June 6 – D-day: Young Southampton man was a casualty of WWII

Ralph George Black

The yellow brick School, that still stands next to the main entrance of the Saugeen Golf Club Bruce County Rd. #3, today is a private residence but, for more than 100 years it was the local school for children in the rural area between Southampton and Port Elgin.

During the 1920’s the students included my(Streeter) mother and her five Hill family siblings, as well as Ralph George Black, his two sisters Jean and Rae and his older brother Keith.

My mother’s family lived on the Doll side-road and the Black family farmed on Peel Street at Carlisle St. on the outskirts of Southampton. I suspect that the Black children would have had a short-cut across what today is two golf courses to get to their school.

Ralph was born in 1920 to Melvin and Ellen Black. After completing school, he and his brother Keith stayed at home working with their dad on their 100-acre mixed farm. With war raging in Europe, Ralph made the decision on August 6, 1940, to travel to London (ON) and enlist in the Canadian Army.

Soon after, he found himself in Petawawa, training as a Sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.). Although he remained there for more than three years, he found time to return home and marry his sweetheart, Juanita Grace Crone from Southampton. While in Petawawa, he also had the opportunity to continue his musical hobby, playing the French Horn as a bandsman in the R. C. E. Regimental band and being a camp trumpeter.

In the spring of 1941, Ralph’s father Melvin had a crisis in that he could not manage the farm after the older brother, Keith, had enlisted in the R.C.A.F.  Melvin wrote to the Minister of National Defence requesting that his son Ralph be allowed to come home to help on the farm in the coming summer as there was no help available in the area. The family doctor, Dr. Fraser, also provided an accompanying letter indicating that Melvin had heart related health issues and could not manage the farm without help. Although politely answered, the request went to no avail.

Ralph shipped out for England on December 2nd, 1943 leaving behind his wife Grace and daughter Beverley. A few months later, on February 6th another daughter, Cheryl Wendy Lee, was born. Upon arrival in England, Ralph’s training continued while waiting for the call for the invasion of Europe.

It was on April 12, 1944 that Ralph received the saddest of news possible. His youngest daughter, Cheryl Wendy Lee, had died in the Owen Sound Hospital. She was two months and six days old. Death was due to Spina Bifida.

The Canadian Army invaded France on June 6, 1944, landing at Juno Beach in Normandy. Ralph and his Royal Canadian Engineers group remained in England awaiting the call for their services at the front. The Normandy battle went on for many weeks after the invasion before they cleared the Germans from the area around the city of Caen. Ralph and his comrades, in the 10th Field Park Company of the R. C. E., joined the fight in France on July 16th. The city of Caen was liberated on July 24th, but the battle continued as the Germans offered fierce resistance.

The quote below is from the book BREAKOUT FROM JUNO by Mark Zuelke.

“The Germans mounted a strong counterattack on August 6 and 7 which the Canadians answered and kept the pressure on. The allies were attempting to surround the retreating Germans and stop their escape through the only route to the east out of Normandy. It was known as the Falaise Gap. On August 8, the Senior Canadian Officer, Lieutenant General Harry Crerar was given this order; “Whatever you do in this attack, don’t let the enemy get away, keep pushing, push, keep the mobility. Don’t stop.”

August 8th, 1944 was one of the worst days that the Canadian Army endured in WWII.

The following is from the Canadian Veterans Affairs Normandy 1944 information file.

“… the prolonged confusion on the congested and murky battlefield, combined with obstinate enemy resistance, soon robbed it (the operation) of momentum. In his plan, Simonds expected air support would break the logjam. Unfortunately, American Flying Fortresses dropped some of their bombs on Canadian and Polish troops, killing or wounding 300 of them.”

Ralph George Black was killed that day, August 8, 1944 at 13:45, a victim of friendly fire … two months and two days after arriving on Juno Beach.

By August 21, the Germans had been removed from Normandy and the Canadian Army had been a major contributor to that success but at an enormous cost.

Ralph George Black is buried in the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery along with 2,791 other Canadians. There are also two other local boys buried there, Laird Beresford and Angus McLeod. In total more than 5,000 Canadians soldiers died in the Battle of Normandy between June 6 and August 21 in 1944.

There are several relatives of Ralph still living in our community and throughout Ontario.  Ralph’s 78 year old daughter lives in Owen Sound and his two nephews and two nieces, including Grace Currie, are in the area.

May They Rest in Peace

by G. William (Bill) Streeter