1921 – 2010
Jean-Charles “Charly” Forbes was born and raised in Matane, Québec.
In September 1940, he entered RMC to begin an abbreviated two-year program as a member of the last recruit Class before its wartime closure. As a cadet, Forbes excelled at athletics and was an accomplished boxer. After his first year, he left the college prematurely for immediate service in the army and upon completion of officer training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Régiment de Maisonneuve.
In 1944, shortly after D-Day, Forbes’ regiment crossed the English Channel and participated in military operations throughout Normandy, Belgium and the Netherlands, where he demonstrated resourcefulness and courage as a platoon commander. He distinguished himself in November of that year during the Battle of the Walcheren Causeway, the last operation to clear the Scheldt Estuary. Following previous unsuccessful attempts by the 5th Canadian Brigade to cross the causeway resulting in significant casualties, the Régiment de Maisonneuve was ordered to establish a beachhead on the island. Faced with heavy German fire, Forbes led the point platoon across the causeway and advanced 300 yards beyond his assigned objective. Later that day, when ordered to withdraw, Forbes, who was wounded on the wrist, led his men back to the regimental lines, while carrying a wounded soldier on his back.
Forbes continued to serve in combat until December 1944, when he sustained a serious head wound from artillery fire. Prior to evacuation to England, in a modest ceremony in Amsterdam, Forbes was honoured by Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmine of Holland as a Knight of the Military Order of William, her nation’s highest award for military valour, for his courage and leadership at the Walcheren Causeway. He was one of only nine Canadian soldiers to be so honoured during WWII.
Following WWII, Forbes served briefly as an officer in the militia in his hometown of Matane until November 1947 when he returned to full-time military service, this time as a Captain in the Royal 22e Régiment. In 1951, he deployed with the Second Battalion to Korea, where again he proved himself as an exceptionally capable combat leader, notably during the Battle of Hill 355 in November of that year. Throughout the action Forbes’ battalion successfully defended its position in the face of heavy enemy shelling and repeated waves of attacking Chinese soldiers. As commander of the mortar platoon, Forbes and his men played a significant role, firing more than 15,000 bombs over the course of the battle. Their efforts proved to be vitally important in holding what eventually became part of the demarcation line. For his outstanding leadership and valiant conduct under fire in that action, Forbes was awarded a Mention in Dispatches.
After his unit returned from Korea, Forbes continued to serve in a variety of leadership roles. In 1964, he deployed to Cyprus with UNFICYP, serving as a Company Commander in the first contingent of the Royal 22e Régiment to operate in this new operational theatre. Forbes retired from the Canadian Army in 1965, with the rank of Major.
Following military service, Forbes worked in the private sector, principally in the financial services field, and pursued his personal interests as a talented painter in both watercolour and oil, and as an author of two books about his military experiences. He played an active role with the Royal Canadian Legion in Québec, where he presided over the creation, in 1946, of a branch in Matane. In 1994, as a testament to the esteem in which Forbes was held by his fellow veterans, the Royal Canadian Legion named a newly-established Québec City branch in his name. He was also featured in several documentary films and articles which described not only his wartime experiences but also the physical and psychological wounds that he carried for the remainder of his life.
In 1985, Forbes was appointed Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the Régiment de Maisonneuve, the same unit in which he had distinguished himself during WWII.
In 1994, during a special convocation, Forbes, along with other former cadets who studied at RMC during wartime, was awarded a Bachelor of Military Science.
In 2006, the Government of Québec awarded him la médaille de l'Assemblée nationale du Québec. That same year, the Government of France presented him with the Croix de chevalier de l’Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur in recognition of his courageous service during WWII.
Jean-Charles “Charly” Forbes passed away, on May 19, 2010 at age 89. Revered by the men who had served under him, he was laid to rest by the soldiers of his beloved Royal 22e Régiment. He was an exemplary combat leader who saw frontline service in two wars, and was recognized for outstanding leadership, valiant conduct and remarkable bravery under fire.