© Dave Mathieson - Amherst Daily News
Since their first gathering in 1947, members of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders have been remembered for the sacrifices they made on D-Day. It is with heavy hearts that Mary Lynn Chapman and Ray Coulson announced yesterday that the annual D-Day remembrance ceremony at the Amherst Cenotaph has come to an end.
AMHERST - It was at the beginning of the Second World War that an entire battalion trained in Amherst for the D-Day invasion, which occurred June 6, 1944.
June 6, 2013, will mark the first year that the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (NNSH) Memory Club will not lay a wreath to honour the 486 North Novas who died during the Second World War.
"Over the last number of years the number of North Nova veterans has continued to decrease," said Mary Lynn Chapman, former secretary of the NNSH Memory Club. "The few who remain are well into their 80s and 90s, and most are dealing with serious health issues."
The very first North Nova Highlanders reunion was in 1947. Up until the1980s and 90s, they would still attract 600 or 700 veterans and family members who gathered for the annual reunion, coming from throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Western Canada and as far away as California.
"They would come every June 6 for a service, and then we'd adjourn to a local restaurant for a social where we'd have guest speaker," said Ray Coulson, curator at the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum.
Coulson said it's sad that they won't have a ceremony this year but says it's the sign of the times.
"We'll miss the camaraderie with those guys," said Coulson.
After war was declared in 1939, the North Nova Regiment was formed in Amherst. It was an amalgamation made up of soldiers from three rifle companies from Nova Scotia and one rifle company from PEI.
The battalion trained in Amherst and Debert, boarded a troop ship in Halifax, and arrived in England on July 29, 1941.
They were then transported to Aldershot in southern England, where they trained for D-Day.
The North Nova's became part of the 9th Canadian Brigade that landed in the Juno Beach area on June 6, 1944. Known as the Normandy Landings, it was the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
They suffered four casualties on the first day, with the first casualty being Ralph Tuttle, who was from Brookdale.
"My dad picked up the bodies after D-Day," said Chapman, whose dad was Don M. Chapman. "And Ralph Tuttle was a good friend of my dad's."
The next day, June 7, was much more devastating. At the end of the day there were 210 casualties, including 175 missing soldiers, many of whom had been taken prisoner.
By the end of the European conflict, the North Novas had lost 486 soldiers, who are now buried in Commonwealth war cemeteries in Northwest Europe.
Chapman has travelled to the Netherlands where she has visited almost all the North Nova gravesites, taking photographs of them.
"Schoolchildren are assigned to certain graves," said Chapman. "They look after it, and then their children and their grandchildren look after it."
Chapman said it's with a heavy heart that they don't continue the D-Day tradition in Amherst but says their memory will not fade away.
There is the Commemorative Mural in downtown Amherst, the Cairn outside the Col. Layton Ralston Armoury and numerous artifacts on display at the NSHR Museum.
"They left a legacy for the citizens of Amherst," said Chapman.