They gave me a tourniquet, but it stopped working during the night. It was a night from hell.
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My name is Pierre Basque, I was part of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal. I was born in Saint-Pons, not far from Tracadie-Sheila in New Brunswick. They sent us to Lille, France [in 1944]. We spent several days in Lille before making our way towards Belgium. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a Chiasson from Shippagan [New Brunswick] with me. He wasn’t in my unit, though. We went walking together in the evening through the streets. A man called out to us, “Come here, I want to talk to you,” and he was a veteran from the Great War. He was really happy to meet up with some French Canadians. He said that he had met a lot of us during the Great War. He took us across the street to a tavern, bought us each a beer and introduced us to the people from town. It was a happy experience for us.
At first, it’s strange seeing someone that’s dead in a house, on the street, or in pits. It makes you shudder. Afterwards, you get used to it and you just say there’s a dead person, and it doesn’t affect you anymore. It’s only a wound, when a person is seriously wounded, which is hard for us. Watching him receiving medical care, before being sent back, you think that it’s going to happen to you too.
After two or three weeks on the battlefield, we had a couple of days of rest to go back behind the frontlines and calm our nerves. One time when they had come back to the front, one of my friends had a cough and the Germans heard him and threw a grenade into our trench. The following 7 seconds weren’t long. A friend of mine, Roger Chabot, found it before me since the others were sleeping in the back of the trench. Just the two of us were on guard. The grenade fell in between Chabot and myself. He found it, but when he did, it exploded and took off his entire hand. The corporal who was with us, Corporal Bessette, said that he was related to Brother André [canonized as St. André on October 17, 2010] from the St-Joseph Oratory. Brother André Bessette was his uncle.
He had given us orders to try to get the most wounded out first, [in this case] Roger – me, I was wounded, but I knew that I had to do something. I took the machine gun and I fired off two magazines, each with about 30 bullets. I fired two of them as low as I could. After that, they took out the wounded man who was missing a hand, and then the other three left me alone. I was almost taken prisoner; when I came out of the trench, my left foot was injured, I had a piece of grenade under my kneecap and three more pieces further down. I was bleeding a lot and it was starting to hurt. When extricating myself from the trench, I tripped and a German almost walked on me. I didn’t move.
I got help a bit further away. They came and got me out of there. It took 3-4 hours to get out, in order to avoid the minefield. We went in that way but we couldn’t leave from the same path, since we didn’t have a minesweeper who could work at night. We had to take a detour through the woods. It took us three or four hours. There was an officer and another guy whose name I can’t remember. He carried me in his arms since I couldn’t walk anymore. When we arrived at a house, there was a doctor and a nurse. They bandaged Roger Chabot first; he had almost no blood in his body, he had lost nearly all his blood. They gave me a tourniquet, but it stopped working during the night. It was a night from hell.
The first few years, I often had nightmares, very often, like I was still in the army, with battlefields and all that. These things happen to all veterans today, those who see action. The images remain in your head. They will stay there until we die. When we tell civilians about our experiences, they don’t really have an idea of what we went through.
Editor's Note: Pierre Basque's three brothers, Albénie, Edmond and Odilon (also known as Eddy), also volunteered for the Canadian Army during the war.