By Captain Andrew Gower, 39 CER
Op DISTINCTION is the operation name for Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) ceremonial events. As part of the efforts to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, CJOC deployed a contingent of over 300 members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to France to participate in over 10 ceremonies and events.
The contingent trained in Ottawa for 4 days prior to traveling to France at the end of May. Rehearsals continued in France leading up to the first ceremony at Chambois on 4 June. This was followed by a memorial at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War cemetery on 5 June. The signature event was on Juno Beach on the 75th anniversary of D-Day and included the full contingent, a feu-de-joie with artillery firing from the beach, and the opportunity for all contingent members to spend time on the beach with the veterans of D-Day who had made the journey. Of note, the beach was closed to the public for the event, so it was a great privilege for the contingent members to spend time with the veterans.
Ceremonies continued on June 7th, when the engineers of the contingent led by Captain Andrew Gower, an Army Reserve Combat Engineer serving with 39 Combat Engineer Regiment, and living in the Comox Valley. “I had the privilege of leading the Sappers of the contingent at the dedication of the George Gilbert Reynolds Bridge in Caen, France. This was an intimate and personal ceremony with no more than 30 people in attendance, including local government representatives, Canadian members of parliament, and a veteran of the Second World War, Frank Krepps, who served in the engineers at D-Day and beyond. The Reynold’s Bridge ceremony was a highlight for the Sappers in the contingent, especially when Frank went off script and interrupted the wreath laying say hi and shake hands with us all.
The bridge that was dedicated is a new rail bridge immediately adjacent to Pont Alexandre Stirn on the Orne River in the south part of Caen.
The Original Reynolds Bridge - 1944
On 25 July 1944, when all the bridges over the Orne were destroyed, to connect the Vendeuvre wharf to the Hamelin wharf at the site of the current Pont Alexandre Stirn, a 150-foot triple-double Bailey bridge (50 meters) was installed by the 23th Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers. The Canadian engineers christened it "Reynolds" after the name of the company's second-in-command, Captain, George Gilbert Reynolds, who was killed two days earlier on the right bank of the Orne on 19 July the Vaucelles district of Caen.
Sapper Veteran Frank Krepps in Attendance
Frank Krepps grew up on a Saskatchewan farmand enlisted in the army in 1941, as an antidote to the Great Depression. His two brothers and a sister had also decided to serve overseas. At the time, he was an adventure-seeking 17-year-old who was game for anything. He became a dispatch motorcyclist entrusted to carry important messages for B Coy, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Engineers.
“They called me hell on wheels,” the 96-year-old said with a chuckle, adding he never rode again once he came back to Canada in 1946.