From Juno Beach, through France, Belgium and Holland, Elmira’s Raymond Pond fought for Canada as a gunner in the 19th Canadian Army Field Regiment during the Second World War.Now, some 70 years later, Pond has been awarded the rank of Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the most prestigious distinction bestowed by the government of France.
“Please allow me to express once more my most sincere congratulations on behalf of France and all my countrymen, regarding your nomination to the rank of Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest of our national orders,” read a letter from Philippe Zeller, the ambassador of France to Canada to Pond. “As the Canadian authorities have already given their approval for your nomination, you can therefore proudly wear this insignia, which attests to your courage and your devotion to the ideals of liberty and peace.”
Humble but proud, Pond is grateful for the acknowledgement.
“It’s wonderful that they finally thought of us after all that time,” he said as he sat with his wife Ruby at their kitchen table the day after Remembrance Day.
Pond, now 94 years old, grew up in Millbank before moving to Elmira to pursue work as a mechanic in Kitchener.
But the war got in the way.
In October of 1941, at 21 years of age, he enlisted. After basic training and some time stationed at bases in Prince Rupert and Petawawa, he was shipped across the pond.That’s where he met Ruby.
“When I met her, my buddy and I wanted to get out for the weekend but our trucks were all more or less corralled,” he recalled. “So my buddy says, ‘Ray, you got any money?’ And I said ‘yeah,’ and so he said, ‘I’ll get my truck out, just leave it to me.’”
Fortunately, they managed to get hold of a truck and onto the road for the 30-mile trip from their base in Bournemouth to Lee-on-Solent, England.
“When we got to the dancehall we met (Ruby) and her sister (Peg),” he said. “So we got hooked up.”
Ruby, an English girl, was working in the British Land Army in the area, working the fields.
They shared the last two dances of the night, Pond remembers, and decided to keep in touch.
It wasn’t easy though, as Pond was shipped off soon thereafter with his regiment across the English Channel as part of the largest military operation in history, D-Day.
“We were loaded and shipped over in a huge ship with an open front end and a ramp, but otherwise the ship was enclosed,” Pond said. “Our guns sat in open craft and they started firing from the water right over our troops as we were landing. They were firing over our heads trying to knock out the enemy troops.”
He continued, “Of course, Hitler kind of got surprised by us and he didn’t have as much artillery there as he might have had. So we were fortunate that way, but it was bad enough.”
An ammunition hauler, Pond was responsible for transporting shells and rounds from the ammunition dumps to the artillery positions.
It was a dangerous job.
“My truck was hit,” he said, remembering a close call he had in Germany. “I had made it all the way through with just a few scrapes here and there, but two months before the end of the war (March, 1945) my truck finally got hit.”
Luckily, Pond was behind the vehicle digging a foxhole when the shell landed.
“It missed us, my buddy and I, and actually, (the truck) saved our lives because it was right in line with where we were at the time,” Pond said.
“All of a sudden three shells came over and it was likely a mortar shell, which aren’t very big, but they are big enough to burn up anything. One landed quite a ways out and the next landed nearby so we got up and ran like the devil.”
Everything he had was in that truck, he recalled, and virtually everything was lost to the flames.
But one very special item remained.
“When the fire was over we went around to see what was left of the truck,” he said. “Inside the tailgate of the truck, the old army trucks had tailgates that came down on chains, and I could reach up. We wouldn’t dare go up on that vehicle when it had ammunition on it, because you don’t know what you could touch that might set it off. So I reached up and there was a hat badge. The hat was burned to the dickens, of course, but the badge was laying there and I couldn’t believe it.”
The badge had been passed down to Pond from his father, who served in the artillery during the First World War.
Just a few months later, Pond was back in England (Germany surrendered May 7, 1945) marrying Ruby.
He shipped off back to Canada, and she followed a year later with the couple’s baby daughter Julyan in tow.
They’ve been in Elmira ever since, where Raymond worked as a mechanic at Uniroyal and the couple raised two kids.
And their family continues to grow, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren across the region, all whom had an extra reason to be proud this week.