"I take my hat off to those families who received next to nothing, except for a letter announcing the death of their son on the battlefield."
It was a decision that I made against my father’s will. I started working away from home around the age of twelve or thirteen. When I say away from home, I’m talking about the jobsites in the Gaspé, three to four months in the woods. I didn’t even know where England was, and as for Germany… I had nothing against them, I didn’t know them. At 18 it became impossible to find a job since the bosses knew that we would soon be receiving invitations from the government and [King George VI] to go to the military camp. I tried to find secure myself a job, but unsuccessfully. Then I went to Quebec City to enlist.
Why the Army and not the Air Force? I applied to the Air Force but when they were filling out my form, they asked me what education I had. I had gone to school in Saint-Côme [Quebec] between 1930 and 1935. I had the equivalent of Grade 5. I wanted to be a pilot, but they made fun of me and said that with a Grade 5 education, the only thing I could fly was a mop or a broom. I was so insulted – we were on rue Buade in Quebec City - that I walked all the way to carré Saint-Jacques, and signed up with the Army. I was transferred to France, to begin. Naturally, since I was from the Beauce region, I wanted to join Le Régiment de la Chaudière. But Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal had suffered major losses at the beginning of October ; wounded, prisoners and dead. So they sent me to Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal. When you’re in the Army, you either do as you’re told or stay home. I joined Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal in October 1944, at the end of the fighting in Belgium.
I fought in The Netherlands and in Germany. It happened now and again that the army would organize baths for us behind the front lines, in swimming pools. There were lots of pools in Europe, heated in winter and open in summer. We would get there and take all our clothes off. All we would have would be our identification documents and a little backpack with our souvenirs; that’s all we kept. It was a huge luxury to take a shower or a bath if there was a pool. They took away all our old clothes and when we got out, the quartermaster would give us new ones. There were no sizes to the uniforms; you got either “too big” or “too small”. They issued everyone a shovel. It doesn’t seem like a very efficient weapon against the Germans, but it saved a lot of lives.
The first few years [of speaking publicly about his experiences], it wasn’t very interesting but then I received an invitation from some history teachers. It was fitting that it was always during Remembrance season, towards the end of October, the beginning of November. Most of the students listened but it was very passive. They listened or pretended to. After two or three years, I discussed it with the teachers and I insisted that the students take it more seriously. They made me thank you cards, they all signed their names. I took photos with the groups. There was always an organizer with the students. I felt that they were respectful and interested. Some of the students I had met would greet me on the street but I didn’t recognize them. It was hard for me; it forced me to relive certain things that I didn’t want to relive. It was so hard for me that at one point, for two years, I stopped doing it completely.
People assumed that all veterans receive pensions but only the injured or sick veterans get pensions. My daughter was surprised and asked me if I had been injured. She was 50 years old and she didn’t even know. I had never spoken about the Army in our house. I didn’t talk about it and my family didn’t know anything about it.
I would like to take a moment and think of the 45,000 soldiers who died, all of the soldiers who died during the war and those who continue to die today. My heart goes out to all of the families of those soldiers. In 2010, we have lovely ceremonies for the soldiers who die and I agree with that; in fact it makes me very happy. But for us, those 45,000 who died, all they had was a one-way ticket. It’s sad for the families.
During the fighting, I often heard the injured – I don’t know if they died of their wounds - calling for their mothers. They would rarely call for their fathers, but it would happen. That means that there were many mothers who were forgotten, families that were forgotten. Naturally, there aren’t very many mothers around from that war, 1939-1945. There are brothers and sisters left. I take my hat off to those families who received next to nothing, except for a letter announcing the death of their son on the battlefield.