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Gazette (Montreal), The
21 September 2017
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J. Campbell Clouston: Once-forgotten war hero honoured with memorial plaque in Lachine

J. Campbell Clouston: Once-forgotten war hero honoured with memorial plaque in Lachine

Pointe-Claire native J. Campbell Clouston helped save 338,000 allied soldiers trapped by the German army in northern France.

René Bruemmer, Montreal Gazette RENÉ BRUEMMER, MONTREAL GAZETTE

Published on: September 21, 2017 | Last Updated: September 24, 2017 10:10 AM EDT

On the shores of the lake where he learned to sail as a boy a century ago, Canada paid tribute Thursday to J. Campbell Clouston, who helped save 338,000 Allied soldiers on the beaches of northern France and paid for his heroism with his life.

Flown in from England for the ceremony organized by Parks Canada was Clouston?s son, Moray, now 76, who Clouston would never meet. Clouston?s grandson Milo came in from Australia.

Born and raised in Montreal, Clouston?s exploits were all but unknown in his home country until this summer?s blockbuster movie Dunkirk revived interest in the improbable evacuation of the British, French and Belgian soldiers penned in by German troops in May 1940.

Put in charge of the ramshackle pier at the eastern reach of the beach, Clouston, by then a member of the British Royal Navy, worked tirelessly for six days shepherding 200,000 troops along his dock and onto naval vessels and civilian boats while under fire from German warplanes. The soldiers sailed across the English Channel to the safety of Britain. Winston Churchill, who thought only 45,000 troops could be saved, dubbed it the ?Miracle at Dunkirk.?

A group of Canadian amateur historians determined to see Clouston gain the recognition he deserved contacted the Montreal media in early August and the story was picked up nationwide, sparking the interest of Ray Coutu, the manager of national celebrations and commemorations for Parks Canada.

Six weeks later, more than 150 people gathered to commemorate the man who saved so many, 77 years after his death, as part of the federal government?s Hometown Heroes campaign. Among the dignitaries were officials from the consulates of England, France and Belgium, as well as admirals from Canada?s navy and representatives of the federal government and the military.

A memorial plaque featuring Clouston?s photo and a description of his exploits was unveiled. It will be installed on the shores of Lac St. Louis in Lachine, not too far from where Clouston?s parents are buried.

?We felt it was important to commemorate Commander Clouston while his two sons, who are both in their late 70s, are still with us,? Coutu said. ?We wanted them to be there to be part of this.?

Moray Clouston, who flew in with his wife, Maggie, found himself unexpectedly overcome, his voice catching during his presentation.

?As we all know, war is indeed cruel, and we have a duty to honour and remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our freedom and values,? he said. ?We hope this commemorative panel will spur the next generations to learn more about this turning point in the Second World War.?

It was a day of mixed feelings, pride and gratitude combining with profound loss, Moray Clouston said.

?It?s a very big event, which is bringing back a lot of memories of what one could have had, as a son, which one didn?t have.?

As to why his father?s sacrifice went overlooked for so long, he said: ?There were many heroes in that war.?