Paul Vezina fought with the Royal 22e Régiment in World War Two. Picture taken on June 18th, 1945.
"We were walking very quietly. All of a sudden, the Germans spied us and started firing."
My name is Paul Vézina. I was with the Royal 22e Régiment during the War of 39-45. We landed in Italy at the beginning of September 43. At that time, we were occupying the town of San Pietro, in Avellino, in the mountains near the Sangro River in the mountainous region of Abruzzo. A patrol was sent out to see what was going on. The commander wanted to know what the Germans were doing because apparently contact had been lost. So, the patrol made its way to the other side of the river. However, at one point, apparently they couldn’t come back. Somebody had stepped on a land mine. This triggered an alert. The Germans realized that something was going wrong. There was a skirmish.
Two British soldiers were able to escape and they crossed the river to our side. They began telling us that they had been taken prisoner in Tobruk, North Africa, 16 months earlier. To show us how disciplined they had been while there, they still had their emergency rations in their pockets. An emergency ration was a ration to be used only as a last resort. They had kept their ration for 16 months to demonstrate that they were disciplined enough.
Some men were able to make it back, while others could not. So, to get those men back, the commander, who was the lieutenant-colonel [Paul-Émile] Bernactchez at the time, asked a lieutenant, lieutenant Laflèche [we called him Fritz], to organize a rescue group with a rowboat to go and rescue the men in the patrol. We could see them at the north end of the river. We left in the evening. There were ten of us crossing the mountain. I think that the distance was about 2 or 3 kilometres, but it was in complete darkness. We arrived at the area surrounding the river at around morning time. We were asked to monitor the area to see if we could spot people on the other side.
So, in the early morning, I was on the riverside with one of my companions. We were hidden by the foliage. All of sudden, we spotted someone on the other side. He was running and there were Germans running after him and firing at him. We jumped in the rowboat right away. The fellow who was being chased jumped in the rowboat as well. We crossed back over and made our way into the woods. We were walking very quietly. All of a sudden, the Germans spied us and started firing. We redirected our path to the other side of the hill in order to hide.
But what happened is that the fellow who was there, the one who we had went to rescue, his name was McKinnon. Many years later, I went to Montreal. One of my brothers was a supervisor at the post office in Montreal. He said to me, “There are fellows here, veterans from the 22nd [Royal 22e Régiment] who work here. Maybe you’d like to meet them.” I replied, “Certainly!” So he brought said McKinnon, the fellow we had gone to rescue on the other side of the river. We started chatting. He asked me where I worked. I replied, “I work at Health and Well Being Canada.” He said, “I have a sister who works there, Rachel.” I replied, “I know her. We work together.” What a funny coincidence, eh?!