Canadian soldier decorated for heroism

Canadian soldier decorated for heroism

Born: March 4, 1922. Died: July 23, 2014.

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Maurice Bossé, who has died aged 92, was an 18-year-old French-speaking Canadian with little English when he disembarked at Greenock on September 4, 1940, along with English-speaking comrades from the Canadian Black Watch and the Calgary Highlanders, which are both legacies of historic Scottish regiments.

He never forgot the cheering welcome from hundreds of Scots by the docks although he admitted later he didn't understand a word of what they were shouting. All he knew was that his French-speaking Montreal-based Régiment de Maisonneuve was likely to be headed beyond Scotland to mainland Europe and hopefully on to Berlin.

On the 11-day crossing to Greenock, the men from the two reservist "Highland" regiments, most of Scottish heritage, teased their French-speaking fellow Canadians and nicknamed them "the Maisies," rhyming with daisies, but the three regiments would fight shoulder-to-shoulder with British, American and other allied troops over the next five years.

During these days when we are commemorating the starts of the two 20th Century World Wars, we must remember the sacrifice of troops from the Commonwealth countries. Mr Bossé, initially an infantry private in the reservist Maisonneuves, helped defend Britain against a feared Nazi invasion during the first few years of the war when he helped guard the Roman and Norman walls of medieval Pevensey Castle and the white cliffs along the Channel Coast. He later took part in the Normandy landings, fought his way through Belgium and Holland and played a key personal role in the allied push to cross the Rhine and finish off Hitler.

He received a mention-in-dispatches for saving comrades from a stricken tank in Normandy in 1944 and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for gallantry during the Battle of Xanten on the Rhine in March, 1945. By that time, he was a sergeant in command of a unit of flamethrower vehicles. Once his contribution to the final push on Berlin became clear, he was named Knight of the Legion of Honour by French president François Hollande.

After war erupted in 1939, 17-year-old Mr Bossé enlisted in the Régiment de Maisonneuve, named after the first French governor of Montréal, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve. He embarked for Greenock on 24 August, 1940, as part of Canada's 5th Infantry Brigade, including the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) and the Calgary Highlanders. On that Atlantic crossing, the lads of Scottish extraction drove "the Maisies" crazy with their incessant bagpipe-backed renditions of their marching song Hielin' Laddie.

Mr Bossé's regiment, with the motto Bon Coeur et Bon Bras (Good Heart and Strong Arm), was trained in England from December 1940 and served mostly as guardians of the Channel coast, ultimately based in Folkestone in the run-up to the Normandy landings.

On July 6, a month after the initial D-Day landings, the Maisies disembarked in Normandy to support the allied push inland. They suffered 17 fatalities on their first day of combat on July 19 but, along with the Canadian Black Watch, liberated Saint-André-sur-Orne, where the village's main street is now Rue des Canadiens. In late 1944, by which time Mr Bossé was a Sergeant, les Maisonneuves fought in the Battle of the Scheldt, clearing the Scheldt estuary between Belgium and the Netherlands to allow allied ships to bring vital supplies in through Antwerp.

In February/March 1945, Sgt Bossé survived Operation Blockbuster, the Battle of the Hochwald Gap in Germany's Lower Rhine region, one of the heaviest tank battles of the war, when the Maisies lost 13 dead and 33 wounded. Within days, he, les Maisonneuves and the Calgary Highlanders, backed by Sherman tanks, Kangaroo armoured personnel carriers and mine-clearing Flails, were nearing the Siegfried Line as part of the allied Operation Veritable, featuring some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

Sgt Bossé commanded three armoured cars armed with Wasp flamethrowers (similar to British forces' Churchill Crocodile flamethrowers) at the Battle for Xanten, which the Canadians captured. It was in March, 1945, that he won the DCM for his bravery at Xanten, where he was shot in the arm. He said the German troops, even the élite SS men captured, admitted they had feared the flamethrower more than any other weapon.

He was evacuated to hospital in Leeds and his war was over.

"I learned later that les Maisonneuves had carried on that day and by nightfall had taken 200 prisoners. When the Germans saw the flamethrower come up and start firing at them from 2-300 feet away, they came out with their hands up.

"In France, we had been up against the SS, the élite. Hitler was like God to them. As we moved deeper into Germany, we saw civilians, just like we had been. The German people weren't bandits. Sometimes I was reminded of Canada. There were a lot of farms and working people."

Maurice Germain Bossé was born in Saint-Hélene in the Kamouraska municipality of Québec province. After the war, he became a postal worker. He remained in the same province, latterly in Lac Des Aigles, where he died. His wife Cécile (née Rioux) predeceased him.

He is survived by eight sons, four daughters, 18 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.