June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day’s landings at Normandy that have long been seen as marking the beginning of the end of the Second World War. We dug into the Abbotsford News’s archives to see how the paper covered the local effects of one of the century’s biggest moments. At the bottom of the story, we’ve included stories published in June and July of 1944 in the Matsqui Sumas Abbotsford News. The archives are now located at The Reach Gallery Museum.
The invasion had been expected for weeks, but the announcement that the Allies had crossed the English Channel and were starting their push east toward Germany was a momentous occasion.
Ernie Poignant, a 100-year-old veteran who then served on the ground crew at RCAF Abbotsford’s pilot training school, remembers leaders of the base holding a meeting at which the invasion was announced.
“They spoke and told us the Allies had reached the beaches of Normandy and the invasion had begun,” Poignant said this week. “We were expecting it, but when it really came it was quite a shock.”
The details, though, would only trickle out of Europe, leaving the editor of the following day’s edition of the Abbotsford Sumas Matsqui News to figure out how to react to one of the 20th century’s most momentous days.
The paper settled on summing up recent local casualties in the war elsewhere – something it had done regularly – while alluding in the headline to the fact that many locals undoubtedly participated in Normandy.
It would take weeks and months before the full toll of the invasion itself would be known, but the region was still catching up on the death toll elsewhere.
So on June 7, Abbotsford residents learned of the May 23 death of 23-year-old Harold Tessaro in Italy.
The News would later print a letter from the padre of Tessaro’s battalion to the young man’s mother.
“We have lost a good friend and a good soldier in Harold, and one that we have long known and loved,” Maj. Roy Dumford wrote, praising Tessaro’s “bravery and gallant courage.” Dumford said he believed Tessaro had learned his “first lesson in courage and self-sacrifice” from his mother.”
Soon thereafter, The News reported that Tessaro’s pioneering parents had decided to sell their Huntingdon farm and move into town. Tony Tessaro said he had “been maintaining the farm for his son … but now that Harold is not coming back, there is no point in carrying on the farm.”
Tessaro had served for four years before his death.
Tragic tales soon started to also emerge from Normandy.
A week after the invasion, Acting Sgt. James (Jim) Dunbar Blacklock died of wounds suffered during the D-Day attacks.
Blacklock was 34 and had worked at the Abbotsford Bakery for eight years before he joined the army in 1940. He had been overseas for two years when he was killed.
The News reported: “A star soccer player of the M-S-A Area, Blacklock followed the sport when he went overseas and early this year played with the champion Chandian team in Britain.”
In the weeks following D-Day, The News also reported the death of 29-year-old Private James Worthington.
Worthington died of his wounds on June 14, eight days after D-Day.
“He was engaged to Florence Haig of Glasgow and they were to have been married on June 15, according to pre-D-Day plans,” The News reported.
Worthington had been overseas for a year prior to his death.
Abbotsford residents are invited to a D-Day service on Sunday, June 9, starting at 1:30 p.m. at Thunderbird Memorial Square, 32388 Veterans Way.