6 July marks the 80th Anniversary of the first Canadians to be killed by enemy action in the Second World War. In this article, David May, a volunteer at Aldershot Military Museum, explains the circumstances.
Not all anniversaries are celebrated or marked by fanfares and street parties. One such is the 80th anniversary of the deaths of three Canadian soldiers who were killed in Aldershot in July 1940. It was also the first bomb to cause any casualties in the Aldershot area.
On 6 July 1969, members of the Royal Canadian Legion unveiled a bronze memorial plaque in the Headquarters Building on the corner of Queen’s Road and Allison’s Road to commemorate the men of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps and Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who gave their lives during World War Two, together with the first Canadian casualties on 6 July 1940.
On Saturday 6 July 1940, members of the Royal Canadian Army Ordnance Corps, serving with the 2nd Army Field Workshop, were mounting Bren, Lewis and Vickers machine guns onto motor cycles on the parade ground at Salamanca Barracks, Wellington Avenue, Aldershot. That afternoon, a lone Heinkel 111 bomber was spotted flying over the area. Alarms were relayed by telephone, but by the time a warning call was received at Salamanca Barracks, the German aircraft was already making the first of two bombing runs over the crowded parade ground.
QMS Robert Knox, SSgt Bailey and Pte Sword were killed in the bombing and an officer and 27 men were wounded. These were the first Canadians to be killed in Europe during the Second World War as a direct result of enemy action.
QMS Robert Thomas Knox , married, aged 39, from Vancouver, British Columbia
Staff Sergeant John Francis Bailey, married, 35, from Toronto, Ontario
Private Leslie Herbert Sword, single, 29, from Hamilton, Ontario.
All three soldiers are buried in the Brookwood Military Cemetery.
The first elements of the Canadian Army arrived in Aldershot on 18 December 1939. They were the forerunner of 330,000 Canadians who passed through Aldershot between 1939 and 1946.
The Canadian Army was the largest force of British Commonwealth troops ever to be quartered in the UK at one time. Until Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Canada was Britain’s principal remaining ally in the European Theatre of Operations.
Banner Image: Brookwood Military Cemetery, image by Amanda Slater (Licenced under Creative Commons)
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