Douglas Stanton Barrie was born on July 6, 1922, in Kitchener, Ont., the first of two children to Ernest and Ruth Barrie. A quiet boy with a subtle sense of humour, says sister Marjorie, Doug’s fascination with the military was ingrained early on. His father, who ran the family’s Barrie Glove & Knitting Company, had served in the First World War, and later commanded the Scots Fusiliers of Canada, a reserve regiment. A tight-knit community, the military families in the area attended parades and balls. On weekends, the kids visited the Barrie family farms near Cambridge, tobogganing and playing outdoors.
Doug’s father often told stories of the war. Once, after his cavalry unit was hit, he found himself lying in a crater with a dead horse on one side and a dead soldier on the other. “He was just feeling himself to make sure that he wasn’t dead,” says Doug’s son Brian. These tales made an impression on Doug, and, at 16, he enlisted in the army cadets. Three years later, with the Second World War well underway, Doug followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Scots Fusiliers.
Like many young soldiers, Doug “wanted to do something about Hitler,” says Brian. In 1941, he was transferred to the Highland Light Infantry and shipped out, training for several years in Britain. At a dance in Portsmouth in 1943, he met Talma Williams, a striking Welsh brunette in the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Her outgoing nature and “wonderful Gaelic spirit” complemented Doug’s more reserved demeanour, says Brian. “They just hit it off instantly.” Though Doug had been engaged to a woman back home, it was clear, says Brian, “that this was his girl.”
As D-Day approached, Doug was gripped by emotion. “It was going to be the experience of our life,” he later told the Waterloo Record, “but we were terrified, too.” On June 6, 1944, his unit sat for hours off Juno Beach, battling seasickness so severe that “we didn’t care how many Germans were on the beach, we just wanted to get off.” The tide was higher than expected, and when the order came, Doug, who was six foot two, had to prop up some of the others. As he recalled: “We existed on our nerves.”
The next month, Doug led his platoon into battle in the French village of Buron. Hit in the head by shrapnel, he was carried to an aid post and directed to the rear. But, says Brian, “Dad would have none of that.” Doug hitched a ride to the front, and continued fighting in what became the unit’s bloodiest battle. By October, he’d been wounded twice more, and was shipped back to the U.K., where he reunited with Talma. They married in England on June 1, 1945, and returned to Canada, eventually settling in Kitchener.
Like his father, Doug maintained strong ties to the military. On top of his day job (he worked at the family glove company before becoming an estate officer), he re-enlisted in the reserves, rising through the ranks to commanding officer of the amalgamated Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada. He had three sons, whom he taught “by example,” says Brian, exposing them to the traditions of the family farms and the regiment. A particular highlight was the annual Feast of St. Andrew, where veterans shared their stories, and Scottish pipes and haggis figured prominently.
For decades, talking about the war was, to Doug, “like a forbidden land,” says Brian. But in retirement, he was struck by a sense of duty to collect the memories of those who had fought before it was too late. “He would phone, drive, do anything to track down a story,” says Brian. The materials and first-person interviews he conducted, both in Canada and Europe, filled many binders and boxes. His historical accounts were so detailed, says Col. Owen Lackenbauer of the Fusiliers, “you could almost feel yourself participating in the action.” Doug shared the tidbits he unearthed with the regiment, and, on Remembrance Day, was a fixture at the Waterloo cenotaph, where he stood at attention. Even this November, when heart trouble and a stroke left him weak, “he refused to take his seat,” says Owen.
For this year’s Feast of St. Andrew, Doug’s family, which had grown to include six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, descended on Kitchener. His health had deteriorated, and they sensed it might be his last. On Nov. 29, about 170 people piled into the Cambridge armoury for the black-tie affair. Before Doug presented his most recent findings, Brian joked with him to keep it “short and sweet,” to which he responded, “Not tonight, Brian. Long and strong.” He received a standing ovation. The family piled into the car to take him home, but he never made it; on the way, he suffered a massive heart attack. Doug Barrie was 87.