Portrait of Raymond Jones in 1941 at Nipawa, ManitobaRaymond Jones
Photograph of Mr. Jones, taken in May 2010.Raymond Jones
"So we went out through the door and there was only 13 of us left out of, there was, well, that night, there was, well, that night, there was 33 killed in about I’d say 10 minutes or less."
Sunny Italy in the wintertime is sure not summer Italy because you can get a pouring rain right now and in an hour, it can be snowing; and the snowflakes are as big as saucers and I’m telling you, they’re worse than rain actually. And with the armoured cars, the roads and that, very few of them were paved and the mud that was kind of a scary situation. A lot of the mountain trails we had to go on, we had lost some cars upside down because they would slip off the road. But no, it’s not all sunny Italy and we were infantry. They had just changed us to infantry because there was a short of personnel and they said that the type of terrain wasn’t suitable for armoured cars. If it had been more open country, but it wasn’t and we were losing too many cars because every corner was booby trapped or they had guns covering them.
So it was a little bit different to us. We actually had never been trained as infantry. It was something that we had to learn. I think we redeemed ourselves quite good because our unit, Major Burke, I was his operator for two years, we were the first ones to capture Ravenna when we got in there and it was kind of an honour. It’s in the history of our unit and, as a matter of fact, the last Legion [magazine] that was out, there was, our final episode was in there, where we had “the plugs” [reinforcements], as we called them, had lost one whole squadron and I happened to be one of them.
There was a crossroads and there was a house there that commanded these crossroads. And it was our job to capture this house if possible. They had done a scouting job and said there was only three or four machine guns there; and we figured, we would have no trouble with them. And it was the night they wanted to try something new. They’d brought up a bunch of searchlights; and they were behind us about three miles. It was supposed to light our way; and we had these canals to go over. The canals, there had been a lot of water and a lot of rain, and they were about four or five feet deep. And we had to cross two of them and up over the canal banks.
Well, the Germans seen us coming for miles. And on top of that, when we got there and had to get from in between the two canals. They had drainage ditches in there and there were about 18 inches of water in them; and we got halfway across and, all of a sudden, machine gun fire started. And, of course, everybody, you try and hide in a hole if you’re out in the open and everybody dived for these holes, these drainage ditches, of course. Me included.
But then I happened to look up and I could just see the spurts of water coming down the trench, right, all the way. I yelled at a bunch of them boys to get out, get out because they had them synchronized. And by this time, it’s too late for a lot of the boys and we found out after that [Field] Marshal [Albert] Kesselring had moved in there with his whole machine gun battalion and there was about 35 machine guns covering that house and that crossing. There wasn’t much we could we do, we were always training.
You’d go ahead, you’d keep going, you’d keep going and we got into the house and there was 13 of us left out of about 60. And we held it for, it was 2:00 in the morning or something. I know it was a stone house; and I got in there with my radio and I could hear our support company calling. I could hear them, but I couldn’t send. I got a friend of mine, as a matter of fact, he lived in Brandon [Manitoba], he died a year ago, Mr. Sitko. I got him to help me run wire around the house for aerial. And then I found out I had two bullet holes in the centre set on the radio on my back, that’s how close I came to getting it, and I couldn’t send a message.
But, anyway, I could hear Captain Jack McNeil, he was in charge of C Squadron [4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guard, Royal Canadian Armoured Corps]. I heard him finally say that there was just no way he could cross. There was just too much fire power. We held out until 2:00 in the morning and then we had to surrender. We run out of ammunition. Well, not only that, they had brought up a couple of bazookas [portable rocket launcher] and they were trying to blow a hole in the wall to get in. And finally, there was a German officer who could speak English and told us we’d better surrender; and we were just about out of ammunition. He said, you’ll have to come out to the window; and we said no. We were soldiers, we come in through the door and that’s the way we’d go out. So we went out through the door and there was only 13 of us left out of, there was, well, that night, there was, well, that night, there was 33 killed in about I’d say 10 minutes or less.
In 1996, my wife and I were, well, they had taken a whole busload over there, two busloads actually, and we traced our route from Sicily to Italy and Italy up; and we were at the cemetery at Villanova. And here’s 33 of the greatest all lined up side by side. Actually, the trouble was, well, don’t matter whether trouble or not, most of those boys, it was their first time in action. They were reinforcements and it was really sad. I, even yet today, I can still hear the bullets striking their bodies in that damn sump hole that we were in, but I guess that’s life. For myself, I guess I was lucky, I made it. A few more of us did, but it still bothers us yet tonight. But that was our experience for being a POW.
And they kept us in Italy for four or five days, and then they shipped us to, through the Brenner Pass to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg. For two days, we had had nothing to drink or eat in the boxcar. And it was Christmas Day and there was an old stock pump at the prison camp and we just couldn’t wait to get a drink of water. And that was our Christmas dinner for 1944.
The other two days, the American and British air force would bomb Munich and then we’d have more work to do to clean it up. Now, I weighed about 180 pounds when I went in there and I weighed 140 when I come out. So we lived mostly on black bread and cabbage soup.
Actually, the German soldiers themselves or the people, they treated us fine. Even the ones that took us prisoner were, they were real good soldiers and they treated us right. Most of the guards we had were First [World] War veterans from the German army and they had been in there, and they knew what it was like.
We were in this big farmer’s barn, which is where they kept us at night. And I went to the door and looked out; and I said, Frank, there’s no guards. He said, you’re kidding? And we went outside and looked around, there was no guards; and then all of a sudden, we heard machine gun fire and they have shale roof over there, it’s like a flat stone roof. And some of them flying off the house and around the corner came an American tank. And here the Americans had caught up to us.