France honours D-Day veterans
Wing Commander (Ret'd) Ron Butcher, an air navigator during WWII was recently presented with the Legion Medal of Honour by the Government of France. He is one of 360 Canadians, as well other WWII military personnel from other Allied countries who took part in the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, France. June 6, 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the invasion in France.
One of Sackville’s native sons has been given the highest honour conferred by the Government of France for his part in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944, during World War II.
Wing Commander (Ret’d) Ron Butcher was one of 360 Canadian World War II veterans who are being honoured for taking part in the D-Day landings in Normandy in June, 1944 which contributed greatly to the conclusion of the war. Butcher talked recently by phone from his home in Victoria, BC.
“I thought it was a nice gesture, even though it was 70 years later….I had been notified that it was effective as of March 27 but actually received the Legion of Honour medal on June 1. I wasn’t able to travel to Vancouver for the awards ceremony so it was delivered to me,” he said.
Ron Butcher, who has for many years made his home in British Columbia, grew up on his families’ small farm in Middle Sackville in the 1920s, during those years occasionally helping his father in his local construction business. As a young man he worked at J.L. Black and Sons, a wholesale grocery, flour and feed business earning $1 per day for each 11-hour workday, six days per week.
Tired of the long hours and scanty paycheques, Butcher then spent a couple years working for his father before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in January, 1942.
With WWII well underway Butcher, along with many other young men in the area, including his brother Charlie, felt the desire to serve his country. A visit to a local recruiting office led him to choose service with the RCAF and so it was off to boot camp in Toronto before being shipped to England for further training. Finally assigned to aircraft bomber duty, Butcher was to take part in 29 operational trips bombing a number of areas in Germany, including Berlin and Nuremburg, among others, in preparation for D-Day. He was an air navigator, completing a tour of operations on Lancaster bombers in 6 (RCAF) Group of the RAF Bomber Command, serving with 408 RCAF Goose Squadron, and was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Butcher said that receiving the Legion of Honour medal has brought back a lot of war-time memories, some of which were particularly harrowing.
“I could look down and see the D-Day armada in the water and that was just through a chance break in the cloud, because that day it was very overcast and cloudy. When we saw that (happening on the beaches below) that was the first knowledge we had that it was D-Day. They sent us out to bomb and didn’t tell us (about the ongoing invasion of Normandy). There was a cloak of silence (over the entire D-Day operation)…and properly so,” he said.
He recalled that at the time he had an overwhelming feeling of suspense and excitement.
“You should have heard the noise in our aircraft; all the people were talking at once…it was a very exciting day…we thought it was going to be a day that would lead at least to a foothold in Europe. We didn’t really think beyond that,” he remembered.
Butcher said he remembers thinking that, seeing all of the men and machinery making their way from the water onto the beaches of Normandy, it was going to be a bloody offensive.
“We had the feeling that those poor buggers down there on the sand were going through their baptism of fire,” he said.
Butcher’s plane remained undamaged throughout its bombing flight that day, he recalled.
“Actually, the D-Day trips we did were the easiest ones of all. There was no opposition; there were no enemy aircraft around, just some sporadic fire from the ground – and they missed,” he said.
He remembered seeing a ‘sky train’ of paratroopers, groups of plans loaded with Allied men flying to where they would be dropped to fight at locations behind the Normandy beaches.
“Just going along, going to where they were headed for. We were on the way back (to Yorkshire, England) when we saw them. We did one trip before breakfast and another one after dinner…we had one more trip on June 10th and then we were screened from operations; we had finished our required trips,” he said.
Butcher said except for the brief glimpse of the huge offensive taking place on the ground below them, they were unaware of how the entire operation was playing out.
“When we got back to base from the evening trip, we had a feeling that everything was OK…there was no official information made available to us until after the fact (when the landings had been completed),” he said.
The Normandy invasion included initial infiltration through parachute landings, massive attacks by air, naval bombardments and amphibious landings of men and machinery at five separate beaches along the French coastline at Normandy.
After the war Butcher worked in a number of occupations while still as a member of the military and later as a civilian.
Over the years he was married and widowed twice and became a father of two boys, Rod (Roderick) and Don (Donald), both of whom are now deceased. He also has a daughter Brenda and two adult granddaughters. In 2002 he met Veronica Bennett, a former member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and the pair was married a year later. The couple, who enjoys travelling whenever they can, has recently moved to a retirement community near Victoria.
In 2006 Ron Butcher wrote a book about his life experiences, entitled “Been There, Done That – Through Treacherous Skies,” describing his many life experiences. Veronica Bennett Butcher is also the author of ‘From Veronica With Love: From Waif to WAAF to Wife – A Story of Survival.’