Merritt RCMP member honours great uncle who fell during D-Day offensives

·6 min read

Charles Robert (Bobby) Hedrick was one of four children raised on a trapline in central BC, in a small town called Sinclair Mills, roughly 100kms east of Prince George.

When war was declared and young Canadian men who were ‘fighting fit’ were called to enlist, Bobby Hedrick answered the call along with his two brothers, one of whom joined him in the Canadian Scottish Regiment, the other brother being left to serve on the home front due to a heart condition.

Bobby Hedrick was part of the D-Day offensive and landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. From there his unit was sent to help the Winnipeg Rifles, who had been pinned down by a panzer division near a small hamlet called Putot-en-bessin. It was there, on June 9, 1944 that Bobby was killed. He was 20 years old.

Bobby Hedrick’s grandnephew, Brock Hedrick, is a member of the Merritt RCMP detachment. He was approached by his Uncle, Ron Hedrick, who was born while his father, Bobby’s brother, was overseas serving in the Italian Campaign, who wanted to know if he would accompany him to France.

“There’s never been a family member ever go over to his (Bobby’s) gravesite,” said Brock.

“He’s buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer. My uncle Ron came to me and said this was a bucket-list thing for him. He was 76 and said I’ve got to go if I’m going to go.”

So, Ron, and Ron’s friend, also a member of the armed forces, Brock and Brock’s 14-year-old daughter Hannah, flew to France where they visited Bobby’s grave and attended ceremonies at both Putot-en-bessin and the Juno Beach Centre.

Hannah’s role in the trip was officially that of both family and translator. Both Brock and Ron, although eager to visit France, were unsure how well they would manage as neither spoke French. Hannah, however, has been a French Immersion student in Merritt since the first grade, and speaks French fluently.

Unfortunately, although Brock had received permission to take his serge to France and wear it during the ceremonies, the Hedricks’ luggage was lost and they were not reunited with it during the trip, leaving Brock without his uniform.

Upon their arrival both Hannah and Brock noted that the people of Putot-en-bessin were welcoming, appreciative and grateful for everything that the Allied Forces and Canadians had done, even now more than seven decades later.

At the ceremony, which took place in a church where, outside in the square, several Canadians had been executed by Germans, the citizens of the village introduced themselves and each took the time to shake hands with the Hedrick’s.

“They literally rolled out the red carpet for us, both the hamlet’s mayor was there and the regional mayor,” said Brock.

“They had us for breakfast. We couldn’t not have food in our face or fresh coffee. They’re very appreciative over there and I think that’s something we Canadians need to realize, this wasn’t for nought,” said Brock.

At the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer, Hannah said she felt “overwhelmed” by the history and the number of graves.

“I feel like I went into the trip with not a big understanding of what it was like, and then actually going over there it started to make sense,” said Hannah.

“It can be overwhelming; you don’t know what to expect when you walk in those gates and then you see all these headstones.”

Because Bobby’s life was cut short so tragically, he never met his siblings’ children or grandchildren, and they would only get to know him through family stories.

“I’d heard stories about my great uncle, but it made him more of a real person than just a name,” said Brock about the visit to Bény-sur-Mer.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know much about him. We do know from others that served with him that he fought valiantly and did a fantastic job.”

Although Canadian soldiers were captured and executed by German forces, Brock takes some small comfort in knowing that his great uncle was not one of them.

“He died with a rifle in his hands and his boots on,” he said.

Attending the gravesite, the Hedricks were incredibly moved by the rows upon rows of immaculately maintained headstones and the sheer scope of the obstacles the Allied forces faced upon landing in Normandy.

“It really puts it into perspective,” said Brock.

“You can read about it all you want, but to actually see places like Pointe du Hoc where the Americans landed and see the geographical challenges that they were up against, it has to be seen. I don’t think photos and written documentation do it justice. It’s really profound to be there, and it really connects you to the people and to the history. It’s very sombre, and I think every Canadian should make the trek and visit Vimy and go to the beaches and to actually see what the Allied forces were up against, and the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer is amazing.”

Bobby never made it home, but that doesn’t mean he was forgotten.

“The Province of BC deemed it fit, because of his service, that they named a mountain after him called Mt. Hedrick, and the closest geographical place is actually Sinclair Mills,” said Brock.

Brock, his brother and father made the trek to the mountain which involved journeying over decommissioned roads, a decrepit and unmaintained bridge, and a gruelling hike of several kilometres. They overnighted at a lake at the base of Mt. Hedrick and paid their respects to Bobby, who gave his life for something much bigger than himself.

The Juno Beach Centre, where the Hedricks attended a touching ceremony honouring the fallen, has been hard hit by COVID-19 and a lack of Canadians and other international travellers. As such, they have come up with creative means of raising money, which included selling flags that had flown at the centre.

Ron Hedrick purchased the Canadian flag which had flown at the Centre from Jul. 14 – Jul. 20. That flag was entrusted to Brock, who will see it flown proudly at the Merritt RCMP detachment this Remembrance Day.

“I think it’s pretty profound, being able to go over there and see the beaches and see what our young men were up against, it really brings it home,” said Brock.

“You start to put a face to the names and a little bit of backstory, and you realize these are all people. They all had parents at home and brothers and sisters, and their lives were cut far too short to allow us to live the life that we do today.”

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald