Last month saw the passing of one of the last members of what we refer to as our greatest generation – those men and women who answered the call to defend freedom during the Second World War.
Syd Davie served in the Irish Guards from 1942 until the end of the war. Known as “Skid” to his comrades, Syd saw action in a number of major battles including the Raid on Dieppe, the Normandy Invasion and Operation Market Garden.
After the war Syd immigrated to Canada and eventually settled in Orléans where he enjoyed a successful career with the NRC until his retirement in 1990.
After he retired, he and his wife Miza were active members of the Gloucester North Lions Club and the Navan Lions Club. When Miza passed away in 2005, Syd sold their Fallingbrook home and moved into the Rockcliffe Retirement Residence where he met Dawn Thomas. The pair remained close companions until his passing last month.
Syd Davie was a quiet and kind man who could best be described as a “gentle soul”.
He was born on a ferry on May 12, 1924 while his parents were crossing the Irish Sea to settle in Liverpool, England. His original story would come in handy some 18 years later.
When he first tried to enlist in the Irish Guard, he was rejected due to the fact that he wasn’t obviously Irish. It wasn’t until his mother dug out a page from the log book of the Belfast Packet noting his birth at sea that he was accepted.
Through a combination of skill and fortune, Syd was selected as one of the original members of a special commando unit known as the Bogmen.
The job of the Bogmen was to harass the enemy in occupied territories by demo-lishing their communication and trans-portation capabilities. After the Normandy Invasion, they were tasked with sensitive reconnaissance operations. More times then not their commando missions failed to achieve the objective due to issues over missed drop zones, missing equipment or both.
During one such mission, Syd was sup-posed to demolish a radio tower during the Raid on Dieppe with the help of a dozen former German POWs who had switched sides. When heavy seas separated their landing craft, Syd ended up with the main raiding force. Left without a mission, Syd took it upon himself to rescue as many injured comrades as possible by running to them under fire and dragging them to safety behind a decommissioned armer personnel carrier.
When asked how many men he rescued, he answered that he never kept count. When the last of the landing craft left the beach to go back to the main naval group, Syd was given a choice to get on board or stay behind on the beach. He who lives and runs away lives to fight another day. And so Syd headed back to England.
On May 7 1944, Syd’s unit was operating near the Danish border in Northern Germany when he sent his cousin out on a routine patrol from which he would never return.
No one on the ground had any indication that the Germans would formally surrender the next day. Syd’s cousin was one of the last British casualties of the war. His aunt never talked to him for the remainder of her life.
When he died, Syd left behind a collection of short stories recounting his wartime experiences. Most recount his many operations. Some are quite funny including the “Battle of the Latrines” during which an attacking company of German soldiers surrendered when they thought they were surrounded after Syd and another officer fired on their flank from adjoining latrines.
One in particular, about the death of his first love Annie, is immensely sad.
Syd was heading back to his barracks in Chelsea during a lull in an air raid when he spotted Annie across the street.
Syd writes, “As I took her in my arms she lifted her face up to be kissed and said 'Thank you for coming Syd', but when I kissed her lips, her body slumped against me and at the same time I realized that my hands were wet. I could not believe what I saw - just below the hairline Annie had a large, jagged piece of shrapnel in the back of her neck.”
Annie died from her wound, but not before answering Syd’s proposal for marriage days before.
Annie’s death would effect Syd for years to come. He later married not once, but twice, and had three children as a result of his first marriage which ended before he immigrated to Canada.
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