69 years ago today Canadian, British and American troops stormed the beach at Normandy to begin the liberation of France. Our beach (Juno Beach) was the first one to fall… way to go Canada. The next day the siege of the town of Caen began. The allies suffered massive casualties. One of the units tasked with taking Caen was the 30th Battery or Sportsman’s Battery. The battery was raised in Toronto by Major Conn Smythe who had taken leave from the Maple Leafs for the duration of the war. This photo was taken days before they left England. Note the three individuals in Leafs sweaters… likely Marlies or St. Mike’s prospects. Smythe is fourth from the left in the back; he had just suffered a severe… softball injury, that almost kept him from invading France. The fellow in the back right (wearing his double blue) is Shanty McKenzie, who was a star with the Argos when he joined the Battery. He would go on to work for the Leafs after the war, filming every game for Smythe, so that the he could analyze his team’s performance. The tall gentleman in the middle is a man who Conn managed to get enlisted, despite his advanced years and a series of debilitating sports injuries. His name is Ted Reeve. Reeve also led the Balmy Beach Club to a pair of Grey Cup Championships. Smythe called him “the bravest man I have ever known”.
At the Battle of Caen, Smythe would take shrapnel from the German Luftwaffe in the bowel. Triaged at the field hospital, it was determined that his chances of survival were slim and the doctors decided not to operate. A plea from one of his men saved his life. Do you know who this man is? asked the soldier? “No replied” the field surgeon”. “This is Conn Smythe!” exclaimed the man. “Conn Smythe of the Maple Leafs!? Well, we can’t let him die, now can we?” said the doctor. Smythe was saved. Eventually France was liberated, thanks in part to your Toronto Maple Leafs. (Thanks to Leafs Game Ops for the story and pic)