I mention this story to remind us to be grateful for the brave youths who took risks to help the Allies as they fought for the liberation of Northwest Europe.
Transcript / ShowHide
I volunteered for an airborne regiment, but instead, was sent to the Calgary Highlanders in Holland as a reinforcement officer. I was dumped in the middle of the night into a platoon position by a runner who said the company commander will see you in the morning. I gathered that the last few days had been heavy slogging for "D" Company. A lot of old vegetation now clouds the memory. There are many offensive operations and Nijmegen, Holland, seemed to be the spot that we always returned to for recuperation and the freedom from rain-soaked fields.
At the end of March 1945, the battalion crossed the Rhine River near Rees [Germany], with the final objective being the northern city of Groningen. In the process of flushing out the enemy, the attack on Groningen, I saw a youth, thin, frightened, yet greatly excited as he cowered in the alcove to a house. War sind die Soldaten [Wo die Soldaten sind: where are the soldiers], I shouted. There was no hesitation in his reply and he said in a soft, yet loud enough, child’s voice, komme [come].
I was led up the back stairs of a house and onto its roof. We were spotted and came under sniper fire from a nearby church steeple. Behind the protection of a large big chimney, I learned of the enemy’s layout in the park adjacent to the church. Acting on this information saved many Canadian lives. We bombed the sniper and the church steeple, and a fighting patrol captured some 20 prisoners in the park. One of the officers wore a ceremonial dagger. It was a beautiful piece with its pearl handle and sheath of silver. I removed it from the officer, walked over to my young Dutch hero and said, son, this is for you. Some 50 years later, by chance, I met my hero again. Not as a frightened youth, but as a very successful businessman. His first words were, I still have the dagger. I mention this story to remind us to be grateful for the brave youths who took risks to help the Allies as they fought for the liberation of Northwest Europe. They provided one of the main conduits of information on the enemy strength, positions and intentions within the community.
Now, battle is a series of surprise and decision making, and fraught with uncertainties. Particularly as one faced the enemy on the ground, as is the role of the infantry. We were the lead platoon advancing above a high embankment for a railway line. From around a bend, and heading directly into our line of fire, appeared a column of enemy. They were about 150 yards away and obviously, did not see us high above their line of observation. We had a perfect killing ground. The platoon took battle positions. I decided to hold fire until the column was closer and indicated such by a wave to the platoon. Someone among our group fired a warning shot and the enemy scattered. We opened fire and killed some of the column. I decided not to discipline that person. Indeed, I’ll always be grateful to him, for he saved many lives by that advanced warning.
While it is the job of the infanteer [infantryman] to kill the enemy, it would have led to a troublesome conscience in this case for the war ended shortly thereafter. I often wondered if that column would have surrendered if given the opportunity to do so.
The regiment was in Oldenburg, Germany, when the war ended. I remember stragglers of all nationalities, hungry, in despair, caged and wanting a home. We disarmed the German Army of thousands of small arms, many of which I suspect became souvenirs for the Calgary Highlanders. The Calgary Highlanders suffered over 1,700 battle casualties, of which 403 were fatal. I never saw the blood spilled by my regiment in the fierce fighting places like Bergen-op-Zoom to Walcheren, but I know the Calgarians lie in their cemeteries. I am grateful to have survived battle.
I often think of my high school buddies from St. Paul’s College in Winnipeg who made the ultimate sacrifice. Why did they go to war? Some for the adventure, many because there would be one less mouth to feed at home and some recognize an evil that had to be stilled. I am very grateful that I shared that time with Canada’s best while living in Veteran’s Village at the University of Manitoba as we pursued our post-war education. Friendships were formed that lasted long after convocation and I’m grateful to Canada that financed, in part, that education.
With sorrow and respect, I think of those who left among the white crosses in Europe and places like Pusan, Korea. For me, white crosses with their tombs bear sadness for I see lives never allowed to blossom, lives denied the opportunities to select their life partner, to hold their firstborn, the pleasure in teaching children how to swim, ski, ride a bike or light a campfire. I am grateful for having experienced those joys.