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Canadian D-day veteran dies day before returning to France for commemoration

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A 100-year old Canadian second world war veteran has died one day before he was to return to France for the 80th anniversary of D-day and the Battle of Normandy.

William Cameron’s death on Sunday was announced on Twitter by Canada’s veterans affairs ministry. He had been scheduled to fly to France as part of a Canadian delegation attending ceremonies this week.

“We are saddened by the passing of SWW Veteran, William ‘Bill’ Cameron,” said the post. “Rest easy, Mr Cameron.”

Cameron was an anti-aircraft gunner on a corvette that escorted American barges during the D-day landings and the Battle of Normandy.

Born in Brandon, Manitoba, he later moved with his family to Canada’s Pacific coast, where he joined the navy in 1943.

He recalled in a video on the website of the Juno Beach Centre museum in Normandy that he and his crew – the only Canadian corvette to reach the beaches during the invasion – were ordered at Omaha beach to “protect all these fellas on the barges landing on the beaches”.

“I’ll tell you it was something awful,” he said, adding that this particular beach had been described as the hardest to take.

“We were all very frightened,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that, especially when the [enemy] aircraft were coming right at you.”

“At one point, the captain mentioned me, ‘Good shooting, Cameron.’ I’ll never forget that,” he added.

Some members of his ship’s crew suffered injuries, but none died in the battle. About 45,000 Canadians lost their lives in the war, including 5,500 killed during the Battle of Normandy and 381 on D-day.

Cameron was decorated in 2015 with France’s Légion d’Honneur – the nation’s highest decoration – in recognition of his contribution to the liberation of France.

“France will never forget what the country owes him and will keep his memory alive,” said France’s consulate in Vancouver.

“We will remember his service and story,” said the Canadian minister of veterans affairs, Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is to host Joe Biden, Britain’s King Charles III and Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, on the shores of Normandy, representing the three main countries involved in the landings of 6 June 1944.

About 200 veterans, most in their late 90s or older, are also expected.

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