Harper, Roly

Roly Harper was born in Toronto on October 16, 1924.  He was the youngest of three children, born to parents who had emigrated from Ireland.  Roly grew up in the city’s east end, in the Danforth and Donlands neighbourhood, and he graduated Riverdale Collegiate in January 1941.  Roly grew up against the backdrop of the Depression and the early war years; seeing events unfold, he joined the Irish Regiment Reserve in 1940.  As it happened, Roly was an excellent piper, and he became involved in competitions in the early war years, even participating in victory bond drives.  Feeling that he could do more for the war effort, Roly asked for a transfer to active duty, and he was sent to Ipperwash for advanced training.  While there he saw a sign looking for recruits for the airborne, and Roly decided to give it a shot.  He was accepted and was sent to Shiloh, Manitoba, where he completed his jump training.  From there, Roly did a brief stint at Camp Debert, and then he shipped overseas in mid-1944.  The paras were retrained in England, and then they were held in reserve when D-day took place, and shipped across the Channel in August 1944.  Roly missed most of the Battle of Normandy, but as the unit had taken such high casualties they were returned to England.  They were called upon in the winter months, when the Germans began the Ardennes offensive.  Here Roly experienced his baptism by fire, as he witnessed the ugly realities of war firsthand.  The Allies were able to push the Germans back, and Roly ended up in Holland.  After a brief stay on the Maas River, the Paras headed back to England to prepare for Operation Varsity, a behind-the-lines drop into Germany.  From there the Paras were given orders to head towards the North Sea, where they were to take the town of Wismar and to stop the advancing Russian army!  They did that and returned to England, where they were quickly shipped back to Canada and readied for potential deployment in the war against Japan.  That possibility ended with the atomic bomb, so Roly went to Simcoe, ready to marry a young lady he’d met there.  The war and his service over, Roly returned to Toronto, where he resumed his job at the Western Insurance Company, until he decided to move on in 1953.  Roly’s first marriage ended as well, but as he recalls he was fortunate to meet Barbara, his wife until his passing in August 2021.  Roly was interviewed by Scott Masters at his home, early in the summer of 2021.