LÉO MAJOR, DCM and BAR
Major, a native of
went overseas in 1941 with Le Régiment de la Chaudière and, with his
independent character, naturally gravitated toward the scout platoon.
He landed with the Chaudières on D-Day and, in the fierce
fighting in the early days in
the end of the Second World War, Major returned to
the late spring of 1951, the battalion was in action in
talks with the Communist forces began in the summer of 1951 and dragged
on throughout the rest of the year with no resolution.
The ground forces of both sides continued to launch limited
offensives to secure favourable high ground in case a final cease fire
might be declared. In
mid-November, as the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group moved up to
relieve British forces near the south bank of the Imjin
Brigade was to hold the right flank of the 1st Commonwealth Division's
front, with the R22eR on the extreme right flank.
Here they would link up with the 3rd US Infantry Division on the
east who held Hill 355, nicknamed "Little Gibraltar."
At this point, the front line curved southward around the height,
requiring the R22eR to hold an awkward position with A and D Companies
on the western slopes, separated by a small valley from the remainder of
the battalion. D Company was
the most vulnerable as it occupied the most northerly position, a saddle
between Hill 355 and Hill 227 to the west, exposed on both the northern
and western fronts.
the R22eR prepared to move into its new positions, Lt-Col Dextraze
issued a statement, that "in the event the battalion is attacked,
there will be NO withdrawal, NO platoons overrun and NO panics.
All would be expected to perform their duties in a typical 'Vingt
Dextraze's statement was prescient because, unknown to him, his
regiment was marching into the face of a determined Chinese assault that
would test its determination.
Chinese sensed that the truce talks were coming close to an agreement
which would lock each side into their present positions.
They therefore determined to make a final attempt to seize the
most favourable terrain on the western side of the front.
Hill 355 was the prize, commanding the terrain for twenty miles
around. With some momentum,
the Chinese might even roll the United Nations line back across the Imjin
as the R22eR were just settling into their new positions on November 22,
the 64th Chinese Army opened up with a massive artillery barrage,
engulfing Hill 355 along with the Vingt Deux.
On November 23, enemy attacks intensified, with elements of the
Chinese 190th and 191st Divisions directed against Hill 355, and one
battalion of the 190th attacking D Company.
For the next two days, desperate fighting occurred as the
Americans first lost Hill 355, then fought to regain it after hastily
gathering a counter-attack force.
soon as they had captured Hill 355 on November 23, the Chinese were able
to occupy Hill 227, uncovering both flanks of Company D.
This left the Company practically surrounded, but it managed to
drive off all enemy attacks. The
mid-day hours of November 24 brought a lull to the fighting but, late in
the day, the Chinese launched a new attack with two companies from Hill
227 against D Company and by 1820 hours had overrun the left flank
platoon, No. 11. When, in
addition, the Chinese again recaptured the slopes of Hill 355, the
remainder of D Company came under attack from all directions.
situation was serious. However,
Dextraze coolly assessed the regiment's position and refused to consider
giving up any ground. While
the Americans assembled a counter-attack force on his right, Dextraze
decided to launch his own counter-attack to regain No. 11 Platoon's
position and thus relieve the pressure on D Company.
about an hour later, the Chinese launched their own counter-attack and
Dextraze ordered Major to withdraw from the hill.
Major refused, saying he would pull back only 25 yards to some
shell holes which offered the only cover he could find.
From here, he directed mortar and machine-gun fire onto his
attackers. This he did
throughout the darkest hours and bitter cold of the morning, bringing
the mortar fire down almost on top of himself.
commander of the mortar platoon, Captain Charly Forbes, later wrote that
Major was "an audacious man ... not satisfied with the proximity of
my barrage and asks to bring it closer...In effect my barrage falls so
close that I hear my bombs explode when he speaks to me on the
Forbes increased his rate of fire until the mortar barrels turned
red from the heat. He
finally had to cease fire as the heat had permanently warped the tubes.
the citation described, so expertly did he direct the fire of
supporting mortars and artillery that the platoon was able to repulse
four separate enemy attacks. Running
from one point of danger to another, under heavy small arms fire from
his flank, he directed the fire of his men, encouraging them to hold
firm against overwhelming odds.
By dawn, Major's force had withdrawn 200 yards to the east,
reporting that "nothing is left there to occupy...not a bunker or
However, despite being attacked by superior numbers, Major's
group had repulsed all attacks and succeeded in denying possession of
No. 11 Platoon's position to the Chinese.
Léo Major's small force remained in position for three more
days, holding their gains securely, as the Chinese made several last
attempts to gain some ground.
citation for the Bar to the DCM concluded: Against a force, superior
in number, Corporal Major simply refused to give ground.
His personal courage and leadership were beyond praise.
Filling an appointment far above his rank, he received the full
confidence of his men, so inspired were they by his personal bravery,
his coolness and leadership. For
this action, Corporal Léo Major was awarded the Bar to the
Distinguished Service Medal.
further major attacks were experienced in the sector and Major's
counter-attack ended what Charly Forbes called "the epic of Hill
355." The Chinese had
failed in gaining their objective and, on 27 November, agreement was
reached for a tentative demarcation line to be established on the
the Second World War and
i.. John Blatherwick,
Canadian Army Honours - Decorations - Medals 1902-1968 (New