• Arjun Vaid

Canada's 1 Man Army : Léo Major

Did you want to go to our 75th Liberation of the Netherlands Anniversary Tour Page Click Here

In 1940, at age 19 Léo Major would join the Canadian Army and would become 1 of 14,000 brave young men apart of the infamous Juno Beach landings during D-Day. Leo would later be awarded 2 Distingustish Conduct Medals and would be remembered for liberating an entire city all by himself with only one eye. This story will follow one of Canada's greatest war heroes.



Léo Major would join the Régiment de la Chaudière. This was a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army, which was in the 2nd Division's 35 Canadian Brigade. Léo's role within the Army would be that of reconnaissance and sharpshooting and would have him travelling to England to be trained for the upcoming Normandy invasion.


In 1944, Léo Major would storm Juno Beach and begin building up his reputation as a courageous soldier. Léo would start off by capturing a German armoured "Sd.Kfz.251" vehicle all on his own, thus scoring the allies important German intelligence equipment and secret plans. Shortly after, Léo would come up against a group of 4 German Waffen SS patrol troops. He managed to kill all 4 of them, although not before one of them managed to throw a grenade. The explosion caused by the grenade managed to damage one of Léo's eyes and left him with his iconic eye patch. Although injured, it was not enough to stop him as he believed he only needs one eye to fight and even gave himself the nickname of "Pirate".


The "Sd.Kfz.251" Armoured Vehicle Léo Captured and No. 76 special incendiary grenade (phosphorus grenade) that was responsible for blinding him in one eye.



The City of Zwolle


During the battle of the Schedts, the Régiment de la Chaudière was tasked with capturing the city of Zwolle. The commanding figure in charge asked for two soldiers to conduct a reconnaissance mission, where Léo Major and his friend Corporal Willie Arseneault volunteered for the job. The nearby city was held by German troops and would be bombarded by the Allies shortly after their mission. Léo and Willie wished to have the city stay intact and decided to capture it by themselves. This attempt was very ambitious for them as their original task consisted of acquiring a rough estimate of the German numbers as well as making contact with the Dutch Resistance members in Zwolle.


Unfortunately, the two men were spotted and Léo's friend Willie Arseneault was shot and killed by German patrol troops. This upset Léo and now had him in an enraged state, leading to the shooting of 2 more Germans. Léo had decided to continue his mission and marched on through the city. Eventually, Léo came across a military vehicle parked outside a bar so he captured the driver and stormed into the bar with the driver at gunpoint. Inside the bar stood the driver's commanding officer and to Léo's surprise, he could also speak French. Léo communicated with the officer, telling him of the bombardment at 6:00 am and how it would cause countless causalities for the Germans and civilians. Léo had no choice but to let the officer go in hopes that the word would spread and the city would be evacuated.


Léo would now continue the remainder of the mission by misleading the rest of the Germans. He would fire his machine guns and chuck grenades in order to make as much noise as possible. This was to be a ruse to trick the Germans into thinking the city was under attack by a full army. While doing so, Léo was able to capture German soldiers and take them back to Allied territory as prisoners. This would be done at least 10 more times, with each journey bringing 8-10 prisoners. Léo would also go inside civilian homes multiple times that night to get some rest and continue his mission


Léo managed to make his way to the Gestapo Headquarters and burnt the building down. From here the last target was the Waffen SS Headquarters which wasn't too far away at this point. While making his way there, Léo encountered 8 armed SS troops and engaged in a firefight. Four men were killed while the others fled the building. Among the dead laid an officer disguised in a Dutch Resistance uniform. This indicated that the resistance group was soon to be infiltrated by Nazi spies.


Two hours before the bombardment was to commence, Léo Major managed to make contact with the real Dutch Resistance members and had the Germans retreating into the next town. The nearly impossible mission was now over and Léo was able to pick up his fallen friend and return him back to his Allied camp. Due to actions made in the city, Zwolle no longer needed to be destroyed by artillery as the Canadians could now march in unopposed. Léo Major would be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions.



In 1945, Léo Major was riding inside a vehicle when it hit a land mine. This caused severe damage to his back and caused Léo to finally agree to go back home and not continue on more missions. Despite his injuries, Léo's only concerns were that the rest of the men survived and when he'd be well enough to come back and join his fellow soldiers again. His wartime contributions did not end here, as Leo was on the battlefield a few years later during the Korean War. During his time in Korea, he was awarded another Distinguished Conduct Medal and became 1 of only 4 men to be awarded the medal twice.



Major died in Longueuil on the 12th of October 2008 and was buried at the Last Post Fund National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Quebec.




Commemorate With Us


With the 75th Anniversary of Canada’s Liberation of the Netherlands, let us join together in celebration and thanks for the Canadians who sacrificed so much for us. In their honour, we travel to Normandy and Holland for the 75th Commemorative events. Join us to remember the bravery and vigour of our boys on the battlefields during those fateful days. Embrace the Netherlands that we know and love today, and help us honour the sacrifice endured by keeping our Canadian story alive. If you would like to join us on the upcoming program commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Canadians in Holland, or if you would like more information in regards to the events taking place in France/Holland for the anniversary, Click Here



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