Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Highlights 2News

At almost 100, Roly Armitage’s SecondWorld War memories remain vivid

In recognition of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, commemorated around the world on Thursday, THE EQUITY is pleased to publish this tribute to D-Day veteran Sergeant Armitage, who lived in Shawville with his family for many years while he worked as a veterinarian. Sergeant Rolly Armitage was to attend the D-Day ceremony at Juno Beach in France with his fellow veterans last week, but was unable to travel due to illness.
Armitage was, however, honoured in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the veterans, in which he noted “Sergeant Armitage, who couldn’t be here with us today.”
This article, originally published by Veterans Affairs Canada, was forwarded to THE EQUITY by Roly’s son Mick.

A glass jar of sand sits proudly displayed in the entrance of Roly Armitage’s room at Perley Health’s Rideau Veterans Residence in Ottawa. “D-Day sand Juno Beach,” is written on a yellow sticky note.
The grains of sand are a souvenir from a recent trip back to that infamous beach that the 99-year-old Second World War Veteran vividly remembers.
Armitage was 19 and fresh off his Ottawa family farm when he joined 14,000 Canadian soldiers who landed at Bernières-sur-Mer, France on D-Day, 6 June 1944. He remembers his wet feet and a pounding heart that day.
“It was just awful, everything was on fire, all of it,” he said.
Armitage is now in a wheelchair because his legs “just went to sleep” but feels like a spry “78-year-old on the top half.”
“I can remember everything,” he says.
He remembers the words “Roly, please remember me” his future wife wrote on a scrap of paper when he deployed with the army after lying about his age to enlist at 17.
He remembers the barge that transported he and his 5 Battery of the 3th Medium Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery close to that French shore in the second wave of Juno Beach landings as the Allies’ invaded Normandy.
He remembers the broken English of the boatload of German soldiers – captured as prisoners of war – waving, laughing and shouting “have a good time” as his boots filled with cold water from the English Channel.
He remembers the German shell explosion that took his left eardrum and his commanding officer – Lieutenant Roy Pattinson’s right arm.
He remembers Pattinson’s last words as they injected him with morphine.
“No, put it in my other arm, it hurts,” Pattison said before he died.
“He was only 25,” Armitage said.
He remembers the flames, the noise, the dirt, the chaos and the acute longing for home as these horrors unfolded in front of teenaged eyes.
“I was asking myself ‘why did I do this?’ I should have been home with my girlfriend,” he says.
He remembers the day he traded future multi-billionaire Freddie Heineken gas for beer outside a seaside Dutch hotel. And he can still recite the alphabet backwards, a skill he used to code secret messages—now stored as a long-term memory.
He vividly remembers the winter day he found two shivering Dutch children (a boy, about six and a girl, about three) caked in mud in a ditch near Eindhoven.
“They were weak and scared,” he remembers. He brought the children into his jeep and took them back to camp where they were cleaned and spoon-fed milk for days in the field kitchen.
Canadian soldiers were able to find the boy’s family but the girl’s mother had been imprisoned for fraternizing with the enemy. Her guardian aunt had been killed and she was completely alone. Once she had regained strength, nuns cared for her until she and her mother were reunited after the war.
When the war ended Armitage came back to Canada, married, raised a family of four, became a veterinarian, raised and trained standardbred horses, became Mayor of his township, wrote three books about the war and was named “Ottawa’s most interesting man” by local media.
It was a good life, he said, but his memories of that little Dutch girl in the ditch lingered. On one of his many trips back to the Netherlands, he shared the story with a Dutch reporter. Sonja Jobes, now in her 80s and living in the U.S. recognized herself in that newspaper story. She travelled to Ottawa in 2023 to meet Armitage—and to thank him.
He was also able to find Roy Pattinson’s niece too, and, over a lengthy video call, shared her uncle’s final moments. All she and her family had ever known was that he was killed in action.
“I told her everything,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“She and I became very good friends after that.”
Roly Armitage will be 100 years old on 8 February 2025.

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