Penticton’s Bob Sudbury has a unique perspective about the events that happened on D-Day during the Second World War and everything that followed, thanks to his father.
The late Lt. Archibald Eric James Sudbury, not only helped storm France’s beaches that day to help the Allies establish a command against the Nazis, he went above and beyond and volunteered for a position most would not dare consider. Previously a member of the artillery, he opted to serve as a courier officer to help deliver important information between the Allies’ camps, which would mean constantly maneuvering through an active war zone.
“He heard about a position for special duty officers coming up for a special campaign, so he applied as an artillery officer. There was also a tank officer and an engineer officer. So his unit was the Canadian Sector 2nd Echelon, General Headquarters 21st Army Group,” said Bob. “So on June 4, when they delayed the D-Day campaign, he had to return to South Hampton, London on the train with dispatches handcuffed to him in a briefcase. He had to keep his right hand with his gun inside his tunic in case someone tried to grab it because he had orders to shoot.”
Bob is the branch president for Legion 40 and also acts as the historian, taking after his father in keeping meticulous records and documentation about the actions of the legions’ members during wartime and after. His father saved multiple maps of France and Germany and even went as far as to outline the paths he travelled during his service and the establishment of Allies camps as they pushed back the German invasion. Bob tours schools in the area and gives presentations to students with his father’s maps, photos and medals.
Bob said his father’s landing craft ran into troubles on the morning of D-Day at about 7 a.m., landing further west than intended due to strong winds, and then becoming stuck on a sandbar.
“He was in the infantry, he was the only guy from the 21st Army Group on board, and they got stuck on a sandbar. So the officer in charge of the infantry put the gate down and told the guys, ‘Well we’re close enough to the beach and we’re on solid ground’ and there were about 50 feet of water in front of them. So about 10 guys went off and dad said he never saw them again,” said Bob. “Dad, being an artillery officer, knew there were German guns (on the beaches) slowly zeroing in on their landing craft, so he persuaded another landing craft to get over and he got on with a bunch of the other guys. And the officer of the infantry with half his group said ‘we’ll stay on this one.’ Dad said when they were about 100 yards away from it, a shell hit it dead-on.”
Bob said his father had been warned by his father before him, who had served during the First World War, that he would see unthinkable things in the war. Bob said the first time his father saw someone die was just a freak accident on D-Day when they were boarding the landing crafts from the larger ships.
“They were on the netting and watching the waves. The guy beside him went down too far and the landing craft came up, and when it went away and dad turned over, from the waist down the guy wasn’t there anymore.”
After reaching the beach, Lt. Sudbury had to take cover as a hailstorm of bullets rained down from the Nazi troops.
The day after, on June 7, is when the lieutenant officially started his position as a courier officer. Bob said his driver was aboard a separate landing craft the day before and did not survive the D-Day attack.
“He relied on driving a Jeep or a motorcycle to get between camps. He lost another driver when they ran into an ammo truck and dad got thrown into a tree. When he got back to his Jeep he realized why the driver was killed because the engine pushed the driver seat into the back tire, due to the angle,” said Bob.
But aside from the death and destruction, Lt. Sudbury was able to witness moments of hope in the war-torn European countries and was reminded of this fact decades later. He explained that his father had arrived at a town once, not knowing German troops had been there but pulled back, and the residents there were overjoyed saying that “they had been liberated.”
“I’ll never forget the day that we had dad’s maps out after church on Remembrance Day in North Vancouver. A Dutchman comes up with his grandkids and points to a town, and the kids announce that’s where he and their grandmother were from. He said in 1945 as kids, they were outside playing one day and heard trucks coming from the north … and they realized they weren’t German,” said Bob, with tears coming to his eyes. “My father remembered the day and said everyone was running up and down the streets screaming they’d been liberated. But this Dutchman said to his grandkids ‘Do you know who liberated me?’ and he pointed and said, Mr. Sudbury.”
Bob explained that the Dutchman had remembered his father all of these years later thanks to his uniform and the blue patch on his sleeve, identifying his troop. He is proud of the efforts his father made during the war and said if he was still around today he would just hope that people continue to honour the memory of all of the fallen soldiers. He said his father never considered himself to be brave, but rather it was his duty to help out, but he did receive a medal for valour.
“Just remember what these guys gave up. A lot of them went over thinking it would be like World War One, thinking it would be over in a few weeks,” said Bob. “But he knew it wasn’t going to be over that quickly.”
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