Lester Coffin pictured here during the wartime years.Lester Coffin
"I just left the boat and went to the recruiting office and joined the Army before they even knew what was happening to me. They didn’t know. But when they did find out, it was too late; I was in the Army."
In the spring of 1944, I had a job in Montreal working on Keystone [Shipping] Lines. And I worked on the Key Vive; that was the name of the ship that ran cargo from Montreal to Sandusky [Ohio], Cape Breton and areas like that. And the employment with Keystone was almost like in the Army, like you couldn’t just walk away from them. You weren’t allowed, because they needed people there. It was pretty smart about getting that set up.
But anyway, it didn’t satisfy me, so in August of that same year, when they wouldn’t discharge me from the Key Vive, when I was in Montreal, I just left the boat and went to the recruiting office and joined the Army before they even knew what was happening to me. They didn’t know. But when they did find out, it was too late; I was in the Army.
I went to Camp Borden. I was in the infantry, assigned to the Canadian infantry. And did basic training in Camp Borden, like everyone does. And I had some medical work I had to have done. I had to have some teeth fixed up and pulled out. So all that took a few weeks I guess. I learned to get up early in the morning when the bugler went.
I was there until December and then I was assigned then to go overseas. They needed people overseas. They sent me home for Christmas and in January, I went to England on a troopship.
Very extensive training when I got to England. I was training with many different types of weapons, like a rifle, a machine gun, a Sten gun, a Bren gun, all that sort of thing, with the, I know it’s brutal to say but we were learning to kill people. And one of the things I remember very well was on our rifle, on our .303 rifle, there was a bayonet. And we spent a lot of time learning how to use that bayonet on big bags of straw or something like that.
When I’m talking to other people that have been in the Army, I guess what I think, you know, our conversation generally comes to, the route marches that we were on in England, they were pretty severe. You know, you had a lot of packages on your back and guns and, not guns but your rifle and ammunition and you walked for hours. And so that’s one thing that’s not very important but I think about that sometimes.
It was pretty evident that the war was coming to an end. That’s what I think now anyway. So although we kept on with our training, but we were never called into a regiment.
After the celebration for a few days, the war was over [in May, 1945]. Because of my high education - Grade Nine - they needed people because in the regular soldiers from Germany and that, were coming back to England and coming back home and they had priority over everyone else. So I was assigned to a clerical job in Lancaster, England. And working on pay books, you know, the soldiers coming back, doing whatever the paperwork had to be done. And that lasted like a year after I got into that or I don’t remember how many months, they decided I needed a promotion, so that’s how I became a corporal. I have to always explain that because a corporal in the infantry corps is not quite the same as a corporal doing paperwork.