"I think they’d built it into the pins of the mortar to make that sound and the demoralizing effect I think. Just to scare people, Moaning Minnie they called it."
There was a little town outside of Caen [Normandy, France] called Bourguébus. I never looked up on the map to see where it is, a little town of Bourguébus. That’s the first place we [15th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery] were in, as an observation post. And didn’t have a clue what was going on and we get in there and then you move around a bit, the enemy can see you. So they start putting a few shells at you, you sure smartened up in a hurry. You didn’t let them see you, if you had to make movement they were going to fire at you.
And we were just observation post, we just had a machine gun with us. We weren’t for battling. That were just observing. And as soon as we saw a target that we can bring our own artillery down onto it, you see. That would break them up pretty bad.
I remember they changed, everybody was learning at the same time, you see, so the order came down, we had to use a target description when we sent the coordinates down for a target, we had to get the target description to get, the higher ups, I guess they figured they knew better whether it was worth the shells they were going to fire on it or not.
So this one morning, I’m looking out to the command post or the observation post and I can see this here, it looks like a haystack that wasn’t there the night before. There was something odd. So we had to get a description of target I sent back, which kind of goofed it up for me anyway. But they said artillery, looks like an enemy artillery gun, camouflaged as a haystack. So I must have been right and they must have known because they just drifted the shells into us right fast, and smashed the building all to hell. We ended up down in the basement and crawled out of there, we were pretty fortunate. I thought it looked different, I don’t know, well not so much it looked normal but it wasn’t there the night before, that I can remember. I couldn’t remember seeing a haystack there and I used to be an observer, so used to pick out them little things: And I said, that doesn’t look right, it wasn’t there last night.
The artillery part coming in is really mean, you know, you can hear it. Not that you hear the guns but the mortars, you could hear mortars coming in. Because I remember the, the Germans had a, I guess it was mostly to scare people, the mortar that made a noise in the air, when it was coming at you, because a mortar was kind of slower than the artillery piece, you see, it was slow. They called it a Moaning Minnie [the German Nebelwerfer], if they heard that,they never forgot it, this mortar’s coming at you, coming in, they were slow enough so that the sound would get ahead of them. Like an artillery piece, you never heard the sound if it hit you because you’d hear it, it would get to you later after the shell. But with this mortar, the sound would come in after, Moaning Minnie. And it was the weirdest sound. I think they’d built it into the pins of the mortar to make that sound and the demoralizing effect I think. Just to scare people, Moaning Minnie they called it.
We were in a building with a second storey and the roof came down so I found an easy chair and lugged that up there somehow. And had that up and you could take a shingle out, like the old tile they used, not shingles but the tile they used for their roof. I took it out and you could observe through that real nice. Well, I figure that was about telling anybody even the signals lad, I said, I’ve got it made, living in a nice easy chair, I can look out there at the enemy and everything’s laid out. It was pretty handy. So the enemy must have heard this or they were listening in on each other’s [communications], must have got in on the …
We used to do most of it [communication] by phone if we could but then a lot of it went by wireless, you see. And they listened in on that. And I see something like that that day and then they must have been listening to it, they blew us right out of there, they shelled us. We were pretty lucky because the shells dropped a little short and hit below us and knocked the flooring out from underneath us, so we went right down into the basement. So we were kind of fortunate that way.
A good story happened, one story I had, you see, and they was firing at us but they dropped just below us, so took all the support out from underneath us and then we just dropped in, down in the basement. But we were pretty fortunate, got away, a couple of guys got wounded but not bad though.
Because I remember I had to go back the next day and go all through that damn rubble to find my rifle. It had just disappeared on me somehow and coming down to the … And at the time, you didn’t have time because they’re going to get shelled more, so we had to get down that line right then. So I noticed that, I found I couldn’t find my rifle, so that was a no-no, you see: You’re not supposed to lose your rifle. So I went back the next day and I searched in the rubble, I found it.
They were short in the gun position, anybody working the stuff out. So when I came back in there, so they got me for in back in there doing that and, because the other guy got wounded. So I ended up there for the rest of the war. This officer and I were just standing outside the, I forget where it was. And anyway, talking about V-E Day or something, they were going to call it –V-E Day, something like that. And one of the chaps from the gun came up and he said, we just fought ourselves out of a job.