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People You Should Know: Léo Major, Canadian soldier

Léo Major, born January 23, 1921, was said to have liberated an entire German-controlled town during world war two single-handedly and was the only Canadian to win the distinguished conduct medal, an award for outstanding bravery eligible for anyone in the allied forces in two different wars. Major’s antics have produced legendary, albeit disputed, war stories. Stories about cleverness, skill, revenge, and triumph over overwhelming odds.

While I’m mainly going to talk about Major’s single-handed liberation of a German-controlled town, it’s worth noting the many other insane things that he did.

  • Captured a German tank that had important information inside (by himself).
  • Kept fighting with an eyepatch after a grenade blew up Major’s face.
  • Didn’t evacuate after a landmine broke several parts of his back.
  • Single-Handedly captured 93 German soldiers then refused the distinguished conduct medal that he was offered because the people who offered it to him were not “qualified.”

So this dude is awesome, but the stories got even more impressive after Major and a partner were sent on a recon mission into the town of Zwolle that was currently being held by Germans. During the mission, Major’s partner was unfortunately killed during a scuffle. After the fight, however, Major’s story gets crazy. It’s worth noting that the events are not fully clear; however, they make for an epic story.

The story goes a little something like this: Major strapped a few machine guns to himself and took a bundle of grenades into the quiet city at the dead of night with the intention of removing the German occupation. Some reports say that Major found the German who was in control and warned him that a force would attack. Some, however, say that Major skipped that part and went directly into the city firing spurts from his guns and setting off grenades. To anyone who was suddenly woken up by the explosions, it might seem that an army was attacking the town, and that’s exactly what Major wanted. By going through the city firing freely, Major tricked the Germans that a large fort was attacking them, any German that crossed Major’s path might have been surprised as it was a single man that killed them instead. This attack resulted in the Germans pulling back and evacuating the city from what they assumed was a mighty force.

While exact details of the event are unclear, it’s true that Major was responsible for Germans leaving the town, and he got his first distinguished conduct medal to prove it. 50,000 citizens were freed that day and Major will go down in history for his legendary attack on the town of Zwolle.

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