Norman Kirby | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Norman Kirby

Norman Kirby, soldier (born 9 July 1925 in New Westminster, BC). Kirby served with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment during the Second World War. He was involved in the D-Day landings and Normandy Campaign, the Battle of the Rhineland and the Liberation of the Netherlands.

In March 2020, Veterans Affairs Canada unveiled a poster commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and the Allied victory in Europe (V-E Day). The poster features veteran Norman Kirby of the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, which helped liberate many Dutch towns in the final weeks of the war in Europe. In the background, the poster shows liberated citizens of the town of Zwolle welcoming Canadian soldiers.

(Veterans Affairs Canada)

Early Life

Norman Kirby was born 9 July 1925 in New Westminster, British Columbia, the son of Harold Kirby and Katherine Campbell. He grew up during the Depression in North Vancouver. At age 14, he left school and worked on tugboats.

Second World War

When the Second World War broke out, Norman Kirby tried to join the navy because of his tugboat experience. However, he was rejected because he had only a grade eight education. The army agreed to accept him at age 17, but only with written consent from his father. During training, Kirby became very skilled with the Bren gun, a portable machine gun introduced in the 1930s, and with the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank Gun).

Normandy Campaign

In April 1944, Norman Kirby was shipped to the United Kingdom and was then assigned to the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. On D-Day, at age 18, he landed with the regiment at Saint-Aubin-sur Mer and fought with the regiment throughout Normandy.

In September 1944, Canadians were given the task of capturing the French ports along the English Channel. The NS(NB)R was ordered to capture the fortress La Trésorerie, which defended the port of Boulogne. Three big German guns at La Trésorerie were a threat to ships in the channel. They could also fire across the channel into the south of England. After a lengthy battle and many casualties, the North Shore captured one of the guns. The other two eventually surrendered. Kirby’s skills with the Bren gun and the PIAT contributed significantly to their success, and he was promoted to corporal.

Battle of the Rhineland

On 8 February 1945, Canadian forces invaded the Rhineland in western Germany. One of the deadliest battles was fought for the village of Keppeln. On February 26, the North Shore Regiment’s B and C Companies advanced across a kilometre of open farmland to seize the village. German soldiers, who had hidden in a barn, waited until the NS(NB)R was 150 m away, then opened fire. Kirby was involved in an armoured attack against the German line but was blown off his tank. After fierce fighting, he and another soldier broke into the German garrison and captured the commander. About the same time, North Shore carriers with flame throwers silenced the guns in the barn. By evening, Keppeln belonged to the New Brunswick regiment. At age 19, Kirby was promoted and became the youngest sergeant in the Canadian 3rd Division.

Liberation of the Netherlands

In April 1945, Norm Kirby and the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment helped liberate the Netherlands. The country had been occupied by German forces since May 1940. In the winter of 1944–45, thousands of Dutch people had died during what became known as the “Hunger Winter.” The Canadian soldiers were greeted with cheers and gratitude. (See also Canadian Soldiers and the Liberation of the Netherlands.) Kirby's favorite photo of the war was taken with children in Groningen, minutes after the Germans had evacuated.

Norman Kirby and other members of the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment with Dutch children in Groningen, the Netherlands (April 1945).

(courtesy Norman Kirby)

Later Life

Although his superiors encouraged him to remain in the military, Norman Kirby applied for a discharge after the war ended. Although he suffered from PTSD and spent a year in a military hospital, he eventually developed a successful career in real estate.

Honours and Awards

For his service to Canada, Sgt. Norm Kirby was awarded the following medals: 1939–45 Star, France & Germany Star, War Medal 1939–45, Defense Medal, and CVSM with Clasp. On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Kirby was awarded France’s highest decoration, la Légion d'honneur. In 2020, Kirby was featured on a poster produced by Veterans Affairs Canada to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands.

Further Reading