When you were buried, you were buried in your blanket and the cost of the blanket came out of your pay.
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Just so people will have some idea of the thinking that went on in the minds of people, a friend of mine and I went AWOL [Absent Without Official Leave] from Kingston. Made arrangements to meet our wives at Union Station in Toronto; and we hitchhiked from Kingston up to Toronto, had a very slow ride and took a long time. And when we got there, we had about three quarters of an hour to be with our wives and then we had to catch the last train back. But it was all worth it, just to be together.
I was posted out to the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade workshop. It was made up of [Royal] Hamilton Light Infantry, the Essex Scotts [Essex Scottish Regiment] and the Royal Regiment [of Canada], that composed the infantry regiments in the 4th [Canadian Infantry] Brigade. My specialty was repairing guns, of all kinds, and particularly the 25-pounders [field guns], the artillery pieces. Anything from a Bren gun [light machine gun] up to a [BL] 5.5 [inch medium field gun].
We went in D Plus so many days, I can’t remember how many. Short time after, there had been a small beachhead established at Juno. We hadn’t struck very much resistance, somewhat, but not a lot until we got to Caen. And the fighting was very, very heavy there. That was in the summertime and the wheat was ready to be harvested; and we were advancing towards the city and through the wheat fields. A lot of boys got lost there.
The city itself was in rubble. Totally bombed. You couldn’t, you looked at it and you couldn’t tell where the streets were; all the buildings were down. Finally, after quite a long time, we broke out of there and we were late breaking out of there because of the heavy fighting with the German SS [Schutzstaffel: German paramilitary organization] troops and so forth, the experienced guys there defending it.
Our position was to break out and join up with the Americans coming up from the south, to trap a large portion of the German army. Well, it didn’t happen because we were so tied up at Caen. The Germans left a rear guard to hold us up as we moved forward; and they were all situated in an anti-tank ditch [anti-tank defense] that had been dug by slave labour, quite deep, about 10 feet down and then a sheer shoulder up on the other side so the tanks got in and couldn’t get out. But anyway, all these guys were left in there and they all, they all perished, probably all had a small hole in the front of their head and in the back of the head would be all blown out.
Well, they laid there for, in the middle of the hot summer, for at least two weeks before we could get back and bury our dead. Then the guys that were sent back, they used telephone cable or whatever they could get to put on the arm, leg, head, wherever, of these guys that were Germans and some of our own too. But in the anti-tank ditch, it was all Germans. But very often, the head would pull off or the arm, whatever because the body had deteriorated in such a fashion under the heat and so forth.
But when those guys came back, everybody who had been assigned to that, they came back and they were just like shell shocked, they were just … Well, today I suppose they call it post traumatic stress. But eventually, they did pull out of it.
When we first came into France, the fighting was too heavy and there was no time for having a shower or bath really; and finally we got word that our unit was to go to a mobile bath where we would get clean clothes and be deloused, and so forth. You pick up these ground lice from the slit trenches you dug to sleep in, and use your boot for your pillow. Then part of the unit went up to have this bath, shower, and there was a doodlebug [Vergeltungswaffe 1: German flying bomb] landed there. A doodlebug is just a flying bomb, and it landed right on the bath. I had 40 guys in my outfit and 24 of them got it that time. And the next day, I was in charge of a burial party and looked after the guys that were, they were wrapped up in their 1098 blanket. 1098 is just the number for a form. Everything you were issued with was generally called 1098, your rifle and you know, if you had a rifle or whatever, and your blanket. And then when you were buried, you were buried in your blanket and the cost of the blanket came out of your pay.
We finished war on an airfield, abandoned airfield in Holland and eventually you got your turn to come back. And depending on the first ones over, would be the first ones back, in that order. Eventually we got back to Britain and I think we got on, there was no time for leave and Britain just got onto the boat and then I was on the [RMS] Queen E [Queen Elizabeth] coming back. I think I was a bit afraid of ‘civvy street’ [returning to civilian life]. I had been used to giving orders and taking orders; and now I had to get out and get for myself. And I think I was a bit nervous about that, but the farming seemed to be a little bit more relaxed and so forth. So anyway, I decided to farm, bought the farm from my father through the Veterans’ Land Act.
My wife and I were separated for four years, with lots of letters and lots of parcels sent over and all that, but when you got back, she had changed and I had changed. And it was a struggle getting back together. Today, it would have been divorce likely, but then, lack of money or whatever, you stuck together, and had a very wonderful 60 years of marriage. It turned out to be a good life, yeah.