Gunner Francis Henry Walden

Francis “Frank” Walden was born in Fort Erie, Ontario, to Carroll and Kathleen. Virtually everything we know about Frank comes from the journal and memory of Leonard A. C. Van Roon who met and became best friends with Frank during their service together in World War II.

Len met Frank when they attended anti-aircraft artillery training at Eastern Passage, near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in April, 1943. From the start, Frank demonstrated initiative, character, courage and integrity. Demonstrating this will require a report different in style from most of those in this volume.

During live-fire training with the Bofors gun, Frank’s crew was the only one to actually hit the target drogue being towed across the range by an aircraft. Naturally we attribute this achievement to Frank’s leadership.

In July, with roughly 20,000 others, including the 19th Field Artillery Regiment to which the two would later be assigned, they crossed the Atlantic in four days on the Queen Elizabeth. They were posted to the Canadian Army Reinforcement Unit.

Management of the CARU at that time was thoroughly corrupt. Supplies intended for the troops were being sold on the black market. When he became aware of this, Frank began to assemble what documentation he could. When he decided he had enough, he acted.

At a regular parade of all the troops in the CARU, when the order came to march in review, Frank did not move. He was arrested and placed on charge for refusing an order. He had realized that bringing his charges in the normal way would take him up the chain of command, where he would undoubtedly encounter an officer on the take and his attempt to rectify the situation would be stifled. The way he did it, however, ensured that he could make his case directly to the commanding officer. This he did and the camp was cleaned up.

Shortly after that adventure, Frank and Len were assigned to school for enlisted assistants to Forward Observation Officers. “Acks” or “Ables” were charged to assist the FOO in determining the precise location of artillery targets and communicating that information back to the guns at the firebase. This was not a low-risk assignment. The FOO and his team would accompany the unit being supported, and needed to be in or very near the place where fighting was fiercest. This would be their opportunity to do something significant with their service.

In early January they were assigned to the 19th Field, Len to “C” troop and Frank to “D”. Artillery training was carried out on the Salisbury Plain.

Frank (front middle), Len (front right)

Training on the guns focused on one key mechanical element. This element was expensive and difficult to replace, so it was removed for storage every night and only brought out in the morning for supervised training. The problem was that there were a lot of men to train and only a few of these elements available. Frank noticed that there was a two-hour blank in their schedules after supper and saw the opportunity for improvement. Somehow (Len doesn’t say) Frank managed to “borrow” one of these devices during their break, install it on a gun and they continued to train after supper. It was removed from the gun and returned to storage before bed. This was repeated as often as practicable. Len says they were the best trained gunners in the regiment.

Once in France, operational requirements prevented Len and Frank from getting together as often as they had been in England. Nonetheless, Frank continued to demonstrate initiative. On one occasion the consequences were so dramatic that word got to Len. Frustrated by his inability to achieve a line of sight to his target, he decided to improve his position by climbing up a nearby tree. In this he was successful, but the tree had lost quite a few leaves thanks to the heavy shelling in the area. He could see his target, but they could see him! Before he could take a proper bearing on the target they were directing machine gun fire at him. He came down out of the tree, uninjured, but much faster than he had gone up. He tried this once again and emerged from the experience quite excited because he now understood both enfilade and defilade fire!

On August 10, Frank once again demonstrated initiative when he accompanied his FOO to an excellent observation post. The advantage of this OP was that it had a clear line of sight to the enemy. Sadly, they could also see Frank and his officer. This time, Frank was not so lucky and he was killed at the age of 21. He was, and continues to be, greatly missed.

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