Young WWII Sailor in the Thick of It

On June 6, 1944, George Kenneth Broatch, a signalman in the Royal Canadian Navy, and about 200 shipmates were aboard the Canadian destroyer HMCS Skeena, in the English Channel. The ship’s mission was to support the Western Allies’ D-Day invasion of France.

Skeena and her crew were part of an armada of more than 5,000 British, American, and Canadian ships tasked with landing troops on several beaches on the coast of Normandy in northern France. The campaign was a top-secret, last- ditch strategy to stop Hitler’s armies from completely taking over Europe and Great Britain.

Bird’s-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day
Source: [Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.]

The night before the attack, Allied soldiers had parachuted into Normandy behind and between the German lines. And Allied pilots had heavily bombed German positions. The next morning, German snipers lining the cliffs above the beaches, and other soldiers in concrete bunkers, fired on the Allied troops being unloaded from amphibious vessels onto the beach. When the troops landed, many were carrying the heavy rope ladders they would use to scale the cliffs. To protect these vulnerable men as they trudged through the sand, Skeena’s gunners, and those of other Canadian, American, and British ships, returned fire to keep the snipers pinned down.

I learned about Dad’s D-Day experience while driving him home from a Kitsap Photography Club meeting in Poulsbo, after he and Mom had moved to an assisted care facility in Port Townsend. He was about 90-years-old, and with no preamble, he started to tell me about being present during the D-Day landing 70 years before. He described witnessing one of his ship’s gunners being shot and killed by a German sniper during the landing. The captain, he said, immediately ordered Dad and another sailor to take the gunner’s place. His shipmate began firing the gun, and Dad fed the heavy belts of ammunition through the weapon. It was grueling work for the two of them, Dad recalled, yet the fallen gunner had somehow managed it on his own.

HMCS Skeena
Source: [Government of Canada; Royal Canadian Navy history; HMCS Skeena –]

I don’t think Dad actually used the term “D-Day” when he told me this story; he just mentioned the English Channel. It was when I was researching the history of the ship Skeena that I learned he’d been present at this pivotal World War II event.

Although Canada had a population of only 11,000,000 at the time, more than 14,000 Canadian soldiers took part in D-Day. And 10,000 sailors on 110 warships contributed to the attack.

D-Day is often described as if it were a one- or two-day event, but it was not fully over until August of that year. Soon after that famous first day of battle, Skeena’s crew returned to their regular assignment: Protecting the convoys of ships carrying munitions, supplies, and personnel from North America to Great Britain, from German U-Boats (submarines).

These sources provide interesting information on Canada’s D-Day participation:

4 responses to “”

  1. That is an amazing story and wonderful post. It’s curious how when our parents get older the reveal things they never talked about. Thank you.

  2. Linda, Val: From this old hick farmer boy. Wow & Wow. It is so great to get your post’s and learn more about your family, a part of mine and proud to have known your grandparents. Wonderful people who knew the good as well as the terrible times. these blogs bring back so many great memories. IO am so looking forward to the things to come, and if there is anything I can do please ask and will give it my best shot.

  3. I hope I did not overstep my bounds but I forward these to my kids and some of the Snary clan, as I am sure we all wish to share our memories, and information of times past. If I did wrong please don’t get too upset as I am too old to take much punishment now.
    And being a retired farmer thought I should pass on the weather here. lol, lol We have had going on to the 3rd week of much rain. had as much as 9 inches in some areas over less than a 24 hour period. Saw flooding I have never seen in my 84+ years.
    God bless you and keep up the stories and pictures. I am printing them off for future reference as I sit in my wheelchair all wrapped up in a shawl and shakingly thumb through what has been a great life Thank You so very much.

    • You and your kids might get a little bored with the blog, since we won’t make it to the Snarys for awhile. It’ll be my parents, then grandparents, and then great-grandparents, both sides. But I know you will enjoy the Johnston grandparent stories, which we’ll do right after the parents.
      Are you really in a wheelchair wrapped up in a shawl? If so, you better get a flotation device quickly with all that rain. Unbelievable!

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