Veteran Stories:
H. Murray Lang

Army

  • The 1 officer and 12 men of No. 17 Field Security Section, Canadian Intelligence Corps, after arriving Normandy, in Cairon, France in late July 1944.
    Top row (left to right): Capt. E.R. Austin; CSM H.F. Sutcliffe; A/Sgt. Bill McCarthy; A/Sgt. Mike Solomon; A/Sgt. Bob McPherson.
    Middle row (left to right): A/Sgt. H. Murray Lang; A/Sgt. George Barnes; A/Sgt. Maurice Ippolito; A/Sgt. Frank Singer; A/Sgt. Jack Paysant
    Bottom row (left to right): Sgt. Alf Weiss; Pte. Harry Sime (Driver/Batman).

    H. Murray Lang
  • National Socialist Bund (a Belgian Nazi group) medal. Acting Sergeant H. Murray Lang found this medal in a desk drawer while serving in Brussels, Belgium with No. 17 Field Security Section, Canadian Intelligence Corps.

    H. Murray Lang
  • Captain Jake Steen, Officer in Command of No. 2 Field Security Reserve Detachment (FSRD)

    H. Murray Lang
  • Badge of the specially-formed Bomb Disposal unit that Acting Sergeant H. Murray Lang was attached to in April and May 1945. The unit travelled to British and Canadian Engineer units in 21st Army Group, teaching them how to diffuse German explosives likely to be used in sabotage operations.

    H. Murray Lang
  • Canadian Army leave pass granting Acting Sergeant H. Murray Lang permission to take leave in Paris, France from May 8-15, 1945. He arrived just in time to celebrate V-E Day with the population of the French capital.

    H. Murray Lang
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"I said, what’s the matter? He said, well, everything I’ve been told to believe in has proven false, it’s all crumbling around me and here you’ve brought me the best meal I’ve had since the war began."

Transcript

I served in the Canadian Army, trained in the Royal Canadian Engineers, and then transferred to counter-intelligence. So I served with the [No.] 17 Field Security Section and [No.] 2 Field Security Reserve Detachment for counter-sabotage. Because I had a university degree, and because I think I have a pretty high IQ, they had me marked as “potential officer material” or POM on my documents. And so when I was at [Camp] Petawawa completing my advanced training in engineering, I got my finger in the way of a bridging operation and had to go into the hospital for a couple, well, three weeks probably, while they sewed it together and let it heal. And this put me out of step with the group that I was with. And the officer suggested, well, why don’t you go down and take a course at RMC [Royal Military College], it’ll look good on your papers when you come up to the officer selection board. And the course was the 14th War Security course and it offered a quick way to transfer and get overseas in the Canadian Intelligence Corps. Whereas if I stayed to be an engineer officer, I’d have another 16 months in Canada. And I thought, well, I’ll miss the war if I do that. And so I, well, the whole class pretty well transferred and we all went over together.

But I was assigned to a section to go to Normandy, No. 17 Section. Each of these sections had speakers that could talk to anyone in Europe, so we’d have two Russian speakers and two German speakers, two Italian speakers and I was one of two French speakers. These Field Security Sections were small, 12 men and an officer and so we could live in easier quarters than most of the Canadian Army.

As we waited for Calais [a French Channel port] to fall, the Germans were coming across one by one to surrender and I remember a story about one young German soldier, about my own age, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak German, so we conversed in French. And as I took him his dinner, he broke down and cried. I said, what’s the matter? He said, well, everything I’ve been told to believe in has proven false, it’s all crumbling around me and here you’ve brought me the best meal I’ve had since the war began. And I said, well, it’s just what we eat and he’d never, he hadn’t seen white bread for a long time. Anyway, this was my first contact with a member of the opposite forces. But he was completely broken and humbled by what happened to him.

In the late phase of the war, this was March 1945, Germany mounted a sabotage campaign and in response, the 21 Army Group that had both a couple of British Armies and the Canadian First Army, held a training course. And they picked me out, I guess because of my engineer background, because I’d already learned about handling explosives. So they picked me out for this counter-sabotage course and six men and one officer formed this No. 2 FSRD, or Field Security Reserve Detachment.

In Zwolle [The Netherlands], there had been a sabotage explosion at a power station. We searched the premises but the basement was flooded with water, chest deep. So we didn’t go down there. And the next day, the rest of the station blew up. But this illustrates a point about counter-sabotage: it’s important to be there either early, when you can defuse things, or late when it’s already gone off. But you don’t want to be there in between.

Well, in a way, it was something like detective work, or using your mind to anticipate what the enemy minds were thinking up and how to thwart them. So that to me was always a challenge. Never boring.

It was a small contribution but it probably helped a little. I know we did arrest a few people. One of the things, because the war was over, a lot of the saboteurs had decided they wanted to be on the winning side, so they were coming and surrendering and saying well now, if we go here, we’ll find some buried explosives. And so we would go there and we had a minesweeper to help locate things. But in some of the places, like the Bois de Boulogne, there was so much shrapnel on the ground that the minesweeper was constantly howling and we decided it was easier to go without it and just walk and look, and eventually, we’d find the stuff and either burn it or blow it up.

For me, it was a great tour of Europe and I’m sure I did my work conscientiously but on the way, I learned a lot and had a great experience.

Interview date: 29 November 2010

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