The French Canadian soldier who freed Zwolle

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At lunch, before stepping into a plane back to the Netherlands from Canada, I was told about the story of Léo Major, a French Canadian soldier of the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces who single-handedly freed the Dutch city of Zwolle, and other places, with some unbelievable tactics.

Léo Major of Longueuil, Québec was a corporal who refused to move up in rank despite his brilliant moves. He pulled off stuff without consulting his superiors and made bluffs work that nobody else would have come up with. He pretty much freelanced and the army just let him because he was brave and smart.

During WWII, Zwolle, Overijssel was surrounded by German troops and the 22nd Regiment that was trying to recapture it were failing miserably, losing dozens of soldiers every day. Léo Major and his best friend Wilfrid Arseneault volunteered to go and find out where the Germans were positioned to try and improve their situation.

At nightfall the pair went to the farm of the Van Gerner family who tried to explain in Dutch that the forest was full of Germans. Shortly after, Arseneault was shot, his stomach full of bullet holes, as explained by Major himself in the video below. Major, determined to complete the mission left his best friend behind and pressed on.

Major entered Zwolle and attacked German patrols and ran through the streets throwing grenades to convince the enemy that Canadian troops were marching in, and it worked. He captured entire troops of 8-10 Germans who let themselves be delivered to the 22nd Regiment outside the city, believing the city was under attack. Major kept going back to Zwolle to pull the same tactic over and over. He even set fire to Gestapo headquarters.

At dawn, he realised that the last German troops had left the city and that Zwolle was free. After making sure the city knew they were liberated, Major went to pick up the corpse of his friend that he brought to the Van Gerner farm for safe keeping until the burial. Later that morning, Canadian troops marched into the city and the residents of Zwolle finally saw that they were liberated.

Léo Major was given his first medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal of the British Army, the only Canadian and one of only three soldiers in the British Commonwealth to ever receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice in separate wars. Major went on to pull some more great moves in the Korean War. His friend Wilfrid Arseneault was given a Bronze Lion posthumously in 1970 by Queen Juliana.

This YouTube video features Léo Major himself in English on Zwolle television, with parts translated into Dutch.

(Photos: Wikipedia)

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