Mr. Charles Zerowel (on right) and his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant McIsaac, look over maps as they wait on board the landing craft that will carry them across the English Channel to the invasion of France in June 1944. Credit: National Archives of Canada/ Neg. no. PA190936National Archives of Canada/ Neg. no. PA190936
Though Mr. Charles Zerowel is not pictured, his battery is on the far left of the station house in Bernières-sur-Mer, France, 1944. Credit: National Archives of Canada/Neg. no. PA128790National Archives of Canada/Neg. no. PA128790
"And we pulled up onto the beach; and we couldn’t go anywhere because there was what we called it a tank trap."
I planned to enlist because my brother enlisted. He enlisted before I did. So I decided I would enlist too, so I went to Winnipeg and enlisted into the army. I really didn’t want to enlist in the other units because I went to the air force first and they told me they could be a gunner and all that stuff. I just told them, I didn’t want to apply, so I just thought maybe I’d go back to the army.
In my military training, the first thing I did, they sent me to [No. 110 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre] Vernon, B.C., to the military camp there. I spent three months there at military training and that was in 1941. And then after the military training, they sent me back to [A4 Canadian Artillery Training Centre] Brandon, Manitoba, to the artillery school. They had an artillery camp there, so this is why I decided that I’d like to stay in the artillery rather than the infantry.
And in the fall of that year, I was sent over to England. Well, we didn’t find out when we were going. We were all just all on parade one day and they said, we’re moving, so they loaded us up into all their vehicles and took us; and then we disembarked at this particular place, and we discovered that we were in isolation.
In other words, we weren’t allowed to go anywhere out of that area, so we figured, well, the time has come, we were getting ready to go overseas. From there, we went to Portsmouth at this particular time and there we were loaded onto our landing craft. And that’s where we stayed until the day that they were told to move out and like we took off. I think we got around noon hour; we landed on the beach on June sixth.
We finally landed. We got on the beach, we hit the beach and we were unloading; and another thing, the major in my unit and his signaler, they were the first to get off the craft and unfortunately, we lost the major and we never did find them. That was our major of the unit that particular day. And we pulled up onto the beach; and we couldn’t go anywhere because there was what we called it a tank trap. There was a big ditch; it was so deep that we couldn’t get off the beach until they had the bulldozer fill this beach so we could get across, across this big tank trap that they had built in there, the Germans.
It was pretty busy because there was all this shelling going on and the noise, and the banging, and the banging; and it was just to go in with a bulldozer there, pushing the sand into this big hole that had to be filled. All we could do was just wait and hope that they get this, so we could get moving out of there. They were firing on us from where they were, you see, from what do you call them... But we were quite lucky. We had a lot of firepower. We had the rockets for shelling that we had. These are rockets that you just push a button and a bank of rockets goes out. And this would handle a lot of, a lot to make them keep their heads down when they got shelled.
And the navy was doing a lot of shelling as well. The first day, we didn’t get in very far. We just got in a very short distance off the beach the first day because we weren’t able to get off at any distance on the first day. But we were actually trying to move up, we were moving up into Caen, which is the city there that we had to go through Caen to get out of there because we were going to go up further. We were slated to take the small airport that was there, outside of Caen.
And we had a lot of trouble there. We lost, on the beaches there, we lost a lot of men. The infantry lost a lot of people. So we had a lot of losses there after we got off the beach.