Did you know D-Day’s secrecy depended on a man who wasn’t even supposed to know about it?

Sergeant Major Émile Couture, who kept the secret of Operation Overlord for ten months (Photo: CBC News)

The Quebec Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill in August 1943 was organized in a hurry, with only a few weeks to get everything together. A 25-year-old Canadian soldier, Sergeant Major Émile Couture was in charge of stationary supplies.  While cleaning up in an office after the conference to make sure nothing was left behind, Couture found a leather dossier with “Churchill-Roosevelt, Quebec Conference, 1943” embossed in gold. Thinking he found a cool souvenir, he took it home, only to realize his mistake in the evening: the dossier was full of classified military troop and equipment strength reports, and even worse, detailed plans for Operation Overlord, the 1944 landings in Normandy.
 
Scared, Couture hid the dossier under his mattress for the night, then returned it to his superior the next day. His superior said "Go home. Don't say a word. We'll deal with you in the morning." Couture was investigated by both the FBI and Scotland Yard, but cleared of any wrongdoing. He got lucky, as he very well could have been locked up for the next ten months to make sure he couldn’t talk about the plans to anyone until after the operation happened. Couture was awarded the British Empire Medal for his silence in late 1944. Naturally, the commendation only said it was for “services rendered,” omitting the embarrassing details.

Souvenirs previously owned by Couture’s family and given to a museum, including the passes that gained Émile Couture access to classified areas of the conference. (Photo: Julia Page)

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Soldiers of the 463rd Combat Engineers near the German border observe Christmas in 1944; note K-ration cans as ornaments  (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Surprise your loved ones with an unforgettable trip to historic places where American soldiers fought for our freedom. Get a 15% discount on our select tours by paying only the registration fee by December 26, 2022 and transferring the rest of the list price until January 31, 2023. Note that this offer applies only in case of new bookings, and it cannot be combined with other special promotions. The offer excludes those three tours in 2024 which include the 80th anniversary D-Day commemorations in Normandy.
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