WWII veteran Joe Sutcliffe shares his memories with IHQ

WWII veteranhvgjkijqguwfyuh.jpg
Photo: Cassandra Kerwin

Irish Heritage Quebec president Joseph Lonergan with 94-year-old veteran Joseph Patrick Sutcliffe. After living a good long life, which included serving in World War II, the Korean War and a tour in Egypt with the Blue Berets, his next objective is to reach the age of 100.  

On November 13, Irish Heritage Quebec invited a remarkable man to address its members to mark Remembrance week. Much-decorated veteran Joseph Patrick Sutcliffe, now 94 years old, spoke about his long career as a soldier. He was born and raised in Quebec City, and always came home after serving in faraway places around the world. "I always feel at home at St. Patrick's Church," he said, speaking warmly of the parish where he sang in the choir for 35 years. Joe's stories brought events to life as if they had happened yesterday. 

 Sutcliffe joined the Cadet Corps at age 15, like many teenage boys at the time. "The Cadet Corps was affiliated with the Royal Rifles of Canada," he said. "I joined the Royal Rifles in 1938." He was 16 at the time, still too young to enter active service without parental permission, so the eager young man missed out on the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941.

 Sutcliffe joined the army in 1940 at age 18. "I was in for good," he said. "On December 27, 1942, I left Canada and finally landed in Scotland on January 9, 1943." After 18 months of training, he was among the Canadians who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. His group of 100 sappers were among the first to land. Their job was to detect and neutralize landmines, a horribly dangerous task done manually while under fire! Of Sutcliffe's group, only 25 survived. 

 Sutcliffe spoke about the successes and failures of this historic operation: the headway made by Canadian soldiers, the failure of radios, the Germans' advance knowledge of the operation, the fog, and the lack of air cover by Allied planes. In France, he was blinded in one eye by shrapnel but, said, "All things considered, it wasn't too bad."

Sutcliffe's regiment, the Corps of Royal Engineers, built two bridges to cross the Rhine River. While in Germany, he witnessed first-hand the horrors of the concentration camps, as he was among the soldiers who freed the prisoners. The old soldier described what he witnessed at the time about the German Army's employment of prisoners. 

Having survived bombings, flying bullets and shrapnel, Sutcliffe is very aware of his good fortune. Many other young Canadian soldiers lie buried overseas, but Joe came home in October 1945, one month after the end of the war.  

Apparently for this career soldier the war in Europe wasn't enough. After World War II, Sutcliffe fought in the Korean War (1950-1953). He also spent time in Egypt when the UN intervened there in 1962, "I went with the Blue Berets, the UN peacekeeping corps," said Sutcliffe. "That was a disaster. We couldn't drink the water, but used [it] to make soup, tea and coffee. The water was poisoned and we were always sick."  

Sutcliffe remained in the Army until he retired at the mandatory age of 50 and came home to Quebec City. During his 32-year career, he was awarded 17 medals. 

This journalist, too, was aware of her good fortune: what a privilege to hear first-hand a Canadian soldier's experiences! 

Irish Heritage Quebec will hold its Annual Meeting on December 12.