and she said, you mean to say we’ll be free? And that just hit me between the eyes. I mean, I never dreamed… and then I realized what it was, occupation. I mean, we were occupying ̶ I was occupying her house.
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One day, we [Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers] moved into Zutphen, which was a town in northern Holland; and our infantry had just captured the town, and they moved out. We came in to build a bridge there. And what I did, I found a dead end street there and I set up a radio, and turned onto the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation]; and that was the first time the Dutch people had heard the BBC in several years. They weren’t allowed to hear anything. So this seemed quite a joyful day.
But then a couple of my men came and called me; and said that my dispatch rider was in trouble. I went to see him; and I could see his face was sort of purplish there and his eyes were begging me, you know, help me, help me. I took him to our medical officer. Apparently he’d been out drinking with some Dutch people who were sympathetic to the Germans, and they’d given him some poison liquor. We pumped out his stomach there, but it was too late, and he died. And then, of course, I had to write a letter to his parents and tell them how their son had died on active service. So these were two of the things that I was all of, what was I, 21 or 22 years old there. You grow up pretty fast in conditions like that.
Then London, when we were in England there, and I had a leave. I went as far away as I could. I went to the Isle of Man and that was quite interesting. They had a train that circles the whole island. You know, that’s the place with the Manx cats that don’t have any tails. I got to know quite a few of the English soldiers there. That was a good vacation. Otherwise, this was really kind of strange there, when the war… I didn’t have a leave coming to me. When I did get the leave coming to me, I was in Brussels when peace was declared and I carried on. I had my ticket, I went back to England and had a holiday in England; and came back and rejoined my company there until we moved back to Canada.
When we were in Holland, the Dutch people were just as friendly as if I were, I found them at least, as if you were in Canada, visiting Canadian people. But as an officer, you see, I was a headquarters officer and one of my jobs always was to find out places for the officers and for the other ranks, where to sleep and where we had our meals, and different things. But after, they declared peace there; and we were in this Dutch town and I was staying in a private home. I got notice that in three days, we were moving back to Canada. So I got a hold of my landlady and told her that in three days we’d be going back to Canada; and she said, you mean to say we’ll be free? And that just hit me between the eyes. I mean, I never dreamed… and then I realized what it was, occupation. I mean, we were occupying ̶ I was occupying her house. She got paid for it, but it’s just not the same in the mind of people, you see, that these troops are there and they’re occupying your space.
So it’s the same thing as we had with the young Dutch people. Like, for instance, we moved into a town and, of course, we were in contact with the mayor and the different people. So they would arrange Saturday night a dance for our troops to come to then. So who were the girls? Of course, they were all Dutch girls; and I remember, like, walking to the entrance there and there were a bunch of these young Dutch boys hanging around outside there, watching the Canadian troops and the Dutch girls go in there. The Canadian troops had chocolate bars and had things like that. It was a pity, a pity, you know. But they suffered, the Dutch really suffered from lack of food and lack of all kinds of things there, yeah.
Reichswald Forest there, we were parked somewhere not too far there; and we were moving along and we had to pass through the forest there. We came across an area which obviously had been bombed by the Allies, and this whole field were a bunch of Germans lying there. They were all dead, the whole field, from a blast, whatever had happened there; they were there. So I’m driving along in my jeep there and looking at these bodies there and then they’re gone, and you’re onto something else and you forget about that. So that was things you came across every so often.
I was in Holland and one of my men came to see me and he must have been about 40 years old, he got in the army though; and he came, and he was asking my permission to marry a Dutch girl. Now, the army gave me and other officers their instructions to discourage… there were the usual reasons, language, religion, the various things, family, so on and so forth there. He said, I’d like to explain to you, he said, I come from a small Alberta town where if I go back there, there’s no job for me. There isn’t a girl that I know of that I would marry. I really have nothing to go back to; and this girl that I’ve met, their family has a small business and they told me that if I marry this girl, they’ll take me into the business ̶ you see? And so he asked me permission to get married. Well, what could I say? So I gave him the permission. Whatever happened after that, I don’t know, you lose track of these people. But the army did have that power to stop them. I mean, they could run off and get married and you’d never know, you know, but things like that, you see, as a young man that you have to come to decisions.