Remembering Eric Shannon
Eric Shannon was one of thousands in the Canadian Army who landed in Normandy in June, 1944, fought through France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany. He participated in many major battles: Caen, Calais, Falaise, The Scheldt River Estuary, Leopold Canal, Breskens Pocket, Rhineland, Moyland Wood (Slaughter Hill), Emmeric-Hoch Elten, and Deventer. Eric was officially wounded twice, on Oct. 13, 1944 and April 21, 1945.
Born in East Vancouver in 1921 Eric Shannon lived with his father and three brothers in the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood. His mother Annie McLeod-Shannon (1883-1931) died when he was a boy. His father Robert Shannon (1886-1959) was a building contractor but there was not much work and little money available, a common situation for most families during the tough 1930s. As there were many children in the neighbourhood, there were always lots of activities for Shannon boys. In 1939 before the Hope-Princeton Highway, Eric, age 18, rode his bicycle from Vancouver, through Spence’s Bridge and Merritt, south to Princeton and east to Oliver where his brother Bob was teaching school. While working in Oliver, Eric met the charming Elaine Curbishley.
In November 1939 (on a dare) Eric Shannon joined the Merchant Marine in Vancouver; his first ship was the M.V. TREVALGAN. Sailing the globe with Canadian, Dutch and British Merchant fleets, Eric experienced numerous salty merchantman adventures. On one trip Eric contracted malaria and had a very high fever for several weeks. His captain did not expect Eric to survive. On another occasion, in Kingston, Jamaica, loading cargo working alongside a local longshoreman, Eric commented on the way that local was not doing his job. The Jamaican pulled a knife and attacked Eric. It happened very quickly and ended with the longshoreman in the harbor. Eric said it could have easily ended very badly for him. In Liverpool during an air raid, a large bomb landed on the street in front of a building (pub?) Eric was in. Fortunately the bomb did not detonate. If the bomb had exploded, chances are, he would have been killed. In May 1941 his convoy was attacked by German submarines. When oil tankers were hit they went up in flames very quickly. The crew on those boats had a small chance of survival. Eric was serving on SS COCKAPONSET which carried 225 tons of TNT with other type’s cargo. The COCKAPONSET’s hull was lined with thick bags of some kind of “carbon black” powder to protect the explosive freight from the torpedoes. Eric’s ship was hit; they had to abandon the ship. All the crew, 41 in total, made it to life boats, spent one night floating in the North Atlantic, were rescued the next day by the SS HONTESTROOM and taken to Reykjavik, Iceland. A few days later these survivors were placed on a vessel which was to steam to Scotland. On route, this ship was attacked by German aircraft. Eric was shot several times in the leg by a plane strafing the deck (2 June’41). The ship had its pumps going full speed just to stay afloat. Sea-going tugs were sent out and assisted the damaged ship to Glasgow. Eric remembered that as the damaged ship was helped up the River Clyde to a berth, the other ships in the harbor blew their whistles and people working around the harbor cheered as their rescued ship passed by. Eric was hospitalized for several months in Glasgow while his leg healed and became good friends with the extended family of one of the hospital staff, whom he referred to as “Ma Wylie.” Eric maintained contact with this family for the rest of his life.
The SS BLOMMERSDYK of the Holland America Line was Eric Shannon’s last ship; he sailed on her from April 7, 1942 to Oct. 31, 1942. He left ship in New York with the intention of returning to Vancouver by bus, but severe snowstorms on the East Coast of North America shut down the normal transportation routes and Eric ended up traveling through Houston Texas. A Canadian sailor traveling from New York to Vancouver via Houston aroused suspicion with American Immigration Officials. The fact that Eric was missing some identification papers that he maintained had not been returned to him by the New York Immigration Department was undoubtedly a contributing factor. Consequently Eric Shannon was jailed as an illegal immigrant along with a large number of Mexicans until he could present his case at a ‘formal hearing’. Eventually his situation was straightened out and Eric arrived in Vancouver just before Christmas, 1942.
Eric Shannon enlisted in the Canadian Army on June 7, 1943, trained in Vernon B.C. and Dundurn Sask. and was posted to Aldershot England (March 31, 1944) where he joined the Canadian Scottish Regiment  to wait for the invasion.Shannon was one of thousands in the Canadian Army who landed on the shores of Normandy in June of 1944, and fought his way through France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany.
“Ready For The Fray, A History of the Canadian Scottish Regiment”, describes the tough going near Caen, one and a half months and three major battles after the June invasion, “…This shelling and bombing caused a constant trickle of casualties. Men were hit as they ate, slept or went from one place to another. Reinforcements coming to the battalion were sometimes killed or wounded before they even reached the company to which they were being posted. The “old timers” were cut down in ones or twos every day. The initials “PBC” (Psychiatric Battle Casualty) appearing after a man’s name on the casualty list, if not common was no longer unique.” 
Securing the Leopold Canal was a difficult task, the advancing Canadians on one side and the ‘dug-in German defenders on the other. . Two hours before midnight, therefore, after a mortar and artillery barrage, the two companies went over the top, scrambling to take advantage of their own “grenade barrage” at H hour. The men fought their way forward for a distance of about 50 yards, overrunning many enemy positions on the way. “C” Company like all the other companies were considerably under strength owing to casualties, but even so this company alone took about 65 prisoners during the attack. No. 13 platoon, commanded by Sgt. Byron, captured about 30 prisoners although there were only 14 men in the entire platoon. Shortly after this engagement the company commander wrote:
Men who were particularly outstanding in this show were Cpl. A. Palmer who took command when Sgt. Byron was wounded, Pte. P. Coleman… who took charge of a section and did very good work in ‘clearing’ the Germans from the dyke, and Pte. E.G. Shannon who carried on until the fight was over despite being wounded in both arms. These are men who were mentioned to me, but there were many more and every man did an excellent job.
One story Eric told was capturing a German soldier who basically surrendered. This prisoner had lived in Vancouver before the War and spoke English. Eric escorted him to an officer who took him back to regimental headquarters where the prisoner willingly disclosed useful information on German defensive positions. The officer later told Eric that he received a medal as a direct result of this information this prisoner disclosed.
Not all the battles were successful. On Feb. 18, 1945 the Canadian Scottish Regiment was in a very tough battle at Heseler Feld / Moyland Wood, in Germany. A, B, and D were finding it very tough going. C Company was been pinned in a very uncomfortable position and was ordered to attack a well-defended German position. C Company at that time consisted of three under strength platoons, a major, two lieutenants, a company sergeant major, two sergeants, seven corporals and approximately 55 infantrymen. Many battle-wise Canadians, including Eric, knew it was a hopeless task but orders were orders. The attack proceeded and was a disaster. Eric was one of only seven members of C Company that was not killed or captured.
The entire action from the time the company crossed the start-line until it was surrounded and either shot up or captured, lasted little more than an hour. It was a terrible blow to the battalion, one which it half expected from the outset since the task set for the unit …..,meant that almost every principle of war had to be ignored. The admirable spirit and dash of the men compared to the almost impossible action it was called on to perform brings to mind the words of a French observer watching the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War some ninety years previously: “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre”. It is little wonder that Heseler Field was nicknamed slaughter Hill by the men in the Canadian Scottish.
After this battle Eric ended up with support troops behind the lines. Several days later, when Eric rejoined his regiment, he learned he had been reported as killed in action. Eric had become a buddy of Percy Coleman and often fought beside him. Eric had written a letter to Elaine Curbishley of Oliver. This letter was given to Percy Coleman, to mail, if Eric was killed in action. Eric was fighting beside Percy in this battle when Percy was killed. When the bodies were recovered, they found the letter from Eric, on Percy’s body, and assumed Eric that had been killed. They were able to stop the message before it was sent back to Vancouver.
The Royal Winnipeg Rifles were brought in and with Typhoon air support (something the Canadian Scottish could have used) the Germans were eventually pushed out of their strong defensive position.
There was a constant turnover in the Company. Men were killed, taken prisoner or seriously wounded in action, and replacements were arriving. These types of experiences must have had short and long term effects on many young men. 
Eric was impressed with the gratitude and happiness shown by the Dutch, as their towns and country were liberated by the Canadians.
Near war’s end Eric was transferred to Head Quarters Company, assigned a Harley Davidson motorcycle and became a courier. Two experiences he described about this assignment were a.) the Harley was very difficult ride in the mud b.) when he unknowingly rode into a German position and was fired upon. Eric made a hasty and successful retreat. Who knows, perhaps a German soldier, tired of all the senseless killing decided to just fire some warning shots and let the lone Canadian live another day. Eric never rode a motorcycle after the War.
Discharged in Vancouver on Aug. 8, 1945, Eric returned to Oliver purchased land through the V.L.A. (1947), built a house and married his sweetheart Elaine Curbishley (1948). Eric planted an orchard in 1948 and continued working out, first as a carpenter, then as a surveyor with the Ministry of Highways and the Southern Okanagan Lands Project, in the straightening of the Okanagan River channel. In 1959 Eric purchased a second orchard and became a full time orchardist. In 1964 He purchased a third orchard. The orchards he purchased were from the pioneer Boone and Deighton families. They became good family friends. During these years Eric and Elaine raised a family of four children.
Eric Shannon was active in his community, including serving a term as President of Oliver Branch 97 Royal Canadian Legion in 1956. Having learned how to play bridge as a children, Eric and Elaine enjoyed social bridge. When the orchards allowed and their family was older, Eric and Elaine enjoyed traveling with friends, in their trucks and campers in southern British Columbia and Washington State. Eric and Elaine also made trips to Europe and Asia. He maintained friendships with many ‘Can-Scots’, and regularly attended Canadian Scottish Regimental reunions. Eric and Elaine traveled to France for the 40thanniversary of D Day celebrations, with other Canadian Scottish veterans. Eric passed away peacefully in 1996. Elaine continued to live in the family home until she moved to Sunnybank Centre where she passed away in 2018.
Thank you Eric’s son, Larry, for your labour on this biography.
1.Son of a prominent builder and contractor in Belfast, circa 1879,Robert Shannon ( Sr.) born June 16,1886, came to B.C. in 1907 and worked on the construction of many of the original buildings in Abbotsford and Mission. Robert died in Victoria on October 26, 1959
Eric’s mother Anne McLeod, a teacher and school principal born on Prince Edward Island, traced her PEI roots from Scotland as part of a group of Lord Selkirk’s Settlers in 1803. Eric was nine when this accomplished lady died in Vancouver in 1931.
Robert James Shannon, 1913-2000, the oldest Shannon brother & long time Oliver teacher, served as a RCAF navigator in WW II., retiring as Principal of SOSS in 1974.
2. Said bicycle did have hand brakes but did not have coaster brakes (when the rear wheel turned so too the pedals). Eric had steel caps attached to the toes of his shoes which he would drag on the ground when he required extra braking power. This bicycle is still in the family.
Eric found a job working for Alan MacDonald on an orchard in West Lateral neighbourhood of Oliver. Alan was a bachelor and when he realized Eric knew how to play bridge, Alan took advantage of the circumstances. Alan let it be known they were available to play bridge with other couples, and this usually lead to dinner invitations as well. One evening Alan and Eric were invited for dinner and bridge by orchard neighbours, George and Phyllis Curbishley. It was here that he first met his future wife Elaine, their seventeen year old daughter.
3. Charlie Adams and Bill Gawne of Naramata, were other CanScots from the Okanagan-Valley.The Canadian Scottish Regiment was part of the 7thBrigade, Canadian Army’s 3rdInfantry Division ( with The Regina Rifle Regiment & the Royal Winnipeg Rifles-also in the 7thBrigade.) The Canadian Scottish had five Companies (A, B, C, D and HQ Companies.) Each company had three platoons and the platoons were divided into sections. In theory a platoon comprised of 45 men.
4. C Company Can Scots hit the beach on 6 June without Eric Shannon. By early June of 1944, the Canadian soldiers suspected the invasion was imminent. Some of them had been waiting and training in England for three years. Eric decided to take a leave for a few days and visit his old friends in Glasgow, perhaps for the last time. When the invasion was launched on June 6th, , ‘Charlie Coy’s Pte. Shannon ‘missed’ Juneau Beach landing. He crossed the channel a few days later.
5. This fray near Caen, two months- after D Day these soldiers were already being described as “old timers.” Ready for the Fray p.269. Roy discusses how the German snipers were quite effective and demoralizing for the Canadian troops. Eric remembered one occasion when he and two other soldiers, thought they were safe and were having some food when German snipers shot the men on either side of him. Eric who was not injured.
6. A platoon full strength had 45 men plus an officer. Ready For the Fray, p. 339.
7. Roy mentions a similar incident in Ready for the Fray, p.258. It may or may not be the one Eric was part of.
8. This battle has been documented several times. Ralph Pearcey, a new Lt. assigned to Charlie Company describes the hopelessness of this situation in the Legion Magazine Jan/Feb. 1997. Pearcey spent the rest of the War as a P.O.W. This was his only action. Also see Roy’s Ready for the Fray p. 380-81.
9. Many years later, a friend said that Eric was a fatalist. Eric had told him that he never worried about dying, because when your time is up, there is nothing you can do about it. Post war, Eric Shannon appreciated that he had been very lucky and that the rest of his life was a bonus. As a teen Larry once complained to his Dad that “All my friend’s fathers take them hunting, why won’t you take me hunting?” Eric replied “I did enough shooting during the War; I don’t ever want to shoot a gun again.”
10. Eric and Elaine’s children are: Larry, b.’50; Patti, b.’51; Gordon, b.’53; and Norman b.’’60. Larry Shannon lives on the original Shannon orchard property in Oliver, B.C.
Written by David Snyder of Penticton and edited by Larry Shannon
This is the last in a series