Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, July 9, 2017

O Canada

I tend to write these articles a week in advance, and as it's now currently Canada Day, I figured I should finally do an article on a Canadian who I've had on my "to write about list" for some time. This Canadian wasn't about to say “I apologise” to anyone.

Born in 1921, Leo Major was of French descent. He had a bad relationship with his father, and in 1940 decided to join the army to show his father what he could do. His first action was storming ashore on D-Day, where he started as he meant to go on by capturing a Sdkfz 251 (some sources say it was a 251/22), however it soon looked like the war would be over for him when on D+2 he had his eye burned out by a white phosphorus grenade. Stating that "Doctors are fools" and "I only need one eye to aim straight." he declined to be evacuated and returned to duty wearing an eye patch, which he fancied made him look like a pirate.
His piratical activities continued in Holland, where he was out scouting for a patrol and a gaggle of new inexperienced soldiers both of which had gone missing. Sneaking forward he found himself in a ruined house and some distance away he could see a German position. Major crept silently towards the German position, for this reason he tended to wear plimsolls, instead of army issue boots. When he reached the German position he found that all the Germans were asleep, with no signs of any sentries. So he crept into the middle of the enemy held building finding a German officer sleeping in a chair with his back resting on a wall. Major abruptly woke the snoring German by slapping his hand over the officer's mouth and prodding him in the ribs with his Sten Gun. Much like Jack Churchill, Major was of the opinion that if you tell a German what to do firmly enough he'll obey. So he told the officer that they were all his prisoners, the dazed and surprised officer readily agreed and at Major's instance yelled at his men to wake up, and surrender. All but one soldier did so, the final solder began to raise his rifle, but Major beat him to the draw and shot him.
Major then took the surrender of the company of Germans, and began to march them back to friendly lines. On the way they came under fire from a group of Germans that had been woken by the noise from Major's Sten gun earlier. This fire killed a number of the prisoners. At this point a British Sherman approached, and the commander calmly asked if Major needed any help. Major said he was quite all right, but did ask the Sherman commander if he could deal with the Germans shooting at him, which the tank crew quickly did. Major was able to return to his lines with ninety three POW's.
Major still had some fight in him, and after a brief incident involving the Universal Carrier he was riding hitting a mine that caused Major to suffer four broken ribs, both ankles broken and his back broken in three places. Major then fled from hospital to avoid getting deported due to medical injuries. Major spent a month with some friends in the Dutch town of Nijmegen before rejoining his regiment.

The Canadian forces were now approaching the city of Zwolle, and lacked any information on its defences. So Major and one of his friends volunteered to "reconnoitre the town". About 2100 they left friendly lines, as they approached at about 2300, they ran into a German outpost and a brief fire fight erupted, leaving the Germans dead as well as Major's companion. Taking his colleagues Sten gun and spare grenades Major continued on into Zwolle, entering its outskirts about 0100.
Here Major found a German machinegun nest which he promptly attacked and destroyed. Then moving forward he captured a German staff car, forcing its driver to transport him he moved around the city attacking various locations, including setting the main Gestapo headquarters on fire. His actions convinced the Germans that a major Canadian assault was underway and they began to withdraw. In the early hours of the morning Major linked up with four local resistance fighters who arranged transport for him, on the way back he recovered the body of his friend killed at the German outpost, and returned to his lines about 0700. However seeing an approaching staff car the front line opened fire. Major halted and stood out in the open in plain sight until the Canadian troops realised their mistake and waved him forward.
Canadians in Zwolle during its liberation.
Major demobbed and returned to civilian life. He finally got his back operated on, and settled down to be a pipe fitter. However in 1950 the Korean War erupted and Major volunteered for active service again. As the ceasefire talks neared their end the Chinese decided to capture Hill 355, this was a prominent position between the Commonwealth division and the US positions. It, if captured, could force the Allies back across the Imjin River giving them some extra bargaining chips in the peace talks.
Chinese troops assaulting a hill in Korea.
After a period of bitter fighting the Chinese assault captured a nearby hill, which allowed them to flank Hill 355, and force the Canadians off their position. The Canadians only reserve was a scout platoon commanded by Major, he led the platoon out into no-man's land during the night, then began to creep up to the top of Hill 355 from the direction of the Chinese lines. Once all his men (almost universally armed with Sten guns) were in position they opened fire. Due to the surprise attack coming from the middle of their position the Chinese were routed, and by 0045 Leo Major was in control of Hill 355 again.

About 0200 the Chinese launched a counter attack, with overwhelming numbers and with the flanking hill laying down covering fire. Major was ordered to withdraw, but refused. He did allow his platoon to fall back to their only cover on the barren hill, a line of shell holes some 25 yards from the crest. There they set up and stayed, despite Chinese human wave attacks. Major called down mortars almost on top of his position to hold the Chinese away, the mortar tubes fired so fast they eventually warped their barrels. Through it all whenever the Chinese pressed their attack Major was seen to race to that location through all the fire and help his men in the area fight off the attack. Eventually the Chinese fell back, Major held his position for three days until finally relieved and then the ceasefire agreement came into force.

During his career Major was nominated for the Distinguished Conduct Medal three times, the first time (after capturing the ninety three POW's) he refused it. The other two times (Zwolle and Hill 355) he was awarded the medal. Major died in 2008 aged eighty seven.

Image credits:
www.zwolle40-45.nl and www.lonesentry.com