We found that, in most cases, if you used flame properly, we saved lives.
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I had an interesting war. I think I did some good with flame, teaching people how to use it because we found that when we used flamethrowers properly, it caused the Germans to immediately give up. We just didn’t find many burned Germans because as soon as the first flash of our flamethrowers were used, the people used it, they’d come out of their place and quit firing.
I have one little story about a sergeant of a Canadian unit; and he was in a Flamethrower Carrier [Wasp Bren Gun Carrier], and he was going across the [Leopold] Canal. And there was an 88 [mm German Anti-Tank Gun] across the way, you know that would have blown that little Wasp Flamethrower into kingdom come. And he pressed the trigger and all they got was the little shot of gasoline and a little fire, but all the people on the other side come out with their arms up and he was pretty near dead scared. But we found that, in most cases, if you used flame properly, we saved lives. And I think that if I have any credit for what I did in World War II, was I taught a lot of people how to use it.
It [the Wasp] was a Bren Gun [Universal] Carrier [lightly armoured tracked vehicle] and we mounted this thing: it had a tank at the back and the flame fuel was pressurized with carbon dioxide, pushed it through a heater, then on the carrier, and then went to the gun. So when you pressed the trigger, you got a spark, a shot of gasoline and then the fuel came. So the gasoline was on fire and went right along the rod of fuel, up to 150 yards. And then when it hit, it was, there was flame everywhere. Most times, if the crew got the enemies’ heads down by lots of fire, mortars and machine guns, so this tender little carrier could get close. And when it got within say about 100 yards, you’d press the trigger, whoosh and everything quit. Out they came.
It’s a great weapon and we couldn’t get a lot of commanders to use it, because they thought, oh, it’s not a means [for] anything. But the units that did, and I have one special one, the Régiment de Maisonneuve. I spent quite a bit of time with them and, at the end of the war, they held a special mess dinner for myself; and my crew were well treated too by their other ranks. This unit had been so effective that in the last stages of the war, the last five weeks, when we lost a lot of Canadian lads, this unit had hardly any deaths because they used flame every day; and they just had the enemy coming out, and not firing back. It was wonderful.
My mom wrote hundreds of letters. She wrote my dad four times a week and we were in a small town, or she was, and the trains only went twice a week, but there was a merchant that went into Swift Current [Saskatchewan] twice a week. And he also carried letters. And for Gordon [Bannerman - who served in the 17th Field Regiment, RCA] and I, the two sons, we would get two [letters] a week. And then my mother knit hundreds of pairs of socks for the navy guys and always put her name in it; and when any boy wrote back and said thank you, they were automatically on her list. Her idea of writing a letter was a big pad of paper like this and no paragraphs, nothing, just write, turn it over, just write and send it. And so she used more stamps than anybody else in our little village [Neville] in Saskatchewan.
I was working with the Régiment de Maisonneuve; and we were sitting down, a whole bunch of us, you know, I was sitting next to a buck private from the Régiment de Maisonneuve. They took a very great pride and they learned to speak English, because they were a French-speaking unit. A very fine unit at the end of the war. And I was reading a letter from my mom and this soldier next to me said, "is that a letter from your mom?" And I said, "yes." I said, "would you like to read it?" "Oh, yes." And when he read it, he was crying at the end of it; and he’d been joined up against the wills of the people of Quebec, religious I think. And here he was, all I had to do was ask for his regimental number, and I knew his unit, and we would have got, my mother would have written him in a minute. And this stupid old man didn’t do it. I’ve never forgiven myself for that. And I cannot, because I feel my mother was so good to us and to many navy boys with knitted socks. If they wrote back, she always answered and wrote them. So when the war was over, because they’d gone to the coast, there was dozens of those lads came and visited my mom. She was a great mom.