Veteran Stories:
Harry Walker “Bud” Keenan

Army

  • Dr. Harry Keenan in Ottawa, Ontario on November 8, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"But they had the wrong kind of fuse in it and it went off on their side, and killed them all. I would have been with them if I’d have been there."

Transcript

I was qualified as an operating room assistant when I was sent overseas. And we went over on a British hospital ship which was lit up like a Christmas tree, with headlights on it and spotlights, and red lights and everything, all to prevent the Germans from sinking us. It was a lousy trip. They fed us with frozen meat. The lavatories had water all over the floor of them. Anyway, we got to England, as they didn’t need any operating room assistants in England at the time, the next thing I knew, I was in the infantry and up north. And we had an exercise at night to show us what it was like at wartime, with bombs going off and hand grenades, the kind that blew up and made a bad noise. But one of them didn’t go off, it landed in mud or something, and a friend of mine stepped on it and it blew up. It blew his foot off, so that was the first one that we lost. Then we [the Carleton and York Regiment] went to Italy. While going up the line, I noticed a brown cloud above us. I didn’t know what it was. Didn’t pay any attention and we were walking across through an open field, about three inches of snow on it. Then I heard a whirrrr, and then a piece of shrapnel landed about a couple of feet from my leg. So I found out then what an air burst was [a shell that explodes in the air, not in contact with the ground or physical target]. They hadn’t told us about that before. In fact, they hadn’t told us very much about it in England, where we took our training. We had three companies. Two would go up at the front, one would stay back in reserve and we’d change every week or so. And when we were up at the front, the big shells went over our heads and it sounded like a freight training going by. And then the machine gun bullets went over our head closer and there was a lot of them. You didn’t dare stick your head up. One young officer stuck his head up with his glasses, so he could look at them, the enemy over the hill, over some of the dike and got a bullet through his forehead. Our platoon was at half strength and instead of ten to a patrol, it was only half. I made the fifth one. Our stretcher bearer had a stretcher to sleep on. The rest of us slept on the rocks or falling down on the floor, which was made of stone. His stretcher looked awful nice to me. When he went on leave, I volunteered to take his place as the stretcher bearer. They took me to the medical officer and he found out what I had in the way of training and I never went back to the platoon. I stayed to help him. The fellows were always sort of looking for action. There was five of them. They got a great big anti-tank Teller mine [German anti-tank mine] and placed a small tine on top of that, and put a hand grenade on top of that. The hand grenade could have had a four second fuse, or it should have had a seven second fuse. This one evidently only had a four second. They tried to roll it up over the top of the dike so that it would blow up on the enemy side. But they had the wrong kind of fuse in it and it went off on their side, and killed them all. I would have been with them if I’d have been there.
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