Les Garnham in Holland, 1945.Les Garnham
Les Garnham in Antwerp, The Netherlands, 1945.Les Garnham
Les Garnham's dog-tag from the war.Les Garnham
"So I threw it in amongst their feet. They had to get the hell away from that hand grenade before it went off, by that time, I’d run like hell."
Then come the Leopold Canal, that was another scary place. They sent out a detail by boat; and before I went in there, I used to be a guide that paddled canoes. Anyway, they put me on a boat crew. They took 18 men across in the boat, across the Leopold Canal, and there was about four of them. I knew it was a suicide outfit. God, I thought, what the heck are they trying to do, kill us all off? But they were good Germans. We pulled in with the boat and I had 18 men in my boat; and as soon as I got the oars of the boat in, there was a machine gunner about four feet out from my boat with a Schmeisser [Maschinenpistole, submachine gun]. And, I guess, there was only a couple of Germans.
So all the guys that was in my boat, they give themselves up. Of course, I was trained for D-Day and you don’t stop for not, you go through the end. I bailed out of the back of the boat and run. And I guess them two Germans were searching them 18 men, they didn’t see me go. So I laid down beside a river cart there. And when I was laying down there, it was dark alright. I could see they took about 75 of our guys prisoners. Dear God, I didn’t know what to do. I’ll sneak over to the barn there. I sneaked over there; and I thought, God, I could hear some Canadians talking over by the house. So I sneaked over to the house. There was a little lean-to on that house and around the corner, a little apple tree there. So I hid in there; and God, I didn’t know what the hell to do. I was all by myself and I was scared skinny; and I didn’t know what to do. All the rest of the guys were taken prisoner.
After a while, I’m going to sneak back the way I come. I’ll sneak back there; and I’ll swim that damn canal. Come out around the corner of this and God damned, there’s four Germans coming from where I’d come from. [laughs] They had their rifles slung over their shoulder; and they were laughing and talking. I leaned my rifle against a wall and I was going to give myself up and I thought, oh, no, God, they took them 75 prisoners of ours 15 minutes ago, they don’t want to take me, they’ll shoot me likely. They wouldn’t bother with one man. I thought, God, I grabbed my rifle again and I said, hands up! Nicht bewegen [Don’t move]! Their rifles fell off their shoulders. I got them up against a wall, four of them, I thought, oh God, now what I am going to do? [laughs] My rifle was shaking there and I thought, oh, what the heck? Now I was thinking fast there. God, I don’t want to shoot the poor guys. I thought, well, I didn’t know what to do.
I was a great believer in carrying hand grenades on both sides of my web belt. And I had the rifle on them and I pulled one hand grenade off my web belt and I pulled the pin. When you squeeze the lever down, the pin will pretty near fall out. I pulled it out with my teeth; and I showed it to them. And I had them up against the wall and their rifles were, God, 15 feet away from them. I just showed it to them and I just, what the heck? So I threw it in amongst their feet. They had to get the hell away from that hand grenade before it went off, by that time, I’d run like hell. My hand grenade didn’t go off until I was hitting the canal. I dropped my rifle in and I swam it, son of a gun. I still got on the other side, all I had then was one hand grenade left on my web belt. And then I thought, oh God, I took my socks off and wrung them out, put my boots back on.
My uniform, my tunic, was getting tighter and tighter; and I thought, what the hell’s going on? It’s wool and seemed to have shrunk up. And I had to undo it. Well, I had enough nerve to sneak up over the dike. God, there was an old vacant house there. And there was a pair of Dutch wooden cloppers there. So I took my boots off again and I put them damn wooden cloppers on; and I walked with them. And tied my boots together. So I had to get back to the Algonquins [Regiment] before they left. And I thought, God, now I don’t know the password for the next day, so anyway I went back and before they stopped me. I said, I’m an Algonquin; I don’t know the password. They stopped me, you know. Said, halt, who goes there?
But, anyway, corporal come and said, colonel wants to see you. I said, what the hell for? I don’t know. So I went; and he said, what happened? I said, well, I took my 18 men in my boat. I said, they were all taken prisoner. And I said, I run, I was trained for D-Day and I run. I said, I met these four guys and I told them what I’d done; and I said, and I swam that canal. And well, he said, you’re the twenty-eighth one that come back out of the whole works of us. I don’t know why sent us over there, it was suicide actually. They should have known better, we couldn’t handle that many, you know. Anyway, that was one scary outfit.