Charles Miller's wife, Violet, in England.Charles Miller
Private Charles Miller, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, 1946.Charles Miller
Private Charles Miller, far right, with three friends in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1945.Charles Miller
Charles and Violet Miller's wedding in Stoke-on-Trent, England, January 12, 1945 .Charles Miller
Private Charles Miller's beret from his uniform with The Seaforth Highlanders.Charles Miller
"It’s a horrible feeling and it’ll always be there, I know it will. It’s like a tattoo, it’s on your brain and it’ll never leave you."
We went to an old house and there was just, I think, maybe part of the roof left. There was maybe three sides of this house where it was shelled. And there was an old sergeant there. I think he was from the First World War. When we got to this old house and the old sergeant was there, and he said, boys, I’ll tell you something now. He said, tomorrow morning - we had to stand guard two hours on, two off all night - there was a Bren gun [machine gun] in the corner and our Bren gun, I mean, that’s an automatic weapon, and they’re heavy. We had some dirt piled up so there’d be some protection for it. He said, if that door opens, you just pull the trigger on this automatic weapon, which we were trained to use. When my two hours was finished, I don’t know what hour in the morning, and the sergeant came around; and all he could use was just a little penlight he had, instead of my weapon being trained at the door, I was way the hell over in the corner. I shook so bad and was so scared because I was only 20 years old, just turned 20; and they still say your mind is not fully developed, even when you’re 20 years old. But it doesn’t take you long to become a soldier once you’re there and you’re in the real thing, you learn pretty fast.
The next morning, when it came daylight, he said, now, if you can, step outside of the door, but don’t step too far; and he said, when you come back in, if you can take a little tot of rum, I’ll take you as a soldier. So when it come my turn to step out, I stepped out and what did I see, but a dead donkey laying there puffed up; and right somewhere, I don’t know where it would be, but there was no head on this body. And it was a dead German soldier. But anyway, when I got back in, I had my little tot; and he said, okay, I’ll take you as one of my men and that’s how I got in with the Seaforth Highlanders of [Canada] British Columbia outfit.
Well, I remember the Battle of Ortona [during the Italian Campaign], which was horrible. We had to go from house to house in Ortona. In Ortona, most of the houses were all joined together. We used to call it mouseholing because you could punch holes in the wall and throw hand grenades in before you went in yourself. But the [Loyal] Edmonton Regiment, they got caught in the house. If I use the word he, I’m referring to the German. But they [the Germans] had the thing all wired and when Edmonton Regiment, I wouldn’t say regiment, but platoons, were in there, he blew the house up, the German did.
I know, one of my buddies was no more than 50 feet from me when we went through the Hitler Line [German defensive line in central Italy]; and he just disintegrated in the air, and I don’t know if he stepped on a mine or if it was shell burst [shrapnel] or what, I don’t know. But all I could see was legs and arms, and pieces, I guess you could call it. We drove the Germans out of there, but it was an awful slaughter that was. I don’t know if a human can go in a different mode or something, but when you know at night [that] the next morning, at crack of daylight, you’re going to put in an attack, there’s no way that you can sleep, just thinking maybe that’s the day that you’re going to either be severely wounded or you’re going to get killed. But there’s a lot goes on in your old head. But we did what we had to do and glad I was a part of it, I think.
Just after I came back, I had to scurry around, trying to get a place to live because Halifax was taking up the navy and all that. There was no place to live. I had to worry about my wife coming over and what am I going to do, here I am out of the service and back to normal life it’s supposed to be, but it was never normal for me. The company put me up in the Halifax shipyard to work on the ships, but they had air guns that would go (makes noise), just like that and I didn’t know what to do. I got off of the ship and I went farther up in the shipyard, so I wouldn’t hear this thing; and when my boss came, I told him, you have to take me out of here because I just can’t take it.
But he was, he understood, and took me out of there, but those bloody rivet guns, just like an automatic weapon. But here lately, I get calmed down a bit, but there’s nights when I’m out of bed and sitting on the edge of the bed and wondering who was coming around the next bend. It’s always the, it seems like there’s three of them, three men in uniform; and it would be a German uniform. These three men it seems are always after me. I’m trying to duck here and there, so I’d have a chance of maybe picking one of them off or the three of them, I don’t know. But it’s a horrible feeling and it’ll always be there, I know it will. It’s like a tattoo, it’s on your brain and it’ll never leave you.
Interview date: 14 October 2010