The Memory Project, Historica Canada
A fellow in the regiment would be pinned down for two or three days in one spot. At night, the shellfire and everything, they had shellfire back and forth, the Germans and the Canadians, and the British, I mean; and they had shellfire back and forth constantly. And at that time, you see, we used to have to, when they were bogged down, we used to take up a thermos of coffee to them. Or you’d take up, when you go up to pick up a wounded, you’d take up some rum. We’d take up a bottle of rum and give some of the boys in the trenches a shot of rum because in the wintertime, you must remember, them guys are laying in mud and water all the time. They didn’t jump in the back of a tank like they did in France and drive 10 miles or walk 10 miles. We never moved. We stayed in a static position for three or four days at a time. And you wouldn’t believe the shellfire that went over during the night. And the daylight in the morning, that’s when they’d have the attack, they’d make another attack. And maybe gone a mile, half a mile, maybe not that sometimes. But Italian warfare was strictly more static conditions than it was in France. In France, they jumped in their tanks and whatnot, and drove 10 miles a day.
Well, after we were in the first battle, very short time, my partner there in the [trench], he lifted up his head to see where he was going and what he was going to do, and a sniper got him right between the eyes. So after that, when we come back to the line, I kitted it on for 14, we went for seven to 14 days at that time; and we come out of the battle back to the rest area where they stopped and you had showers and got your equipment fixed and whatever happened, and you spent your time... Well, during that time, they wanted to know if they had a stretcher bearer. The unit wanted to have a stretcher bearer. So I applied for the job and they sent out me out for two weeks to another holding unit, I don’t know what it was, and I was there for about two weeks. And then they come back to the [4th] Princess Louise Dragoon Guards and we went back into battle as a stretcher bearer. I was a stretcher bearer for a very, very short time; and they were always in demand, stretchers bearers, believe it or not. I applied for the ambulance, the Bren Gun [Universal] carrier [lightly armoured tracked vehicle] driver. So I went away and when we were on leave again, and took a drivers course around the parade square; and the next thing I know, I’m an ambulance driver with a Bren carrier in the lines.
I spent two and a half years going up through Italy; and it’s a different battle, Italy, than it was in France. You never hear too much about Italy because, I guess, well, the reason why was probably we were attached to the British 8th Army, when we went to Italy; and you were reinforcements for the British 8th Army. And they had two divisions, two Canadian divisions in Italy at that time.
We all went up through Italy there at that time; and I went up through as a stretcher bearer which, and I guess the most action I seen really was the action of shellfire mostly. You used to get the odd sniper that would go after you, but when I drove the Bren carrier and had all the Red Cross equipment, actually the opposition very seldom they ever fired upon me. The only time that they really had a firing upon you was at nighttime when they’d hear you going up the lines to pick up one of the wounded. They would send over the tracers or they would send over the mortars of the shellfire. And three quarters of my time on the lines would be under shellfire, I guess. We never really had, on the canals, when we were in the canals bogged down in the wintertime; and they used to just sit there, they were lobbing grenades back and forth to one another. But when the casualties got too heavy, how it came about, I don’t know, but when the casualties got too heavy, we used to go up on the top of the canals and the dikes, and whatnot, and pick up the wounded. Or pick up the dead, whichever it happened to be. The padre used to go along with us; we’d pick up the dead.
Well, in the wintertime, it used to be nothing but rain in Italy. It would be raining for two or three months; every day steady pretty near. And at that time, you would get bogged down. Your Bren carrier would be sitting on its stomach and the tracks going, and you’re going nowhere. So then we switched over and used the donkey cart. So when we up to the lines and when we went along the tops of the canal with the donkey cart, I could see the Germans in both lines. You could see them sitting in their trenches; and they never fired on me hardly at all. I mean, now mind you, they didn’t just give you the big hello treatment, but they looked at you.
And after that then, at nighttime, when you’d go up in the nighttime, with the noise, like I said, then they had the machine gun fire going or they’d send over the mortars quite a little. And many a time at night when you drive the Bren carrier, you’d go up and you’d get lost on the wrong trail. And you’d drive right in and you’d see a German go by on the motorcycle. And it was quite an experience. But during my own time then, it got to the point where they wanted the Canadian army to be together because this was in the beginning of 1945, and, I guess, they figured that the war was pretty near over, so they wanted all the Canadian army to be together. And just loaded us up and we went across to Italy, over to a place called Leghorn [also known as Livorno] and on the trains that was, on the freight cars.
And when we got to Leghorn, they had the big landing craft. They loaded us all on the landing craft and all our equipment; and we landed up in Marseilles, in France. So when I got up to Marseilles, France, we went up into Belgium at that time because the war had pretty well advanced that far at that time; and then the Princess Louise Dragoon Guard that I was in, was an older regiment, see, I was only 17 and a half when I was down there and when they got to the Princess Louise regiment, most of them fellows were in, either 25 or thirties maybe, even some of them may be older than that. But anyway, they were considering them going home. So they sent me back to the holding unit and I went up to the Perth Regiment from Stratford, which happened to be my local district regiment, so I was in the Perth Regiment for a couple of months, and then only in the line once the war ended.
So then in the Perth Regiment, I was a five year man again and they’re getting all ready to get home and I didn’t have enough points to get home. So then I was sent back to the holding unit. When they sent me back to the holding unit in Ghent, Belgium, they transferred up to the Queen’s Own Rifles [of Canada]; and put me in occupation in Germany for a year. I spent a year in Aurich, Germany, with the Queen’s Own’s Rifles; and at that time, we were, oh, I guess, a guard, kind of like a guard regiment and whatnot. We rode the train because they had a lot of trouble, people were looting the trains. But a lot of our job was riding the trains.
Then in 1945, when the war ended, they formed up, they sent me after I spent my year in occupation, I went back to England. I spent about two days in England, and they loaded me on the boat, and I came home.