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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
The Monuments Men: Part 50: Less onerous and dangerous duties: Norman Hugh Manley
Canadian Troops in Buffalo Amphibious Transports in the Netherlands in October 1944. LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA/COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Norman Manley’s tombstone in Adegem Cemetery, Belgium. LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA/COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES

It’s been a century since Niagara-on-the-Lake’s iconic clock tower cenotaph was erected. Then, in 1926, the Township of Niagara unveiled its own memorial in Queenston. In recognition of those who fought and died in two world wars and beyond, NOTL historian Ron Dale has been researching the stories of the people – all men – whose names are engraved on the two cenotaphs. This is one in a series of stories documenting and remembering the sacrifices of those commemorated on the municipal memorial in Queenston.


Ron Dale
Special to The Lake Report

During the Second World War a man could not join the Canadian Army before the age of 18 and a soldier would not be sent into a combat zone until he was 19. 

This did not deter Norman Hugh Manley of St. Davids, who was only 17 when he enlisted, lying about his age when he signed his attestation papers at the recruiting office at Niagara Camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

He was born on Dec. 15, 1924, son of Leslie Manley and Aleta Catherine Bowes of St. David’s. 

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, young Norman was only 14. He was keen to serve and after he turned 16, the minimum age to enlist in the militia for home service, he joined the 2nd Reserve Battalion of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.  

On July 20, 1942, Manley enlisted in the 3rd Battalion of the Queen’s Own Rifles, which was stationed at Niagara Camp at the time. 

He declared that his date of birth was Aug. 10, 1923, that he was 18 and would be 19 within three weeks of enlisting. The army accepted this without requiring proof of age. He listed his trade as “machinist.” 

Now a full-time soldier, he trained with the Queen’s Own Rifles and with the Scots Fusiliers of Canada in Ontario and at the army training camp in Debert, N.S.

With his knowledge of vehicles and training as a machinist, the army sent him to train and qualify as a driver/mechanic of military vehicles. He was certified on Aug. 12, 1943. 

After additional training in Canada, Manley was sent to the U.K., embarking on Dec. 30, 1942, and arriving on Jan. 7, 1943. He was assigned to the 3rd Canadian Division Infantry Reinforcement Unit. 

A couple of months later, the Department of National Defence received a letter from Manley’s mother enclosing a copy of his birth certificate. 

A letter was immediately sent from DND Headquarters to the Canadian Army HQ in London, enclosing a copy of the birth certificate showing his “true” date of birth. 

The letter states that “Mrs. Manley has been advised that her son will be employed overseas on less onerous and dangerous duties until he reaches his 19th birthday.”

Manley’s service record shows he continued his training in England and stayed out of trouble until Dec. 2, 1943, a couple of weeks before his 19th birthday. 

He went absent without leave (AWOL) and did not return to his unit until Jan. 5, 1944. He was missing in England for 34 days. 

There is no record of where he had been all this time and among other punishments he forfeited 64 days pay for this breach of duty.

As the invasion of Europe was being planned, training for Canadian soldiers stationed in England was ramped up. 

In March 1944, Manley was transferred to the Royal Regiment of Canada, which was slated to land in France a month after D-Day. 

However, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Regiment, which had landed on Juno Beach on D-Day and which had suffered heavy casualties on June 6 and the few days following, were in need of reinforcements. 

Manley was detached from the Royal Regiment of Canada and transferred to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Regiment, joining them on June 10.  

He fought in the Battle of Normandy, or Operation Overlord, helping force a German retreat over the River Seine. He participated in the Canadian advance to free the channel ports and liberate Belgium and the Netherlands.  

It was here that he met his fate. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles fought bloody battles and skirmishes in the Battle of Scheldt (Oct. 2 to Nov. 8, 1944), to drive the enemy from their strong defensive positions and open up the approaches to the major port of Antwerp.  

On Oct. 31, Manley and one other soldier of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles was killed by enemy artillery fire.  

He was buried near where he fell. After the war, his body was reinterred in the Canadian Military Cemetery in Adegem in Belgium. His mother chose his epitaph, which says in part: “All that he hoped for, All he had, he gave.”

Manley is remembered on the cenotaph in Queenston.

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