"They gave us an extra blanket. Later we found out it was to bury us in. We were there for a month and never slept better."
… joined the army at age 18 at Calgary, Alberta, on 23 June, 1944. We left immediately for Camrose, Alberta, to commence basic training for two months [at the Camrose Fairgrounds]. Then back to [CFB] Calgary for advanced infantry training and then into [CFB] Debert, Nova Scotia, and left Halifax on Christmas Eve for England, arriving there on New Year’s Day, 1945.
In February 1945, we took small landing craft and sailed for Calais, France and onto Ghent, Belgium. Joined the Calgary Highlanders [Land Reserve Infantry unit], crossing the Rhine River into Germany and into Holland, where the people crowded the streets like Stampede parade morning in Calgary. They were amazed that we came from Canada.
In the spring of 1945, we were on a route march in Belgium, I believe, and discovered a field of turnips that had been in the ground all the winter. It is said that it improved the flavour. We peeled them and they tasted so good. Today, I still enjoy raw turnip.
Toward evening, we came across a deserted building. We raced upstairs for a good location and bed. There was not a bed in the place; and we used our mess tents for a pillow and slept on the tile floor. They [the army] gave us an extra blanket. Later we found out it was to bury us in. We were there for a month and never slept better.
Upon leaving England, a few weeks past D-Day, the Cliffs of Dover were still in sight and most of us were seasick. Saltwater coming over the sides of the landing craft and our rifles were on the floor in the saltwater. We were too sick to care. We approached France and felt better, but suddenly, we headed back to sea and got sick all over again.
We reached France and were loaded into rail cars, 40 soldiers to a car. We were warned not to open the doors. By the time we got to Ghent, Belgium, the doors were open and soldiers were sitting in the doorways and a few were on the roof.
Arriving in camp, we had stewed raisins. They were so good. A friend and I went through the lineup three times. The sergeant became suspicious and we were too scared to admit it, but, in the end, there were more raisins for everyone.
Rotating guard duty, while the rest of the platoon slept, was always a bit of a challenge. The war was near the end and around 2:00 am, we heard a suspicious noise. We heard that the Germans always counterattacked before dawn. We were relieved when daylight came to discover that it was the wind blowing a tin can.
Some evenings, we would take our allowance of cigarettes and chocolate bars downtown to give the local people, also blankets that were made into coats. The army had to stop this and set up what they called a blanket patrol.
Near the end of the war, I was assigned to a Bren Gun Carrier [light tracked vehicle]. I always felt a little guilty passing the infantry marching alongside. We were all over Holland. One night we ended up in a cow pasture. The entire platoon had to turn around. To this day, I still recall several names such Arnhem, Nijmegen and others. I recall some areas were out of bounds and not to go near there.
When the war ended, the army sent us to Lethbridge [Alberta] and Medicine Hat [Alberta] to guard German prisoners harvesting sugar beets. Farmers would call at the camps to pick up ten prisoners and one guard in their trucks. The army allowed the guards to work, surprisingly. I worked one day at the cannery and got a cheque that night for $4.50.
We had an option to be discharged or remain in the army of occupation. Most of us were in a hurry to go home. Older vets told us that “Civvy Street” would not be easy. Sometimes I think I should have made a career of the army. Discharged in Calgary, April 1946.