Canadians not only battled on Juno Beach on D-Day, they also fell from the sky.
Brave parachutists from the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion will be recognized on Thursday with a special 1:30 p.m. service at the Siffleur Falls staging area, west of Nordegg.
In the scenic distance, behind a three-metre high cairn that commemorates the battalion, stands a four-peaked mountain named for this “lost” Canadian parachutist unit.
Much credit for achieving this lofty recognition rests with the late veteran Norm Toseland of Norglenwold.
He was instrumental in getting the Canadian government to officially call this mountain Ex Coelis — Latin for “Out of the Clouds,” his battalion’s motto.
Toseland’s daughter, Lynn Robb of Calgary, will attend the outdoor service on the 75th anniversary of D-Day to remember her father and his comrades.
Before his death in 1999, Toseland was on a two-decade quest to preserve the memory of his Canadian parachuting unit, recalls Robb.
Members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had sustained heavy casualties after jumping into enemy territory in the early hours of June 6, 1944. Their mission was to help explode bridges six hours before the main assault on Normandy and to defend the eastern beachhead from enemy troops, enabling the Allied landings.
Since the battalion was part of the British Airbourne Division, the unit’s feats — including hiking for 80 kilometres with heavy battle gear and jumping without reserve chutes — were often solely attributed to Britain, leaving Canadian parachutists feeling lost to history.
Toseland, who had survived being shot in the stomach on D-Day, wasn’t going to let this happen.
The former Sylvan Lake Legion member and past president of his battalion veterans’ association, started scouting in 1982 for an unnamed mountain that could commemorate his battalion.
Toseland wanted it to be visible to motorists, and was also searching for four peaks to honour the unit’s four campaigns in Normandy, Ardennes, Rhine and Elbe, says Robb.
Once these were located off Highway 11, she recalls her father spending a few years getting the mountain named.
“The government tends to work slowly,” she recalls, but the peaks were officially titled in 1994.
Toseland’s veterans group then raised $20,000 to erect the cairn, emblazoned with the inscription: “To remember is to strive for peace amongst all nations.”
It was installed just off Highway 11, within sight of the mountain, in September 2000, with then Alberta Lt.-Gov. Lois Hole officiating.
While Toseland didn’t live to see the dedication, he had known the cairn was going ahead and that his unit would be remembered, says Robb.
Her father might have died decades before — only he surprised medics by surviving his serious D-Day injuries.
While Toseland didn’t talk much about the war while raising Robb and her sister Gerry Greschner, of Sundre, Robb believes her father suffered from post-traumatic stress that was lessened after he got involved with veterans groups.
Robb remembers her dad taking the whole family back to Normandy on the 30th anniversary of D-Day.
She later allowed her own children to skip school to attend a D-Day service next to the cairn west of Nordegg.
Robb feels close to her late father at this spot.
“This is a memory that will be there forever.”
The Red Deer Legion will also hold a D-Day service at 11 a.m. Thursday by the Wall of Honour at Alto-Rest Cemetery.