Charly Forbes, Régiment de Maisonneuve

Biography

Jean-Charles “Charly” Forbes was born on 19 March 1921 in Matane, Québec. He went to high school in Victoriaville, where a priest encouraged his interest in the military. Charly attended the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario where he completed a Bachelor of Military Science degree between 1939 and 1941.

Charly enlisted for active service in November 1941 as an artillery officer. He quickly became interested in “Battle Drill”, an innovative way to train soldiers in basic infantry tactics. Charly taught Battle Drill at army training centres in Brockville and Valcartier before embarking for England in December 1942.

In England, Lieutenant Forbes joined Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, a battalion with 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. He and his unit landed in Normandy in early July 1944. Charly led his platoon through the bloody battles for Verrières Ridge and the drive from Caen to Falaise in August 1944.

Lieutenant Forbes distinguished himself during the Battle of the Scheldt in October 1944. Charly’s leadership and daring in charging two enemy strong-points ensured that his company reached its objective on time. For this action, the Dutch government awarded Charly the Military Order of William, Knight 4th Class, one of the country’s highest awards for bravery on the battlefield.

Charly’s war ended when he was wounded near Groesbeek, Holland in December 1944. He married in September 1945 and demobilized in November. Charly worked at the family timber mill but re-enlisted when it went bankrupt. He commanded a mortar platoon in the Korean War with the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22ᵉ Régiment.

Charly retired from the army in 1965 at the rank of major. He remained active in the military community as an Honourary Lieutenant-Colonel with Le Régiment de Maisonneuve. Charly also found more time for his talents as a painter and violinist, and his wife, Nicole, and two sons.

The French government awarded Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Charles Forbes the Legion of Honour in 2007. He passed away on 19 May 2010 at Beaupré, Quebec.

War Context

Battle Drill
Battle Drill is the name given to a type of training used by the British and Canadian armies during the Second World War. It was used to teach foot soldiers basic infantry tactics. The training took place on a parade square. It began when an instructor bellowed “Under Fire!”. A commander (usually a sergeant) would direct the various elements of a section – a rifle group and a machine gun group – to assault the mock German position.

The section would drill these movements over and over and with men in different roles so that they could get to know what was expected of other elements of the section. Battle Drill developed teamwork and gave prospective leaders a chance to practice their skills. It also got civilian soldiers used to taking orders and reacting instinctively when they came under fire.

Once the section mastered Battle Drill, training shifted to the platoon level, where three sections operated together. Further training was required at the company, battalion, and higher levels to prepare commanders and their units to fight a real enemy. Battle Drill also became part of a larger training system, including spending extensive time in the field, the use of live ammunition, simulated artillery fire and explosions, and obstacle courses lined with blood and animal guts simulating the gore of a battlefield.

Battle Drill wasn’t popular in all corners of the army. The Calgary Highlanders, an infantry battalion in 2nd Canadian Infantry Division were the first to try it, but 1st Canadian Infantry Division was more skeptical. Some believed that it was unrealistic (mainly the parade square component), while others agreed that it helped them react appropriately in a combat situation. General Bernard Montgomery was critical of the system, believing its advocates saw it as an end in itself rather than just one component of the overall infantry training syllabus.

The Battle of the Scheldt

After the Battle of Normandy concluded in mid-August 1944, the Western Allies chased the retreating Germans through France. The Canadian Army focused on clearing ports on the English Channel, including Dieppe, Boulogne, and Calais. By October 1944, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was fighting north of Antwerp. The major Belgian port was crucial to shortening Allied supply lines, which now stretched back to Normandy. The channel ports listed above were wrecked, but the Belgian resistance had captured Antwerp’s facilities intact.

The problem was that Antwerp lay on the Scheldt River, approximately 80 kilometres from the sea. German troops held both banks of the river. They also dominated the mouth of the river with large coastal defence guns. To open the port to Allied merchant shipping the Canadians would have to assault both sides of the Scheldt.

On 8 October 1944, Charly’s battalion, Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, was attacking east of Ossendrecht, along the highway from Antwerp to Hoogerheide and Woensdrecht. These towns guarded the entrance to South Beveland, which lies along the Scheldt’s northern bank. It was at this time that Lieutenant Forbes led his platoon to its objective by personally rushing German cannons, killing two crew members and capturing five others.

The Battle of the Scheldt continued into early November. The battle, which took place in a mire of flooded dykes, cost the Canadian Army 1,418 killed and 4,949 wounded. British, Polish, and American combined forces suffered similar casualties. On 28 November 1944 the first Allied cargo ship — fittingly, the Canadian SS Fort Cataraqui — entered Antwerp.

Additional Resources

Newsreels

British Battle Drill 1942
An excerpt from a British Army training film showing battle drill on the square. This video nicely illustrates the employment of the rifle and Bren groups when making a section attack.

Orne-Odon Offensive
Troops push from Caen; artillery fire; aircraft assault; allied warships fire at the coast; a plane is downed in flames; mortar fire; infantry marches across the river Orne; the Falaise Highway; tanks roll in; armoured and infantry clean out the town; man with a wireless set; an injured man is carried off by stretcher; German prisoners of war.

All Quiet on the Holland Front
At the Maas River, 1st Canadian Army near s’Hertogenbosch; winter cold; test shots on German position; reconnaissance units probe enemy positions; icebreakers; Royal Canadian Engineers clear ice from dock.