The world will be watching and remembering on June 6, the sacrifices allied troops made 75 years ago when they mounted the largest amphibious military operation in history: Operation Overlord, code named ‘D-Day’, the allied invasion of northern France.
Earlier in the Second World War, Hitler’s armies had gained control over most of mainland Europe. The Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. By daybreak on June 6, 1944, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.
British and Canadian forces landed at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches and were met with heavy German fire. It was the same for American troops landing at Omaha beach. But by day’s end, 155,000 allied troops, Americans, British and Canadians, had successfully stormed the beaches in Normandy, France and were able to push inland and eventually defeat the Germans with help from Soviet forces moving towards Germany from the east.
This ‘D-Day’, the Cheslatta Carrier Nation honours one of its own members who served with the Canadian troops in the invasion of Normandy.
Private Abel Thomas Peters, Rifleman, was born on September 16, 1922 at Cheslatta Lake. He was one of 10 children born to Thomas Peter and Rose Louie (daughter of the legendary Chief Louie). He attended LeJac residential school but ran away when he was 13. He enlisted in the army in 1943 in the 102nd Northern British Columbians and became part of the Winnipeg Rifles. After enlisting he trained in Alberta for two months and then travelled to Nova Scotia for final training.
He went overseas in September 1943 and landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.
On July 8, 1944, Private Peters was shot by a German sniper at the Cannes Airfield. He received extensive head and arm injuries. His left arm ended up being one inch shorter than his right arm because of his injuries and he survived a bullet wound to his head. He was in the battlefield for only 28 days before returning to Canada. Private Peters ended up in Vancouver and stayed at a hospital for soldiers to recover from his injuries. He ended up in Victoria at a convalescent facility and stayed for several months to regain use of his arm and strength in his legs.
Once he was discharged, he found his way to Quesnel to work in a sawmill but a workplace injury to his hands forced him back to Vancouver for medical treatment. Once he recovered, he went back to Cheslatta Lake and bought a truck and started a sawmill. In April 1952, he was the translator for the Cheslatta Carrier Nation when Alcan and the Department of Indian Affairs forced people to surrender their land and villages.
He married May Jack and together they raised 12 children. He was Chief of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, 1962-1964 and a Band Councillor, 1966-1968 and again 1985-1990.
Abel Thomas Peters passed away peacefully on August 15, 2012, just short of his 90th birthday.