Veteran Stories:
John Gallagher

Army

  • John Gallagher in 2010.

    John Gallagher
  • John Gallagher's Dog Tags.

    John Gallagher
  • A photo of John Gallagher during the Recruit Training Course, 1944.

    John Gallagher
  • John Gallagher in 1944.

    John Gallagher
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"The first time we’d really been shot at. And you could hear the bullets hitting the beach and then they came closer and closer and zipped by and just missed by a short distance."

Transcript

Nobody knew where they were going even then. And so when we got aboard ship, we were told that we were landing at a place called Normandy. And our job was to get a group like I had about 30 recruits, well, reinforcements. One of the interesting things about it, that reinforcements were supposed to be highly trained and somebody had cut a corner and they, instead of shipping them to an area where they could be properly trained and then be used as immediate reinforcements, they cut that out and they shipped them straight to us. And then we found that a lot of them had been soldiers for quite a while but not very many had been infantrymen.

And we had to set up training where we tried to make up the shortages of training, which included zeroing rifles. And I had taken an armourer’s course so we could make a rifle that was firing too low, we could fire the foresight so it was firing high enough but if it was firing too high, we couldn’t do anything, we didn’t have the tools and could adjust it this way.

We [the Canadian Scottish Regiment] hit the beach where we were told to hit and the only interesting thing that was there, there was a large noisy lieutenant who always had lots to say and when the ramp fell down, he thought he went to the end of it and he thought that he was on the beach but he was just at the end of the ramp. And he said, oh, it’s going to be a dry landing and he took one more step and it was about five feet deep. And he went in, it’s kind of stupid but he went in head first and half of us wondered whether we should pull him out or not, he made so much noise. But we did anyway. But then we all got sopping wet. And all that happened with us, we ran to beat the Devil over the beach, collected the men and then we were told where the beach exit was. And I started moving down and as we started to move, we were strafed by a German plane. The first time we’d really been shot at. And you could hear the bullets hitting the beach and then they came closer and closer and zipped by and just missed by a short distance. Before they made another pass, we got to the exit.

The most shocking part of that, though, was that from the time we landed, we saw Canadian soldiers from our battalion and other battalions washing up and down with the surge of the water. And it was the first time we really, somebody said, they must be using light ammunition. So we went through and we stopped less than a mile in from the beach and dug in for the night. And it was like being in a bowl with neon lights going up and with all the anti-aircrafts firing at some, there weren’t a lot of German planes but enough and this was keeping them away fairly well.

And there was the, it was very lively but we slept pretty well and the next morning, I wrote a note to home and then we moved into a place called Secqueville-en-Bessin. The 3rd [Canadian Infantry] Division, well, the 7th Brigade, our brigade got in about six, seven miles. The 9th Brigade had gotten even further in and part of them, I mean, some of them, got stuck right on the water I guess. They had very heavy casualties.

The bridgehead was fairly deep in. One part of the 9th Brigade got almost inside of Caen but then they got into trouble. Our job [as reserve]… they were assaulting up to the railway from Caen to I guess Banville or somewhere in that area. And we were to counterattack and just be on the cut where the railway was. We never got up to the railway, but we did break through up to the cut and drove the Germans who had overrun the Winnipegs [Royal Winnipeg Rifles, at Putot-en-Bessin] back. They were the 12th SS [Panzer Division, Hitler Youth]. They were awfully good soldiers but the thing is, the only term I can think of, fanatic bastards. They were, well actually, as I said, those prisoners and altogether during that first couple of days, [154] Canadians who had been captured were shot.

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