Veteran Stories:
Pierre Gauthier

Army

  • Mr. Pierre Gauthier in Lévis, Quebec, on June 5, 2010 .

    Historica Canada
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"There are not a lot of people who realize that religion had a huge effect on the soldiers. The Régiment de la Chaudière was a French-Canadian francophone regiment, very Catholic."

Transcript

I joined the Régiment de la Chaudière, the 2nd Battalion of the Régiment de la Chaudière, because one group from the regiment had already gone to England. Two or three weeks afterwards, they sent us overseas. They put us on a train for Halifax and then on a ship to go to England. The ships left from Southampton on June 5 [1944] and we crossed the English Channel. On those ships we were all seasick. We weren't used to being on a ship. The sailors who worked on the ships laughed at us. In the hold on those ships, there was nothing; no tables or chairs. We stood on steel plates. There was vomit everywhere, the stench was terrible. During the night of June 6, they dropped nets over the side of the ship; big cargo nets, you know, big cables. We climbed down those nets to get onto smaller boats, LCIs [Landing Craft, Infantry] which would take us to the D-Day beaches. It was dangerous because those little boats, the LCIs, were bobbing up and down. We had to be careful when we jumped into the water. We carried our equipment on our backs; we wore 35 to 40 pounds on our backs. It was hard. I was 19 years old. When we got off the boats, it was very calm. It wasn't time to tell jokes. We knew where we were going. They told us before we got on the boats, "You are going to be participating in a very serious exercise. We expect that you will lose half of your men. If you lose less than that, the exercise will be a success." So we were expecting to lose half the crew. So it was no time to tell jokes. So when we were on those small boats, the LCIs, people were very quiet. We could hear the bullets hitting the sides of the boats as we approached the beach. We couldn't see anything outside of the boat since the sides were high. Afterwards, we learned that two out of the five boats carrying the Régiment de la Chaudière had sunk because they had been hit by German artillery. Those guys never made it to the beach. I remember another thing from the beach; I’m 85 years old and I remember one thing: the chaplain of the regiment, Padre Huard – the regimental priest - who was with us. To my right on the beach I saw the padre on his knees in the sand, giving the last rites to my fellow soldiers. That has remained in my mind for 66 years; seeing Padre Huard on his knees in the sand. We were a strongly Catholic regiment. When things calmed down, we would recite our rosary. Before heading out on exercise, Padre Huard would come around and ask us, “Have you gone to confession? Are you ready?” That was important. There are not a lot of people who realize that religion had a huge effect on the soldiers. The Régiment de la Chaudière was a French-Canadian francophone regiment, very Catholic. Our faith was strong back in those days, not like today. We went to church every Sunday, etcetera. It had an influence on us.
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