Billie Izzard, who left Barney’s River more than 77 years ago to fight for his country, will be honoured Saturday with an open house at Barney’s River Station Schoolhouse Museum.
Like many more who fought in the Second World War, he never returned but he was not killed in battle, nor did he die in a military hospital. Instead, Izzard was one of as many as 156 Canadian soldiers who survived the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy only to be taken prisoner and executed the following day.
“There were conventions and rules for the treatment of prisoners of war and they were not followed,” said museum founder Nova Bannerman.
She first learned of Izzard after she married her late husband, Donald, and moved to Barney’s River Station.
“Billie was only 22 when he was killed and he was well remembered by the Bannermans and all the people of Barney’s River area. My husband remembered the last time he saw him, walking past the Bannerman house in his uniform, on his way to New Glasgow on his last day of embarkation leave.”
He shipped overseas in July, 1943.
Donald’s sister, the late Maye Bannerman, remembered that most of the children in Barney’s River Station learned to ride a bicycle on Izzard’s bike.
“Any time his name was mentioned through the years, it was somebody saying he was a kind, friendly young man from a good family,” said Bannerman.
As a child, Izzard lived on Weaver’s Mountain, two miles from the pre-Confederation school that became a community museum 25 years ago. The oldest of William Arthur (Archie) and Louise Izzard’s 10 children, his was the only black family in the area. The Izzards had come from Guysborough County, first to Bearbrook and then to a farm on the mountain.
“Archie Izzard was a hard worker. He was employed by local lumbermen and mill owners and he was well-liked by neighbours in the community.”
Bannerman taught school at Barney’s River Station for 13 years before the school closed in 1971 and she moved to the new consolidated school, Frank H. MacDonald.
“The only one of the Izzards I taught was the youngest, Margie, who now lives in Vancouver and I’m in touch with her.”
The names of Izzard and his siblings appear in old attendance registers.
“I don’t know how good his attendance was. He was the oldest in his family and he lived a long way from the school. There were many who could not get to school too often in winter.”
After he left school, Izzard followed his father into the lumbering trade. He was working at MacIvor’s mill when he signed up with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders in the fall of 1942.
Maye Bannerman kept a scrapbook as a teenager and it includes a newspaper clipping stating Private William Lyall Izzard was reported Missing in Action after the Normandy Invasion in June, 1944. His photo was included in the news report.
“That’s the first word his family got, that he was missing. Sometime later, they were told he had been killed. I suppose they assumed he was wounded during the landing and died the following day. To the best of my knowledge they were never informed of anything more.”
Izzard’s family was allowed to choose the inscription on his gravestone in Beny-sur-Mer, France: “And when among the ransomed, we’ll see his face once more to praise our risen saviour upon that peaceful shore.”
Years later Bannerman’s son John, a Presbyterian minister in Kanata, Ont., got to know parishioner Don MacKenzie, a Second World War veteran who had grown up in Amherst.
“Don was a member of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and he had served with Billie. He landed in Normandy with him but he was not among the soldiers who were captured.”
MacKenzie was able to supply details that had never filtered down to the Izzard family. His claim that Izzard and others were executed is well substantiated in a number of historical accounts, including Unbecoming Conduct, a book written by Harold Margolian and published by the University of Toronto in 1998.
“He writes that Billie was one of the prisoners of war murdered after capture by troops of Nazi Germany’s elite 12th SS Panzer Divison of Hitler Youth, under the direction of Kurt Mayer,” said Bannerman.
Sometime following the young soldier’s death, the Izzards’ home on Weaver’s Mountain burned and they moved to another property in the area.
“After the fire they didn’t have a single photo of Billie.”
As the Izzard children grew, they left home and Archie Izzard died in Barney’s River. Following his death, his wife left the community.
“When I discovered the clipping about Billie in Maye’s scrapbook I had a photo made from it. I tracked down his brother Danny and offered it to him, as well as the information we had learned. His family was so pleased to have a photo.”
MacKenzie delivered another copy of the photo to the regimental museum in Amherst.
“You can see he was a handsome young man with a friendly smile,” said Bannerman.
On June 7, the date when records indicate Izzard died, dozens of Canadian soldiers with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers were taken prisoner near the village of Authie and brought to a nearby church. Later that night 11 of them were taken into the adjacent garden and shot in the head. The next morning, another seven, all members of the Highlanders regiment, were brought outside and shot dead. Over the next couple of days executions continued around the countryside and as many of 156 Canadian soldiers were executed, many of them at the direction of Colonel Kurt Meyer.
The Battle of Normandy was still underway weeks later when word of the massacre reached Canada. Later in 1944 Meyer was taken prisoner and in 1945 he was court-martialed for some of the murders. He was convicted of inciting his troops to murder and sentenced to death. He eventually served five years in Dorchester Penitentiary before being transferred to a jail in West Germany and was released in 1954.
Bannerman’s collection of artifacts includes an article from The Chronicle Herald printed on an anniversary of the Normandy invasion, referring to the murders and noting that there were nine Nova Scotians among the murdered, one of them a black man.
At the Abbaye d’Ardenne a memorial in the garden where 18 Canadian soldiers are known to have been executed is commonly covered with small maple leaf flags left by visiting Canadians.
“They are gone but not forgotten,” states the memorial inscription.
Thanks largely to Bannerman’s hard work and determination, neither will Izzard’s sacrifice be forgotten in the Barney’s River area where he attended school, shared his bicycle with friends and worked as a mill hand before signing up to serve his country.
Debbie Emmerson, whose mother, Mary, was Izzard’s sister will be coming from Halifax to represent her family at the open house between noon and 5 p.m. Chocolate cake with boiled icing, which Izzard’s mother frequently brought to school and community events, will be served as long as it lasts.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org