I don’t believe that there are any real rules for war. War is a battle for existence. It’s not a prize fight. It’s not a hockey game. There are no real rules.
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I had an older brother that went to join and they wouldn’t take him. But if he’d got in, it’s possible that I would not have gone because my dad was a man with no fingers and he was farming three quarter-sections of land, somebody would have had to stay home and help him and it would probably have been me. So having had that experience, I never criticized anybody that didn’t go until I know why they didn’t go. I could have got an agricultural deferment in five minutes. And don’t ask me why I went because that question is not answerable. It really isn’t. To say I was patriotic - Hell, I didn’t even know how to spell the word at that time.
I guess to some extent, I feel we were conscripted by our conscience. Jack and Joe were going, you know, and maybe I’d better go too. And there were those that hadn’t had a decent job throughout the Depression, and it was an opportunity to get a bit of money and a place to sleep and eat. And after a while, it grew. And we were all caught up in something that was much bigger than we were.
I had a kind of a unique career. I joined here [Calgary] in 1940, went over in 1941, was in Dieppe in 1942. And after that, I was made a sergeant in the spring of 1943. I was called in and told that I was to apply for a commission, which I did and was accepted. One of the only ones who had ever done it with a grade eight education. I never went to high school.
I was at Dieppe and I, well, we never landed - we were manning anti-aircraft guns. But on the approach to the beach, there was a piece of shrapnel took the top of a man’s head off, a piece of his skull as big around as that glass. If I live to be two hundred, I’ll always be able to see that laying there on the bottom of that landing craft.
We [the Calgary Highlanders] actually got to shore and unloaded a platoon of infantry, three tanks, and a bulldozer. I was a member of a special outfit, what they called a three-inch mortar platoon. And we were supposed to go in after the, if there was a beachhead established. But what happened, we couldn’t get in. The Navy boys, manning the anti-aircraft guns, they were all down and our officer decided that we should maybe go up and see what we could do. So some of us did. And we manned the anti-aircraft guns.
Two of our sergeants shot down a German plane. But we were right there and we, we were in and out of the beach several times packing up the wounded. It was I guess scary but I was fortunate in a way. I was a corporal at the time and I’ve always thought that, to have responsibility in a case like that is not a bad thing because it takes you out of yourself. You have other people and other things to think about. And I’ve always felt that way all my life, in an emergency. If there’s something that you can do for somebody else, it takes - you know, the poor guy at the back of the end of the line, he doesn’t really know what’s going on and he gets pretty nervous. And that’s been a philosophy of mine, all my life.
I don’t believe that there are any real rules for war. War is a battle for existence. It’s not a prize fight. It’s not a hockey game. There are no real rules. I realize that, like people your age, you didn’t experience it. We do not here [in Canada] trumpet our victories like they do in some countries. We’ve just kind of allowed it to fade away. I see it in the [Royal Canadian] Legion and you know, we’re gradually running out of members because young people don’t find it all that fulfilling to join the Legion; too many other things to do. And that is not a bad thing. I’m happy that my children grew up not having to worry about going to war. And I hope my grandchildren and my great grandchildren…but no, it’s a hard question to answer. But it was something I guess that had to be done.