Oldest Canadian to die on D-Day wouldn't leave his troops
Of the 2,048 Canadian soldiers buried at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France following D-Day, Maj. John Archibald MacNaughton is believed to be the oldest.
Known simply as “Archie” to those who knew him, the pride of Black River Bridge, N.B. served in the First World War and decided to serve his country once again in advance of the Second World War.
At 47 years old, MacNaughton had earned the right to return to his wife and two children just days before D-Day and after nearly three years in Europe, but refused because he didn’t want to leave the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment.
In a letter to his wife Grace two days before D-Day, MacNaughton wrote: “Don't worry if you don't hear from me. This has been a busy time, but I am awful glad I was in it, no matter how things go."
“I would love to see you all now,” he continued. “I am feeling rather lonely tonight and I know what is ahead.”
On June 6, 1944, MacNaughton led his company to the shores of Normandy, where he was shot in the hand during the initial landings. He soldiered on, but was killed hours later while trying to lead his men out of the line of fire in Tailleville, France.
During the war, MacNaughton had earned the high praise among those in his regiment, where Maj. J.A.L. Robichaud called him the “most popular, the most respected and the most durable,” officer in the unit.
“Maj. McNaughton could not be made to believe that he was too old for the job.” Robichaud continued. “In fact, the men under his command did not outwardly impress as being the most efficient soldiers in the unit, but were 100 per cent behind him.”
Of the 34 soldiers from the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment to lose their lives on D-Day, MacNaughton was the only officer.
He is the subject of a recent Heritage Minute from Historica Canada, in which a group of soldiers is seen walking through a town before one of them sees a child looking through a window and lowers his weapon. Suddenly gunfire erupts and the video cuts to MacNaughton’s tombstone.