Veteran Stories:
Herb Harris

Army

  • Herb Harris (right) with his brother, Nick, in front of York Cathedral in 1944. While Herb served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, his brother was an aircraft mechanic on Halifax Bombers.

  • Pegasus - the symbol of the Airborne Regiment.

  • Painting of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Brigadier giving orders to Major Kippen, after the famous glider landing on the Rhine, the first to land at the Battle of the Bulge.

  • Monument in memory of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion at Sifleur Falls, Alberta. In the background are foure mountain peaks that were renamed Normandy, Ardennes, Rhine and Elbe in memory of those who served there.

  • Herb Harris with his medals and wearing the uniform of the Airborne Regiment.

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"They were about three miles inside the Rhine. It was intense fire – the Germans just opened up on us."

Transcript

My name is Herb Harris. I joined the Army in January 1944, and I was selected for paratroop training, and served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during World War II. We had good training so that we would be ready when the time came. We went over to France on a ferry to Calais, and then we took our position as ground troops in Belgium, and worked our way into Holland. He were there from January until the middle of February, and boy, it was cold at that time of the year! We never had the proper clothing for it, but we sort of managed it anyways. There's one instance: we had a watch along a knoll beside a river, laying in the snow, waiting for relief from our watch. This one patrol was supposed to relieve us at midnight. After eleven o'clock, we looked into the distance and could see a white uniform coming towards us. We figured it was our patrol coming to relieve us early. They got within a hundred feet of us and somebody shouted, "Hey! German!" We just turned around and opened fire. They were smart, and they took off into the forest. On March the 24th 1945, our unit was part of a huge airborne assault. They called it 'Operation Varsity'. It became known as the 'Battle of the Bulge'. Our group of two thousand men jumped together in six minutes, going out there one on top of the other. We landed across the Rhine and we were right on top of the Jerries. They were about three miles inside the Rhine. It was intense fire – the Germans just opened up on us. Corporal Topham was our medical orderly. He went forward in intense fire to replace the orderlies who had been killed before his eyes as they were trying to tend to the wounded. As he worked on the wounded men, he was himself shot through the nose. In spite of severe bleeding and intense pain, he never faltered from his task. I think he just put some penicillin powder on there, and a band aid. He carried on the wounded me steadily, back through continuous fire, to the shelter of the woods. Gliders started coming in right after we jumped. They were sitting ducks. The Jerries just opened up on them, just like going out duck hunting. His officers told him he should not go and tend to the men in the gliders, but he just went there regardless. So that's when Corporal Frederick George Topham – that's when he received the Victoria Cross. It was quite an experience – serving with the finest soldier Canada had to offer.
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