If you stayed out too long, from the front line, it was very hard to go back in. You were better off just going in and out, going in and out all the time.
Transcript / ShowHide
Well, we landed there at Bernières-sur-Mer [France, on D-Day, the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944], if you’ve seen that Juno Beach, there’s a great big, something like a hotel here I guess it would be – it’s still there [known to Canadian soldiers as “the house on the beach”, it is now called Maison de Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada]. And that’s the first thing we saw, that’s what everybody remembered. And another thing is there was a great big old boat that was out just at the water’s edge on the right side of the beach. Half of it was down in the sand. Now, that was a pretty good shelter for a lot of people but you can only get so many in there, we had to start chasing people out to get casualties in there. Those rifle shells wouldn’t penetrate it, it was an old steel boat. And that was the only safety thing we had there, otherwise, everything was all wide open.
We [Mr. Wood served as a medic with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps] weren’t really equipped good enough for the first day. We had come in; it was like everything else, there was all these things that go wrong and somehow or another, they got the main supplies for us didn’t come in until the next day. So we ended up patching things up the best way we could and we were called of course to tear up shirts and make splints out of anything that you had around.
Incidentally, the Canadians that were there were the only volunteer outfit [the only forces involved in D-Day that were not conscripts] that were in at that time and we did get to our position that we were supposed that night, about 8:00. But then we came back to the landing deal, where a lot of these casualties were and helped get them out to the hospital ship that was sitting out in the [English] Channel quite a ways.
We were a little bit better off when we had to go back, about the middle of the afternoon when things quieted down and guys weren’t getting shot up so bad and all that. They sent us and some infantry back just to make sure that the enemy wasn’t sneaking in behind us. And that’s how we ended up back at the beach and saw that they needed a little extra help there. And it wasn’t only me, another one of our first aid men that were helping to get them out on there, there was a lot of private boats coming along with the assault deal from England and they were taking casualties out to the main boat too.
From there on, it was just generally, I was with the North Shore [New Brunswick] Regiment mainly. If they were out and the Chaudières [Le Régiment de la Chaudière] or the Queen’s Own [Rifles of Canada; the three battalions that comprised the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade] were in and they got into a little extra deal and the fellows couldn’t handle it, sometimes they’d ask us, the one from the other one to come and give them a hand. And that wasn’t very good because we didn’t get too much time to rest that way but we didn’t get called that way too often.
If you stayed out too long, from the front line, it was very hard to go back in. You were better off just going in and out, going in and out all the time. You got used to it and it didn’t bother you half as bad as if you got out. As we got farther in along the Scheldt [Estuary, in Belgium and the Netherlands, which the Canadians fought for control of in October and November 1944] and a few of those places there, the Germans cut the dykes loose there and flooded a lot of places out. We got caught in one place for about three days standing in knee-deep water. Of course, it was all barnyard manure and sewer and God knows what else, you know. So we ended up with some kind of boils on our legs and we had to sit in an old barn after that with your feet in a tub of hot water there and keep bathing these darn things for about three or four days to get rid of them. Hell of a mess. There was about 150 of us that got caught in there.
The Germans were hanging on, as we were chasing them out of there, they were hanging on to a lot of women and children. And taking them with them and a hell of a pile of them were pregnant, so we had a lot of darned babies born on the way there in trenches and whatnot. The regular German Army wouldn’t do it but the SS [Schutzstaffel – paramilitaries directly loyal to the Nazi Party]outfit did. Sometimes 600 or 700, 1,000 civilians that they were bringing along with them then.
If we were chasing them out of there and whatnot, well, they had them [the women and children] lined up behind them [as human shields], so we wouldn’t fire on them. I hope we did save a lot of those mothers’ lives and the kids’ lives. A lot of the babies I think didn’t have too much hope because it was pretty cold and that. But once we got them back to the casualty clearing post, then of course they were taken good care of there, you know.