Veteran Stories:
Claude Sylvestre

Army

  • Mr. Claude Sylvestre in Levis, Quebec, on June 5, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"What can you do, mistakes happen. There isn’t room for the smallest one. Look at the consequences."

Transcript

I ended up with the [Royal] 22nd [Regiment] in Italy. In Italy, I only fought in the last battle. I arrived in time for Rimini. It wasn’t a huge battle, but it came after the famous Lamone River, which in three weeks left us with 660 dead and 1200 injured. But it should be mentioned that we were up against German paratroopers. If we suffered large losses, well so did they. We got them back. The Germans were threatening to blow up a bridge. Our commander sent a group of men to try and stop them but they got caught in a barrage of machine gun and mortar fire. All of them died except for one guy who wasn’t hit and another who was injured and who we recovered. There are always two men to man a machine gun; one to fire and the other to man the ammunition. I sent my guy to find a stretcher-bearer. While he waited, he was worried. There was another wounded man, but we couldn’t get to him because the bullets were flying past; we could see them; the German machine guns used tracer bullets. I crossed the train tracks. I took my machine gun; I kept a miniature in here. You can see the path of the bullets at night. I fired 28 rounds - a full magazine contains 28 rounds - at the Germans. Naturally there was a lull when the enemy’s magazine was empty. While he reloaded, I moved around. I went a little further, loaded a new magazine, and waited. When you fired, it made noise. So they could locate you and fire back. I was lined up quite well and I fired 28 rounds at a time. I did that three or four times. It was starting to get serious. They blew the bridge up right in front of us. We weren’t able to regain control of it. There were five of us. We patrolled near a small brick factory. There was a bit of fighting. It got quiet and we leaned our firearms against the building. That was our mistake because normally, we should have gone inside. If you didn’t want to go inside, you had to throw in a few grenades and if there was anyone left inside, well, they wouldn’t like that. You could be sure of that. We didn’t do that. We fought, and we killed one of them, but there was another one left. He slipped out behind us and fired on us all. I was lucky because I had the least serious wound. I was shot in the knee; another guy got it in the belly and another guy in his stomach. One guy lost a hand. The bullet landed in the joint and his hand hung. He was a guy from Saint-Gabriel, near Rimouski. The other three were killed. It was definitely our fault. What can you do, mistakes happen. There isn’t room for the smallest one. Look at the consequences. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. It wasn’t dark out yet; it was December [1944]. We waited. The guy who lost his hand was able to walk. He stayed with me and we decided to wait. The stretcher-bearers would come. They hadn’t heard anything from us so they would begin to wonder what had become of us. They sent out a second patrol once it got dark. They whistled to us and we gave them the password. They came and picked us up.
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