I don't know much about Dan N. Cojocar (son of Nick and Garafira) the person, but I have learned a bit about his military service. Regrettably it is his only legacy as he was a single man who volunteered for the army during World War II at the age of just nineteen and was killed in action when he was barely twenty.
Daniel "Dan" Cojocar was born in the Kayville, Saskatchewan area April 7, 1924 to Nick and Garafira Cojocari. Dan was the fourteenth child and was the second child that Nick and Garafira had that was named "Dan", the first sadly died twelve years earlier at the age of four. His parents must have either honoured their little one by naming another brother after him or perhaps there is some family tradition surrounding the name I am unaware of.
Dan worked on the farm with his father and brothers having finished school in the seventh grade. When he enlisted in the army they recorded him as standing 5'10.5" tall, weighing 139.5lbs with hazel eyes and brown hair. He was a slim man and by Cojocar standards had not yet grown into his full stature.
He volunteered in Regina, Saskatchewan on June 4, 1943. The date he enlisted is interesting to me because the Second World War began about four years earlier in 1939. Four years of seeing the lists of dead Canadians in the newspapers. A good three and a half years of the news on the radio describing Germany and Japan meeting success after success in battle. It was only in 1943 that things began to turn a little in favour of the allies but by no means had the tide turned. I don't see Dan as a starry-eyed young man seeking glory and adventure on the first mention of war, rather I think of him as someone joining out of a sense of duty. A number of his cousins and others from the area were enlisted as well so there was a sense of community for sure. On that Friday in 1943 Dan became Private Cojocar L-106135.
In the Army
His first days were filled with testing, paperwork and medical examinations. He is then released on leave with full pay of $1.40 per day from June 10-16, 1943. I assume he returned home to say goodbye. His training then began and saw him travel to army bases in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan and Shilo, Manitoba. It must have been an exciting time.
Five months later in November 1943 he is granted twenty-one days of leave from the army base in Shilo, Manitoba. I will assume that he travelled back home. His niece Geana Cojocar, who was nine at the time, remembered that on the day he left he was dressed in his uniform and he gave her a quarter and said goodbye. He would not return home again.
By the end of November Private Cojocar had travelled with his regiment to Halifax, Nova Scotia and a week later they arrived in the U.K.. Shortly after his arrival in England he received a raise in pay, now earning $1.50 per day! I'm sure the military life, travelling the world and anticipating war amazed the young man from Kayville, Saskatchewan.
At the end of January 1944 he was transferred from the 2nd Canadian Infantry R.U. (2.C.I.R.U.) to the South Saskatchewan Regiment (S.S.R.). The military records say little about what happened for the next six months. Some books and history records say that the S.S.R. just lived a military life and were waiting for D-Day. The D-Day invasion commenced on June 6, 1944 but the S.S.R. was being held in reserve and was not involved in the heroic fighting on the beaches of France.
Into Battle After D-Day
The orders for the S.S.R. arrived a month later on July 3, 1944 and they left Broome Park travelling via Chatham and London to their marshalling area at Tilbury Camp near Tilbury. The marching personnel, under Major Matthews, got on the train at Sheperds Wells Station on the same day and detrained at Chailey Station, north of Lewes. After issue of hard rations and embarkation cards, all personnel were loaded on the landing craft. On July 6 the S.S.R. were consolidated in Normandy, France, with Colonel Clift in command. Their orders were to participate in the liberation in and around Caen, France.
The following account is from the book "The March of the Prairie Men" by Lt. Col. G.B. Buchanan, M.B.E., Chapter Six "Caen To Falaise"
On 9th July, Lieutenant-General G. G. Simonds, C.B.E., D.S.O., the G.O.C. of 2nd Canadian Corps, visited the regiment and gave a short talk to everyone on what the Canadian Army had accomplished to date and what was expected of the S.Sask.R. in the near future. At 0200 hours, on 12th July, the unit occupied its first assembly area and proceeded to dig slit trenches for their own protection. In the afternoon four enemy planes flew overhead and dropped a spare petrol tank, and all ranks wasted no time diving to the "slitties," believing it to be a bomb.
The first actual casualty due to enemy action since the Dieppe Raide, occurred on 13th July when Lieutenant E.R. Smith of A Company was hit in the left leg by shell shrapnel while working on the miniature range. The first overseas liquor rations were issued in this assembly area and consisted of a bottle of whisky at 85 francs for each officer, W.O., Sgt., and one quart of beer at 15 francs for each other rank.
On 17th July, Colonel Clift and the Battalion Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Doug Pedlow, held their first operation "O" Group, and issued plans for the first battle with the enemy. This was to take place on 19th/20th July. Bombers were to soften up that part of Caen south of the river Odon and on the flanks, paying particular attention o the armour on the west side of the river. The role of 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was to secure the right (Western) flank of the Corp's penetration towards Verrieres. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division were to take the "Faubourg de Vaucelles" near Caen; 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to push through them south; 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to thrust southwest of Caen to protect the right flank of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the opposite bank of the Orne river; and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to push through 5th Brigade when they had reached their objectives. The 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to take "St. Andre-sur-Orne" and "Verrieres" with tank support out ahead. There was to be elaborate artillery support.
On 18th July, the C.O. and company commanders checked the fire plans, made up the "F" and "A" echelons, and figured out the L.O.B. (Left Out of Battle). During that evening word was received that Brigadier Sherwood Lett, Commander of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and former C.O. of the regiment, had been wounded and Lt.-Col. Clift was detailed temporarily to replace him. Everyone was sorry to see him leave, and Colonel Clift himself, was disappointed because he would not be able to lead the regiment into its first battle. Major Reg Matthews took command and Major Pat Adams acted as 2 i/c with Captain C.J. Doyle taking over "C" Company.
Caen, a city of over 50,000 population, was a tragic mess of rubble due to the air bombardment. Strangely enough, the two beautiful Abbeys erected by an earlier invader across the Channel, stood practically untouched in all their glory. It was in Caen that our troops met the first open welcome of the French people even though thousands of them had been made homeless.
One of the first impressions of the battlefield, was the sickly, persistent odour of fetid flesh of dead men and beasts, exposed to the hot sun for days and weeks without burial. Bodies could not be buried because of the proximity of hte enemy and the lack of time and labour. It was not healthy to stand in open exposed places for long. Graves near the front were shallow and marked with any device at hand from rifles to sticks and rocks.
The battalion moved out of Caen at 0200 hours on 20th July, and were in their F.U.P. (forming up place) just before noon. The attack was postponed to 1500 hours. The Camerons were on the right with St. Andre-sur-Orne as their objective, and the S.Sask.R. were to take the high ground on the Brigade left front. The start was crossed with two companies up; "A" Company on the left and "D" company on the right. The first thousand yards went by without event but then the picture changed rapidly.The forward companies came to a crossroads where they overcame some opposition and took their first prisoners. Resistance continually increased and enemy mortar and artillery fire got heavier and heavier. "D" Company lost approximately one platoon and two officers. "A" Company, too, was having a tough time on the left with heavy casualties. "B" Company was pushed through "D" but before they had progressed any distance they were caught in a concentration of enemy fire. Still fighting forward, they took five prisoners at one position, and ten more at another. The fighting was taking place in a violent rainstorm which limited visibility and made air support impossible.
Meanwhile the enemy counter-attack had got under way. Several German tanks, one identified as an MK 4, came in from the front and German Infantry attacked from the right flank. "B" Company withdrew to "D" Company area where the anti-tank guns were being lined up. When "B" company arrived with about one half their original numbers, they found the last of the guns being knocked out by the tanks.
About this time Major G. R. Matthews, the acting C.O., and Lieutenant D. S. Pedlow received an almost direct hit and were believed to be killed instantly. The tanks rolled right in amonth the infantry shooting H.E. and M.G. fire at point blank range and causing heavy casualties. The german Infantry on the right were also adding to the turmoil with their mortar and small arms fire. Major J.S. Edmondson attempted to contact Brigade Headwuarters for support but was unable to obtain radio contact so he withdrew his company through the grainfields to the area of "C" company. From here contact with Brigade Headquarters was established and positions of forward troops given. The Essex Scottish, who were in reserve, were sent forward to dig in behind the S.Sask.R. and allow them to withdraw with what troops they had left. In the F.U.P. the unit reformed under Major Edmondson. A few troops continued to trickle in during the night. This was to be one of two very costly battles of the regiment in Europe.
In all, 12 officers and 196 other ranks were killed, wounded, or missing. There were 66 killed, 116 wounded, and 26 taken prisoner. Captains C.J. Doyle and J. Gates and Major R.S. Wells were among those killed in their first actions of the day.
Three days were spent in reorganizing the battalion. Reinforcements were brought up and lost equipment replaced. Major N. A. Adams became temporary commander, with Major J. S. Edmondson as 2 i/c and Lieutenant N. H. Hadley as Intelligence Officer. The unit moved to an area in rear of the village of Ifs and later to a position forward of the village where they were to act as a firm base for the Fus. M.R. attack on Troteval Farm. This attack was successful and opened the way for 4th Canadian infantry Brigade attack on Verrieres on 25th July.
The Regiment were thus back in action three days after taking a bad shellacking. Colonel Clift stated later that he was amazed by the way the spirit of our boys bounded back and the way they got hold of the battle as soon as combat was renewed south of Ifs.
Major Adams was forced to give up the command and report to hospital and Major J. S. Edmondson carried on till Colonel Clift returned the evening of 25th July. On that night the regiment moved to a defensive position close to the area where the first battle had been fought. DUring this move an air raid caused some casualties.
Although the strength of the German Air Force had declined appreciably, they sent a few planes nightly over most sectors of the front. Two or three planes normally worked together dropping flares, and bombing and strafing any movement they spotted. The ack ack of both sides was concentrated and wove fiery patterns in the sky as they followed the evasive actions of the aircraft.
Positions were improved and reorganziation continued. Major J.S. Edmondson was appointed 2 i/c, Captain C. E. Smith Officer Commanding "C" Company and Captain W.S. Edmondson Officer Commanding "D" Company, replacing major Len Dickin who had been wounded by shrapnel and who later died in the hostpital after apparently being well on the way to recovery. Nightly patrols were sent out to locate enemy positions and inquest of prisoners for information. This was by no means a simple job. Mine laying parties checked for enemy mines and laid fields of their own. The shells and mortar bombs rained down in crumps periodically throughout each day causing many casualties. The famous "Moaning Minnies" were particularly spine chilling missles as they played their screaming orchestrations overhead. C.S.M. "Shorty" Warren was coming into Company Headquarters one day when the Minnie concert started. He made a running dive into a supposed "slit-trench." It turned out to be a latrine and Shorty came out of it unfit for further operational duties until his old friend R.Q.M.S. Bowie had refitted him from head to foot - from a distance.
Throughout these hectic days the morale was good and many of the veterans were itching to get back into a moving battle. On 4th August, the battalions moved to Verrieres, nicknamed "Hell's Corner." With the aid of flares, the German pilots had spotted the long file of S.Sask.R. men moving up and bombed them causing a few casualties. Mortaring and shelling in this area was intense and the Germans had more than once sent strong raiding parties into the position. Due to this heavy shelling it was necessary to live most of the time below the surface of the ground. The standard drill of everyone in these days was to dig a hole immediately on halts or rests, even on short moves. It was very advisable to have roofs on all slit trenches and dugouts if any degree of permanency was desired or contemplated.
At Verrieres, "A", "C" and "D" Companies were forward with "B" Company and the carriers in reserve. Nightly patrols were sent out to keep tab of enemy positions. The weather for the most part was hot, dry, and very dusty, and a walking man stirred up a cloud of fine white dust which generally brought down fire from the German positions on the high ground. Baths and showers were something to dream about and the ground fleas took over many slitties before the soldiers even got used to them. Meals all came in cans and were supplemented by white bread. The flies and yellow wasps will always be remembered. Before uncovering food and trying to put it into their mouths, the boys had to keep up a constant fanning motion, and then often secured a mouthful of flies and wasps. Many cases of dysentery occurred and toiled paper became more valuable than cigarettes.
One good S.Sask.R. Sgt. named Mickey Faille, was overheard telling an old lady in London about the terrific shelling of the Ifs area. "Why didn't you hide behind trees, my dear," she asked. "Hell, lady," the Sgt. replied, "There weren't enough trees to go around for the officers never mind the sergeants."
Plans were developing for operation Totalize in which the 2nd Canadian Corps was to break through the German lines. The S.Sask.R. was in the centre of 2nd Canadian Corp's start line, which was some four miles long. Within the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade the S.Sask.R. were to take Rocquancourt, the Camerons to take Founenay-le-Marmion and the Fus M.R. to take May-Sur-Orne. The S.Sask.R. was to be supported by heavy artillery concentrations on their objective while the other two battalions were to have heavy bombing on the objectives. For this attack the battalion formed up in a long tail formation with "D" Company on the right, "A" Company on the left, and with "B" and "C" companies following.
At 2300 hours, 7th August, the bombing programme commenced and one half hour later the armoured column and marching infantry crossed the start line and thanks to the shelling and bombing prelude, resistance was quickly overcome. By dawn on the 8th, all positions were fairly well consolidated and the armoured troop carrying vehicles passed through on the S.Sask.R. left. One of the features of this break-through was the novel idea of simulated moonlight. Huge searchlight batteries had been turned on making the area as bright as day. Another feature, was the successful use of Bofors guns firing tracers as directional aids. The initial attack troops were mounted on re-modelled "Pries" S.P. guns. The guns had been taken off these tanks and they had become very good troop carriers. S.Sask.R. casuaulties for the operation were 6 officers and 39 other ranks and 40 enemy prisoners of war were taken. "F" Echelon had been caught on the move-up by the enemy defensive fire tasks and casualties resulted to both personnel and vehicles. The Camerons had been held up by sharp resistance at Marmion and the Fus. M.R. had to mount two attacks to gain final victory at May-sur-Orne. A total of over 1200 prisoners had been taken in the battle besides the innumerable dead and wounded.
Colonel Clift had a field day all his own. While going through the wheat fields in his carrier, he rounded up a number of Germans hiding in the grain. Major Edmondson and Captain Hadley went out to search the battlefields where the unit had suffered so much on 20th July. A number of bodies were identified and these were taken back to Ifs and buried by the unit Padre, Captain R.L. Taylor.
I am glad that Private Cojocar got to contribute to the battles and use his training. It must have been especially gratifying for him to see the people of Caen celebrate their liberation on July 20.
Killed in Action
Private Cojocar was killed in action on August 8, 1944. Dan Cojocar served a total of 432 days. He was posthumously awarded the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal and the CVSN and Clasp. He is buried outside of Caen, France at Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in grave XIII H 14.
His Father received the $25.20 that Dan had contributed to Sixth Victory Loan Bonds, $183.53 in salary owed and an additional $20 for War Service Grant. His Mother received a "Memorial Cross" which was given to the mothers of soldiers who were killed.
In honour of Dan's sacrifice a bay on a lake in northern Saskatchewan bears his name. Read more in Landmark: Cojocar Bay.
In Ottawa at the House of Commons within the Memorial Chamber of the Parliament of Canada there is a book called the "Book of Remembrance of the Second World War". Written in the book are the names of each soldier killed during WWII who served Canada. Each day a single page in the book is turned to reveal the names page by page. Dan Cojocar's name appears on Page 276 and is displayed to the public every year on June 14.
In Regina there is a War Memorial on the grounds of the Provincial Legislative Building that displays the names of all Saskatchewan war dead. You can find Dan Cojocar commemorated there.
In Ogema, Saskatchewan there is a cenotaph honouring the war dead of the Omega Region. You will find Private Cojocar listed there.
In his home town of Kayville, Saskatchewan there is a memorial to him in the Saint Peter and Paul Romanian Orthodox Cemetery.