Veteran Stories:
Charles Leo Cleary


  • Charles Cleary's service medals (from left to right): Netherlands Thank You Medal, 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM) and War Medal (1939-45).

    Charles Cleary
  • Charles Cleary, Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, September 29, 2010.

    Charles Cleary
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"We went right into action, no training, no nothing. Just get in there and fight, live or die. That was pretty well it."


I joined the coast artillery, 85th Coast [Brigade] Battery [Royal Canadian Artillery] and that was in [what is today] the causeway going to Cape Breton. We had guns up on top of a hill there. So that’s where we went and we trained there. As time went on, we would change. One winter we spent down in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Another winter we spent in Halifax on the coast in artillery. So we stayed there until pretty well the end of the war; and until the [Normandy] invasion come in June [1944] and we were all shipped away to England. England was overloaded with troops, they couldn’t handle anymore. So they held the troops back in different places until the invasion started. So when they got clear for 2,000 of them, they pulled us in and shoved us right over. So we went over and we went right into action in France. That was in June, right after the invasion. Everything was very exciting then. The skies were full of planes and as soon as we landed in France, there was nothing but tanks and troops, and everything else going on. Pretty wild spot, especially England where they were bombing night and day. Well, we [The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders] landed in France and we took over from the troops that were there. They were pretty well beat up. So they were taken out and we were taken in, and we went right into action, no training, no nothing. Just get in there and fight, live or die. That was pretty well it. There was one place in France where, it was called the Falaise Gap; and we had taken in a lot of German prisoners for a day or two there. And anyway, one of the German officers, he had talked to our commander and he said they had a lot of Germans that were wounded, he wanted permission to bring them in, so he was allowed to go back with his troops. Next morning at 3:00, he brought all his troops and tanks in and overrun us. So it didn’t pay off very good. I was taken prisoner and my best friend was killed there. So that’s the way it went. And, of course, the Germans were, I don’t think they knew where they were, anyway they were being chased so bad. Three or four of us, a couple of guys from Ontario and one from Cape Breton, and myself. We carried a dead Jerry [German] out. We told them we were taking him to our first aid post. Of course, as soon as we got out of sight, we let him go, and we come back on our own. We went back in action two days later. We went in in June there; and we went through France, went through Belgium. That winter, we were in Holland and then the next spring, we put the big drive on for Germany, across the Rhine River. And that was pretty wooly. It ended in May [1945], but there were no holdups down there. It was steady fighting right through, from start to end. And then the last day of the war [May 8, 1945], we were fighting in Germany at that time, so we got orders to ceasefire ̶ the war was over. Anyway, we were in an old barn there, holed up, we weren’t allowed to do any more shooting. And the Germans wouldn’t quit, so they kept shooting on us. And they hit this old barn that we were in and that’s where I got hit in the neck. I was wounded there. Finally, we got the Germans to stop the shooting. From there on, we went to the port of Emden, Germany and we were occupation troops there. We took in any boat that was out there that was supposed to surrender. And it would come in to us and surrender. We stayed there for a month. And then after that, we went back to England; somebody else took over from us. When I come home, I was pretty well shook up, you know and more or less sick and shell shocked; and so it took a great while to get over that. So I didn’t enjoy home too much for a while, until I got settled down again.
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