Published June 4, 2024

Canadian D-Day veteran Bill Cameron dies just days before 80th anniversary events

By Sarah Ritchie
Cameron is seen in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Veterans Affairs Canada

Bill Cameron was looking forward to this week for a long time. 

The Second World War veteran was planning to be part of Canada's delegation heading to Normandy, France, to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6. 

Last Friday, his daughters Cheryl Powell and Donna Roy helped him get ready and the three had lunch together. 

After months of preparation, including getting medical clearance, everything was set for a Saturday morning flight from Vancouver. 

Sadly, Cameron fell ill and died the night before at 100 years old.

"We just couldn't believe it," Roy said in an interview. "His bag was totally packed. We were ready to pick him up." 

Powell said the staff at the care home where he lived had planned a special sendoff, knowing how excited he was for the trip. The last few days have been surreal, she said. 

"He went for the 70th (anniversary), he was there for the 75th, and he so wanted to go to the 80th, knowing that it was his last time to stand on Juno Beach to just honour those other vets," Roy said. 

Cameron's death leaves the Canadian delegation with just 13 veterans, between the ages of 99 and 104. It seems likely that this will be the last major anniversary event to involve the men who witnessed D-Day.

June 6, 1944, marked the beginning of the bloody 11-week Battle of Normandy and the start of the Allied liberation of France. 

Almost 160,000 troops landed on the beaches of Normandy that day, including around 14,000 Canadians. Cameron was a gunner on board HMCS Kitchener, which helped protect American troops landing at Omaha Beach.

The landing was devastating: 4,414 Allied troops were killed on D-Day and more than 5,000 were wounded.

During the Battle of Normandy, 73,000 Allied forces were killed and 153,000 wounded. The battle — and especially Allied bombings of French villages and cities — killed around 20,000 French civilians.

The exact German casualties aren't known, but historians estimate between 4,000 and 9,000 men were killed, wounded or missing during the D-Day invasion alone. About 22,000 German soldiers are among the many buried around Normandy.

"He really felt that there should be more acknowledgment and education so that we don't ever forget," Powell said.

In his final years Cameron spent a lot of time reading about the war, and about D-Day in particular. 

He was a lifelong learner, his daughters said, and a problem-solver. He also loved taking trips in his RV.

"We have an RV, too. And yeah, I know exactly how the thing works just because I was alongside Dad," Roy said.

In January the family held "quite the party" for Cameron's 100th birthday. Just a couple of weeks ago he met his youngest great-grandchild, a little girl named Olivia Billy in his honour. 

The family will hold a celebration of his life later in the summer.

On Thursday, Cameron's grandson Craig Powell and his wife, Rachel Soares, will take his place at the Canadian ceremony. His daughters are planning to watch from afar in Surrey, B.C.

"It'll be hard," Powell said. "It won't be easy, but we'll definitely do it to honour Dad."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This is a corrected story. A previous version said Cameron served on HMCS Kingston.

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