The cold and wet was unbearable. But the fear and being sea sick was even worse. His thoughts went back to the farm in Echo Bay, Ontario, Canada. He wished he was there now with his parents, brothers and sisters. Half a world away, on Pioneer Road on the outskirts of Echo Bay, his parents Henry and Mildred Osborne were sleeping. They had no idea when they went to bed what this day in June of 1944, and specifically the next 30 minutes of that far away morning would mean to their lives and to the lives of others.
The waves were rough. He thought of England where his journey began and where he left the love of his love, his bride to be. Her picture was safely tucked away in his tunic pocket. He put his hand on it and looked forward to taking her back to Echo Bay and starting their life together.
He looked around at those with him and recalled the good times they shared in England. He was close to each of them, but particularly the one from Sault Ste. Marie, near Echo Bay, fellow Trooper Hackford. Being from the same area they had developed as additional closeness during training. The thundering sounds of explosions started reverberating though them and although they knew it was coming, it still startled them.
Trooper Harry Osborne, four others in his tank crew and thousands of other Canadians are heading for their date with destiny. It’s D-Day, June 6, 1944 and the beaches of Normandy, France are ahead. The tanks rumbled off their carriers into the sea floating because of a canvas shield designed to act like the sides of a boat. It worked for some but not all tanks as some sank and lives were lost before the beaches were reached. A propeller moved these Shermans forward through the surf, obstacles and mines. This was ‘A’ Squadron of the 6 Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars) in support of the 7 Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.
This morning was much different from those days when they trained for this in England when they knew that they’d be back to base for supper. Now, living to the next minute seemed an accomplishment as bullets ricocheted off the tank and the German artillery shells landed everywhere around them. Their looks at one another carried a ‘This is it’ intensity. The explosions got louder as they got closer. Finally, the tank gripped the round rocks in the shallow water as they switched from propeller to track drive. The sudden appearance of tanks coming out of the water stunned the Germans in their pill boxes as waves of men and equipment advanced from the sea.
This was Juno Beach, specifically Mike Red sector, just where Harry was supposed to be. They were on the far left flank and he saw the gun emplacement to the right that they had being trained to spot and take out. They got their turret moving toward it, throats dry and hands tightly gripping the controls. Then, a flash of light and smoke spewed from the pillbox. The beach defenders fired a shell at the tank taking aim on them. The noise, impact and shock as it hit the tank threw all of them around violently and immobilized their tank. Suddenly, they only had one choice now. Leave the tank and clamber out onto a beach into a blizzard of machine gun bullets.
A tanker veteran will tell you when a shell hits your tank and you’re still alive, get out, because you know the next shell is coming soon and will finish you. Harry and the others met destiny that moment and became among the first Canadians to make the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day. A 1st Hussars history documents the final moments this way: “On the extreme left of the area, third troop commanded by Lieut. "Red" Goff pushed over the beach and river to get into the "island" in order to neutralize the first objective, a well camouflaged concrete fort. This gun did deadly work, however, before 3rd troop could destroy it. With one shot it knocked out Cpl. H. A. Pockiluk's tank. The crew attempted to bail out but as they emerged from the tank they were machine-gunned. Thus the whole crew, Cpl. H. A. Pockiluk, L/Cpl. I. A. Lytle, Tprs. H. Osborne, R. F. Moore and W. F. Hackford died on the beaches a few minutes after H-Hour.”
To those Hussars who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy these words from Lieut. Col. John Meldram, commanding officer of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, whose Little Black Devils landed with "A" Sqn., First Hussars. “To those who participated in the assault and survived the great day, these words will corroborate the certainty all ranks felt that the First Hussars had accomplished all that was possible and had lived up to their motto--"Hodie non Cras." (Today not Tomorrow)” Harry Osborne was one of twenty 1st Hussars killed that day along with and 320 other brave Canadians. They gave up all of their tomorrows on June 6, 1944.
Remember each and every sacrifice, made for your freedom!
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