John H. Gorsline (Primary Source) | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Memory Project

John H. Gorsline (Primary Source)

This testimony is part of the Memory Project Archive

In 2003, The Memory Project interviewed John H. Gorsline, a veteran of the Second World War. The following recording (and transcript) is an excerpt from this interview. Gorsline was born on 12 November 1924. In 1942 at the age of 18, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve in Toronto; he was assigned to the landing ship HMCS Prince David, where he handled radar operations. D-Day was his first combat mission, which was then followed by the invasion of Southern France and the liberation of Greece. The ship’s role was to transport troops to battle and collect casualties, as well as to carry materials for use in amphibious assaults. In his testimony, Gorsline gives an account of the campaigns, and talks about the political aspects of military service during the war. Upon the war’s end, Gorsline returned to Ontario to work in construction, later becoming a veteran volunteer with The Memory Project. Gorsline died on 23 May 2020 in Scarborough, Ontario.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Photograph of able seaman John H. Gorsline, June, 1944.
Photo of damage to the hull of the H.M.C.S. Prince David. The vessel struck a mine near Piraeus, Greece, on December 10, 1944.
Aerial photo of H.M.C.S. Prince David. Taken by the R.A.F., August, 1944, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Map outlining "Operation Dragoon", an invasion of southern France. Free French troops carried by the H.M.C.S. Prince David landed at 1am, August 15, 1944, to knock out German guns before the main assault at 7am.
Excerpt from a naval diary, 1943-1945, showing details of German submarines and Italian battleships.
Again, we picked up casualties but this time, they were Germans.


My name is John Gorsline. And I was a member of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve and served primarily on the landing ship infantry, HMCS Prince David, which served at Normandy and the invasion of southern France and in the liberation of Greece. We had two doctors on board our ship, which meant during some of the actions, we would receive casualties from the operations. On D-Day we received about 56 of the early commandos who had landed from the beaches which were returned to the ship on landing craft coming out from the beaches. About four o'clock in the afternoon we were given high-priority orders back to Southampton with these casualties. And arrived back in Southampton about ten o'clock at night. There were 30 ambulances lined up on the docks and one berth that was open. And, as part of my duties, I happened to be one of the stretcher bearers taking the casualties off the ship for the ambulances. It was really miraculous that we were landing our Canadian troops early on D-Day. And by ten o'clock in the evening, we were already back in England with some of the first casualties. After several other trips to Normandy with support troops, the ship was sent to the Mediterranean. And on August the 15th took part in landing Free French Commandos on the coast of southern France. That was a very interesting operation because it occurred at night. Our troops landed at 01:00 in the morning before the main invasion. Again, we picked up casualties but this time, they were Germans. There had been a German destroyer along the coast which was sunk by one of our accompanying cruisers during the night. And early in the morning we picked up the badly burned Germans survivors. And, again, provided medical facilities. After the completion of southern France, we began the liberation of Greece in September of 1944, first landing British Commandos on the Island of Kithira. Shortly after the liberation, there were two Greek freedom fighters in Greece, one being a Communist Army and one being a Royalist Army. And a week or so after the liberation, which was a very happy period because of the starvation and everything in Greece. But then the two conflicting forces began a civil war. And as it turned out, we were directed to pick up airborne troops in Taranto, Italy and reinvade the Port of Piraeus which had been taken over by the Communists. We didn't know it at the time but I guess it was the beginning of the Cold War. There is one political aspect of my earlier training and so on. I joined the navy in Toronto and after only two or three days, was sent to Quebec City for our basic training. And at that time there were ships being sunk in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River. And many French Canadian boys wanted to join their Navy. So, as it turned out, at that time in Canada, you could not be in either the Navy or the Air Force unless you were bilingual in English. It seems ironic that Canadians who have been here for 200 years couldn't join their armed forces to defend the country.