Preparing for Juno75: A Memorial Journey 75 Years in the Making

UPDATE: The Uncovering Valour Project is excited about the upcoming Juno75 ceremony in Normandy, France. Lt. Col. E. A. Olmsted’s story has been exciting to trace - particularly his experiences on D-Day - but this story has blossomed into a much broader narrative that now includes a treasure trove of personal accounts of D-Day from other Canadian soldiers that we uncovered. A sample of that story, which was submitted to several Canadian news outlets and the Juno Beach Centre is summarized below.

Significant information will be posted after a two week research trip to England and France in June, 2019.

25 year-old Earl Olmsted was one of the Canadians who volounteered at the outbreak of world war II in 1939 to serve King and Country. Olmsted (a clerk in Ottawa) was quickly commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in the artillery and sent to aid in the defense of Britain.

After four years of war, in June, 1944 the 29 year old Captain Olmsted found himself serving in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division Headquarters aboard HMS Hilary – acting as an operations liaison in the staff of General R.F.L. Keller. They were part of the largest invasion force that had ever been assembled and were headed straight into one of the most well defended and fortified areas of the world – Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.

Olmsted died in Toronto in 2008, followed by his son Bruce in 2012 who was most familiar with his military career and stories, which were at risk of being forgotten.

Now, 75 years later, Olmsted’s grandson Geoff Osborne – also 29 years old – is traveling to England and Normandy, France (via ferry - from the same harbor that his grandfather sailed from in 1944) for the official Juno75 ceremony to meet with veterans and try to retrace his grandfather’s footsteps.

With very little military knowledge and a busy career in Toronto, Osborne started The Uncovering Valour Project in 2016 to unearth the details of his grandfather’s military service and try to locate his comrades and their respective families. Osborne was shocked to find out just how much information he was able to obtain through military record research requests, unit diaries, letters home, interviews, and personal artifacts. He has been able to paint a forensic account of D-Day, but believes this is just the start of something much bigger.

The groundbreaking find that kicked this all off was a handwritten D-Day account by his grandfather from the University of Ohio. The University houses all of the references for Cornelius Ryan’s epic summary of D-Day called The Longest Day. Olmsted’s personal accounts helped to paint a picture of the battle… But this was just one piece of an ever-growing story, which was contrasted with personal artifacts that helped to show the human side of war and enable a more personal connection. Olmsted had been recently married and his wife Marjorie was expecting their first son (born June 1944) – despite the horrors of war this was a key topic of his letters home from Juno Beach.

After the battle for Normandy, Olmsted was promoted to Major and went on regimental duty with the 13th Canadian Field, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA), helping to liberate France, Belgium, Holland and defeat Germany. Olmsted was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and played a key role with NORAD – overseeing cold war ballistic missile testing at Fort Churchill. He went on to be the National Secretary of the Canadian Army Benevolent Fund, and retired after a distinguished 27 year military career.

Osborne has been feverishly searching for his grandfather’s comrades’ family members, but hit a roadblock with an overwhelming amount of information and a limited ability to track people down. For example, he was able to locate the nephew of Brigadier H.W. Foster (noted below) and share the story of Olmsted’s D-Day encounter with him. He also traveled to Holland and found the graves of two Canadians that were killed while serving under Olmsted (21 and 34 year olds) based just on a handed down family story.

At some point there will be no remaining veterans from D-Day – one of Canada’s most historic battles – and even today only a few remain. This story is intended to inspire others to not only remember our veterans but to uncover the stories of the Canadians who landed on Juno Beach and helped to alter the course of history.