Updated: Feb 3
Gerald Gladstone Parris, was one of the last surviving African-Canadians of the June 6 , 1944, Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy. He died after a lengthy battle with cancer in 2001.
He was in the first-wave landing force on the beach, his son ,Gerry , said in an interview Sunday night. As he landed, many of his regiment were wiped out. His war service took him through France, Belgium and Germany. He was released from duty in 1945. His son said it was the most devastating, scary thing he ever saw. Every time he said it, he'd bow his head in his hands and shake his head.(don’t forget he was only a boy back then, like many of them back then – just 16 years old.
Mr. Parris was born on Jan. 31, 1924, in the coal mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia. He went down to work in the coal mines once, and he always said that was his first and last time in the mines and later told his son he vowed he would never do it again. Instead, he turned his back on coal mining, and decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, Seldon Thomas Parris, who served in the First World War with the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
He signed up to fight in the Second World War. He served overseas as a gunner with 12th Field Artillery unit in Guelph, Ontario. He told me , 'You don't know the true meaning of what it's like to be a patriot until you have to go out and fight for your Country and your freedom , ' Gerry said. In his mind everybody had the right to live in a free society.
After his return to Nova Scotia, Mr. Parris found he was not welcome in his hometown's William Hall VC Legion Branch No 57 because of the color of his skin. He eventually moved to Halifax and later, with a group of other Black veterans, helped form the William Hall branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in honour of the Horton’s Bluff man who became the first Black Canadian to win the Victoria Cross for bravery. He didn't think minorities should have special rights; he just wanted to be recognized and treated as an equal.
Mr. Parris worked at CFB Shearwater's maintenance department for 38 years. He was involved, along with his father in law Bob Talbot, training fighters at the gym on Creighton Street.
Mr. Parris rarely spoke about his wartime actions to his children, but he did talk about all the friends that he made while he was over there. Not that he wasn't proud to serve his country - he said that there was no glory in killing.
Despite this , three of his children joined the forces.
Christopher - the oldest son served with the Army for 32 plus years.
Gerry - served in the Navy, from 1974 to 1992 and received a medal for his Canadian military service to NATO.The U.S. Air Force also honoured him for teaching black history to American enlisted personnel.
June - served with the Air Force and spent 35 years and recently retired in 2015.