Some stories are almost too incredible to believe are true – Léo Major’s story is one of those.
In 1940 Léo Major joined the Canadian Army. Major felt that this would prove to his family that he ‘was someone to be proud of’. As it happened, Major would do enough to make his entire country proud. Among his many heroics, Léo Major would go on to single-handedly liberate a whole city!
On June 6th, 1944, Major landed in Normandy as a member of the Régiment de la Chaudière and hit the ground running. Upon arrival he was sent on a reconnaissance mission. He ended up capturing a Nazi-German armoured vehicle that was carrying codes and communication equipment completely on his own. Later that same day, during a fight with SS Patrol officers, a grenade went off that partially blinded Major in his left eye. He was told this injury allowed him to go home, but he refused. He decided to wear an eyepatch, insisting that, as a sniper, he only needed his right eye. He turned out to be right.
After vicious battles and further injuries, in 1945 Léo Major and the Régiment de la Chaudière ended up outside the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands. Zwolle had a population of over 50,000 people and was tightly under Nazi-German control. During a reconnaissance mission in the area, Major lost his friend Corporal Wilfred Arsenault to enemy fire. Major then decided to take things into his own hands, literally. Armed with two guns and several grenades, Major began walking the deserted streets of Zwolle. He fired into the air and set off grenades to make enough commotion to convince the enemy that a much larger force was attacking them. His trick worked. The Germans fled Zwolle and left its citizens alone. While exact details of the event are unclear, one thing is certain, it was an incredibly heroic act by Major, one of many.
Léo Major was also the only Canadian, and one of only three soldiers in all the British Commonwealth to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice in separate wars. And in May 2020, Canada post released stamps to mark the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. One of these stamps proudly features the courageous, eye-patch wearing Léo Major.