"And the fellow said, well, he may have been wounded, but he wasn’t mortally wounded because he was here at a reunion last week."
I think I must have been one of the last people to get a leave who had arrived in England, or in France, on D-Day, but finally my turn came up and I got back for 10 days, I think it was, in England. When I got back, just after mid-March or 20 March, something like that, 1945, to Germany, I was transferred to another company, D Company of the North Novies [The North Nova Scotia Highlanders] and we embarked a couple of days later on the Rhine crossing operation and we were, 9th [Infantry] Brigade was put under command of the 51st British (Highland) [Infantry] Division; and also part of the 30 [XXX] British Corps under [Lieutenant-]General Sir Brian Horrocks. We were given the task of advancing through the 51st Highland Division on the east side of the Rhine, breaking out of the bridgehead and advancing toward Emmerich on the Rhine and then subsequently back into Holland.
But the British 51st Div, the 7th [Battalion] Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in particular, ran up against troubles in this little town of Bienen, BIENEN, in Germany. And the North Novies were designated as the force which would go in and try to take the town of Bienen. And that was on 25 March 1945.
We had crossed the day before on 24 March. On the evening of 23 March, the initial troops had gone over. Initial British troops and commandos had gone over. One of the largest bombardments, artillery bombardments from the west bank of the Rhine took place, of course, on that Rhine crossing operation. I think it transcended even the bombardments on D-Day and at other stages of the war; and also, the airborne landings farther inland in Germany or a few miles farther inland, transcended any of the earlier airborne landings in the war.
But we, my company, D Company, was given the task of following a dyke up along and on the west side of Bienen, and getting into the town. Unfortunately, Bienen was very stoutly defended by a large number of machine guns and we suffered great casualties there. There were I think 18 members of my company were killed. There were 40 killed in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders that afternoon, it was a Sunday afternoon, Palm Sunday, 1945. I suffered a wound while crossing the dyke, trying to get into the buildings of the town. I got a bullet through me which penetrated my right side and came out the middle of my back, and went through my lung, liver and kidneys and the kidney, one kidney which it took out. [The bullet] broke several ribs and went through my diaphragm, and so on.
I was very lucky to live because I fell on top of the dyke…my wife used to send me John Cotton pipe tobacco from England and I never could keep a tobacco pouch. I used to keep the tin of tobacco down inside my battle dress blouse. When I was pulled off the dyke ultimately, after one of my sergeants had been killed almost on top of me by a mortar shell. I was pulled by another artillery signals corporal off the dyke, a fellow by the name of Bob Muir. And he, when he got my jacket off, the tin of tobacco fell out and he said, my God, look. He said, the bullet went right through the tin of tobacco. So as the bullet missed my spine by only half an inch where it came out the back and made a big hole, I always felt that perhaps that tin of tobacco saved me from being incapacitated for the rest of my life. Or being dead for the rest of my life, I guess.
But, anyway, I was evacuated and I was very lucky to live. Muir incidentally turned me over to a couple of North Novies who were wounded in the hand and in the arm, respectively; and they dragged me back a couple hundred yards to the regimental aid post. Muir, about four years later, was serving in the permanent Canadian army. He was out in Shilo, Manitoba and he asked one of the other fellows, a sergeant in the North Novies, how did the major, he didn’t even know my name, but he said, how did the major make out that day? The other fellow said, he didn’t make it. I think he’d been told by the medical officer at the time that I was very unlikely to live. He went for the next fifty years thinking I was dead, but finally learned down in, going through Amherst, Nova Scotia one day, was talking to a North Novie chap at the North Novie museum there. Muir said that he’d been with Major Dickson when he was mortally wounded at Bienen during the war; and the fellow said, well, he may have been wounded, but he wasn’t mortally wounded because he was here at a reunion last week.
And so Muir got in touch with me after that and that was in 1998, which was almost 50 years, well, it was 53 years after the event. He got in touch. He wrote to me, and identified himself; and we got together after that on a D-Day observation here in Fredericton that year. I saw him again in Ontario. He lived in Smith's Falls, Ontario. It was quite amazing actually and he had landed on D-Day himself and he’d served with the Novies as an artillery signalman. But he’d been in a lot of the battles and he felt that Bienen was probably one of the hardest battles he’d been in through the whole of the Northwest Europe campaign.
He died unfortunately a year or so after that. He got cancer and died. I’m still in touch with his wife in Smith's Falls.