Veteran Stories:
Louis “Billy the Kid” Gelman

Army

  • Certificate of Canadian Citizenship issued in 1954.

    Louis Gelman
  • Certificate of Canadian Certificate issued in 1954.

    Louis Gelman
  • Newspaper article from The Star, May 1, 1945. Louis Gelman is mentioned.

    The Star
  • Louis Gelman is listed here are a wounded Prisoner of War from the Central Ontario Regiment.

    Louis Gelman
  • Louis Gelman's medals.

    Louis Gelman
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"My officer was lying down and I look up, turn around, and he got shot in the head. The whole company got wiped out. Why? Because all of them were six feet tall and I was five feet three."

Transcript

I joined the army because I felt that they needed help. When I was wounded, they took me into a German hospital and from there, I went to Hamburg, Germany in a camp there for prisoners of war. They treated me nice. I was treated nice. I just made sure I was behaved and do what they tell me and that’s it. Blue [Red] Cross, they used to send us boxes of food and everything else, so I used to have cigarettes in it. So I gave my cigarettes to one of the German guards; and he gave me bread. We had an exchange. I never smoked, that’s why.

One time, you might like this, I was sitting with my officer and we were talking and all of a sudden, I see a motorcycle go by. And I says, sir, that doesn’t look like a Canadian, it looks more like a German. And the officer says, oh, it is. I took my rifle and I tried to wound him, but I shot the motorcycle. The motorcycle fell down, we ran over to try to catch him. We couldn’t catch him and [my officer] saw a briefcase there. He it opened and he says, do you know what you did? He was a paymaster. So he had a lot of money to spend, my captain. So later on, we found out that the Americans came into Paris and they liberated Paris. So my officer says, we just heard that, now we heard that we were going to celebrate. Everything’s open. Prostitution, everything is open. I said, oh, that’s great. So I said to him, when are we going to go? He looked at me and he said, you’re not going, you’re too young. [laughs] He was a nice guy. Too bad he got killed.

Then I wrote a letter to home and told them I keep doing a lot of marching, I’m getting tired, you know. So the thing they do, they go out and the officer and he said, how would you like to go be [on] a Bren Gun [Universal] carrier [light armoured tracked vehicle]? You know what that is? It’s like a tank, it’s a half a tank, like a convertible. And I sit in the back with my rifle and my machine gun, and we go along. We had three of them, one, two, three. I was in the first one. We went around for a couple of weeks. My officer says, how would you like to go in the third one? I said, why? He says, you go in the third one, you can help the wounded. Okay. I said, why not, what could I lose?

So I did it, I went to the third one. For a couple of weeks, I helped out, this and that. It was very nice. And all of a sudden, you would never believe what happened. The first one blew up. All four soldiers got blown up, legs over there, head over here. All four died. The guy beside me says, you’re supposed to be on that one, you know. I says, I know. [He said,] the guy up there loves you. I says, yes, he does.

Finally it came Friday, 13October, 1944. We were in Holland, where there was a big ditch. And we were told to go down to the ditch to soldiers. So I says, sir, I says, don’t you think it’s a bad day to go; it’s the thirteenth of October? He looked at me, he started saying, every day’s a bad day. Which is true. So we go in, the machine guns are flying all over my head and somebody’s lying there. My officer was lying down and I look up, turn around, and he got shot in the head. The whole company got wiped out. Why? Because all of them were six feet tall and I was five feet three.

And then, all of a sudden, I see the Germans threw a hand grenade. Do you know what a hand grenade is? He threw it and rolled down. I put my hand on my head and then all of a sudden, it exploded. I said, oh no, my leg is blown off. So the guy beside me says, no, you’re not, you’re just wounded. So a German came. I threw my rifles away, my guns away, everything away and they take me off and took me to the hospital.

I got liberated on 12 April, 1945. They took me to Birmingham [England]. And I was in a hospital in Birmingham for quite some time. I was only 21 then. And all of a sudden, a gorgeous girl goes by [saying], get well everybody, get well everybody. I said, nurse, how old is she? She’s 19. I said, well, maybe I can make a date with her. After all, I’m 21, she’s 19. And the nurse looked at me and says, sorry, can’t do that. I says, what do you mean, I fought for your country, I nearly got killed, twice, you know? You’re telling me I can’t even go out with an English girl? She says, no, you can’t. I said, why not? She’s Princess Elizabeth. [laughs]

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