Veteran Stories:
James Albert Newell

Army

  • James Newell, photo taken during stay in hospital in Peterborough, England, 1946.

    James Newell
  • Release leave certificate, with statements of exemplary conduct.

    James Newell
  • James Newell, tomb of the unknown soldier, Ottawa, Ontario, 2009.

    James Newell
  • Soldier's release book.

    James Newell
  • Pocket watch, given to James Newell in February 1944. "Given to me by a German Colonel in the Reichwald forest. He did not want the military police to take it-he wanted a fighting soldier to have it."

    James Newell
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"We were told there was not many German soldiers in that area and it should be a pretty easy thing. Well, somebody was very wrong because when we got halfway across an open field, the German troops opened fire"

Transcript

My name is James Newell and during the war, I served in two units. I served in the Royal Marines in the Far East, Southeast Asia Command, and I then transferred over to the Black Watch Regiment, British Army, and I served in Northwest Europe with that regiment.

Going back to the beginning, in 1940, I was 16 years old. I was living in a town just 20 miles away from London and of course, we were getting the bombers over, the German bombers. And they were dropping incendiary bombs and so I joined Civil Defense and would spend every night on fire watch.

While in Holland, and this now is the 14th of February [1945] I believe, I was wounded for the first time. We crossed the flooded area in what they called a Buffalo. And this was, a buffalo was a converted tank that could hold about 25 or 30 troops. It had no top on but it could go on land or on the water. And so we went in these machines. And I jumped out of the Buffalo when we landed on the other side and I was immediately hit by some shrapnel. Nothing terribly serious; lots of blood - it looked bad. I got shrapnel in my face, in my hair and in my right arm and left wrist. And I was immediately taken to hospital.

I was, as I say, it wasn’t all that serious but it looked bad. And after being in the hospital for seven days, I got fed up with it and I asked the doctor if I could rejoin my regiment and he agreed, so that same day, I was on my way back.

By this time of course, the German attack had faltered and stopped and we were then forcing them back into Germany where they came from. From there, we went back to Holland and we took part in another dirty war. That was the Reichswald Forest. That was I believe in March of [1945]And you’d seem to be fighting all day and you progressed about 100 feet. And we just seemed to be fighting from tree to tree. And again, we lost a lot of, a lot of good men.

After that, after the Reichswald, we went to the Rhine [River] and we got ready there for the crossing of the Rhine [code-named Operation Plunder]. And on March the 23rd, again in these same Buffaloes, these tanks, we crossed the Rhine. That was 9:00 pm, I remember the time on the 23rd of March. And we immediately went into the attack. We were supposed to attack and, and take a village. We were told there was not many German soldiers in that area and it should be a pretty easy thing. Well, somebody was very wrong because when we got halfway across an open field, the German troops opened fire and we found out later that they were the First German [Parachute Army]. And we were just massacred. I was hit immediately with a bullet in the left thigh and I dropped and fortunately - just pure luck - I dropped into a small, like a recessed area about a foot deep, like a little ditch. And I think it was used for the running off of water.

Anyway, I fell into it and I managed to put a first-aid dressing on my thigh and then I laid there. And I lay there all night and of course, those of my company who had survived, just had to go back leaving everybody there. I was told later that out of our company of 100 men, sixty were killed, twenty-five were wounded and fifteen were unhurt. Now, that’s what I was told. And I can believe it because as I lay there, every now and again, I glanced down behind me and there were bodies all over this field. We, we certainly lost a lot of men.

You sometimes wonder; you see all this death around you and it’s every single day and somebody who’d been your pal or your colleague on the Monday, on the Tuesday he gets killed and you see his body there. And it shakes you. But I always made lots of friends, good friends, and I was very proud of the men that I served with. After the war, I went over to Europe after I’d finished with the hospital and I went over to Europe and I visited a German concentration camp, Belsen. And after seeing what happened there, it certainly makes you realize that it was worth it. I think everybody should have been compelled to go and visit concentration camps.

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