charles henry byce
Given the exploits done by his father overseas, Charles Henry Byce seemed to be predestined to become a military hero. His mother, Louisa Saylors, a Cree from Moose Factory, Ontario, married Henry Byce, a White from Westmeath. When Charles was born in 1917 in Chapleau, the First World War was still raging, and his father was fighting in Europe, where he earned two decorations for bravery: the Medal of Distinguished Conduct ( DCM ) and the Military Medal of France. Two decades later, 23-year-old Charles Byce enlisted in Lake Superior Regiment (motorized) Lake Sups and began a remarkable adventure following roughly the same route as his father. After the war, Byce was the only man in his regiment to receive DCM and MM .
Byce won its first decoration for bravery, the MM , in the Netherlands in January 1945. At that time, the Allies had established positions in France and Belgium and, a month later, they would launch the final offensive of the crossing of the Rhine to invade Germany.
Before dawn on 21 January, Lance Corporal Byce and 23 other members of Lake Sups set off on a rowboat to cross the Maas River. Their mission was to infiltrate behind enemy lines and bring back German prisoners in order to obtain information on enemy units. Byce led a team of five men to protect the reconnaissance group.
Shortly after docking in enemy territory, the reconnaissance group fired three German positions. Byce located two of them and silenced them with grenades. He also managed to get information from a German prisoner before leaving. The official history of the regiment states what happened next:
The red and yellow flares began to streak the sky, and the enemy's machine guns and light mortars came into action. ... While patrollers ran along the dike, several grenades exploded in the air. Fortunately, they did not do any damage ... but they made it possible to reveal the presence of two other enemy soldiers. Once again Corporal Byce took the initiative. He charged the German shelter and threw a 36 grenade into it.
The patrol returned safely, and Byce became one of about 1,200 Canadians who won the MM . In the quotation the corporal was praised for his "coolness" and "dedication" in attributing to him the merit of the success of the patrol.
About six weeks later, Byce became one of the 162 Canadians who won the DCM during the Second World War. The Rhine campaign was well underway, but enemy defenses still blocked the Allied route in Germany. It was the enemy's last important line of defense and she was not going to give in easily. The counter-attacks were violent and numerous.
On March 2, 1945, Lake Sups engaged in the most difficult combat he had ever known. At 4:00, alternate Sergeant Byce and the rest of Company C left to occupy a group of buildings south of the Hochwald Forest. At 6 o'clock they had reached their goal, but the first glimmers of the morning had revealed their position to the enemy. Company C was shelled by shells and mortars that destroyed all the tanks. Losses accumulated quickly. All the officers were among the victims, including the company commander. Meanwhile, four enemy tanks were approaching. Regimental history describes what happened next:
In confusion and general disorder, the enemy approached Company C's position. The Lake Sups held out, the perimeter of their tusks narrowed and their corridor to return to the rear became more in narrower. With ferocity and courage, Sergeant Byce, who now commanded the remains of Company C, fought as long as he could; then, joining together the few men who remained, he made his way through the back path, riddled with bullets.
It was 3 pm when Byce ordered the retreat of his men. He spent the rest of the afternoon behind his group, firing on enemy infantry to protect the retreat of his company.
Once again, his quote was impressive:
The magnificent courage and fighting spirit of this non-commissioned officer in the face of superior forces exceed all praise. His brave resistance, without adequate arms and with a handful of men in a desperate situation will remain, forever, an excellent example for men of all ranks of the regiment.
Byce and the Lake Sups advanced to Germany when the war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945. He was sent to England the following month and returned to Canada in September 1945.