Contemporary photo of Harold Grouette, 2010.Historica Canada
"and Tytgat said they shot burst after burst after me and never hit me. So it wasn’t my turn to die."
We [Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada] were marching up and we were advanced to contact again. This was a constant thing with us. I’m walking down the road, we’re in single file. It’s funny how any insignificant thing is always in your mind, always stays there, as I was walking, the guy in front of me, we were roughly five yards apart, and the guy walking in front of me had his sleeves rolled down on his battle dress. And I had mine rolled up. Just one roll, just one flap. And Jesus, I got uncomfortable because you’re so darned superstitious, like, I thought, Jesus, how come he’s got his and I … So I put mine down, but you don’t say nothing to your buddies, you know, that you’re getting the wind up your back, you’re afraid.
And so we kept on moving and there’s a railroad track on the left, and I remember that just like it was yesterday morning. And the Germans let us come in here, there’s a bush area over here and there’s a couple of houses right in front. And we must have been fighting against poor soldiers because they let us get too close to the building and when they opened fire on us, we had a place to hide. We just dove into these buildings and started fighting right away.
So we were shooting back and forth, and our platoon commander, and why I remember his name is a mystery to me, but his name was Mr. Boyvin, and he had played football for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That’s why I remember his name because like he was sort of like a hero to us. And he was just a tremendous commander, like local. So the fighting started and he’s on the wireless to the company commander; and the company commander obviously orders us to withdraw, but now we’re in a lock. There’s the Germans on the railroad track here and there’s this bush area, and they’re firing at us from both sides and there’s some shooting from up ahead. And we’re in this pocket here. And we’ve got to get out of there and there’s not many of us, there’s only maybe about 18 or 19 of us, because platoons were, in them days, should have been 30, 32, but we were 16, 17 because we were so short of men.
So anyway, the platoon commander turns to a corporal by the name of [Armand] Tytgat, he was to get killed later, he was a friend of mine. He said to him, you’ll cover the platoon out with live fire. And he said, and take somebody with you to fire on the other side of the house, sort of thing. And, of course, Tytgat and I were friends so guess who got nominated? Old Willy Dumbhead here. Tytgat said, Harold, he said, will you stay with me? And I said, yeah, okay. I didn’t want to stay, God, I wanted to go, but you do these things.
So anyway, they started withdrawing and we started shooting. I was shooting into the guys in the bush and Tytgat was engaging the guys in the railroad; and they were shooting at the house and they were shooting at the guys running back. And I don’t remember, my memory don’t allow me to remember how many people got hit. And that’s a common thing, I think. It was with me, anyway. You sort of kind of push it to the back of your mind and it’s gone. And so now, the guys are all back and they’re shooting from over here now, and we’re still over here. There’s just two of us though. So we were standing in a kitchen. In Europe, the lady of the house, this was before air conditioning and everything as you can well imagine, the ladies would do the cooking of their meals in this, just a clapboard sort of kitchen, with the stove there, so it didn’t heat up the house in them days.
So we’re standing in there and I open the door of the kitchen and it’s facing this way, this is the way we’ve got to go anyway. And Tytgat said to me, you go first and I’ll follow you. And I said, okay. And this is roughly, because I don’t, you don’t remember dotting I’s and crossing the T’s. So he wanted me to go first. And I know why. I mean, he was maybe more frightened than I was. But you don’t show that, that’s just staunch. Yeah. So anyway, as I said, I opened the door and we’d threw, we got rid of all our ammunition, we had the machine guns with us. And we got rid of all the magazines [ammunition storage cases]. We generally carried about five magazines, you’ve got two in each basic pouch and one on the weapon. And these were the best machine guns they ever invented. And we were both each carrying one. And I backed up and I ran through that door, I was doing 100 miles an hour. Well, maybe not quite, 98. As soon as I stepped through there and I told Tytgat to follow me by about 20 yards. I didn’t want them dogs to shoot at both of us together with one burst of machine gun fire. But I was like here and he was 20 yards behind me, so they had to shoot at him or shoot at me. And they picked me.
So, we’re running back and we’re now maybe about halfway here. Maybe. And I got hit. And I got hit in the head with a machine gun bullet and it knocked me unconscious. I fell in the, it wasn’t a road, it was a country gravel road. I fell in the middle of the road unconscious, laying there. And Tytgat was behind me and he ran to me and dove into a little bit of a ditch that was only maybe sort of a drainage ditch, but a small one. And he’s laying in it and he stayed with me. So I come to and I’m just loaded with blood, all over my face and my mouth and somehow, when I fell, when the bullet hit my helmet and fractured my skull, I fell into the helmet. I guess the impact of the bullet hitting it and it brought it in front of my face, and I fell into the helmet. And I’m laying there and he said, not long, he said maybe two or three minutes, but when I woke up, it was pitch dark. And we were fighting in the afternoon early, this is maybe 2:00, and it’s now dark. Where did the time go? But it wasn’t the time, I was looking in my helmet and I thought it was dark.
So I sat up and when I sat up, I realized where I was because they gave me another burst of machine gun fire; and Tytgat said they shot burst after burst after me and never hit me. So it wasn’t my turn to die.
Interview date: 19 October 2010