How a young Quebec soldier found confidential D-Day invasion plans — and kept it a secret

In the summer of 1943, staff at Quebec City's Château Frontenac were only given a few weeks notice they'd soon be hosting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.The Second World War had been dragging on for nearly four years — and the Allies were to meet to discuss how to push back the Axis powers in Europe.But despite the top-secret nature of the meetings, one young Quebec soldier walked out of the famed hotel with information that could have changed the outcome of the war.In August 1943, without raising the slightest suspicion, Sgt. Maj. Émile Couture, from Thetford-Mines, Que., left work and walked past the security guards, who were familiar with the young soldier in charge of stationery supplies.Couture, then 25, was instructed to clean up after meetings at the Quebec Citadelle and the Château Frontenac, and make sure nothing was left behind.He was tidying an office on the third floor of the hotel when he found a leather portfolio with an inscription in gold: "Churchill-Roosevelt, Quebec Conference, 1943 . "Several newspapers and military magazines published Couture’s story in the years following the Second World War, including this article published in June 1962 in the Legionary. (Submitted by Anne Couture)Couture figured he'd "bring one home as a souvenir," he said in a 1972 interview with Radio-Canada's radio program Appelez-moi Lise ."But I didn't know what was in it," he told host Lise Payette.Couture left the Château Frontenac and drove to the cottage he shared with his cousins in Lac-Beauport, a few kilometres north of Quebec City.It was only then that he discovered the portfolio contained detailed descriptions of Allied military assets — including the number of planes, combat cars, ships and ground soldiers on hand.The portfolio also contained tactical plans for something code-named Operation Overlord, what would become better known as the D-Day invasion."That's when he got scared," said his daughter, Anne Couture, who grew up hearing his story. The story of what Émile Couture did next will be on display in September at Quebec City's Royal 22e Régiment Museum, where it will be added to the permanent exhibit on the two Quebec Conferences that took place in the provincial capital during the Second World War.Possible confinementAnne Couture was just 17 when her father died in 1972. But she remembers that he always told the same version of what happened next.Once the realization sank in that evening, Émile Couture hid the files under his mattress. He drove to work the next morning and returned the portfolio to his superior, Brigadier Edmond Blais. Couture was told "'Go home. Don't say a word. We'll deal with you in the morning,'" he recalled in the 1972 interview.He was interrogated by Scotland Yard and the FBI. Anne Couture said that as a low-ranking soldier, he "could have been imprisoned" until D-Day to ensure the information he had seen did not fall into enemy hands. The Couture family still has the security passes Émile Couture was granted in 1943 and 1944, to access the Château Frontenac and the Citadelle. (Julia Page/CBC)But Couture was instead sent home. In a letter dated Aug. 28, 1943, the brigadier informed the Department of National Defence that Co ...Read more

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