I’ve read several gripping stories about Private Ralph Mayville and the nail-spitting heroics of the Devil’s Brigade over the years but I never knew he was an Amherstburg native until Monday’s meeting.
The brave and distinguished Second World War veteran was in Council chambers along with representatives of the King’s Navy Yard First Special Force Memorial Project. They were seeking approval to install memorial plaques in King’s Navy Yard Park. I’m happy to report council enthusiastically endorsed the proposal.
The plaques will honour Mayville and 27 other local veterans who fought Nazis under the cover of darkness as members of the 1st Special Service Force – an elite American-Canadian commando unit variously known as the Devil’s Brigade or the Black Devils. The unit was formed in 1942 and it is said that for every man who fell, 25 enemy combatants were killed.
In the course of 22 battles, 576 unit members were killed. The unit suffered a 134 per cent casualty rate and many soldiers were wounded more than once, according to this piece by the Ottawa Citizen's Blair Crawford.
The unit disbanded in 1944 having earned a reputation for fearlessness. Its members were renowned for infiltrating enemy camps at night, shoe polish darkening their faces, and killing German soldiers quietly with a blade. They would leave calling cards on the bodies that read in German: ‘The Worst is yet to come.’ You can read more in this Windsor Star story by Julie Kotsis.
When Mayville and his fellow veterans were awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in Washington in 2015, then Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate Mitch McConnell said this: “Some of their more daring missions would have made James Bond blush.”
Here’s another great Windsor Star story by Doug Schmidt about Mayville, who refused for 70 years to wear the paratrooper wings he’d been given because he’d never jumped out of a plane. That changed in 2014 when, at the age of 92, he strapped himself to his instructor and leaped into the air 14,000 feet above the ground.
Below is a mock-up of one of the plaques bearing the names of the local soldiers who served with the Devil’s Brigade. The unit's formation patch was a red arrowhead bearing the names of Canada and the United States.