Léo Major 1921-2008

I found this on the Internet…

Léo Major

A little while ago I had a comment on one of my posts from Jocelyn Major about his father, Leo.  He has quite a story and is certainly a hero.  I’ve posted what I’ve written up for his Gallery entry.

Léo Major moved with his family to Montreal before he turned one. Due to a poor relationship with his father, he moved to live with an aunt at age 14. This relationship combined with a lack of available work led Major to join the army when Canada declared war on Nazi Germany. He wanted to prove to his father that he was somebody to be proud of. He trained initially in Canada and then in Scotland where he became a sniper and scout.

He landed at Normandy on D-Day and within a couple of days lost an eye. He refused to be evacuated – an act he repeated later when his back was broken in an attack. Late in 1944 he captured 93 German soldiers by himself, using one as a hostage. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (the second highest honour available) for his efforts. He refused the medal due to his disdain for his supervisor. On April 13, 1945 he liberated the city of Zwolle by himself. A garrison of hundreds of Germans retreated as Major entered the city, shooting key people (including four SS officers) and throwing grenades to create as much noise and confusion as possible.

Major also fought in the Korean War. He was asked to lead a small group of men to recapture a hill nicknamed “Little Gibraltar”. His men wore running shoes to mask the sound of their approach and successfully held off the Chinese for many days, refusing to surrender. For this effort he won another Distinguished Conduct Medal. His regiment, “Regiment de la Chaudiere”, has created an award in his name to be given to the company that performs best each year in competition.

from → Character, Courage, Heroes, Humility, The Hero Construction Company

Next time, how I came across this hero…

Major Maurice A. Parker, Commanding Officer, “D” Company, of the Royal Rifles of Canada

This is what I found while looking for information about HMCS Prince Robert…

HMCS Prince Robert was a D.E.M.S.

HMCS Prince Robert

Click here to learn more about the ship

Canadian soldiers disembarking HMCS Prince Robert in 1941

I always questionned Canada’s involment in the defense of Hong Kong in 1941 as I was always troubled by how Great Britain considered Canada in the Second Word War, and the more I read about how England used  Canadians in the defence of the British Empire the more I believe this to be true.

The Dieppe raid is an example and the Battle of Hong Kong is another one.

This is what I found on a Canadian soldier who fought this battle. Maurice Parker’s son pays homage to his father with this web site…

This web site is dedicated to my father.

Major Maurice A. Parker Commanding Officer, “D” Company, of the Royal Rifles of Canada, and to the brave men and women who fought a long ago nearly forgotten battle for the Island of Hong Kong. It was a battle that some say should never have been fought, but it was. Now….it  should never be forgotten.

My father, Major M.A. Parker, from Quebec City, Quebec, was This web site is in his honour.

How this project began:

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That same day, 6 hours later, at 08:00 hrs, they attacked the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. The world took little notice of that “incident”. For those of us who had a family member, or in many cases family members or friends in mortal danger, it was a different matter. It was a day never to be forgotten.

The saga of that long ago battle needs to be told. The defenders of Hong Kong fought a valiant fight and they need to be honoured. It was a hopeless effort from the beginning but they fought on anyway.  They fought, they were wounded, and they died. After 18 long cruel days of non-stop struggle they were finally captured on Christmas Day, 1941.

Those who survived began a stint in hell that would last for 44 months When I was in high school, my English Literature teacher assigned the class the task of writing an essay on one of our personal heroes. We were to write about what he or she did, when, where, why and how what he or she did had impacted on history. I had just finished reading a book about General George S. Patton, the U.S. Tank Commander who had landed in Sicily and cut a swath through the German defenses all the way to Berlin. I chose to write about him.

I got a pretty good mark for my effort, and a note from my teacher saying, “Good work. Why did you choose Patton? You should have looked a little closer to home.” At that time I didn’t understand what he meant. I was only when I got a little older, and a wee bit wiser, that I understood his message. I should have written about my Dad.

It dawned on me that this gentle, shy, ordinary down-to-earth man who was my Father and whom I saw every day had done some extraordinary things in his life. He had fought in the Battle of Hong Kong and survived the hardship of 44 months of captivity at the hands of the Japanese in WWII. Then he had come home and continued to raise a family. He was an ordinary man who had done extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances. Is that not the essence of a hero?

It was not until after my Mother died in 1998 and I came into possession of his memorabilia that I began to put together this account of the things he endured. It is a story of great courage and great endurance.

It is the story of my Dad and of the men with whom he fought and suffered.  Dad died on August 10, 1985. I’m sorry I took so long to get started on this “essay”. I should have written  about my Dad in the first place. To me he is a bigger hero than George S. Patton.

The teacher who told me to look a little closer to home for my hero was Major A.A. MacMillan, M.I.D., the best teacher I ever had. In December 1941 he was a Lieutenant in “D” Company of The Royal Rifles of Canada. He had served with Dad and endured the same hardships in Hong Kong. He has gone now, but I hope if he were to read this he would give me an “A”, at least for effort.

Click here to visit the site…

Click here to visit a site dedicated to Hong Kong veterans.

Osborn of Hong Kong…

Click here…

This is what they say about John Osborn.

Canada’s role in World War II stretched beyond the battlefields of Europe.

Canadian troops fought on land, in the air and on the seas in France, the Netherlands, Italy, North Africa and Hong Kong.

It was in Hong Kong that Warrant Officer John Osborn, the Company Sergeant-Major, sacrificed his own life to save the lives of others.

In 1940, the British regarded their crown colony of Hong Kong as expendable in the event of war with Japan.

Yet as Japanese troops began to attack in 1941, the Canadian government agreed to send the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers, although they were declared officially unfit for action. In spite of this, the troops fought valiantly in defence of Hong Kong.

During the morning of 19 December, a company of the Grenadiers led by Osborn became divided during an attack on Mount Butler.

Osborn led part of the company to capture the hill. Outnumbered, they managed to hold it for three hours but were forced to withdraw.

Osborn and a small group covered the retreat and when their turn came to fall back, Osborn single-handedly engaged the enemy, coming under heavy enemy fire as he assisted his men to rejoin the company.

In the afternoon, cut off from the battalion, the company was surrounded by the enemy. Several enemy grenades were thrown towards them, which the soldiers picked up and threw back. Suddenly, a grenade landed in a position where it was impossible to return it in time.

To protect his troops, Osborn threw himself on the grenade, and was killed instantly.

Of 1975 Canadians who were sent to Hong Kong, 557 were killed or died in prison camps.

Political pressure at home forced the Canadian government to appoint a royal commission (The Duff commission) to investigate the circumstances of Canada’s involvement in this area of WWII.

For his act of bravery, Osborn was posthumously awarded Hong Kong’s only Victoria Cross.

Able Seaman J. M. Saulnier 1920-1944 and Petty Officer Stoker W. Cramp 1902-1944

In my search for information about the HMCS Regina, I found this…

In memory of
Able Seaman
who died on August 8, 1944

Military Service:

Service Number: V/32223
Age: 24
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. Regina
Son of John and Daisy Saulnier, of Meteghan River, Digby Co., Nova Scotia.

I found these pictures on this site


J.M. Saulnier

Personnel of the corvette H.M.C.S. REGINA, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 1943. (L-R): Petty Officer W. Cramp, Able Seaman R. Leblanc, Stoker E.W. Barclay, Petty Officer J. Yankoshi, Leading Seaman, B.J. Jenkin, T.N. Jackson.

Petty Officer Stoker Cramp also died on August 8, 1944.

In memory of

Petty Officer Stoker


who died on August 8, 1944

Military Service:

Service Number: A/2876
Age: 42
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Navy Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. Regina
Citation: 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star with France and Germany Clasp, Africa Star and Clasp, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp, War Medal 1939-45.

Additional Information:

Date of Birth: March 3, 1902
Coverntry, Warwickshire, England
Date of Enlistment: November 7, 1940
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Son of John and Elizabeth Cramp. Husband of Kathleen Patricia (nee Harnett) of Windsor, Ontario. Brother of Ralph, Kathleen, William, Robert, Peter, Jenny, Olive and Polly.


We see in this picture Louis Ledoux’s brother.

Jean Denis Ledoux is the sailor in the middle of the first row. He is among friends who are also sailors.

This picture would have been taken in 1943, maybe in Montreal in Lafontaine Park. Jean-Denis Ledoux lived in Montréal.

Réjean Ledoux is the one who posted this picture with others on the Veterans’s site. He is Jean-Denis Ledoux’s son. He told me his father was a gunner aboard a merchant ship.

That’s all he knows… for now.

This is another picture of Jean-Denis Ledoux.

Jean Denis Ledoux

With this is mind, I went on the Internet to find more about those armed merchant ship.

This is what I found on the Internet… but I found much much more. But as an introduction, we will start with this.

They called those ships D.E.M.S or Defensively-equipped merchant ships.

This is the link… Click here.

This is a badge worn by sailors who belonged to this service.

Now look at Jean-Denis’ friend… and a close-up of his uniform…

So what… I’ve nothing to hide…

Déjà vu…?

As usual I stumbled on something…

I saw a few minutes of  a TV program on History Channel.

It was about a corvette…

HMCS Regina

The HMCS REGINA (K 234), a Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Corvette of the Flower Class, was launched on 14 October 1941 and commissioned on 22 January 1942.

She was one of 10 corvettes built to fulfill the RCN’s commitment to supply forces for the defence of Newfoundland and its adjacent waters. HMCS REGINA started her career in Halifax, but eventually she was chosen to travel to Britain as an escort for the Great Britain-Mediterranean runs.

While serving in the Mediterranean the HMCS REGINA sank the Italian submarine AVORIO on February 8, 1943. In March 1943 she returned to Halifax for a refit and in February 1944 she returned to England as part of the build-up for the planned invasion of Europe.

On August 8, 1944 the HMCS REGINA was serving as the sole escort for the convoy EBC-66 when disaster struck. One of the ships in the convoy, the US Liberty ship Ezra Weston, reported that she had hit a mine. REGINA pulled within hailing distance and advised the Ezra Weston to beach on the shore near Padstow, the nearest port. The Ezra Weston was unable to do so, as her engines had stopped. Another ship in the convoy, the HM LCT, was attempting to tow the Ezra Weston stern-first to shallower water when the HMCS REGINA was hit by a torpedo.

Because the depth charges on REGINA had been set to “safe,” many lives were saved. (Explosions of depth charges from sinking ships killed many sailors who survived the initial attack on their ships.) Still, 30 crew members were killed. 66 survivors from the REGINA and the 4 officers who had remained on the Ezra Weston were picked up by the LCT. It was later determined that the Ezra Weston had probably been struck by a torpedo, not a mine. (The REGINA would probably not have pulled near had this been known, but the captain of the Ezra Weston was working from negative evidence – no sighting of a U-boat or a torpedo track – and thus assumed erroneously that she struck a mine.)

By studying German records after the war ended, it was determined that U 667 sank the REGINA. (The U-boat struck a mine and went down with all hands just days after sinking the REGINA.)

Source: http://www.regina.ca/Page944.aspx

I looked at list of the men who died on the ship.

This is the link.

I found one French-Canadian.

In memory of
Leading Stoker
who died on August 8, 1944

Military Service:

Service Number: V/4525
Age: 21
Force: Navy
Unit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
Division: H.M.C.S. Regina

Additional Information:

Son of Alfred Denoncourt, and of Elodie Denoncourt, of Montreal, Province of Quebec.

Now we are going somewhere…

Take a look at this…

It’s Louis Ledoux aboard the Athabaskan.

Louis was an Able Seaman. This is the whole picture.

This is part of the crew manning X turret.  Turrets X and Y were aft of the ship.

Both turrets were destroyed first in the attack.

Louis must have been killed instantly.

Another of Louis’ nephew wrote me. His name is Louis in honour of his uncle.

He told me he met his cousin this weekend and he was going to give me more information about this picture…

Doug wrote me a second time about his uncle Syd

Today is my son’s birthday. Nicholas is 25.

Doug Cottrell’s uncle never made it to 25.

Syd Cottrell 1920-1944

I had sent Doug Cottrell some pictures I had about the Athabaskan.

He wrote back a few months ago but I never got around to post an article on it.


Thanks for the photos – most interesting.

I’m attaching a couple of photos of my uncle plus a couple others – one being a print of the HMCS Athabaskan, I have.

I’m also including, below, information I had sent to Sherry that you may find interesting.



Sherry, incidentally, is a painter and has one of her paintings of the HMCS Athabaskan, hanging on the Memorial Wall for the Athabaskan, in Fort Montbarey, Brest, France.

Check her out at: http://www.ultramarine.ca/artists/pringle.html

The one hanging is “Channel Patrol”.


As a child I remember my grandmother telling us that her son had made it onto the deck, after the ship had been hit, but went back to help a shipmate.  He was never seen again.  It would be pretty hard for any mother to accept the death of a son, during war time, without thinking or imagining that their death was uneventful.

She may have imagined his death as being heroic and then believed what she had imagined but, perhaps someone told her he actually did something heroic.  I’ll never know, besides all my research unfortunately does not substantiate her belief.

Sherry may be able to help you in regards to any survivors that may still be available but you looking at 65 years ago however, some of their families may have memories, letters etc.

I have no letters etc. from my uncle to his mother and the only memory is the one noted above.

I’ve always wanted to visit my uncle’s grave in France but never have had the opportunity.  There were organized visits, as your photos indicate, but I wasn’t aware.  Guess the chance now is impossible unless families organize a trip.  If you hear of one being organized, let me know.

Good luck with your research.



This is the information he sent to Sherry Pringle and some of the pictures he sent me:

Syd was born in 1920 so that would have made him 21 at the time of his enlistment in Kingston, Ont, in 1941.

According to his enlistment sheet, he was posted mainly to shore establishments.  There are two ships named  – the HMCS Trillium and the HMCS Athabaskan.  He joined the HMCS Trillium in Oct 14/41 just after she was commissioned in September of that year.

I have a picture showing him and a mate, dressed in their whites, which may indicate he was on this ship while she was doing workups in the south Atlantic or as Herm pointed out… He picked up his A.B. Seaman’s rating on Mar 12/42.

He was drafted off the Trillium in July ’42 to the Halifax Barracks until Sept of that year.

He went on 28 day embarkation leave and then over to Scotland on the HMCS Niobe (if I’m reading this correctly) on Oct 28th to shore barracks.  While waiting for the completion of the Athabaskan, the Athabaskan draft were sent on various training courses.  One of these was at Shearness for a firefighting course (10 days) and on the Osprey (for 2 weeks) for further training.

According to Herm Sulkers, he thinks Syd was relegated as a ammunition supply at “Y” gun.  This is where the first torpedo hit and he may have been blown off.  There was only one survivor from that gun and he was picked up by the Germans, as was Herm, in the morning.

Tomorrow I will talk to you about the Halifax bomber, the plane on which Jean-Paul Corbeil was a mid-upper gunner.

Do you remember who was Louis Ledoux?

Click here…

Louis Ledoux’s nephew sent me an e-mail Sunday morning.

This is what he wrote…


All I can tell you about my uncle is he died on that ship.

I think you know more than I do.

I want to thank you for honour the memories of these sailors, and if you have more information on the sailors who died on the Athabaskan, I would like to hear from you.

Thanks in advance.

Réjean Ledoux

This is exactly the reason why I am writing this blog about war veterans and those who died in the war.

Louis Ledoux and his comrades did not change the world, but what they died for should…

Tomorrow I will talk again about Syd Cottrell. His nephew had wrote me an e-mail in September but I never got around to tell you about it.

Syd Cottrell

Lest we forget