Nearly six decades have passed, but Frank Dyke clearly remembers battling the Germans on the beaches of Normandy during the Second World War.
Born in Port Union, Trinity Bay, in 1922, Mr. Dyke grew up in Corner Brook. He headed off to war at the age of 20 and was assigned to the 59th Heavy Regiment, comprised entirely of Newfoundlanders, with Britain’s Royal Artillery.
These soldiers completed training and guarded England’s south coast from enemy invasion during the early part of the Second World War.
They were reassigned to take on an offensive role in 1944, but they didn’t know at the time what was going to happen.
“One day we were called in and told to get rid of any civilian gear that we might have because we where going somewhere, but they didn’t say where,” he said.
“The area around Kent, Surrey and Sussex was packed with equipment – guns, planes and whatever was needed for an invasion.”
Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy, France, famously known as D-Day, in June, but it would be another month before Mr. Dyke’s regiment saw action.
“The order to go across the English Channel came on the 4th of July,” he said. “We landed two days later and there were (German) Tiger tanks already waiting for us.”
Members of the 59th Heavy Regiment were ready to fight. They fired 7.2-inch howitzers against the enemy, which could send 2,000-pound shells a distance of about 1,700 yards.
“We were long-range snipers,” he said. “We had the heaviest guns in D-Day. The problem was that we couldn’t see the enemy. You didn’t know what your shots did with them.”
That wasn’t the only cause for concern. As a month had passed since the first Allied landings at Normandy, Mr. Dyke estimated there were 4,000 bodies, along with horse carcasses, lying on the beaches.
“Some people were trying to bury or burn the bodies,” he said. “The smell isn’t something you could imagine – the smell just sunk into you, you couldn’t get rid of it. We had to wear our gas masks.”
Luckily the situation didn’t last too long, as they were able to push back on the German defences.
When the beaches at Normandy were secured, the Allied forces pressed onward through France. Mr. Dyke said there was heavy fighting on the road to Paris, which was liberated at the end of August.
Mr. Dyke returned home after the war ended. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1955 and served as a radio operator at several postings, including Goose Bay, Ottawa, and Fort Churchill in Manitoba.
At the end of his military career, he secured a job with the Department of External Affairs. A highlight was a two-year posting in Moscow.
Mr. Dyke was later employed in the oil industry – working as a radio operator on the Ocean Ranger and on rigs in the Middle East. He followed that up with by going to work with the United Nations’ World Food Program in Sudan.
Now 90 years old and residing in Reidville, Mr. Dyke recently penned his memoirs, “To Be Frank: Memories of an Extraordinary Newfoundlander,” which details his many life adventures.
It was while promoting his book at Kindale Library in Stephenville earlier this month that he received some special visitors.
Along with two of his nieces, Sylvia Belliveau and Margaret Moyles, were three family members he had never met – his great-nieces Karen Quinton-Bennett and Linda Downey, his great-great-niece Crystal Quinton, and his great-great-great-niece Clarity Quinton.
“We knew about him growing up, but we really didn’t know anything about his life,” said Ms. Quinton-Bennett. “We’re very proud of him.”
As for Mr. Dyke, he was pleased to meet these members of family.
“I don’t get many surprises anymore,” he said. “I think they’re all great.”