"We spent the whole morning picking up the bodies of the [Winnipeg] Rifle Company guys that had been killed and laid them in a big trench, bulldozed out; and they were to be recovered and properly buried later on. That was one of the saddest days of the war for me, of course."
My name is Harry Andrews Roberts and I served with the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Scottish Regiment [(Princess Mary’s)], mobilized in Victoria, B.C. [at the Bay Street Armoury]. We actually landed, I think, about an hour and a half after the first troops hit the beach and were able to … our kits were waterproofed, course. But I don’t remember us being hit by fire until we got off the beach and inland a little way, and then some machine gun fire around off the side of the carrier; and we were at war.
Two days after D-Day, we put in a counterattack to relieve the, or to recapture ground lost by the [Royal] Winnipeg Rifles when they were overrun by the Hitler Youth [Hitlerjugend], 12th SS [Panzer Division] Hitler Youth [Hitlerjugend]. They were the most fanatical of all the German divisions. They were kids taken from their families and brought up in a crazy philosophy that they were superhuman and had the right to dispose of any other people at their will, without any consequence. They were really annihilators, is the only word to describe them; and we fought them on different occasions, all during the whole year of action. And eventually, they were decimated. They were virtually wiped out. Out of a division strength of 20,000, I think, there was only 300 of them left at the end of the war. Of course, we suffered tremendous casualties too.
On D Plus 2 [two days after D-Day], we were diggin in inside A Company headquarters in an orchard up near Putot[-en-Bessin]. One of our gun crew had lost his helmet; and he was afraid to stand up in his trench. So I got out to find him one and just a few yards away, I found the bodies of four Winnipegs who had been captured and stripped of their weapons and webbing, and shot through the head and the hands, executed after as prisoners of war. And, of course, after that, if we had any compunction about killing the enemy, we didn’t have any after that.
They asked for volunteers to help and pick up the bodies in the wheat field that we had advanced across; and I went with them. We spent the whole morning picking up the bodies of the [Winnipeg] Rifle Company guys that had been killed and laid them in a big trench, bulldozed out; and they were to be recovered and properly buried later on. That was one of the saddest days of the war for me, of course.
And then we fought to clear the Germans from the Scheldt Canal to open the port of Antwerp, so that they could bring in supplies to keep the armies going. And that was terrible fighting, terrible, hard fighting. And from there, we went in up to Nijmegen in Holland; and we eventually were able to settle down for the winter there. I had missed most of that stuff myself because I’d been out with a wound I got just after we crossed the Seine [River in France]. After Nijmegen, we were on the side of the Rhine River and we were there for, oh, a couple of months. And then we made the attack back into Germany. And had severe casualties, very hard fighting and cleared the west bank of the Rhine, and after crossed the Rhine into Emmerich in Germany. And then we wheeled again back into North Holland, northern and western Holland; and were able to enjoy the celebration of the people who had suffered the most horrible conditions of occupation, slavery and starvation, abuse, and never knowing from one day to the next whether they were going to be arrested or if they were going to have enough to eat. And life was just a shambles and, of course, the joy of these people carried on to this day. Go over there and they welcome all Canadians with open arms.