John Hall (center), and his friends take a tour of Appledorn, The Netherlands, at the end of the war.John Hall
Dutch children gather around Canadian soldiers of the 1st Hussars after the liberation of Appledorn in Holland, 1945.John Hall
John Hall (far upper left), with Dutch children in Appledorn, Holland, 1945.John Hall
John Hall, 1946.John Hall
John Hall, 2010.John Hall
"He said, "There’s two Germans in that slit trench, give me a grenade." So he was handed a grenade and he threw it in; and it didn’t explode. I think it was an L-shaped trench. He threw in another one, and it didn’t explode. But the third one did."
Well, my first action, as I remember it, took two days after I got there. We hadn’t gone into action more than half an hour, I guess, when our tank got hit, was disabled. And [it was hit by] only one mortar. We had a [M4] Sherman tank that had twin diesels and one motor was knocked out. Well, a Sherman tank can go about 25 miles an hour with two motors, but with one motor, you can only creep about two or three miles an hour. So we reported it damaged and we were told to return to our base and there was a REME [Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] centre there that did repairs. The driver just got turned around and the captain in my tank, he was the 2IC [second-in-command] of A Squadron, he said, there’s two Germans in that slit trench, give me a grenade. So he was handed a grenade and he threw it in; and it didn’t explode. I think it was an L-shaped trench. He threw in another one, and it didn’t explode. But the third one did. And then a German rifle was stuck up in the air with a helmet on it. One German wasn’t injured, but the other one was. He helped the other guy out and was helping him walk; and my captain called an infantry man over and they took them prisoners. Anyway, we went back to get a replacement.
My next action was at the Falaise Gap. We were lined up, loaded up with ammunition and fuel; and we were told to go 12 miles an hour and not to stop unless we were knocked out or ran out of fuel. So our flares were shot at one minute to twelve, I think, or one minute after, and away we went. Everybody. We had to cross a river not very far away. We had only been going about 15 or 20 minutes and we weren’t the first tanks. There was tanks burning all around us. We come to that river, and we had a wonderful driver; his name was Frank Price. Anyway, we hit this bank of this river and we must have dropped three feet. Now remember, we had ammunition all over the floor and these 75 mms [tank gun ammunition] come flying up and I was, at this time, I was in the dirt. I was the loader operator and CAC [Canadian Armoured Corps (wireless)] operator. I was afraid they were going to land and explode.
But, anyway, they didn’t. We got into the river. It was a shallow river. It was late in August and I guess there’d be no rain. It was something like the Don [River in Toronto] would be now, I think. But on the other side was a very steep bank. We started to go up and almost stalled, but our driver, I don’t know what he did, threw it into the lowest gear and gunned it. We almost stood on end, but we tipped forward and got over the river.
So I was very new. I was still only, that was only about the second or third week I was in action; and my captain says, phone into headquarters and tell them that we are across ‘sheep’ and everything is tickety-boo [proceeding smoothly]. Well, I knew the name for the river was code name ‘sheep,’ but I didn’t know what tickety-boo meant. I didn’t know it was just an expression that they were using, so I phoned in, and I said the message; and I got told to pass my message. I said, we are across sheep and everything is tickety-boo. [laughs] The major who was receiving it, the IC [in charge], I could tell he was laughing. He said, very well, keep me informed. But I thought it was a code word, I didn’t know, I was so green.
Anyway, we hadn’t gone, oh, ten minutes, and once again our tank got hit, but once again, in the motor. This time, both motors seized right up: we stopped dead. The captain says, phone in the report, we’re damaged. So I tried to phone; and I said, I can’t get through. He says, oh, all our aerials have been shot off, we’ve got to put those aerials on. So that was my job. So he got out of my way and I stuck my head out of the turret and there was a stub of an aerial in there. I had to take that out. There was kind of a clip holding it in, and I put it in and I could hear bullets whistling, so I ducked down as soon as I could. I said, well, that’s the A aerial, that’s the main one, what about the B aerial, which is just a short one to keep us in touch with our war tank troop. He says, we’ve got to have that on. So I went up and put that on, we got out. But, anyway, we sat there for a few minutes and then the major, over the radio, told the captain, get somebody else’s tank and go on, and leave us and we would make our way back. So that’s what happened. The captain got into another tank and took over from a sergeant or a corporal. We dismantled the radio and everything, got out and there was another tank going back that was damaged, so we were told to get on the back of it, which we did.
I can remember a very nice thing that happened. There was still some wounded German soldiers laying on the field. Our own had been taken care of. One soldier was laying wounded right in front of this tank that was going back, with us on the back of it. He was going slow too because his tank had been damaged. The driver went around this wounded guy. He didn’t run over him, which I thought was pretty good because some of the guys were pretty angry at the Germans at that time because we’d had a bad experience with shooting prisoners, tank prisoners. There was some German general was accused of murdering them.