Lorne Phillips's Service Medals (L-R): 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45); Commemorative Medal of Frontline Britain 1994.Lorne Phillips
"You take a bunch of fellows and teach them a hundred ways to kill a man, noiselessly and silently and, and then put it to practice at times, and then come home and put it all behind you."
I boarded the [SS] Empress of Canada in March 1942, arrived in England on my 17th birthday on March 22nd, 1942. Our unit was all brand new and nobody seemed to know what was up. We went up to, golly, I forget the name of the city now, northeast coast. And then from there, we went down to Yeovil, Somerset for some more anti-aircraft training. And then we were dispersed usually six at a time to the British Army anti-aircraft sites on the south coast of England, operating radar for the Brits.
There were different types of radar. There was a Canadian-built radar, which actually was extremely good and was manufactured way ahead of schedule and the Americans were very thankful for that; so were the Brits. It consisted of two sets and the one was pretty well searching the skies in a circle over the south coast looking for enemy aircraft. And when a target was picked up, then that information was sent over to another set. These are big trailers with four men inside, five men. And there was a man on the controls for the azimuth or if you like, an elevation and range. And to keep his target dead center in our cathode ray tube, and that information was sent over to the gun park which went through a predictor. And from there, it went to the individual guns.
And another set that we operated, which was made by the British and it was a two-man and it was strictly an early warning set; that was down at Canterbury. And we could scan the skies for many many miles going out over the [English] Channel, etcetera and catch – hopefully - German planes as they were coming in over the Channel. Until 1943, the Luftwaffe [German Air Force] was very busy on the Russian front, so they weren’t bothering us too much. So our unit was disbanded.
I asked to be retrained as an Operator, Wireless and Line which was the higher end of a radio operator. And I served the rest of the war as an Operator, Wireless and Line. There again, a very special unit. It was called Canadian Air Support Signals unit. We were more or less liaison between the Army and the Air Force. I can give you a, for instance, if the infantry stumbled upon a, something like a pillbox, which would be very difficult to capture, there would be too many men lost and so what they would do, they would notify us and we would get the map coordinates and send it to the Air Force and they would send in possibly a rocket-firing Typhoon, which was a type of fighter. And it would, weather permitting, blow up the pillbox. So we were with the infantry all the time in our little radio truck.
Some of the things that stick in my mind was going into Holland and seeing people literally starving to death and eating tulip bulbs. And crossing the Rhine, I thought that was fantastic that our engineers could put a Bailey Bridge across that Rhine. And I don’t know whether you’ve ever crossed the Rhine but it seems to me like it’s a mile wide, although it’s not that wide but it’s extremely swift.
The biggest shock was when the treaty [German surrender] was signed in May , 1945, and somebody’s saying, ceasefire, ceasefire, the war is over - I couldn’t believe that. I’d spent most of my teenage years in the Army and all of a sudden you’re telling me, hey, we’re all finished, now what do I do?
So I came home and got a discharge, I met some of my old buddies, went in for a beer, and I got thrown out because I wasn’t 21, the drinking age was 21. And I think that was kind of odd. The Army would accept you at 18 and most regiments and that had wet bars, dry canteen or wet canteen. So you could drink at 18. The American drinking age was 18, Britain was 18. I came home and I wasn’t old enough to drink beer.
I adjusted quite easily. It didn’t, yeah. I know there were some fellows that didn’t. Even today, I often wonder why that ratio wasn’t higher. You take a bunch of fellows and teach them a hundred ways to kill a man, noiselessly and silently and, and then put it to practice at times, and then come home and put it all behind you. And even when you lose your temper, you still have to remember, hey, I’m a civilian now, I won’t get away with that.