Corporal Leo Major landed in Europe on D-day and took part in every major operation of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division during 1944-1945. He was wounded twice, liberated Zwolle almost single-handedly. He was demoted a few times, but also reinstated and finally decorated for bravery.
The Canadian Corporal Leo Major landed in Europe on D-day and took part in every major operation of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division during 1944-1945. He lost sight in his left eye in Normandy but still participated in the Schelde Offensive of 1944. During the Rhineland Offensive corporal Major was again wounded when his vehicle hit a mine. He escaped the hospital and stayed with a family in Nijmegen whilst recovering from his wounds. Afterwards he rejoined his unit in the liberation of the Northern parts of the Netherlands. Leo Major was a stubborn man and on more than one occasion got demoted. His bravery however meant that he was always reinstated to his former rank.
One of his most legendary actions was the liberation of Zwolle. With his best friend Willy he volunteered for an exploring mission behind enemy lines. They had to check out the German defence positions. The Canadian Infantry Division should wait for their information and bomb the Germans out of town the next morning.
Just after midnight Willy got killed. It made Leo mad with anger. He decided to attack the German guard posts single-handedly. He shot his stengun, threw granates, killed some Germans and captured the first group of ten. He handed them over to the Canadian forces outside the city. He went back for about 8 times. After more than 4 hours of fighting and capturing more groups of Germans, he finally met with the SS. He killed four in the shooting that followed. The Germans thought they were under attack by the Canadian army and decided to flee the city. In the morning of 14 April Zwolle was liberated…by one man (so the story goes).
He was one of only three Canadian soldiers to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. On 14 april 2005, exact 60 years after the liberation of the town, he became an honour citizen of the city of Zwolle.
In May 1940 the Netherlands was occupied by German forces. It would take five years before they could be ousted. The final drive to liberate the whole country was launched in February 1945 after the so-called ‘Hunger Winter’ had led to 20.000 fatalities in the still occupied territory.
The ‘Canadian War Cemetery Holten’ on the Holterberg is one of the most impressive reminders of the Second World War. In the spring of 1945, after five years of oppression, Canadian troops were principally responsible for the liberation of northern and eastern Netherlands. During the liberation operations, many Canadian liberators paid the ultimate price. In an historic setting, 1,394 military have found their final resting place at the Canadian Military Cemetery.