|Operation Varsity above the Rhine River|
The war was nearly over. It had already been nine months since the Allies landed in Normandy. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had been there, students and shopkeepers and dentists from places like Calgary and Saskatoon and Toronto leaping out of planes into the air above France, dropping behind German lines to secure bridges and roads. Hundreds of them had died doing it. Then, the following winter, the battalion had patrolled the freezing snows of the Ardennes Forest, resisting the brutal German counter-attack at the Battle of the Bulge. Now it was March, and the Allies had pushed all the way across Western Europe into Germany itself. But hundreds of thousands of people were still dying. And the Allies still had one more mammoth task ahead them before they could fan out across the country and overrun it: they needed to cross the Rhine River. What was left of Hitler's army was waiting for them on the other side.
|Canadian paratroopers in the drop zone|
Topham rushed in. He found three men inside and carried each of them to safety. One died of his wounds, but the other two made it. They wouldn't be the last lives he saved that day. The medic kept working for hours.
It would take the Allies a day and a half to win the battle. Then they pressed on deeper into Germany, until they ran into the Soviet army coming the other way. The war in Europe was over. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was the very first unit sent home to Canada. They arrived in Halifax on June 21st, having completed every mission they'd ever been given, and having never given up an objective they'd won.
As for Topham himself, he went to work for Toronto Hydro when he got back. That, absurdly, is how he died: in an electrical accident in 1974. Today, you'll find him buried in Sanctuary Park Cemetery at Lawrence and Royal York Road.
Here are some more posts for Remembrance Day:
The story of Toronto's John McCrae writing "In Flanders Fields" amidst the muck and death of Western Belgium here.
What William Faulkner was doing drunk in the cockpit on a biplane in Toronto on the day the Great War ended in 1918 here.
The story of bloodshirtsy fighter pilot hero Billy Bishop here.
How Canadian troops held occupy Iceland during WWII here.
What it looked like in Toronto on the day the Great War ended here.
A great photo of a women working in a Toronto munitions factory during WWII here.
The story behind on the most famous photos of all-time, "Getting Napalmed As A Child In South Vietnam" here.
A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead
Coming September 2017 from Dundurn Press
Available for pre-order now