Tuesday, July 23, 2024

World War Two hero, WC legend Roly Armitage passes at 99 – West Carleton Online

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WEST CARLETON – A man who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D Day as a boy, returned to West Carleton as a hero, and from there amongst a long list of accolades, grew up to become a groundbreaking veterinarian and the mayor of the township, Dr. Roland ‘Roly’ Armitage passed away Wednesday, June 19 at the age of 99.

The decades-long Dunrobin resident, when he wasn’t out saving the world, is known by almost everyone in the entire West Carleton community. His impact on Canada and West Carleton is unprecedented.

A decorated veteran, former township mayor, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame member, an Order of Ontario and Order of Ottawa inductee are just some of the accolades Armitage has earned over his nearly 10 decades of service to the community.

West Carleton’s last surviving World War II veteran, Dr. Roly Armitage, salutes at the West Carleton War Memorial during the 2018 Remembrance Day service. Photo by Jake Davies

“A decorated Second World War veteran, devoted veterinarian and published author, Dr. Roly Armitage served as mayor of West Carleton Township and is a dedicated leader in his community,” Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell said in 2021 during the Order of Ontario induction ceremony. “He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame for his efforts to advance the sport and improve track safety in Canada. Today (Jan. 1) I called 2019 Order of Ontario appointee Dr. Roland ‘Roly’ Armitage, of Dunrobin to offer my personal congratulations. At 95 Roly is a decorated Second World War veteran, community leader, and author.”

At too young an age, Armitage began his service to country and community.

At 17, Armitage lied about his age to join Canada’s World War Two effort. He stormed the beaches of Normandy as a Royal Canadian Artillery member, and by the time the war was over, Armitage had earned the France and Germany Star, the Defence of Britain, the Victory Medal WW2, the Canadian Volunteer Medal, the Normandy Defence Medal and the National Order of the Legion of Honour medal from the Government of France.

Operation Overlord had begun, June 6, 1944. Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the Royal Canadian Air Force contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. There were more than 10,000 Allied casualties including 1,074 Canadians of whom 359 were killed.

Armitage was a range finder.

Two people pose for a photo holding hands.
Sonja Jobes and Dr. Roly Armitage pose for a photo at their reunion Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. Armitage rescued Jobes in Normandy during World War Two and never saw her again until Sunday. Photo by Jake Davies

“When we saw the shore, it was on fire,” Armitage told West Carleton Online in 2019 after returning from France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. “One boat hit a mine. The soldiers were blasted in to the water. One of the soldiers told me he had to get rid of all his equipment that was weighing him down. When he came ashore all he had was a knife, fork and spoon and his vest. He picked up a gun from a fallen soldier and ended up destroying a tank. The beach was packed with German prisoners, days after the initial landing. They were just waving at us saying have a good day and enjoy it.

“We’d get the message from the front, and they would let us know what the target was. I would find the range and the direction of the wind, barometers and whatnot and we would adjust. When we got on the target, we would have eight guns, and they’d call for five shells. If the time of flight was 20 seconds, we would set the fuse for 19 seconds and the shells would blow up in the air and spray shrapnel. I always felt bad about that.”

During that 2019 interview, Armitage told us about two young children he found during the war.

““It was raining bad, and I had a jeep,” Armitage said. “I saw movement, and thought it was a wounded soldier. It was two little boys around four and six. The oldest one was named Jan. The closest building was a kilometre away. We took them in the kitchen, cleaned them up, and they never stopped eating. We finally got them to sleep. We had those kids for two weeks before we were able to give them to anybody.”

As it turned out, it was a boy and a girl Armitage rescued. Last year (August 2023), Armitage was reunited with Sonja Jobes, now 84, who came to visit Armitage in Carp to celebrate the unlikely reunion.

Armitage credited the military for providing him the opportunity to have a career. When he returned from the war, he didn’t even have his high school diploma. He returned to school and continued on with his education until he received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

He graduated from the Ontario Veterinary School at the University of Guelph in 1951 and followed that up with a 52-year veterinarian practice in the Ottawa Valley. His love of horses and racing was just another arena Armitage excelled in.

“I bought my first horse in 1952 and had at least one ever since,” Armitage told West Carleton Online in 2018. “I had my practice here but was also the vet for seven lumber companies and every week I went to one of the lumber camps to check on the well-being of the horses. When we were growing up on the farm in South March, there were eight boys. I hated milking cows, so I got the job of looking after the horses. I always had an admiration for the horses. They are creatures of habit and you had to break them to get them to do what you wanted.”

Dr. Roly Armitage has released the third book of his trilogy called Straight From the Horse's Mouth in this photo taken November, 2018. Photo by Jake Davies
Dr. Roly Armitage released the third book of his trilogy called Straight From the Horse’s Mouth in this photo taken November, 2018 in his Dunrobin home. Photo by Jake Davies

Armitage served as president of the Canadian Trotting Association from 1976 to 1981, and then as general manager of the Rideau-Carleton Raceway from 1981 to 1991. During that career, Armitage received even more accolades.

Armitage was honoured with the Shawville Citizen of the Year (1961), Ontario Veterinarians Association Veterinarian of the Year (1982), Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (1999), Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (2000), the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (2000), Key to the City of Ottawa (2006) and the University of Guelph Distinguished Alumni of the Year (2013).

Armitage also played a role in local politics.

He served as mayor of the Township of West Carleton and as a member of the Council of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton from 1991 to 1994.

Somewhere, Armitage also found the time to write. He is a published author, having written a trilogy of autobiographical books about his life as a proud Canadian, a heroic war veteran and a dedicated veterinarian.

Since word of Armitage’s passing, condolences have been pouring in to the Armitage family including from the West Carleton community’s three politicians.

“With a broken heart, I share with you that my friend and hero Dr. Roly Armitage died yesterday at Perley Rideau Veterans Home a few months shy of his 100th birthday,” Kanata-Carleton MPP and fellow veteran Karen McCrimmon released in a statement today (June 20). “Rob and I visited him on Sunday when he gifted me with (a) wooden rose sculpture that he had made. I will treasure it always. Big hugs and heartfelt condolences to his family and the legions of friends who loved him like we did.”

“I recently had the good fortune to meet with Dr. Armitage for the first time and am so happy I managed to get the chance to connect with him before the conclusion of his amazing life,” Ward 5 Coun. Clarke Kelly released in a statement today. “Daily, as I walk into the West Carleton Community Complex and pass by the former township council chambers that bear his name, I am reminded of what his leadership meant to this community. My condolences go out to his family and friends in this sombre moment as we all reflect on 99 years well lived.”

“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Roly Armitage,” Kanata-Carleton MP Jenna Sudds released in a statement today (June 20). “I had the pleasure of meeting Roly on several occasions, and he has been a friend and hero to so many. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. You will be missed, Roly, but your legacy will live on forever.”

When asked why he made the decisions he made during his lifetime of service, Armitage kept it simple.

“Always try to help people and you get amazing numbers back,” said. “You get far more back than you give, especially when it comes to kindness towards others.”

West Carleton Online has interviewed and spoke with Armitage many, many times in the media outlet’s six-year history (and decades more before that for publisher Jake Davies who remembers Armitage coming to his family farm many times in the ‘80s) and you can find that coverage here.

Dr, Roland ‘Roly’ Armitage’s family obituary has yet to be released, but West Carleton Online is aware Highland Park Ceremony will host the service. When Highland Park releases its obituary with dates for services and visitations, West Carleton Online will update its obituary page.

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