If Emile Gobat was standing on French soil today he would be addressed as “Sir Emile Gobat.”
The decorated Rossland veteran was awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour this winter – 70 years after his personal involvement in the liberation of the country during World War ll.
Gobat quietly received the distinction and insignia of the highest national order of France earlier this year, by mail.
He was publicly recognized for his Legion of Honour by nine local Legion branches on Saturday in Rossland, during the organization’s bi-annual zone meeting.
Now 94, Gobat chokes up thinking about wartime, and shared very telling words that still resound today.
“There is no glory in war,” he said. “Only tragedy. And not only our side, everybody had tragedy.”
The veteran’s clear blue eyes became teary and his voice subdued when as he recounted a chance meeting story in Germany’s Hochwald Forest almost seven decades ago.
As a member of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, Gobat was part of a mission on the west side of the Rhine. Being winter, the Canadian troops held that post for months.
“I did something there that I was not supposed to do,” he began. “I fraternized with the enemy.”
In the covered arbor of the forest, Gobat happened upon three Germans, not Nazis, rather country folk.
“There was a very old man, and young German lady, maybe 25, and a little girl,” he recalled.
Gobat spoke a bit of German back then, so he initiated a friendly conversation with the trio.
“I found out the old man was her grandfather,” he said. “And she had lost her husband, her father and two brothers on the Eastern front.”
Gobat became emotional recalling the chance meeting, which he hid from his fellow soldiers and commanding officers.
“I gave the little girl a chocolate bar,” he said. “It’s impossible to think of them as an enemy – they lost all their menfolk so how could they like the war – there is no glory, only tragedy even on the German side.”
Gobat reflected on the story and his war years with the Trail Times during the Legion event, which included a luncheon and walk down Washington Street through town to the Cenotaph.
A native of St. Boniface (a city ward of Winnipeg) Gobat was working for CN Rail and barely out of his teens when he volunteered for the war effort.
“I had just turned 20 and that was the time to get involved for better or for worse,” he said. “It was a war that had to be made and won, otherwise we’d all be heiling Hitler, killing Jews and black people. I lost all my close buddies from Winnipeg in the war – it was a terrible time but something that had to be done.”
Gobat was a part of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division that landed in Normandy over a month after the D-Day invasion in the summer of 1944. Before that, he and his regiment were set up in Kent, England with fake tanks and fake guns.
The idea was to make Hitler and his commanders believe that the Allies were going to attack France across the narrowest part of the English Channel at Calais, rather than at Juno, Utah, Omaha, Gold and Sword Beaches.
“And it worked,” he added. “The Germans kept the 15th Army, their best army, waiting for us to attack while at the same time the 7th Army had to take the brunt of the invasion – I was part of that deception.”
Back in the 1940s, Gobat says the mission was clear. Hitler had to be stopped so the Allied forces had no choice but to fight for freedom.
Never wanting to see history repeat itself, he mentioned a “hateful” politician currently running for president south of the border – though Gobat is optimistic that lessons learned from the Second World War still linger in the global forefront.
“As long as we can keep lunatics like Donald Trump in his place, I think we are safe,” Gobat chuckled. “He hates everyone, calls the Mexicans thieves and rapists – what is the matter with him?” he questioned. “He says we will have to build a wall and make them pay for it, I mean really, what’s that guy thinking.”