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Were there heads scalped during the Battle of Normandy?

Photo: National Archives of Canada The Régiment de la Chaudière quickly encountered fierce resistance from the fanatic SS of Hitler's regime in June 1944. And their reactions were sometimes very harsh, according to the testimonies cited by Frédérick Jeanne.

Jean-François Nadeau

Posted at 3:40 p.m. Updated at 5:39 p.m.

  • Europe

Slit throats and scalps will be the fate reserved for some of the Nazis who fell into the hands of the Régiment de la Chaudière, states the French historian Frédérick Jeanne in Ca in July 1944. The final battle, a book dedicated to the Canadians facing the Hitlerjugend, units from the Nazi youth movements.

In June 1944, 80 years ago, Allied soldiers did not enter Normandy like a knife through butter. The Régiment de la Chaudière, the “Cuds”, quickly encountered fierce resistance from the fanatic SS of Hitler’s regime. They committed several abuses. At Ardenne Abbey, under the command of SS Colonel Kurt Meyer, 11 Canadian soldiers were shot in the head.

The reactions of the “Hot » will sometimes be very harsh, according to testimonies cited by the historian Jeanne, considered a specialist in the intervention of the Canadian army in the Battle of Normandy.

On the road to Caen

In the days following the landing, the desire to retake the city of Caen from the Germans threw immense forces in the theater of operations. The 3rd Canadian Division, the 3rd and 59th British Divisions and two tank brigades, supported by 2,300 tons of bombs dropped by the Royal Air Force, launched an attack on the city. Not everything goes as planned.

At the gates of Caen, in Bretteville-sur-Odon, the mission is to stay the course. Two Canadian platoons are captured by the SS. In the confusion of the fighting, Major Dorion managed to “slip through a hole made in a wall by a shell”. He falls into Lieutenant Foy's trench. This somehow shows how close the fights are. Major Sévigny is seriously injured. His liaison officer is killed. The one who replaced him, Captain Rousseau, found himself injured almost immediately. Captain Gauvin succeeds him. The company headquarters was hit by large caliber shells, reports Frédérick Jeanne.

This German counterattack “drove the “Chauds” crazy. The historian quotes the testimony of Sergeant Léo Gariépy, of the 1st Canadian Hussar Regiment. “The guys from the Chaudière Regiment confronted the SS who attacked them while they were sleeping, it drove them crazy.” What exactly does this mean? ? Léo Gariépy continues: “They slit the throats of the wounded and dead SS. I saw officers and non-commissioned officers take out their revolvers to bring them to their senses.” In vain, apparently.

Frédérick Jeanne quotes another witness: Captain R. M. Cree, of the 116th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Cree makes the same observation about the actions of certain soldiers from the Chaudière Regiment. His testimony, observes the historian, “attests to the violence of the fighting and the loss of control of some men within the Régiment de la Chaudière.” “Early in the morning, on an observation mission to adjust my shots […], I looked twice at the braids of hair hanging from the straps of the rifles carried by some men from Quebec, I understood that they had scalped SS men.”

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The historian Frédérick Jeanne died last year. “He had worked a lot on tankers and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles,” notes Quebecer Nicolas Paquin, author of several war stories. The historian Jeanne was, in France, renowned for being “meticulous” and “eager to dissect the smallest detail”, according to some other testimonies.


Is it possible that Canadian soldiers went so far as to scalp Nazis ? Frédéric Smith, who has just published Des Québécois en Normandie. Du jour D à la libération de Paris, thinks so. A veteran of the Régiment de la Chaudière, “Georges Isabelle recounted that when they saw Canadians crucified on barn doors by the Nazis, their officers did not stop them afterwards. There could well be some truth in this story of scalping.”

In an interview with historian Éric Giguère, soldier Georges Isabelle, a native of Cap-Chat, in the Gaspé Peninsula, recounted finding himself in hand-to-hand combat against the SS, having to fight with bayonets in hand. “I will never forget that!” I wish I never experience anything like this again!”

The veteran also recounted another clash with the SS, where they had the upper hand over the Canadians. Comrades of the Régiment de la Chaudière were found a few days later nailed to the wall of a barn. According to the former soldier, the Canadian officers then gave a very clear instruction to their men: “No prisoners until further notice. »

Violence on all sides

Retired captain, today director of the Régiment de la Chaudière museum in Lévis, Éric Marmen affirms “that there is a large part of truth” in asserting that the men of the regiment, in the aftermath of the landing, “did not do much prisoners.” “They had seen their own killed with a bullet to the head. They gradually began to take fewer prisoners. »

Yes, he adds, “there may have been some unsightly gestures” since some operations did not allow for prisoners to be taken. To the point of seeing enemies scalped ? “I have already heard the story. But I cannot conclude that it is true. Could it have taken place, in the heat of the moment, gestures that go beyond the limits ? It is possible. […] But I cannot believe that people I have known have done… That does not mean that there were none.”

The historian Sébastien Vincent, one of the hosts of the blog Quebec and the World Wars, observes for his part that when veterans speak, after the war, of the harshness of the fighting, they most often do so “in terms which suggest more than they describe. When they return from the war, these veterans find themselves in a position where the fighting is idealized, in a form of enhancement, he says, even if it means glossing over the tragic part of the fighting. “It is easier to talk about the violence suffered from war than that which we have imposed [on others]. »

An effect of memory ?

Béatrice Richard, dean teaching at the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean, affirms that this story of scalps deserves to be explored further. “There are things that we believe we have witnessed, but which are reconstructed by memory. I would treat these scalp stories with caution. »

The facts mentioned are no less interesting, she says, whether they are true or not. According to the historian, they say something valuable about the way in which the combatants and, above all, the French Canadian soldiers were viewed during the landing. “It is the image of a military culture where we are seen more as warriors than soldiers. »

“It’s an a priori significant history of a culture,” says Ms. Richard. At first glance, this story refers to the time of the militia in New France, when we went to raid the English with the native allies. The scalp is part of an ancient cultural referent. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116