One of the greatest regrets I’ve had in 30 years of journalism is a story I didn’t tell.
In the 1994, I was fortunate to travel with a group of Canadian veterans as the federal government brought them to Belgium for the 50th anniversary of that country’s liberation from the Nazis. One of the people on that trip was a man named Si Steele.
Before we left, I did an interview with Mr. Steele in his Chatham home. He was a lovely, gracious man. I honestly don’t remember a lot about the interview but in typical fashion of people who have served this country, he told me about what happened without a lot of embellishment. It was clear it was difficult. He had been injured. He had lost friends. He had seen things no one should see. Mr. Steele stopped several times, lost in his memories.
I wrote about his service, but young and foolish as I was, I didn’t realize his words that day were just the tip of the iceberg of what Steele had seen. There was a chance to get the rest of the story but much to my regret, I wasn’t astute enough to get it.
The day the tour visited a site near Antwerp seemed to be light on official ceremonies, so I decided this would be a great day to see where my father was born without missing much. While that was a wonderful experience, I learned afterward that Major Cy Steele was honoured for his actions there. I still feel sick in the pit of my stomach when I think that I missed that moment. It’s a feeling I always get around Remembrance Day.
This year when I started thinking about Remembrance Day, my thoughts drifted again to Si Steele. I can see him in his Essex Scottish Regiment cap with his whitish grey hair tucked beneath it walking proudly in a parade in Belgium. And then, there is regret.
So I started looking on line and found his story on the Gathering of Heros. Today, let me tell you about Canadian war hero, Si Steele.
Major Steele commanded the “D” company of the Essex Scottish Regiment. His company was to capture the orchard and a house south of Caen in France July 29, 1944. The platoon was pinned to the ground by heavy light machine gun fire and wasn’t able to move forward. So Major Steele, with “total disregard for his personal safety” led the platoon through the fire to get to their objective. Two men were killed, but Major Steele regrouped his men and led an attack which stopped the German’s advance.
Major Steele was among the first Canadian soldiers to enter Belgium during the liberation efforts. Steele was in the Antwerp area on the way to Schelde River; they were take one of the old forts built by the Belgians in the 1880s. When night fell, a fighting patrol of the German infantry came wading across the flooded dykes behind a fierce mortar barrage. Steele and the Canadian units withdrew some 200 yards until they could get help. They eventually drove the Germans back, but not before Major Steele was injured. A group of soldiers told a Canadian Press reporter about Steele’s bravery. He was wounded severely in both legs in the early stages of the attack but refused to be evacuated. He stayed nearby in a control room throughout the battle.
Major Steele was hospitalized and went back to Canada to recover.
Nearly 50 years later, when I met him, he walked slowly with a bit of a limp. But watching him in the parades during the liberation of Belgium, it wasn’t noticeable.
Major Si Steele was truly a Canadian hero, one of so many whose stories are often forgotten. Perhaps my regret is a good thing. I will always remember Major Si Steele, the bravery he showed, the gentle man that he was and unparrelled service he gave his country.
– Heather Wright