Ronald Bath played a role in D-Day. He had wanted to storm the beaches, but his mom got in the way. Still, he did his part.
Bath is a 94-year-old who lives at Greystone Manor in Maple Ridge. He’s known for being active in exercise classes and loves the food at the seniors home.
But on June 6, 1944, he took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy, which was the turning point of the Second World War when Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich started to face defeat. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the history-changing battle.
Bath was a teenager growing up in a company town called Michel, built around a coal mine near Fernie. His dad was a coal miner.
He tried to join the army twice, but each time was caught out for being underage.
“The second time I tried, my mother phoned them. I was only 17,” he said. “I was mad. I said ‘I’ll never join the army.’”
Bath turned 18 and instead signed up with the navy. He was still too young to take his rum ration.
He trained in Calgary, Esquimalt and then Halifax, before being stationed in England.
Bath was a signalman on a large landing craft, and his personal job was to communicate with other ships using flags, or Morse code transmissions using a searchlight with shutters.
There was smaller landing craft that carried platoon-sized units of 36 infantrymen. They were the first wave of the invasion.
Bath came in a second wave, his larger craft carried more than 150 troops – the equivalent of an infantry company. His ship brought the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, which are headquartered in Cornwall, Ont. Bath said there was still shooting, but the troops in the second wave did not face the same heavy resistance as the first to hit the shore in the assault.
His ship made two more trips back to England to bring more Allied troops to Europe in the largest Seaborne invasion in history. On the third trip, the seas were rough, and they had to rescue some of the troops from drowning. Some they couldn’t rescue.
One soldier who crossed the English Channel in one of the landing crafts famously quoted that it combined the movements of “a roller coaster, bucking bronco and a camel.”
He was part of one of history’s great battles. It led to the downfall of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich.
But Bath doesn’t remember it as a great victory to be celebrated at the time.
“There was an awful lot of fighting that went on after that.”
He doesn’t think about D-Day often these days.
“It was an awfully long time ago,” said Bath. “It doesn’t bother me anymore.”
After D-Day Bath was assigned to the Canadian frigate HMCS La Hulloise, steering the vessel as a helmsman, and he also served on the first Canadian aircraft carrier, The Warrior. He enjoyed navy life and said he thought about staying in.
But he returned to Fernie, working 13 years underground in the coal mine, and later handling explosives. He lived in the same little house in Fernie most of his adult life, since 1952, before moving to Maple Ridge four years ago, to be closer to his only child, Lori Harris.
Bath and his son-in-law, Bob Harris, a Maple Ridge lawyer with an enthusiasm for Second World War history, returned to England to celebrate the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004.
He “had a beer with Charlie” [Prince Charles] in a tent full of thousands of veterans in Portsmouth. They visited Juno Beach, where they were greeted by dignitaries and planes flew overhead. He went to the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France, and saw the tombstone, with a Maple Leaf and a cross, of Jimmy Jenkins.
“He was my friend who was killed on the beach on D-Day,” he said.
Bath received a medallion from the government of France, and the appreciation for the French people.
“People were coming up to Ron, and thanking him,” said Harris.