Harry’s clock on the mantlepiece is a repository of memory, a keepsake from the Belgian village of Bastonge, a place where he remembers ‘the Americans took quite a shellacking’’.
Each of his photographs a key that unlocks something deep within, faces and places suddenly become clear. Each of these objects strip away the fog of 67 years that obscure the adventures of a 20 year-old Canadian soldier.
It took him two or three tries to get in, but Harry Dzeoba was just 17 when he joined the Canadian Army in the summer of 1942. From Camp Ipperwash near Sarnia, Dzeoba was shipped to Shilo, MB to receive paratrooper training. It would be almost three years later when Dzeoba would find himself in the European theatre of battle, parachuting across the River Rhine with a combined force of 40,000 in the Allied Forces legendary Operation Varsity — a final push into the German homeland and a race to beat the advancing Russians to the Baltic Sea in the final days of the war.
Dzeoba was a part of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which skimmed the top soldiers from the pool of volunteers beginning in 1942.
“It only existed for three years, from 1942 to ’45,” he said. “I found I had quite an interesting experience with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion because of its rare qualities. It focused on special operations that the military demanded from time to time. All the programs we were asked to perform were successful in every way.”
Still in training, Dzeoba was lucky enough to miss the Battalion’s drop into France in support of the D-Day invasion at Normandy in June of 1944. The battalion succeeded in every objective behind enemy lines despite taking heavy losses.
Dzeoba says he would have been involved in a few minor operations before Varsity, which came on the heels on a punishing winter for both Allied and German Forces in the Ardennes.
On March 24, 1945, Dzeoba and the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion dropped into Germany and in just over one month advanced nearly 500 kilometres across Germany’s northern plains to the Baltic seaport of Wismar. Securing Wismar was an urgent matter as Allied Forces wished to facilitate a surrender of German forces in Denmark and Norway, a prospect that would be far less likely should Russian forces advancing from the East get there first.
“There were skirmishes on our way up to Wismar,” said Dzeoba. “We were subject to fire from hidden machine gun nests — usually hidden behind stone fences. We had to be wary of stuff like that. Occasionally my platoon was designated to go with ‘spearhead company’ and that was kind of a challenge in most cases. You had to be cautious.”
Crossing the Elbe and taking Wismar well in advance of the Russians, Dzeoba says he can remember interacting with members of the Red Army as the war in Europe drew to a close in May of 1945.
“We celebrated a little bit,” he said.
Many of Dzeoba’s photographs were given to him by a comrade named Joe King. To the 87 year-old, who admits to struggling with his memory, these grainy black and white relics are as precious to him as anything you could imagine.
“Time has obliterated a lot of memory. I was lucky to get these,” he said. “Joe King favoured me by giving me roughly two dozen of these (photos). I reflect on this stuff quite often and have even through my earlier life. There were a lot of good times and some not-so-good-times. They were interesting times, you might say.”