5th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers
John "Jack" Percival Downing was born in Humbaldt, SK on 28 October 1912. He had two brothers and two sisters. He left school at age 16 after two years of high school and worked for six years as a surveyor with the Department of Highways of Ontario before the war.
John was married to Mina Isabell Downing and they had one son, John Garry, who was eight months old when John enlisted. When John enlisted on 20 January 1940 in Ottawa, Ontario, he was assigned to the 1st Corps Field Survey Company. Quickly promoted to Acting Sergeant, he joined the 5thField Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, in June 1941 in Kingston ON. The unit then moved to Camp Borden and, while there, John qualified as a Concreter.
The Company was mobilized on 18 August 1941 and moved to Terrace BC in May 1942. By July 1943, they embarked for the United Kingdom - having been under training in Canada for almost two years. In England, their training continued at both the individual level in preparation for an eventual invasion of the Continent. On 2 June 1944, the 5th Field Company personnel loaded the Landing Craft Tanks for the crossing to Normandy. Departure was delayed by 24 hours, however, due to bad weather and they pulled out of Southampton docks at 0730 hours on 6 June and crossed the English Channel to the Normandy beaches.
Sgt. Downing commanded Number 4 Section who touched down at approximately 0815 hours. The Royal Marine Assault Regiment tanks and the two D7 bulldozers went off immediately. A group of sappers went ashore but the Captain of the craft ordered Sgt Downing and the remaining six men to remain onboard because of the unexpected depth of the water.
Sgt. Downing’s party landed after a second "run in" at 08:30 but they were unable to do any work again, because of the depth of the water. The inner row of obstacles was completely under water. Jack Downing was at the door as it opened for disembarkation. He turned to the troops and said 'follow me men' and was killed almost immediately by small arms fire.
The Beach Parties were able to get their bulldozers and eventually the rest of the soldiers out of the landing craft. Most enemy obstacles were still submerged, however, and it was not possible to clear them as planned. As the tide receded, the remaining personnel were organized into three main obstacle clearing parties and they immediately started removing mines and shells from the obstacles and clearing them.
During the first two hours on the beach, 5th Field Company lost one Officer, one Sergeant, One Corporal and two Sappers as well as suffering 17 wounded due to heavy enemy fire. Sergeant John Percival Downing was one of those killed. He was 31 years old when he died and is buried at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery in France.
..... Based on research conducted by the Canadian Military Engineers Association and the 5th Field Company Veterans Association.