But the truck exploded in such a manner, almost wiped us out, we were that close. We were only about 100, 150 feet from it and brother, that was an awful explosion.
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The reality of war still hasn’t set in on you. It’s, you know, you’re still training and you did see death and injuries during training but the total reality hasn’t set in at all yet. But anyway I, the engineer who was my buddy on the boat, was showing me how to splice ropes and one thing or another, sitting on the fantail, when we were about 2.5 miles offshore. And I happened to discover a body floating in the water and I yelled, I say, “Hey, there’s a body over there.” And he looked at it and he says, “Yeah.” “Well,” I said, “ain’t you going to do something about it?” He said, “Well, what do you want to do about it?” I said, “Well, stop and pick it up.” He said, “What do you want that for?”
But reality is starting to set in. And there was one fellow there was walking across from my trench to another trench in the centre of the field and just ready to jump into the trench when a shell struck him right in the chest. And then now the Germans do not waste a shell on an individual, that’s just not done. But anyway, it blew him all to smithereens and he fell right in on the trench on another fellow that was in the trench and that fellow went berserk. He was sitting there eating his lunch you know, out of his mess tins and oh boy, what a mess.
And everybody standing around stunned, this is our first casualty and, and the officer, Major Port, just came charging out, out of a scene and yelled, “Come on, you silly SOBs, get this mess cleaned up quickly and get back to your trenches.” Well, to him it was just a mess or it wasn’t. It was the right thing to do of course, shock us back into, into reality but anyway, we, if somebody had had a gun they’d have shot him right then and there.
But anyway, that’s the way we had to be treated, I mean, you had to be treated that way or you would go right stark raving mad worrying about it. And we got talking to some of the pilots of the Thunderbolt planes, the Hurricanes that used to be over us, and we got talking to some of them pilots sometimes on their back airfield and they were telling us that the smell from the airfields, from the battlefields, could be smelled up six and seven and eight hundred feet in the air, where they were in fact operating.
I remember a strange little incident that happened there, down on the one side where the houses all run towards the river, like were all row houses towards the river. We drove down one of those side streets and we’re camped there, parked there. And the woman in the house came out to the officer and said, “Sir,” she says, “Can I feed two of your men?” And he said, “What, you don’t want to have to feed our men, we have lots of food and everything else.” “No, no,” she says, “I have two children and one is seven and one is, the other is nine, a boy and a girl. And I only, I’d take it as a real honour if you could allow me to feed two of your soldiers.”
So anyway, he picked us two young fellows, my, a fellow named Cripps and myself. And Trooper Cripps and I were told to mind our manners. And we were very mannerly, very well behaved young fellows. But anyway, we went on into this woman’s house and we had supper with them and I remember the loaf of bread she had there, a big round loaf of bread up under her arms. And every time she’d cut a slice of bread off, she was, she was crossing, father, son and Holy Ghost and they were tremendously Catholic in Rouen.
Anyway, we had our supper there that night. We had a nice little cream pudding and a couple of little slices of meat and some vegetables and tomatoes, oh, it was a lovely little lunch. And she was quite pleased, she took our names and addresses and everything else and I never did get back to this woman, what a, something that struck in my mind…
There standing in the middle of their road was a German dispatch rider, steel helmet and leather coat, (laughs), standing with his hands up for me to stop.
And of course, he didn’t, he didn’t recognize, he, being an anti-aircraft regiment, they had never seen an enemy vehicle, they had never fired a shot in anger, all they’d ever fired at was airplanes for three years. Like what we’d call garrison troops. And he just thought I was another vehicle and of course, when you’re at an intersection and your convoy’s going through it, you are bound to stop the other people to make sure your convoy completes its, every, every vehicle gone through without interrupting them.
And anyway, boy, you know, you talk about a sudden, (laughs) a wakeup call at 5:15 in the morning, with a German standing in the middle of the road with his hand up for you to stop, it’s … I yelled Jerry, right away, in the armoured car and my crew commander was, my loader, was leaning on the guns, kind of half asleep. And when I yelled Jerry, well, he popped up his head quick and hit, struck it on the turret and when he seen him too, he slammed down the hatch in front of him, there’s a little hatch for the driver, which has got a series of plate glasses in it that are bulletproof. And he slammed that down right away and it’s a good thing he did because I dropped my gun and I pulled the trigger on my 40 millimetre and I hit an ammunition truck, which was right behind the dispatch rider. I don’t remember ever seeing the dispatch rider or his motorcycle ever again. Never even seen parts of it.
But the truck exploded in such a manner, almost wiped us out, we were that close. We were only about 100, 150 feet from it and brother, that was an awful explosion. There was a German staff car behind it and in the German staff car, there was six German officers in it and it killed all six of them right then and there, it was on fire. It was kind of one of these September first mornings where you have a slight haze in the meadow, just about two foot high it is, oh, a lovely morning.
And the truck burning and the smoke of that haze and there wasn’t a breath of air. And everything was hanging there, and then I set another truck afire and, with nobody firing back at us. Not a soul. And I couldn’t understand what was going on so I radioed back to the other cars to fire their smoke bombs and to keep at it and keep raking them and we kept raking the vehicles and set some more afire. And then finally we had about eight to ten prisoners in front of us and I started talking to one of them and I said, “What, how come you guys aren’t, aren’t firing back and what’s going on? How come there’s no white flag or what?”
He said, “We didn’t even know we were under attack. We thought the truck had exploded on a mine or something like that, we didn’t know we were … All we’ve got here was the ammunition going off in the truck and we thought all of that was just this truck burning.” Well.
About three miles out of Dieppe, we’re getting there and we’d already been talking to Dieppe by phone and one thing or another. And they know we’re coming. Well, you can imagine what that meant. But anyway, just as we tipped down into Dieppe, well my God, there’s wall-to-wall people dancing and screaming and banners and oh my. And there’s Resistance fellows hanging all over the armoured cars. They’d been in having, hanging on for the last ten miles. Each car had about ten of them, (laughs) and their little armbands and their little Sten guns and little black berets. Looked kind of cute.
But anyway, just as we get over there, I see the smaller armoured car ahead of me is engulfed with people and then I can see the officer talking to the resistance fellows and they’re saying … Then the officer picks up his radio and says, “Jigs, Frank,” he said, Jigs is my nickname of course, but “Frank,” he says, the, “Get around me now and get down in town, these guys will show you where it is, there’s a machine gun nest, a German machine gun nest down in town, go get it, will you.”
Now, a nine-ton armoured car is all cast iron so it’s pretty safe from a, a machine gun nest … But anyway, we got, I went past them and that’s how come I happened to be the first one into Dieppe. And I got down on it with the gun and I was going to take out that window when all of a sudden, there was pillow slips and bedsheets waving, “Don’t shoot and don’t shoot!” And a policeman came over and, with his buddy, and told me that the resistance fellows had captured the three, three Germans on the machine gun and had them outside the wall, were going to shoot them. I said, “Why were they going to shoot them?” He said, “Well, because they’re Germans!” they says. “Is that the only reason you shoot them, is because they’re German?” He said, “Oh, absolutely.” (laughs)
But then he said, we took them, we took them and put them in jail to save their lives and they did save the lives of those three Germans, the policemen did, by putting them in jail. But that, at that moment, there was a civilian photographer snapped the picture of myself, I’m on the radio then at that moment, I’m sending a message back down the line to the relay that, and the message read: “Francis is alive and well,” remembering that Francis was the code name for Dieppe, “Francis is alive and well, we will expect his friends for dinner.” And that told the people down the line that Dieppe is liberated, that means that you can send the infantry in now.
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