Before heading overseas after the outbreak of the Second World War, Clifford Swain was told he would see the world. But he and other young Canadian soldiers had no idea of the horrors that awaited in Europe.
Swain — now a 97-year-old resident of Glacier View Lodge — was 22 when he served in the Royal Canadian Corp of Signals 2nd Infantry Division. He was on the second wave of the D-Day landing at Juno Beach in France.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is war?’ We had to drive, and among the bodies of the dead German paratroopers, I thought, ‘God, this is something I didn’t expect’,” he says in a Métis National Council documentary. “I thought when I enlisted in the army, they told us, ‘You see the world.’ I thought that was great, but when I landed in Normandy and saw the slaughter of man killing man, there’s something wrong.”
In the film, he recalls the Regina Rifles, the Winnipeg Rifles and the South Saskatchewan units, and how the German Army didn’t like facing Canadian soldiers because Canadians didn’t give up.
“That’s how I lost my friends. They didn’t give up. I would say a percentage of each unit was Métis.”
The documentary was shown Monday at Glacier View during a ceremony to honour Swain, who was born in 1922 in Prince Albert, Sask.
“We must remember that Germany was two years short of building the atomic bomb, so we must remember we stopped them,” Swain said at the ceremony. “God knows what we would have had in North America if they had…so let’s have no more war.”
Métis National Council president Clément Chartier attended the ceremony.
“We owe you and all the other Métis Nation veterans a great thank you for what you have done for us over the years,” Chartier said. “About 10 years ago, we issued the Order of the Métis Nation to all serving World War Two veterans we could identify.”
The order is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Métis Nation.
“Thank you very much,” Swain said. “I’ve had a good life. I want to see the Métis Nation go forward. Don’t give up, keep on, and some day we’ll have freedom.”
Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand, vice-president of the council and Minister of Veteran Affairs for the Métis Nation, presented Swain with a $20,000 cheque — part of $30 million included in this year’s federal budget to commemorate Métis veterans.
“If it wasn’t for people like Clifford and the thousands of Canadians that went out to fight, we might not have the freedom we have today,” Chartrand said. “We may be living under a different regime, and our lives would have been completely different.”