Henry Murray Wishart (1913 – 1944)
Henry Murray Wishart was born on 6 April 1913 in Grandview, Manitoba. He was the third of ten children born to Andrew Murray Wishart, a farmer and labourer from Portage La Prairie, and Beatrice Winifred McNichol.
Henry (or Murray as he was generally known) lived in Russell and left school aged eleven to work as a farm labourer. During his late twenties he had become quite experienced at raising cattle, and won several prizes for his animals during the late 1930’s.
On 25 June 1940 Murray enlisted in Brandon, and joined the Royal Winnipeg Rifles (known as the Little Black Devils) who by July were based at Camp Shilo, which was 22 miles to the east of the town. Rifleman No. H41217 H. M. Wishart was described as being 5’8” and 146 lbs with blue eyes and fair complexion. He had perfect 20/20 vision in both eyes and was without illness or disease.
That autumn the regiment moved to Camp Debert in Nova Scotia, and embarked at Halifax for England aboard the S.S. Orbita on 28 August 1941 – arriving in Liverpool on 13 September where they entrained for Oudenarde Barracks in Aldershot. During December the Rifles relocated to the Isle of Wight for anti-invasion training and defence duties. The Rifles formed part of the 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division and spent the next three years in England.
During this time Henry was awarded a Good Conduct badge in June 1942, and that October was admitted to the Field Ambulance on two occasions for unrecorded reasons. By the start of 1943 Henry’s wage had risen to $1.50 a day and in early 1944 he was awarded the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp.
6 June 1944 (D-Day)
Rifleman Wishart’s day began around 4 am with breakfast (an unappetising cold snack) on board a troopship situated in the English Channel. About an hour later, and still ten miles from shore, Henry and his comrades picked their way down the scramble nets hanging over the side of the ship, and boarded a landing craft, which were said to resemble corks bobbing about in the sea. Once aboard, they made way towards the Normandy coastline with the noise of Allied aircraft and blasts from gunships roaring overhead. Perhaps like many around him, Henry fell ill with sickness, a combination of the rough sea and stomach-churning nerves that were commonly said to have reduced the floors of the craft to a slippery mess.
The Rifles were in the first wave of the attack on Juno Beach, with Henry (in ‘B’ Company) coming under heavy enemy fire whilst still about 700 yards offshore. Many men failed to make it off the landing craft, whilst others were mown down whilst wading through the icy waters, rifles held aloft over their heads. The company landed at ‘Mike Red’ on the western edge of Courseulles, and once established on the beach, faced their first challenge which was to knock out the enemy defensive positions that survived undamaged throughout the preceding bombardment. When secured they were then to push inland to their first objective at Courseulles.
Against all odds, Henry appears to have survived the initial landing, the officer in charge of Henry’s unit posthumously praising him and several other men from Russell for the bravery they showed in breaking through the beach defences. The Rifles eventually silenced the enemy pillboxes with grenades and the help of several tanks that had also made it ashore. The fighting was described as furious, with some men of the regiment engaging the Germans in desperate hand-to-hand combat. At some point during the morning Henry was mortally wounded and reputedly survived for two more days before succumbing to his injuries. He is officially recorded as having died on the 6th and has the unhappy distinction of being the only Wishart to have lost his life as a result of actions on D-Day. B Company had set off for Normandy with 127 men, and by the end of the day had been reduced to 26.
Henry’s parents were informed of their son’s death on 28 June, and he was buried in Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military Cemetery in Reviers (Grave V. E. 11.) After the war he was also commemorated on the Russell War Memorial in Manitoba.