Dan Lambert has seen a lot in his 97 years.
A successful professional engineer, he has been deeply involved in his profession. He has lived in several provinces, and enjoyed a successful career in communications. He has travelled extensively, and worked for a time in Sri Lanka. He still plays the violin, something he took up as a child.
A recent event in his life may be among the most significant. He has been named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honour for the role he played in liberating France from Nazi occupation in 1944. He received his medal in February.
At the time, he was a captain in the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, working in communication and signalling. He served as adjutant of his unit in division headquarters.
He landed with his division at Courseulles Sur Mer, on the French coast in Normandy, on July 19, 1944. D-Day had taken place six weeks earlier and the Allied forces had established a significant beachhead in France, but there were plenty of challenges ahead.
The Germans fought back fiercely and the war didn’t end until May 8, 1945 — 10 months later.
Courseulles Sur Mer is the location of the Juno Beach Centre, commemorating in particular the actions of Canadian soldiers who landed there on D-Day and afterwards.
It was officially opened in 2003.
In a recent interview with The Times, Lambert pulled out a map of all the ground his division covered while it was in Europe, from July 19 until V-E Day on May 8, 1945. It shows that the troops advanced through France, into Belgium and Holland and then pushed into Germany. The division then headed back into Holland, where many Canadian troops were stationed when the war ended.
The division remained there until soldiers began making their way home.
His actual work during the 10 wartime months that he was with the army on a variety of battlefields in Europe involved a wide variety of communications duties.
Much of the work was evaluating abandoned telephone lines and restoring them for use by the military. The signal troops also set up many new lines. Their work was crucial, as it allowed commanders to communicate effectively with troops at the front.
The signallers had to keep up with troop movement and were often at or near the front.
“One of my jobs was to go to a newly-captured place and see if it could be used for our (communications) purposes.”
His division landed in France using what was known as a “mulberry.” It was a portable dock where ships could land and then transfer their loads to trucks. They were built using pontoons, and could be erected very quickly.
One of his sharpest memories was when members of his division came under friendly fire. They were involved in closing the Falaise Gap.The British were supposed to drop bombs ahead of where the Canadians were, but came in low and started firing on their allies.
“I could see the bombers passing at a low altitude, with the bomb bays open. I said ‘They’re dropping bombs on us.’
“In the next field was the 51st Battalion. One of the friendly fighter pilots was strafing them. I couldn’t believe it. It was incredible.”
While there were casualties, Lambert was unable to find out just how many soldiers were killed or injured in that horrific moment.
He has happier memories of staying with Dutch families in Holland, and sharing food with them.
“They had very little to eat,” he said. “Anything we got from home as a parcel we shared with them. Our liquor and cigarettes were also useful for trading. They were good people “
Lambert came back to Canada in August, 1945. He had been in the army for just under six years, as he joined in September, 1939, just after war was declared.
He had grown up in Vancouver, so returned to B.C. He went to the University of B.C. to get an electrical engineering degree, although he remained interested in being a permanent member of the Canadian Army. But it couldn’t find a spot for him, so he took up work in the private sector, first with Canadian Pacific Telecommunications, and later with Lenkurt Electric.
He remained an active member of the reserves and retired from military service in 1968, with the rank of major.
During the Korean War, he was approached by the army and asked if he was still interested in joining the permanent force. He had just finished his degree, was working with CP and it wasn’t a good time to do so.
He was transferred to Montreal by CP and lived there for seven years. His two sons were born there. The Lambert family returned to B.C. in 1957, and he started working with Lenkurt.
He worked there for 16 years, and became active with the Association of Professional Engineers of B.C., serving as its president in 1969. He was also a member of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, serving as its president as well.
In 1973, he went to work for the B.C. association as managing director, and stayed in that position until retiring in 1985.
He and his wife Grace lived in Burnaby for 38 years and moved to Langley 21 years ago. They were among the first residents of the Churchill Park townhouse development in Walnut Grove.
While his wife has passed away, he remains in good health. He regularly plays the violin and enjoys social time with other Churchill Park residents, and with his family. His two sons and their families live in the Lower Mainland.
It was through another Churchill Park resident, Leo Kurcz, that he heard the French government was honouring Canadian veterans who had fought in France in 1944.
As he is not involved with veterans’ organizations, he had no knowledge of the project. He looked into it and supplied his relevant information to Kurcz, who did the paperwork for him. The medal arrived in the mail in early February, along with a note from the French government thanking him for his efforts in liberating France in 1944 — 71 years ago.
“I never forget the army. You can’t go through that experience and wipe it out. I don’t think I missed out on much. If I didn’t get it in civilian life, I got it in the army life. And I got out alive — and that’s even better.”
In February, Langley resident John Swityk was also presented with a medal and was named to the Legion of Honour, at a ceremony at the Langley City Legion branch. He was with the Regina Rifles on Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.