Sapper Donald Somerville WW II Veteran to be Presented the French Legion of Honour

Sapper Donald Somerville
Canadian troops moving through Caen after D-Day
French Legion of Honour awarded to Spr Somerville
Canadian Second World War veteran Don Sommerville, 92, of Mississauga, Ont., visits the grave of friend Cpl. W.A. Martel following a commemorative ceremony at Holten Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, Netherlands, on Monday, May 4, 2015, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press
Publication Date 
05 May 2015

The Canadian Military Engineers are pleased to advise that the Government of France will be presenting the National Order of the Legion of Honour to Sapper Donald Somerville, a WW II Royal Canadian Engineer veteran and a participant in the Battle of the Liberation of France. Arrangements are being made for a ceremony in April. 

Sapper Donald Taylor Somerville enlisted in the Royal Canadian Engineers in February 1941 with 9th Field Company and, after completing his Sapper training in Petawawa, arrived in England in July 1941 with the unit under it’s new name: 1 Canadian Base Units Construction Company, RCE. He spent the next three years in England with the unit in training and working on construction projects for the Canadian Army and the Defence of Britain. In May 1944 he was reassigned to the 23rd Field Company that had been training in England for two years and were anticipating a major role in the Invasion of Europe.

Donald’s story is related in some considerable detail at: http://www.strijdbewijs.nl/donald/somerville.htm

On 11 July 1944 Donald disembarked the Liberty Ship, M.S. Lee Overman on the shores of Juno Beach, France. The beach was jammed with offloading ships, the water still full of debris, and an occasional corpse still remained from D-Day.

At first, significant destruction of war in their sector was not very apparent but that changed as the company moved into the outskirts of Caen. The 23rd Field Company got to work clearing a roadway for the Allies through the city of Caen. The company was regularly under fire as the city was still hotly contested. Their main responsibilities were mine clearance, filling potholes, bulldozing, and demolition work as the unit created the well known “Andy’s Alley” roadway. After clearing this route they built “Reynolds' Bridge” across the Orne River - the bridge being named after Captain George Reynolds, the second in command of the company who was killed two days before prior to its construction.

The 23rd kept on with their road construction work until 27 August when they were assigned the mission to conduct an assault crossing of the Seine River near Pont De L’Arche with the 4th Armoured Division. Donald and his company had been trained extensively back in England on British “Storm Boats” and this assault crossing was successful under the occasional artillery and mortar fire.

From that point, 23rd Field Company continued to ferry the allied forces until 31 August. Their next task was to build a bridge across the Seine River and they completed this task in less than 24 hours. The 23rd then supported the advance into Belgium and Holland. Next, 23rd Field Company played the major role in "Operation BERLIN," the evacuation of the depleted British 1st Airborne Division across the Neder Rijn). Donald finished the war with the 20th Field Company where he was transferred after returning to duty after an injury in Holland.

At war’s end, after returning to Canada and being demobilized, Donald took over a portion of the family farm that he had acquired from the 'Veteran's Land Act'. During the Korean War, Donald worked on the fabrication on the Lockheed T-33 Trainer aircraft at Canadair. After that, he worked a variety of different jobs including a 17-year stint with General Electric.

Donald continues to play a significant part in the remembrance of the WW II contributions of 23rd Field Company and is active in the Royal Canadian Legion. His first trip to Holland was in 1990 for the 45th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland. This was the start of a strong connection with Holland and he has made a total of five trips back to Holland: 1990, 1999, 2005, 2010 and 2014. Don is very much looking forward to returning to Holland in May 2015 for their 70th Liberation Anniversary and where he can proudly display his new Legion of Honour medal.