It’s not every day you meet a genuine knight. Whalley’s own Gerald Gaudet was awarded the Order of France, an achievement that was celebrated with a parade in the city centre.
Streets were closed, and he was escorted by Mounties in red serge. About 200 people participated.
“All those, I thank from the bottom of my heart. It was one big day,” said Gaudet, 93. “It’s the highest order the French can give. I was made a knight (chevalier) because I served in the liberation of France.”
He’s also noble, medals or not.
“I learned one thing, and I believe in this, and I wish there were more people who think the way I do,” he told the Now, in a gruff voice.
“Life’s not about that somebody’s got to help you, it’s about who you can help. Help you can give to somebody. If you can give somebody a hand, this is what it’s all about. Don’t sit back and wait for somebody to give you something. Be out there, and you help them. This is what I feel…I’ll die that way.”
Born and raised in New Brunswick, Gaudet was 17 “and a little bit of a fibber about my age” when he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers.
“It was probably the thing to do,” he said. His older brother had joined. “I thought if he was in, I should go in too.”
His war adventures began in Medicine Hat, AB, with him surveying land to build a camp for prisoners of war. He was then sent overseas, and on June 6, 1944, was put on a barge in the dead of night, unaware he was bound for Juno Beach.
“By day break, the word come we were going into France.”
He was attached to the Regina Rifles Infantry and his barge landed in France at 7 a.m. It stopped far from shore, he said, so as not to ground itself. The soldiers had to make it to land on gang planks.
“I was very scared, because I couldn’t swim. We were getting shelled pretty heavy.”
Gaudet crawled under a tank that’d been knocked out, hid there for awhile and then moved up seven miles, before he and his fellow Canadians were “pushed back a bit.”
He lost friends.
“It was terribly hard.”
Gaudet remembers it vividly and dreams about it sometimes, “but not that often anymore,” he said.
He was also in the Battle of Caen, one of the largest battles after D-Day. His task was to help build new bridges – lots of them – across rivers and canals, and sometimes under shell fire, in France, Belgium and Holland, so Allied forces could advance. These replaced bridges that had been blown up by retreating German soldiers.
His efforts also earned him more than a dozen medals, the German Star and French Star among them. He’d entered the war a private, and was discharged as a corporal in 1946.
After the war, he’d headed back to meet his sweetheart in Medicine Hat, married her, and their union produced two daughters, three grandchildren and great grandchildren as well. Working with a glass company, he was transferred to the West Coast and relocated his family to Whalley in 1966.
One of his daughters still lives in Newton. Some years ago, he lost his wife to old age and his other daughter to cancer in the same year. It was the hardest thing he’s had to face.
As for the war, he said, “If I had to do it all over again, I would join tomorrow, under the same circumstances.
“I think we accomplished something. The reason that I feel why we didn’t have another major world war was because the generation that came after are better educated, they’re smarter. Now we have settlement instead of world war, it’s progress.”
Also, “The Bomb” was invented. That probably had something to do with it.