During those days, people didn’t make a lot of money. I was working for a wood company. I was selling wood from house to house for 50 cents a day. I made 3 dollars per week. I decided to enlist in order to make a little more money and to see the country. We understood each other well. Our camp [for basic training] was in Valcartier [Quebec] and it worked very well together. I arrived there as a reinforcement, the company ["A" Company of Le Régiment de la Chaudière] was resting in Bény-sur-Mer [Normandy, France]. We went down to the landing area. Men were there to get fresh supplies and to change clothes. That’s where I had my first premonitions. It was the war. When you’re young, you are reckless about things. You find whatever. At some points, I was too much casual; I could have been shot down anytime.
Let’s say we were preparing for an attack, we would dare each other, “the first to arrive…”. Things like that. Things that would make us blow up directly. It was the war but we were too young to think. What really affected me was the Scheldt Campaign in Belgium. It was the dirtiest campaign. We were in the mud. It was October-November . The Germans had dug dykes. They wanted to control the region before the Siegfried Line, the untouchable line. They had taken up a defensive position. They had dug basins in order to have flat planes. They called it “polders” in [Dutch]. If they were attacked, it went with the North Sea and the Scheldt Canal. They could flood us out. When we attacked, they flooded everywhere. It was very difficult. We were in the sludge. It was the fall, and it was raining. It wasn’t the same offensive as in France. It wasn’t the same thing at all. There was rain and mud.
We did “house screening” is how we referred to it; we went from house to house like we did in France. There we were in pits and canals because there are three canals in Belgium; the Leopold Canal, the Albert Canal and the Ghent Terneuzen Canal which met up with the North Sea. It was very difficult for the troops. It had been easier with the French, even with the German population. When we entered the German villages, they welcomed us as long as we behaved. French Canadians were warmly welcomed in those countries, in Holland and in Germany.
We could give them soap, “lifesavers” [candy], chocolate or anything else we could purchase when we weren’t on the front line. The Knights of Columbus and Salvation Army were following us. They sold things for not a lot of money. We gave some to the civilians. Holland to Nijmegen. During the month of December , we were replaced by American troops in advanced positions. We were face-to-face with the Germans. We saw that their defensive position wasn’t holding. We took them as prisoners, they weren’t reliable.
We had contact with the prisoners, they were young men. They were about the same age as us. They were happy to be prisoners. They had had enough. They were being pushed by their elders. If they didn’t go to the front line, they could be shot. That’s what I learned. That’s what the prisoners who could speak French told me: “If we didn’t go up front, the elders behind us would have shot us.”
We were in a defensive position, the first on the line. The next morning [May 1945], we learned that the war was over. The reaction was… well, it wasn’t ecstatic. I don’t know how we reacted. We took it like that. The war was over. It wasn’t a delight. We had become accustomed; we didn’t know how to react. Everyone felt the same.