His name was Edwin Owen Worden. He was one of more than one million Canadian men and women who joined the military to serve in the Second World War.
I know little about him, save the letter he wrote home to his newlywed wife Lily in England on the eve of D-Day.
But there are enough facts on record that I can piece together a rough sketch of his life at war. This is the story of an ordinary man, showing incredible bravery in extraordinary times.
He was born in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 10, 1916–the son of Edward and Julia Worden. He was working as a truck driver and general construction labourer when his world changed forever. In September 1939, Canada declared war on Germany and joined England and France in the Second World War. In 1940, at the age of 24, Edwin enlisted in the Canadian Army.
Edwin joined his home regiment, the Regina Rifles, along with hundreds of other young men–farmers, students, labourers, the unemployed–from across Saskatchewan. Together they formed the 1st Battalion for overseas duty, and would go on to take part in some of the most important, and bloodiest, battles of the war.
They joined for many reasons: To defeat Hitler and defend freedom, to find adventure and a job after the Great Depression. They could make as much as $1.30 a day–more than what many had ever earned. During the “dirty thirties” in Canada, the Prairie provinces were hit especially hard by crippling unemployment and poverty. This was compounded by drought and dust storms that lasted for ten years, as this video “Saskatchewan 1939” shows:
From the start of the war, the Canadian government bombarded the public with propaganda–through the creation of colourful, eye-catching posters–coordinated centrally through its Bureau of Public Information and its successor, the Wartime Information Board.
Edwin would have no doubt seen these posters, and here are two from Library and Archives Canada:
The Canadian Beaver and the British Lion marching together toward victory:
A brave Canadian soldier fighting for a cause:
Canadians heard the call: Between 1939-1945, 1.1 million Canadians–more than 40 per cent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 45–enlisted. Most joined voluntarily in the first years of war. But as the war continued, Canada suffered great losses, and the government finally brought in a controversial policy of conscription.
Now with the rank of “Lance Sergeant”, Edwin spent his first year of service training in Canada with his regiment. This is the closest I have to finding a photograph of him in this regimental photo taken at the start of the war:
On August 24, 1941, L/Sgt Worden was shipped overseas with the 1st Battalion aboard the Empress of Russia. The ship arrived in Britain on September 1, 1941 and the Regina Rifles located in the south of England.
Early on in the war, the Regina Rifles were chosen to be an assault unit for the invasion of Normandy, France, known as Operation Overlord. They spent the next three years in England, training for this seemingly impossible battle.
(Photos from: The Faces of War, National Library and Archives Canada)
It wasn’t all work and no play for L/Sgt Worden. At some point during his time in England, he fell in love with an English woman named Lily Baldwin of Brighton, East Sussex, England. They married early in 1944.
I don’t have a wedding photo for Edwin and Lily, but here is what they might have looked like:
Between 1939-1945, close to half-million Canadian soldiers trained in Britain. Some 45,000 of them married young “war brides” while living abroad. The Canadian government did not condone these marriages at first, but eventually provided some support to these young families. The government set up a Canadian Wives’ Bureau and distributed booklets such as Welcome to War Brides, Canadian Cook Book for British Wives and How to Deliver Your Own Baby.
Now a husband, and well-trained soldier, L/Sgt Worden shipped out for his first active tour of duty on June 5, 1944:
“June 6, 1944, saw the invasion go in as planned and the 1st Battalion Regina Rifles went into battle for the first time. The Battalion had been waiting for a long time for this moment. From a group of civilian bank clerks, students, labourers, printers, lawyers, and many unemployed who had been displaced by the Great Depression, the troops had been transformed into a mentally and physically tough assault battalion…in a few hours, the men who crouched waiting tensely in their ships would be facing the most challenging moment of their lives. That moment would be when the ramp of the landing craft splashed down and they would stand unprotected, amid the oncoming hail of German artillery, machine gun, and small arms fire.” ~Stewart Mein, Up the Johns! The story of the Royal Regina Rifles
And that brings us back to where we began–his letter home to Lily–written on a ship bound for Normandy:
Next post: The Big Day Has Come
D-Day: One Regiment’s Story, CBC Digital Archives (video): http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/second-world-war/d-day-canadians-target-juno-beach/one-regiments-story.html
Canada at War website: http://www.canadaatwar.ca/content-7/world-war-ii/facts-and-information/
“Royal Regina Rifles”, The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan: http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/royal_regina_rifles.html
“Second World War”, The Canadian Encyclopedia: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/second-world-war-wwii
“Up the Johns! The story of the Royal Regina Rifles” by Stewart Mein: http://www.ourroots.ca/e/toc.aspx?id=3641
“Welcome to the Canadian Wives Bureau”, CBC Digital Archives (video): http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/second-world-war/love-and-war-canadian-war-brides/welcome-to-the-canadian-wives-bureau.html
Canadian War Brides website: www.canadianwarbrides.com