he and others watched in horror from their foxholes and few hundred metres away.

“It felt like a day but it probably lasted five or six minutes,” he said. The regimental history book says it began at 2:30 p.m. and ended at 3:40 p.m.
Lee Windsor, a military historian at the University of New Brunswick, said “friendly fire” strikes were relatively common during the Battle of Normandy, as army commanders were asking the air force for help, but air commanders resisted because heavy bombers weren’t suitable for precision strikes in support of troop movements. He said the army and air force worked out a compromise born in desperate times that sometimes resulted in errors and lives lost.

Kaye, who was born Feb. 19, 1924, in Dorchester and grew up in Salisbury, joined the army in 1942 and survived the war without injury. He returned to France in June with the Wounded Warriors, a non-profit organization which assists Canadian veterans who have been wounded, maimed or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. His son, Chris Kaye, was among the participants in a 600-kilometre Wounded Warriors bicycle ride from the French city of Dieppe to the Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s memorial to soldiers who participated in the Normandy campaign.

Along the way, Kaye visited many war cemeteries and saw the graves of friends he lost in battle in 1944-45.
“I found a lot of graves of people I knew,” he said. Among them were close friends Sgt. Thomas Sutcliffe, a driver; and gunner Roy Frank Ludwig, who were killed in action a few days after June 6, 1944. Kaye said the cemeteries are well-kept but represent the great waste of life that comes with war, and how lucky he was to survive.
“Remember the good times, that’s all you can do,” he said. “If I had stepped to the right or stepped to the left, the whole thing could have been changed. That’s the way it was.”

In September, Kaye received the rank Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour from the Government of France.

“War is not a good way to settle disputes, but considering the past history of the world, there are going to be wars and all you can do is be ready for them. The better you are trained and prepared, the better you will be, but nobody wants a war to settle disputes, in my opinion anyway,” he said. “Every country loses their most important asset, which is their young people. That is a terrible thing.”

Sir Russell Kaye, 12th Field Regiment, R.C.A, November 6, 2019, Riverview, New Brunswick


Alan Cochrane, Moncton, NB, journalist:

I sat down with Russell Kaye twice to talk about his war experiences. He remembered the dates and his experiences, and even corrected me a couple of times. When he spoke about the bombing in Falaise, it was like he took me back in time a bit. I travelled that highway in 2002 when I was on a Remembrance trip to France with the delegation from Dieppe, N.B., Canada.
What really struck me was that Russell was able to look at a vacant gravel pit and remember what happened there. Wherever you go in France, you will see cemeteries and plaques that remember important events, but this one had no marker.

As a journalist, it’s a great treat for me to interview someone who was there, and to remind us that much of what happened in war is not officially remembered.
Alan Cochrane, Moncton Times & Transcript.


photo and article credit >> Alan Cochrane, Moncton Times & Transcript.

2 000 Canadians were killed during Operation Tractable, and 5 500 casualties >>
Casualties and losses for Poland: 325 killed & 1 002 wounded, 114 missing
Ref.; Wikipedia encyclopedia