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Trooper (Ret’d) Gordon “Gord” Fennell

Gordon “Gord” Fennell was born on 19 April 1922 in Preston, Ontario. He enlisted with the Highland Light Infantry of Canada on 18 June 1940 in Galt, Ontario. His service lasted until 30 October 1945 when he retired with the rank of Trooper–a Trooper with a very lucky pair of shoes.

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Trooper (Ret’d) Gordon “Gord” Fennell

Family was always important to Gordon Fennell. When the Highland Light Infantry moved to England in 1941, he requested a transfer to the 14th Army Tank Regiment (the Calgary Tanks) so he could be closer to his brother, George Fennell. The Calgary Tanks first saw action during the Allied assault on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France.

“I escaped being made a prisoner of war by accepting to be towed back to England in a leaking boat.”

Known as the “Dieppe Raid”, it would prove to be the single bloodiest day for Canada’s military in the entire Second World War. Of the almost 5,000 Canadians who took part in this ill-fated raid on occupied France, more than half became casualties. For Fennell, it was some quick thinking that potentially saved his life. “I escaped being made a prisoner of war by accepting to be towed back to England in a leaking boat.”

Following the Dieppe Raid, the Calgary Tanks turned their attention to the Italian Campaign. In 1943, the Calgary Tanks participated in the successful Allied invasion of Sicily. Afterwards, they engaged German forces again as the Allies pushed from the south to the north of continental Italy. That is where Fennell’s brother, George, lost his life. He is now buried at the Bari War Cemetery.

While in Italy, Fennell had what he considers the most memorable moment of his military service – and perhaps his life. Fennell asked Joyce Cobb, an English woman, to marry him. He requested that his mother send him new shoes from Canada for the wedding, as shoes were rationed in England during the Second World War. By the time the shoes arrived, he was in Sicily with the invading force. He decided to put the shoes beside his head while traveling in a tank, as he thought they would be safe there. Soon after, the tank was attacked. “It was early October 1943, and our tank was blown up. Shrapnel entered the tank, and went through the soles of my new shoes, which in those days, were much thicker than today. The shrapnel continued through my earphones and into my head.”

“…You saved my life by agreeing to marry me, even though you were far away in England.”

Thanks to the thick soles of the shoes, he only sustained minor injuries. The next day, the Calgary Tanks continued onward. “I wrote my fiancée to say, ‘you saved my life by agreeing to marry me, even though you were far away in England.’” Fennell later donated his ‘lucky shoes’ to the Canadian War Museum: “Presumably they don’t get too many good luck stories.”

Shoes with Embedded Shrapnel

CWM 20170753-001

Canadian War Museum

In early spring of 1945, Fennell’s regiment joined the Allied advance in the Netherlands and Germany until the war in Europe came to an end. For his service, Fennell was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, Italy Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with the Dieppe Bar, and the War Medal 1939-1945.

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign, Gordon Fennell is one of our Faces of Freedom. He recently travelled to Italy with the Government of Canada delegation to participate in ceremonies commemorating this special anniversary.

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