Veteran Stories:
John Clarkson

Army

  • Using state-of-the-art equipment, the Royal Canadian Engineers produced military maps in preparation for the invasion of Europe.

    John Clarkson
  • Clarkson has since visited the towns in France and Belgium that he passed through after the D-Day landing in 1944.

    John Clarkson
  • A collection of the Royal Canadian Engineer's insignias, from 1936 to 1976.

    John Clarkson
  • John Clarkson in the present day.

    John Clarkson
  • John Clarkson's Medals (L-R): 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal 1939-1945; Canadian Forces Decoration.

    John Clarkson
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"When we got to Holland, they found that many people were starving, and the Germans allowed the Canadian Army to go behind the front lines to feed the Dutch."

Transcript

My name is John Clarkson, Warrant Officer I, (Retired). I joined the Canadian Army July, 1942, in Toronto, received basic training at Newmarket, Ontario, took engineer training in Petawawa, which included rifle, Bren gun, bridge-building - like, pontoon bridging, cantilever bridging - and familiarity with the effects of poison gas. January '43, we took an architectural drafting course in St. John, New Brunswick. The volunteers were given a chance to learn a trade. In March '43, we were not required as architectural draftsmen, so we were sent on a survey and mapping course in Halifax for three months. Then in August we left Halifax on the Queen Mary with apparently a record number of troops on board, total of 17,000 plus, and the trip to Greenock, Scotland, took four days, four hours and about twenty minutes. Every seven minutes, we did a zig-zag on the course to enable the craft to avoid any submarines lurking in the vicinity. From Greenock, we went to southern England where we took advanced engineering training, building the Bailey bridge, training in blowing up railway tracks, designing and placing booby traps, firing such things as anti-tank rifles, PIATs and Sten guns. Then, March 1944, I joined the 4th Field Canadian Survey Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, producing military maps in preparation for the invasion of Europe. These were made at varying scales, depending on the type of invasion or operation concerned. Landing in the Normandy beaches in August '44, they couldn't take us to the continent until there was some place to locate our equipment, which some of it was rather precise equipment. So the company that we were with was a mobile mapping company, working as close to the front line as possible so the maps could be delivered very quickly. Experiencing usual war conditions of destruction, the stench of death in the rubble. We had flies and wasps and dysentery to contend with in the early stages, and we moved through France fairly rapidly - as a matter of fact, in a few weeks - and then we were stopped in Ghent, in Belgium, for several months. This was caused by the fact that the Germans didn't advance through the area around Belgium and the front line slowed down considerably. We were able to watch the V-1 bombs taking off from Europe to England, and at that stage they would be flying very low, laden with fuel and they sounded like an overloaded motorboat. When we got to Holland, they found that many people were starving, and the Germans allowed the Canadian Army to go behind the front lines to feed the Dutch. And they've shown their appreciation for that ever since. Such things changed during the war. Some things becoming very scarce, and some of the incidentals, which may be of interest, would be a pair of silk stockings were priceless, and you could practically buy anything with them. A carton of cigarettes, for instance, could take you to a weekend in Paris and pay for it. A chocolate bar could invite any girl, pretty well. These are the strange situations with which we had to adjust. In the spring of 1945, the army moved too fast to enable us to keep up with them, though our unit was stationed in a little town called Alnel(?) in Holland, and the maps would be trucked from there into Germany. One of the interesting things about mapping overseas during the war was that when you were building a map you had a pretty good idea what was going to come about. In other words, if you were to have made a map of the little town crossing the Rhine, you knew that that was probably where they were going to cross the Rhine.
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