Clair Hawn at 16 years old.Clair Hawn
Clair Hawn (upper right) with friends in 1942, before going overseas.Clair Hawn
Clair Hawn on his motorcycle, England, 1945.Clair Hawn
Picture of Donald Hawn, Clair Hawn's brother, in 1941. Donald was killed in action in Italy when he was 19 years old.Clair Hawn
Clair Hawn, 18, on leave. Pictured here with his mother.Clair Hawn
"And there was a sign, if you went over there to deliver messages, there was a sign that [said] “No speed limit -rush like hell”."
My name is Clair Hawn and I was born in Newington, Ontario, on the 30th of December, 1924. Well, one of the reasons why I enlisted was my three brothers were in the service and I was left alone. I am the youngest of our family, so I joined too.
In 1941, I trained at Barriefield and then I was shipped to, at that time, to Debert, Nova Scotia. And we trained in Debert, Nova Scotia. And that is when I returned back to Ottawa and discharged because I wasn’t of age. I reenlisted; I trained at Vimy [Barracks]. We landed in, well, we went over by ship and we landed in Greenock, Scotland. And from there, we went to, by train, to, I think the name was Cove, England. And we trained in Cove, England. After we qualified, I went over to Europe, over to France.
Actually, I wanted to be a dispatch rider. Which was really a, kind of a dangerous experience. But this is what I liked at that time. I preferred the Harley Davidson. They also had Indian bikes and Matchless and Norton. Our job was to deliver messages to the front lines. That’s what I did and I also did some training for other dispatch riders and from there, I went to the 2nd [Canadian] Corps and delivered messages from the 2nd Corps to the front lines.
We did ride our bikes for a while over in Europe but it got very dangerous because our enemy put up wires across the highways so dispatch riders would get caught right around the neck and be thrown off the bike. So they took our bikes off and gave us Jeeps to drive and with a, like a knife up the front of the Jeep that would cut the wire as you approached. And from then, we used the Jeeps all the time.
I was in the Reichwald Forest, we camped, our unit was in the Reichwald Forest and pretty well every night, we were shelled on. And I remember one night, it blew up our kitchen and all the pots were all full of holes from shrapnel. And the Germans would come in pretty near every night and go strafing down the highway, to take the transport, our transports off the road.
Well, there’s one memory there that I, it was very serious. I was in Nijmegen, Holland and in a Jeep and [at] Nijmegen, there was a bridge there between Nijmegen and Arnhem, and the Germans were firing on that every night. And there was a sign, if you went over there to deliver messages, there was a sign that [said] “No speed limit -rush like hell”. So, but in that same area, I was driving -I think it was the south side of Nijmegen - and there was a pile of mines. And there was some children, I don’t know how many, one or two, playing around those mines, they were not supposed to be there and they were punching them with something and they blew up. Killed nine people. So I had one of the soldiers hit the side of my Jeep and I got out of there pretty fast because it was very very dangerous, the coming in to get the people that got killed there.
Then we were, went to Oldenburg, Germany and I was in a, in the ticket booth of a theatre and that was in 1945 I think. And that’s when the war ended. We heard the war was over and we didn’t believe it because you know, it just didn’t come from a very good source I didn’t think. But the next day, it, we found out it was true. In February, 1946, I came home.