This is the story of an ordinary soldier in extraordinary circumstances. Like many soldiers in the Regiment, Bruce Evans grew up on a farm in southern Ontario. However, when the war broke out, as soon as he was able, Evans joined up with the goal of serving in the First Hussars, completing his basic training in Canada, and then travelling overseas. he joined the Regiment in England in 1943. In England, Bruce buckled down to learn all he could about each position in a tank crew, driver, gunner, and wireless operator. However, as luck would have it on D-Day he would in fact arrive on Juno beach in an unarmoured jeep as the C-Squadron OC’s rover. As such, he acted as a vital communications link between the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and his Squadron Commander. At this time the infantry and armour could not talk to each other directly over the radio; consequently, a radio in Evans’ jeep provided contact between the infantry and the squadron commander.
At 8 a.m. on D-Day morning, Evans found himself bobbing several thousand yards off Juno Beach with a front row seat to the greatest seaborne invasion in history. Fighting off the effects of a very rough crossing of the English Channel, he witnessed the massive naval bombardment of the beaches and watched helplessly as his brothers in A and B Squadrons battled ashore in conditions that were worse than anything they had trained for. In a very short time, his landing craft was making its way to shore as well. Landing at the appointed time in the Mike Red sector just to the east of A-Squadron, Evans, and his driver W.B. Griffin drove into a congested and dangerous situation ashore. The beach was still under heavy artillery, mortar and machine gun fire – a decidedly unhealthy place for a soft skinned vehicle to be. Vehicles, infantry, and debris from the ongoing assault blocked the planned exit from the beach so Canadian troops and tanks all sought alternate routes inland. Evans decided to do the same. However, as he was stepping down from the jeep several mortar bombs landed nearby. One explosion destroyed the windscreen on the jeep and critically wounded Griffin, his driver. Another explosion knocked Evans to the ground. The pain proved so severe as he lay there that Bruce initially wondered if he’d lost a leg; it was not the case. When he was eventually able to stand, he saw that Griffin was severely wounded. Finding a sheltered spot in the dunes, Evans dug a slit trench, dressed Griffin’s wounds, and laid him in the trench with blankets to keep him warm. Evans knew that medical personal would soon be landing, and he reassured his wounded partner that he would soon be in good hands. Ignoring his own wounds, Evans set off to find his squadron. By noon, the adrenaline in Evans’ system had worn off and he couldn’t ignore his own wounds any longer. A Hussar officer spotted Evans, dressed his wounds, and ordered him to the Regimental Aid Station where the Medical Officer informed Bruce that he would be evacuated to England the next day. Evans protested, arguing that he’d just landed, and he pleaded that the MO allow him to stay with the Regiment. The doctor would hear none of it and that is how D-Day ended for Trooper Evans.
Bruce Evans rejoined the Hussars in time for the heavy fighting along the road to Falaise, in France. In October, he went back to England to enrol in a crew commander’s course and returned to the continent just in time for the heavy fighting for the Hochwald. In April 1945, he was promoted to corporal; and he became Crew Commander of his own tank just in time to take part in the liberation of Apeldoorn, in the Netherlands. It was here that he experienced a battlefield encounter that stayed with him for the rest of his life. The retreating Germans put up stiff resistance and often the only way to overcome it was for Canadian tanks to fire into civilian buildings. He remembered feeling bad about the situation but what happened next, changed Bruce Evans’ whole perspective. That night he ordered his driver to park between to damaged houses to protect themselves from sniper fire. Presently, he heard a tapping on the side of his tank. Concerned that it might be an enemy trick, he cautiously looked over the side and saw the family from one of the houses holding up a bowl of fruit to thank the Canadians for liberating their homes and their country. It was all they had. Bruce was just 21 years old at the end of the war.
Bruce Evans is not mentioned in the Regimental histories nor the Regimental War Diaries. Like so many Canadian soldiers, he did not seek recognition or glory. He was a soldier simply getting the job done, fulfilling his duty in a quiet and professional manner. Bruce Evans summed up his reason for serving in the First Hussars: “It wasn’t patriotism that drove us. Our job was to … liberate Europe.”
Source material for this profile includes two books by Canadian author Ted Barris: Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944 and Days Of Victory: Canadians Remember, 1939-1945, both published by Thomas Allen now part of the Dundurn Press catalogue.