Mr. Roméo Ouellet, régiment de la Chaudière.Historica Canada
"The noise was continuous, day and night. The planes came over at night and so did the Germans. They launched flares in an attempt to locate us and then bomb our position."
I was on LCT 1512, that was my ship on D-Day. There were four of us mortar carriers, more than a hundred men, and a small bulldozer. We landed in about seven or eight feet of water. I keep a nice memory of June 6, 1944, when Mrs. Françoise Baudot, a lacemaker, stuck her head out of the window of her house. The house was very close to the sidewalk, and there was a small window. We soldiers were talking amongst ourselves. She stuck her head out of the little window and asked if we were staying or leaving. I remember her words as if it was yesterday. We replied that we were here to stay.
Our objective was to take the city of Caen, which was 35 or 40 kilometres away. We advanced seven kilometres on the first day. On the first night we retreated by two; one of our anti-tank guns was captured and the crew taken prisoner. I slept along the edge of the road where there was a small hedge. All of a sudden I heard shots, and then I heard the Germans speaking. They walked right past me. I hardly breathed; I didn’t want them to hear me. I couldn’t understand what they were saying so I knew they weren’t French. They kept going. The next morning, we learned that they had captured the anti-tank gun and five prisoners. Not far from where I had been.
The mortars always went ahead of the infantry soldiers in order to cover them during their advance. Our objective was to continue. We advanced bit by bit. Left, right, back up, change positions three or four times a day, four or five times a night. Dig a hole, then leave again.
We were on the edge of the Rhine, it was November . We had set up our six mortars. We weren’t far from the Rhine and the Germans were on the other side. At night we protected our entire sector. We fired mortars; the mortars were always in action. Sometimes each one would fire 300 in a night. On Christmas Eve, they told us to fire sparingly. It was then that we heard the Germans singing.
The war ended on May 8, 1945. I was guarding a canal. The Germans had left in the morning and they had blown up all of the bridges and culverts that crossed the canal. They had put explosive charges under the bridges. They had blown up pretty much everything. I was guarding one of those bridges. We had to prevent the Germans, who knew that the war was over, from going back. We had to prevent them from crossing, since they were not yet allowed to enter our lines. I was by myself and the others were further away. There was a house about 200 feet away. I saw a woman come out onto her balcony and she yelled at me while making V signs with her arms. V! V! I wondered what she wanted. I moved away from the bridge and started walking towards her. The bridge exploded; a German woman had saved my life.
A couple of years ago I was asked, "Why haven’t you ever talked about that?" You never asked me any questions about the war. Why didn’t you ask? I would have liked to talk to my family about it but I didn’t. I kept it all inside. That’s how it was.
The noise was continuous, day and night. The planes came over at night and so did the Germans. They launched flares in an attempt to locate us and then bomb our position. We were always on guard. When the sun rose every morning, I would wonder if I was going to survive the day. There were some men who were with us the day before and then the next day they were gone. Moïse was gone, Yvon was gone. I was one of the lucky ones.
A guy who sat with me in the carrier, Yvon Bernard, was a little guy from Montreal. He would talk to me about his girlfriend back home; he was in love. He was with us on the front line. We were in the carrier and we couldn’t advance. There were dead horses blocking the road. We could hear the hellish sounds of bombing. He said to me, "I’m not staying here in the carrier. I am going to hide behind that house." I looked at him and I said, "Go ahead if you want, but I’m staying here." He got out and ran towards the house, hid behind it and then all of a sudden, bang! A bomb landed on the house. He was gone.
Sometimes I go to cemeteries and I see the names of the men I knew. He’s gone but I’m still here. Why him? I regret not having talked about that. Youth today don’t know anything about it. They don’t learn about it in the schools. They don’t know very much. They can recognize a veteran, but not much else aside from that. I used to go to schools; they should have continued doing that.