Remembrance Day is not a celebration, but rather a time to remember the horrors and human cost of war.
Dick Norris, who served in the Navy during the Second World War, remembers it all too well.
Norris was raised on the B.C. coast in Desolation Sound, the fifth child in a family of ten. He took his schooling by correspondence and says he “grew up wild.”
“Dad moved us up there just before the depression and we never even knew there was one on,” said Norris. “We had everything we wanted. We lived off the land and water with salmon, fish, deer and moose.”
In 1942 Norris received a brown envelope from his Majesty, the King, instructing him to report to HMCS Discovery in Vancouver.
“I should never have been drafted because I was only 17, but I was a commercial fisherman and they wanted men who could handle boats in rough water,” Norris said. “They called us the Fishermen’s Reserve.”
After months of training with the Royal Marines, he was ready for a special naval assault force called Combined Operations.
Norris has pictures of some of the 30 ships unloading troops on the beaches of France, with barrage balloons floating all around them in the sky overhead. He can point to his position “number one gun, right on the bow.”
“We had to get 150,000 men on that beach, bringing them from South Hampton, England,” said Norris. “Our ship would run right up on the beach if possible. If it was too shallow, they had to wade in amid all the gunfire. Then we’d drag ourselves off the beach and get the hell out of there.”
Norris explained that many of the ships didn’t make it because of the coastal defenses with the shores being mined.
“We were expendable. They never thought we’d make it,” he said. “We were lucky.”
After the war, Norris threw himself into his work as a carpenter. He worked twelve to fourteen hours a day all in an attempt to forget the past and build his future.
In 1946, Norris met his wife Kathleen, who served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corp. They married in 1947.
In 1951 Norris was appointed special representative of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and he travelled all over the B.C. Interior and Yukon, settling disputes, negotiating and signing agreements.
With six growing children, Norris decided to settle in the Okanagan and the family moved to Summerland in 1960.
After retiring in 1982, Norris soon found himself stepping up to rebuild the Summerland Yacht Club.
“I was commodore for two years during all that construction,” he said. “We had a crew of about 20 volunteers. We worked seven days a week. As fast as they got done the dredging and driving piles, we put in the moorage. It was fun and we enjoyed doing it.”
The north berm of the yacht club is marked “Norris Island” in his honour.
Today Norris describes himself as “chief cook and bottle washer.” Along with the help of four daughters, he is caring for his wife of 69 years.
“We’re staying at home as long as possible,” he said.
The couple have 13 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren and Norris is now passing on his knowledge of the water to his eldest great grandson, by taking him out fishing.
In 1999, Norris represented the Royal Canadian Naval Association and returned to France and to Juno Beach.
“That was a very hard trip to take,” he said as his voice cracked with emotion. “I know now in graphic detail what happened to those men we put ashore.”
As he stood among the thousands of headstones he was filled with guilt and moved to angry tears, because of the crushing loss and man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.
“We are all the same on each end of the gun,” he said.
Norris doesn’t think much has changed over time and feels man’s drive to rule over others and his greed are still what is killing us today.
“We’ve learned nothing,” he said. “All we’ve learned is horror and grief.”