Alan Freeman points to the entry point of a German 88 shell on the hull of a Sherman tank in France,1944.Alan Freeman
Alan Freeman and his tank crew on the Front in 1944.Alan Freeman
Alan Freeman, 1944.Alan Freeman
Aland Freeman (left), poses in front of his Sherman tank with his driver in 1944.Alan Freeman
Alan Freeman, 2010.Historica Canada
"Up popped the trap door and there was two kids in there plus him and the mother. They’d been living under the, under the floorboards for I don’t know how long."
There was a lot of apprehension. Some people thought they were going to get killed and everything. I, don’t know, maybe had some mental aberration because it never occurred to me that I was going to get nailed, you know what I mean. On my discharge papers, it said I was incapable of pessimism. I guess I had to be because if I was going to worry about getting killed, I would have pooped my pants and volunteered to be a cook. [laughs]
But I had an affinity for arms because my dad was in the First World War as an artillery man in the Middle East. All my uncles, my mother’s brothers, five or six of them, were all in the British army in the First World War, and they used to come back and tell me stories and I became nuts about guns. I mean I, believe it or not, I couldn’t wait to get into the army. I used to check the newspaper it says, British suffer a setback. I thought, oh my God, it’s going to be over before I get in, you know what I mean? [laughs] And so when I said that things were evening out, I thought, oh well, I’m going to be fine and I’m going to get in and do some shooting.
Each beach was divided into something else, I think it was like games of cards. Ours was King Beach, a particular thing. I haven’t seen any war movies about beaches, so I don’t remember what happens to the other guys. I don’t know, just a lot of, like I think people were shooting at each other and I think somebody took a shot at us and it bounced off of the tank. And then they settled down and we started going through Normandy and a lot of the guys got nailed there because the [M4] Sherman tank we were in was pretty high and it stood up above the hedgerows. There’s a photograph I’ve left with the girl, it shows you what happens when an 88 [mm German anti-tank and anti-aircraft gun] hits the Sherman tank. There’s a hole about 12 inches in diameter and just goes right through and circles around, and decapitates the people, and so forth.
And the tank got hit by a small calibre. It wasn’t hit by the big 88. It came in at the side of the tank and set fire to the ammunition and big blue flames shot out and singed my eyelids shut, and so forth. I don’t know how I flew out of the tank. I think somebody plucked me out and threw me out on the floor.
Don’t forget, we were in Normandy, then we went into Belgium and Holland and finally into Germany and Holland. I noticed that there’s a lot of the Canadian army in Holland. There was also a lot of British and a lot of American. I remember crossing over the Nijmegen Bridge; and that day, there was American paratroopers from the 81st Airborne [Anti-Aircraft Battalion] and 100th [Airborne Division]. They were lying in the ditch; somebody must have shot them or something.
The only thing I can, that comes to memory was after a little battle and the Germans were leaving the village at one end; and everything got quiet and I noticed a little kid tugging at the sleeves of the infantry as they walked by. And they shook their heads and then I jumped out of the tank and I walked over and the kid shook me. I thought he was asking me for gum or chocolate. And he said, are you Jewish? And I said, yes. So he grabs me, runs into a field nearby and into a barn, stamps on the floor, that was covered in straw and up popped the trap door and there was two kids in there plus him and the mother. They’d been living under the, under the floorboards for I don’t know how long. And she blessed me and made me kneel down, and blessed me for saving her. [laughs]
There’s a subsequent story to that. I’d been in Holland a few years ago, I mean, in Amsterdam and the bellboy was Jewish. I happened to tell him about this village called Varsseveld. He said, well, my father’s interested in things like this. I said, well, I told him the name was Levy, I even had the photograph. And he came back the next day, he says, I’ve discovered the family. One of them was a doctor who just died, another one immigrated to Canada. He gave me the phone number and I spoke to the surgeon’s wife; and she said she has the same photograph. And I spoke to the other brother; he didn’t remember anything about this. He didn’t remember me or anything. But the brother went to Canada, he said. I said, well, where did he go? He said, oh, some place called Burlington. But he didn’t want anybody to know he was there. He’d changed his name from Levy to some Anglo name; and the brother said he didn’t want to be associated, just in case things would happen the way it happened to the Dutch Jews.