Sapper Harold Nelson Cowan, C72467

Sapper Cowan's headstone at Beny-Sur-Mer Cemetery
Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery – The Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, located at Reviers, about 4 kilometres from Juno Beach in Normandy, France. (J. Stephens)

5th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers

Harold Nelson Cowan was born into a farming family on 17 June 1918 in the township of South Marysburgh ON. Harold was the son of Harry Albert and Annie Miriam Cowan. He had three brothers, Herbert, Clarence and Charles, along with one sister, Ethel. Harold went to school until the age of thirteen but did not graduate from high school. Cowan, like many other young men in his community, responded to the call for duty. At the time of his enlistment, he was employed by Prince Edward County in Picton, Ontario. He had worked as a road and fence builder for nine seasons. On his enlistment documents it was indicated that his employer promised to give him employment upon discharge; however, he did not wish to return to that line of work. After the war, he wished to pursue a career as a ‘contractor and builder’.

Cowan was assigned to 5th Field Company Royal Canadian Engineers and was sent to a training centre at Peterborough, ON for about three months. He then transferred to Camp Borden where he qualified for Carpenter training. On 9 September 1942, he was sent on a carpenter course at No 10 Vocational Training School in Winnipeg MB and then transferred to the Vocational Training School in Terrace BC to complete his carpenter training. He was granted trades pay on 10 September 1942. He completed his training at Terrace on 17 December 1942 and returned to his parent unit, 5th Field Company in Petawawa ON where it was training.

On 16 July 1943, 5th Field Company was transferred to Canadian Army Overseas and embarked for the UK. They had been training in Canada for about two years by this time. After arriving in England, focused their training on the assault activities that would be vital once the battle was engaged on the Continent.

On 2 June 1944, the Company personnel loaded the Landing Craft Tanks (LCT) for the crossing to Normandy but in the evening of 4 June they were informed that D-Day was postponed for 24 hours. According to the Official History, on 5 June, “all personnel were in high spirits anxious and ready to reach their ultimate destination. Morale was bolstered considerably at 1900 hours when all troops were given a goodly portion of ice cream.” The assault personnel pulled out of Southampton docks at 0730 hours and proceeded to cross the English Channel to the Normandy beaches.

The assaulting craft reached the beaches at approximately 0745 hours. Tides were considerably higher than anticipated. Most of the craft destined for “Nan” Beach grounded in deep water causing difficulty in getting off. Heavy German mortar and machine gun fire opened on the craft before disembarkation inflicting several casualties. They were able to get the bulldozers and the rest of the personnel of the craft. Most enemy obstacles were submerged, however, and it was not possible to clear them as planned. As the tide receded the personnel were organised into three main obstacle clearing parties and they immediately started clearing underwater obstacles and removing mines and shells from the obstacles.

During the first two hours on the beach, 5 Field Company lost one Officer, one Sergeant, one Corporal and two Sappers as well as 17 wounded due to heavy enemy fire. Sapper Harold Nelson Cowan was one of those killed at age 25. He is buried at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France.

..... Based on Research conducted by a student at Smiths Falls Collegiate Institute in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada.