Veteran Stories:
Hal Foster

Army

  • The insignia of the 9th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 7th Armoured Division, The Desert Rats. September 1944. Foster served with the Desert Rats under Operation CANLOAN, which loaned Canadian officers to the British military.

  • Hal Foster and Bill Hannah at the B.C. CANLOAN lunch at the Georgia Hotel in Vancouver. November 11, 2002.

  • Soldiers of Abbotsford Royal Canadian Legion Branch 15 on parade for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Foster is pictured on the right.

  • Headline from the Sunday Dispatch, April 8, 1945. Field-Marshall Montgomery and the Desert Rats were within 140 miles of Germany's capital and approaching Bremen.

  • Article from the Sunday Dispatch, April 8, 1945. The strategy within the last few months of European conflict worked to isolate Hitler's armies into individual pockets throughout Germany.

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"We did suffer casualties to the extent of 75% of the total group. And they distinguished themselves well, I think."

Transcript

My name is Foster. I served with the Can-Loan Group. My rank was Lieutenant Landing and I proceeded through to Captain in Normandy and on into commanding a company of infantry. The Can-Loan aspect is something that not too many people are familiar with, but basically, what it amounted to is the British Army was really light on officers after fighting all over the world in the first part of the war. Canadians still happened to have a bit of a surplus so that ... decided that they would entertain a good contingent of Canadians to go, join British units, and join in the assault on fortressed Europe. It's rather interesting from the viewpoint of how many went. Some of them that went from Canada were previously in Europe, not many, but some had been in Europe with the Canadian Army in the early part of the war. A grand total of 623 infantry officers and 50 ordnance - for a grand total of 673 officers - went over late April, 1944. We did suffer casualties to the extent of 75% of the total group. And they distinguished themselves well, I think. Out of the group there were 41 Military Crosses, one with Bar, one Distinguished Service Cross, one MBE, one Silver US Medal, four Croix de Guerre ... and one Order of Bronze Dutch. People that did volunteer had to come down to rank of captain and mostly lieutenants. I think it was one captain to every 10 lieutenants. There were some colonels and majors who were diverted to captain to join Can-Loan and go on the mission. And I'm very happy to be able to say I was one of them. They were just a fantastic group of people. We went by Liberty ship to within about a mile of the French coast. Our beach was Gold Beach. The most casualties that we got were in the water. They brought us to the coast of France and dropped us about a mile offshore. And that LSI -Landing Craft Infantry - took us in as far as they could go. Probably a hundred yards from shore, maybe 50. And we waded in from there. The first things we ran into were what they call S mines, which were shells buried in the sand with trip wires. And when we hit them with our feet, on the run... I guess they were timed for somehow... they would fire up to hit you in the rear end. But some people were knocked out with those. And next we ran into large anti-tank weapons which were like big tusks. They're like an elephant's tusk... curved... sunken into the sand that were tanks. We ran through those of course, because we had no tanks with us. We were just getting through trying to get on to the land so the tanks could come in. The British snipers finally made it out some of those so the tanks could come through. And the next thing we ran into was two lines of barbed wire, very well strung out. It was circular and I don't know if it was electrified or not, but we couldn't go through there without some help. Bangalore torpedoes, which are six-foot pipe with explosives... we opened up fire as fast as we could on the pillboxes above us to keep the Jerrys' heads down. And these chaps came up and the Bangolore torpedos, underneath the barbed wire which would blow a hole big enough in that wire for us to go through. Next thing we ran into, of course, was the pillboxes. There were three, I think, on our front, but the battleships were firing into these pillboxes. In our case, knocked out two of them. One was still active so we had to keep firing in... into it as best we could and move on up until we could get to the slits on the side of it. And we did get through to there, and once we started to get right up underneath the pillboxes and threw grenades in, we got our first prisoners. Our target for the day was to get through this mess that we had got through and progress to Bayeux which I think is something like eight miles inland from the coast.
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