A notice in the newspaper a few weeks ago, lamented the recent passing of a local resident. The short obituary noted that Terry Haddock’s family would miss him dearly, as would members of the boating and billiards community. But the notice also mentioned the loss to his many friends. One of those friends is another Uxbridge resident. Fred Barnard will miss Terry Haddock mostly on Thursdays when the two regularly shared conversation and refreshment at the Legion.
“It was easy to talk to him,” Fred Barnard said. “I’ll miss that.”
A Second World War veteran, who will be 86 in the middle of April, Fred Barnard doesn’t say an awful lot, actually. Born in Toronto, a student of Connaught School on Queen Street, a longtime technician at Honeywell and married some 56 years, Fred is not an outgoing person. He quietly moved to Uxbridge with his daughter a few years ago. And I wouldn’t have come to know him but for a chance meeting in a queue at the bank in the summer of 2003.
As I recall, I was standing in line waiting to pay my credit card bill. Ahead of me were an older man and, at the head of the line, a friend of mine. My friend asked what I was doing these days.
“Writing a book about Canadians on D-Day,” I said.
“Big anniversary next year,” my friend said.
“Yes. The 60th.”
Then it was my friend’s turn for service at the teller’s wicket. That left only the older fellow and me. As we moved up the queue, he turned to me.
“I was there,” he said quietly.
“A veteran, are you?”
“I was there,” he repeated and then continued, “on D-Day.”
What followed was an exchange of phone numbers, an invitation to visit and an interview that changed me and my manuscript. Fred Barnard related to me his D-Day experience of rushing ashore in Normandy that June day in 1944 with his brother Donald in the same landing craft. But Fred’s younger brother never made it off the beach; a single bullet through the chest felled Donald before he reached dry land. Until that day in 2003, Fred Barnard rarely if ever talked about it. I felt honoured to hear the Barnard brothers’ story.
What is perhaps most remarkable to me is that Fred and I have carried on a friendly acquaintance ever since. Phone calls, visits to the house and the occasional chance meetings downtown have allowed me to learn more about my coincidental friend. As often as we’ve chatted, however, Fred remains a quiet and modest man. His Second World War service in France after D-Day proved to be equally remarkable. His Queen’s Own unit spearheaded the liberation of France and Fred was wounded by shrapnel in mid-August 1944.
All of that might seem just another veteran’s tale from a war so long ago, fading and nearly forgotten. Well, it appears it hasn’t been forgotten. Least of all by the people of France. Not too long ago, Fred Barnard was notified by the French government that he and several of his Queen’s Own comrades would be recognized with one of the top military awards in France. And last night, during a ceremony at Toronto’s Moss Park Armoury, Fred Barnard received the French Legion of Honour.
“I was no patriot or hero,” Fred told me in 2003. “I was just doing my job as a volunteer soldier.”
For the record, the Legion of Honour was created by French general Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. It was and still is the highest award given by the French Republic for outstanding service to France, regardless of social status or nationality. It is the French equivalent of the British Victoria Cross and George Cross combined. Critics of Napoleon’s award once suggested that such “baubles on men’s chests were mere children’s toys.”
“Well, it’s with such toys that one leads men,” Napoleon responded.
I don’t know if Fred Barnard ever bragged to Terry Haddock or any of his pals at the Royal Canadian Legion over on Franklin Street about this award. My guess is that Fred would be the last to do such a thing. That’s why thought I would. So that we can be as proud as Fred Barnard is modest. Fred, congratulations from your family, Legion friends and neighbours!