John Archibald (Archie) MacNaughton, soldier, farmer (born 7 October 1896 in Black River Bridge, NB; died 6 June 1944 in Normandy, France). Archie MacNaughton fought in both the First World War and Second World War. MacNaughton rose to the rank of major and was a well-respected officer with the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment. When he was 47 years old, MacNaughton led North Shore’s “A” Company into Normandy on D-Day. He was killed in action while pushing inland from Juno Beach.
Early Life and Service in the First World War
John Archibald MacNaughton was the oldest of four children born to John and Maria MacNaughton in Black River Bridge, Northumberland County, New Brunswick. Archie, as he was known, grew up and worked on his family’s farm and was a member of the United Church of Canada.
On 5 November 1915, when he was 19 years old, MacNaughton enlisted for service in the First World War. He served as a private in France and Belgium, with the 104th and 236th battalions, before he was discharged in 1919.
After his return to Black River Bridge, MacNaughton married Grace Helen in 1929. The couple had two children: Francis John and Margaret Catherine. MacNaughton farmed his own land and was active in his community, teaching Sunday school.
MacNaughton continued in step with the military, attending yearly summer training camps with the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment.
Second World War
After the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Archie MacNaughton travelled to Chatham, New Brunswick, and enlisted on 7 June 1940 — when he was 43 years old. (At the time, the maximum age for enlistment was 45 years.) By September, MacNaughton was promoted to Major with the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment, leading “A” Company.
In August 1941, MacNaughton arrived in England, where he and his men trained extensively. Given his age and rank, MacNaughton was offered the chance to either retire from service or be reassigned to a training position at home. He chose instead to stay and lead the men of his company, with whom he had grown close. MacNaughton was well-liked by the men of “A” Company, who in 1943 described him as “a commander, who we trusted as a leader, and who was a friend and father to us when we needed help or guidance.”
According to Will R. Bird, author of North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment (1963), MacNaughton “had most of the problem lads of the unit but soon gained the respect of every man in his company and to such an extent that they would go all out for him in any undertaking.” MacNaughton was a natural leader with a soft touch who easily attracted the respect and admiration of his reports.
Of all the officers with the unit, Major McNaughton was undoubtedly the most popular, the most respected and the most durable. I doubt very much if any other Canadian officer of his age was called upon to lead an infantry company into action; but Major McNaughton could not be made to believe that he was too old for the job; in fact, the men under his command did not outwardly impress as being the most efficient soldiers in the unit, but were one hundred per cent behind him…
— Major J.A.L. Robichaud
The 1944 Battle of Normandy — from the D-Day landings on 6 June through to the encirclement of the German army at Falaise on 21 August — was one of the pivotal events of the Second World War and the scene of some of Canada’s greatest feats of arms. Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen played a critical role in the Allied invasion of Normandy, also called Operation Overlord, beginning the bloody campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach.
Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for some time…. This has been a busy time, but I am awful glad I was in it. No matter how things go, Grace. Life has been very kind to us. I have had many pleasures to look on, all has been very pleasant. I hope we can be together again and enjoy many years together. I can’t advise you about the future my dear, for life has too many problems, but just decide as they come along…. This may sound very blue but I am feeling rather lonely tonight and I know what is ahead.
— Archie MacNaughton in a letter written to his wife, Grace, dated 4 June 1944, the day before D-Day was originally scheduled.
On 6 June 1944, D-Day, the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment landed at the Nan sector of Juno Beach, near the town of Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. Despite heavy machine gun and mortar fire and mines and traps that caused heavy casualties, the North Shore’s “A” Company cleared the beachhead and met their first objective on time. The men then entered Saint-Aubin, which they cleared house by house.
Archie MacNaughton was shot in the hand at Saint-Aubin. He bandaged the wound himself but did not get medical treatment or tell anyone about his injury. Major J. Ernest Anderson of “D” Company noticed MacNaughton’s bandaged hand and later reported that MacNaughton seemed oblivious to the pain. “His only concern,” said Anderson, “was for the boys he had lost [on the beach and in the town]. He mentioned them all by name…”
At midday, the North Shore moved to its next objective, the village of Tailleville, where they met unexpected German resistance. MacNaughton and his men came under automatic fire from close range soon after entering the village. As he tried to lead his men out of the line of fire, MacNaughton was killed, along with his runner and his signaller — another signaller was wounded.
The North Shore and the Fort Garry Horse took the village after six hours of fighting. By the end of D-Day, the North Shore had suffered 125 casualties, including 34 deaths. Major John Archibald MacNaughton was the only North Shore officer to lose his life. As Major Robichaud later wrote, “[MacNaughton’s] death was deplored by every man in the North Shore.”
MacNaughton is buried at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Normandy, France.