The beginning of 1944 found the Battalion stationed at Hove. In February, S.S.T. Cantlie returned to assume command and in April the Battalion moved to Folkestone and then Scunthorpe, where they practised river crossings (Hutchinson, p.219). The Battalion was back in Folkestone when the inevitable D-Day Invasion took place and on July 9 the Black Watch landed on Juno Beach. The British and Canadians had built a bridgehead in front of the city of Caen and the first duty of the 5th Brigade was to spearhead a break-out across the River Orne into Faubourg de Vaucelles (Ibid, pp.220-221). The Battalion suffered the first of many casualties during that battle, which began on July 18. On July 25 the Battalion left Hill 67 under heavy fire and headed toward St. Andre-sur-Orne when their commander, Lt-Col S.S.T. Cantlie was killed instantly by machine gun fire. Major F.P. Mitchell assumed command and, despite the lack of promised artillery and armour support, he was ordered to advance through May-sur-Orne and secure Verrieres Ridge. The steadfastly advancing Black Watch, led by Major Mitchell, was all but wiped out that day, suffering 307 casualties, including five officers and 118 OR’s killed or died of wounds (Copp, pp. 81-82). Major Griffin’s body was later found “lying among those of his men” (Ibid).
Once the Battalion was rested and reinforced (only six officers and three hundred and twenty-six men were left) they continued to fight through France. On September 3 they took part in a victory parade through Dieppe, the scene of their first action in 1942. The Battalion was part of the Canadian surge through France and Belgium and into the Netherlands, where they were to be involved with the clearing of the Scheldt Estuary, necessary to liberate the vital port of Antwerp. There was immense pressure on the British High Command to accelerate the advance through the Scheldt. October 13 the Black Watch were forced into an ill-advised attack across muddy dykeland near Woensdrecht. “For the Black Watch October 13th was “Black Friday”, the second single-day disaster int he history of the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada. It was not so much total casualties, 145, but the ratio of dead-to-wounded that marked the day’s fighting. Fifty-six Black Watch soldiers were killed or died of wounds and twenty-seven were taken prisoner” (Copp, p. 148).
The Battalion continued to fight through Holland and even initiated action in the early hours of Christmas Eve. Christmas was relatively quiet but not without some rather gruesome humour, as recorded in the War Diary:
In the evening the enemy could be heard playing recordings of the better known Christmas carols – the while they were popping rifle grenades over at us. In retaliation our men waited until he played “Silent Night” then made a liar out of him, furnishing the chorus on our brens.