Leonard Fitzgerald of The North Nova Scotia Highlanders in 1945.Leonard Fitzgerald
Leonard Fitzgerald in Chilliwack, British Columbia, 2010.Historica Canada
"He stood behind me and I figured, well, he’s going to put a bullet in my head to get me out of the way."
We’d set up communications in this farmyard, which was formed in the shape of a U. The cattle barns were on like on the north side and the main residence was on the east side; and on the south side was all the hay and food for the cattle that they had. I had set up communications in one of the stalls that had some space.
And that night, about 7:00, all hell broke loose. The Germans, they were trying to get back out through the Falaise Gap and we had them encircled. They were trying to get out through our area; 17 Platoon [North Nova Scotia Highlanders] were practically decimated completely. Then they come in and they were firing at the places where they thought the horses were being shot. And, of course, they were firing at anything. And you could hear the horses screaming from being shelled.
And the tanks moved right into the area; and where we were, there was five of us, the boys took up off, there’s a hay pile by the rear of us, and they went up on top and I was standing at the door with my pistol. And I fired a couple of shots and the next thing you know, I had two grenades in my back pocket. So they threw two grenades in and I managed to get back to the other chaps. They pulled me up on top of the hay; and then the Germans come in and they machine gunned right around the perimeter. And, of course, we were up about 10 feet by that time and they could hear the bullets beneath you, going through the hay. And some of the boys, one guy stood up and said, kamerad, kamerad [German equivalent of "I give up"], and, of course, the jig was up then.
I was the last one down from the hay pile because I had bad legs, I had both legs injured when the grenades off. And I thought well, maybe I should stay here, maybe they wouldn’t know I’m up here. But then I thought, well, what happens if they throw a match into that hay pile and I’m at the back end of it, I’m a goner. So I gave myself up at that particular point. And we were taken. Due to the fact that I was injured, they put me in the back end of [Panzerkampfwagen Ausf. E.] Tiger Tank [German heavy tank] and tied me down. And we travelled all that night back to the German, wherever their headquarters were and then the following morning, they interrogated us. And then they started to take off on the highway in the area where they thought they could get out, with all the forces.
And we hadn’t gone too far when this officer came and he told the chap that was helping me out because my right leg was buggered completely, and he was helping me; and I was limping along and the officer said, put him down here. And he had us on the side of the road, so they put me down there and I figured, okay, the jig’s up. He stood behind me and I figured, well, he’s going to put a bullet in my head to get me out of the way. And I says to him, you speak good English, because when he said, put him down here, that was pretty good English coming from a German. And he said, yes, he said, I spent four years at Oxford University in England.
So, and I says, what are you going to do with me? He says, there’s four ambulances coming up behind the troops, he says, I’ll put you in one. So he put in the last one, because I don’t know if there was anybody in the first four or not, but he’s putting me in the last one. And then they progressed through, trying to get through the Gap, the only exit they had. And, of course, the Americans were coming up from the southeast and the British was on the southwest and we’re in, practically in the south too. And then they were closing in on them and they tried to get out through the only gap. And the artillery is covering that, the exit, and, of course, they all came to a complete halt. And I wondered what in the devil was going on because all I could hear was the shells landing up ahead of us; and I opened the door of the ambulance and all the German troops were in the ditch on the right hand side taking cover. And they weren’t paying any attention to me. So I slid down on the ground and crawled to the west side which I knew our troops were there, at least the British would be there, or maybe the Canadians.
And I crawled for about three hours, through hedgerows and so forth, and I came out on a side road with a great big black scout car was in front of me. And I thought, oh God, I’ve gone in circles, I’m right back into the German column again. But then this chap who was in the scout car, he had earphones on and he was speaking; and me coming from the signals, being the communications, the word "over" is the end of your conversation, it’s up to the other party to continue. And I heard, he turned my way and he says, over, and I looked around and I took my helmet off and I waved it at him, like that. So he turned around and he says, who in the hell are you? I says, I’m Corporal Fitzgerald from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. And he says, what in the hell are you doing here? I says, I guess it’s like, I’ve got a lot of explaining to do how I got here, but I says, I’d like to get some help, my legs are buggered up.
Interview date: 19 October 2010