I earned the DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] in Germany; but it’s not something you earn easily.
Transcript / ShowHide
I was part of the Régiment de Maisonneuve, a regiment from Montreal. I started out as a simple soldier and in the last years I was a sergeant. I commanded a section of flamethrowers. A section was made up of three vehicles mounted with flamethrowers.
We landed in Normandy. Our first encounter with German troops was at Saint-André-sur-Orne. We were making our way towards Falaise and we passed through the city of Caen which was completely destroyed. Tanks with huge mechanic shovels were clearing the streets so that we could pass through with our vehicles.
When we left Falaise, the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade was in action. I earned the DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] in Germany; but it’s not something you earn easily. In France, the Germans were well-equipped. There was a Canadian tank that had been hit by a German shell. The officers told me to go and free the two men who were stuck inside. I went in with my entire section. While my men were firing at the Germans, I climbed onto the tank, opened the hatch and got the two men out. That’s when I received a Mention-in-Desptches. That’s the first decoration that you need to earn before you can receive any others [sic].
It was near the Siegfried Line [in March, 1945] that the Régiment de Maisonneuve and 5th Brigade began having trouble. The Maisonneuve and the Calgary Highlanders could no longer advance. This is where I won my second award. There were a lot of bunkers….the troops could no longer advance. There were a lot of casualties as well.
I was alone in the forest. It was the Reichswald Forest. There were snipers in the trees. There were also a lot of machine guns. They were big machine guns. To get closer to the forest, I stood up in the back of the gun carrier. I had a flamethrower and a Browning machine gun that fired 700 rounds per minute. I fired it all over, trying to get closer to the forest. I got shot in the arm. I told the driver, who was a guy from Rimouski, to continue. The blood was pouring down my arm and it burned. When we got close to the woods, we set fire to the forest and then we continued on. There were still bunkers at the edge of the woods. We continued around the hedges. The troops were coming up behind us. The Browning was out of ammunition. It takes no time to fire 700 rounds. I aimed it all along the edge of the forest where we were and my men surrounded the woods. That’s how I earned my decoration.
The driver took me back to the Maisonneuve lines for treatment and then I was taken to Holland, and then flown from Holland to England. I spent five or six months at Saint James General Hospital in England. While I was there, they brought me my medal. The Régiment de Maisonneuve had carried on and by nightfall, they had taken 200 prisoners. When the Germans saw the flamethrower come up and start firing at them from 200, 300 feet away, it wasn’t long before they came out with their hands up. It’s hard on their morale too. I cried, oh how I cried, and at the same time, I was very proud. But I didn’t think that I had done all that much.
They told me that I was to return to Canada. It was one of the biggest joys of my life. When I got back here, I said to myself that there should be no more war. That it was over! I had never been a violent person and when I started working at the post office, I became fast friends with everyone. I think it changed me for the better.
The German people… In France, we were up against the SS [Schutzstaffel]. They were elite troops, Hitler’s best. As we moved deeper into Germany, we saw civilians. The German people weren’t bandits. Sometimes I was reminded of Canada. There were a lot of farms and working people, farmers.
The elite troops that we had seen in Falaise were SS troops. They had been raised by the State. Hitler was like God to them.