Walter Edmund Charron
Born: June 23, 1922 (Montreal)
Died: November 29, 2013 (Montreal)
Member: Saint-Lambert (Que.) Sports Hall of Fame (2010)
On June 6, 1944, a date forever to be remembered as D-Day, Lt. Walter Charron delivered troops in a landing craft onto a Normandy beach stained by spilled blood. He returned again and again over the following days, sending several thousand men into battle against the Germans.
“After the first day,” he once said, “it was like driving a bus.”
Six months later, Charron was back in Canada, where he temporarily traded his naval uniform for that of a football player. He suited up for a squad known as St. Hyacinthe-Donnaconna Navy, also called the Navy Combines, who claimed the Grey Cup national championship by defeating the Hamilton Wildcats, 7-6.
The navy team had been organized as a pick-up crew for sailors based in Montreal, and the club had a revolving roster over the football season. Charron was one of two men on the squad who had been involved in Combined Operations on D-Day. The Donnies’ points came from a Dutch Davey rouge, a Davey pass to Johnnie Taylor, who juked 10 yards into the end zone for a touchdown, and a convert. Joe Krol scored a touchdown for the Wildcats, a civilian team. Only 3,871 fans paid to watch the game at Civic Stadium in Hamilton, Ont. Contemporary accounts described several fist fights in the grandstand between civilians and those on active duty.
Charron was born into a French Protestant family who owned a leather tanning business specializing in fine goat, sheep and cowhide leathers. After graduating from St. Lambert High School and turning 18, Charron enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy. He was trained in electrical and depth-charge maintenance as an ordinary seaman in Halifax before undergoing officer training on the other side of the country at Esquimalt, B.C., adjacent to Victoria.
As commander of landing craft, he conducted troop and equipment landings in North Africa, Sicily and the Italian mainland before taking part in the D-Day invasion.
His final wartime assignment was a posting board HMCS Halifax, a corvette patrolling the waters from Newfoundland to Ireland.
Charron went to work for the family firm after the war. He coached football and was active in local curling clubs. (“Curling is like sex,” he once told sports columnist Tim Burke of the Montreal Gazette. “You don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it.”) In recognition of his contribution to the sport, he was invited to join the Governor General’s Curling Club in 1985.
The championship St. Hyacinthe-Donnaconna football team for which he played was inducted into the Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
Charron was active in the local Legion, spoke to high school students about his war experiences, and was a regular at Remembrance Day ceremonies.
“What I learned is that war is a very poor way of settling things,” he once told a reporter. “Everyone loses, and the one who loses the least considers themselves the winner.”