Veteran Stories:
William Henry “Bill” Mason

Army

  • A convoy of trucks of Allied food supplies moving into German-occupied territory along the road from Wageningen to Rhenen, The Netherlands, May 3, 1945.
    Credit: Capt. Alex M. Stirton / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-134419.

    Credit: Capt. Alex M. Stirton / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-134419
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"The best time I enjoyed myself, as far as the war, was where we stayed in a Dutch home."

Transcript

I asked if I could get in to be a truck driver. So, anyway, I was put in the 48th Highlanders, which I wanted anyway in the first place. When I went to do my basic training, I was under the 48th Highlanders of Canada. So when I got to Camp Borden in Canada, a whole bunch of us all lined up and they told us we were in the Lorne Scots. And then from there, from the Lorne Scots, I went to England and when I was in England, I got to be a motorcycle rider and I was transferred into the [Royal Canadian] Ordnance Corps.

The best time I enjoyed myself, as far as the war, was where we stayed in a Dutch home. We could see the Dutch, the Nijmegen bridge. On the other side of the bridge was the Germans and this side was Canadians. We’d come in, I don’t know how many miles we were exactly from the city but it was coming into the city. It was a small section of Nijmegen. The officers said to us, “see if you can find a place to sleep and then go up the street and knock on doors and ask if you could stay, have a sleep there”.

So we knocked, about three of us knocked and of course, none of us could speak Dutch but we said “slaapen?” [sleep?] And she understood! She says, "ja, ja, ja." And she took us upstairs and there was two beds in that room, and with mattresses. We never saw mattresses for months, years! Because we had mattresses, it was made of hay, straw, we used to get straw and put straw in it and that was our mattress. She had blankets. And what we did was, they had very little food there too so what we did was, we had an empty building that we had our meals in; we were allowed one serving per meal. But there was always jam and bread. In the morning, we would bring back extra toast; clean out our mess tins - they called them mess tins where we’d put our food on - we’d wash in hot water. Then we’d put, load it up with toast, big spoonfuls of jam and we’d bring it back for them. Lunchtime, we would bring back bread and margarine; if they had dessert, custard pudding or whatever, we had it, and there was lots of it. We’d all bring back some custard pudding or whatever, or jelly, or whatever you could get, and bring it back for them.

And then at nighttime for supper, we’d do the same thing, we would bring back bread and jam and after supper, we would, oh, the family had three daughters and a son and after supper, we’d all sit down and play cards and we’d share the bread and jam that we would bring and that was our entertainment. We were out of the cold and it was so nice.

I know it was cold, maybe winter of, you know, 1944. An officer came up to me, he says, "we need you for taking a bunch of trucks up, delivering food." And I said, "where, to another camp?" He says, "no, it’s near the German lines". And he says, it’s a convoy of trucks. Oh I don’t know, there was 15 or 20 trucks I guess and they were loaded with boxes in the back; they were loaded with tins of corned beef, tins of sardines and tins of fruit. It was all army rations - food, that’s all we had, see. We went up, I was - the officer was behind me in a Jeep - in the trucks; we went behind him and I was in front. And he told me what was going on. We got on it, we stopped and he said, "oh, this is the road now, the Germans are up that highway; we can only go in so far. But you see, when you get up there, you’ll see Dutch civilians standing on the highway."

So anyway, as I drove up, I saw the Dutch civilians with white flags. And I thought, oh, this must be the spot. And up the road, I could see the Germans going back and forth with rifles watching us. And the Dutch civilians, they unloaded the food and put it on a hill of the highway, there was a little hill there and they took all the food off and unloaded the food. And when that was done, the officer blew a whistle and we just left.

I was a little nervous. I wasn’t scared, just a little bit nervous because the Germans kept on staring at us, you know. And they had nothing either, they had nothing either. The Dutch had nothing, they had nothing. They were eating tulips.

I loved the Dutch people because back a couple of summers ago, I was in the park in Niagara Falls[Ontario] and I could hear a language and I said, is that a German or Dutch? So I walked over to them and I said, "pardon me, are you speaking German or Dutch?" She says - once somebody answered me - "yes, we’re speaking Dutch." Oh, and I said, well, I’m a veteran and I said, I was in Holland for the [Hunger] Winter. Oh my God, they pushed my wife aside and they were grabbing me and kissing me. I was amazed!

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