The artillery opened up on them and I was giving them coordinates, so they could hone in on it, but these guys were pretty smart. They looked around and I was the only open… I was in the only place where anybody could be looking.
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I was working for Fairchild Aircraft. They were located in the South Shore, opposite Montreal. And it seemed like every other day; someone would be coming over to shake my hand to say they were leaving. And some were going into the air force, some in the army and various branches of the military. And they all had good reasons for going. They were all excited. We were young in those days, [I was] still a teenager at that point. And I guess after a while, I figured, well, I’d better go too.
I was always interested in mechanical things and I guess the tanks got me excited; and I decided to go into something like that. So I got into the Armoured Corps. So we ended up with the [12th] Manitoba Dragoons [(18th Armoured Car Regiment)]. The next thing you know, they’re marching us onto a tug. I guess it was an oceangoing tug; it was quite large. I can’t remember how many of us were on there. And then we went off to France in that.
So that was all a little exciting because when we got near the shore, you could hear guns going off. That’s when I started to realize, this is for real. And then they put us in, because we were reinforcements, they put us in this little camp; it was right on the coast. This truck came by the camp and some guy yelled my name out and said, "you’ve been requested." And then we drove until we caught up with the regiment; and I replaced the guy who had an accident. As the gunner, all I had inside the turret, there was five of us in the vehicle. There was the driver, co-driver and the gunner and the loader, and the crew commander was our officer for the troop. Twelve people in the troop. But as the gunner, it was the most tiresome job, I think, because all we had was a little fold down bit of a seat. It couldn’t have been more than about 10 inches in diameter. It allowed us to get our heads down at the para-telescopes, so we’d look through; and you know, you couldn’t get relaxed. You couldn’t lean against anything; you couldn’t, like all the gun mechanisms were down on my right and ammunition all around the inside of the turret. So it gave you a lot to think about and so, we were doing reconnaissance most of the time.
The 12 of us, the two [General Motors T-17E1] Staghounds [armoured cars] and one scout car. The scout car generally led the way and our job was to go and find out where the Germans were. Sometimes they didn’t like that. Often we got assigned to forward observation duty. On this particular one, I had to observe a section of the front and I was in a haystack. The haystack was built above an implement shed. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the way they do things over there. They’d have a shed and they’d have another four poles and a bit of a roof, and they filled it up with hay. And I was in there. And I had a pair of binoculars and I’m observing there and then all of a sudden I saw a whole line of self-propelled guns coming across my front. So I got on the field telephone I had there; and I reported it to the infantry, not the infantry, the artillery. And the artillery opened up on them and I was giving them coordinates, so they could hone in on it, but these guys were pretty smart. They looked around and I was the only open… I was in the only place where anybody could be looking. So there was that haystack and then there was a farmer’s house behind it.
So they decided they’d better get rid of me and all of a sudden, they opened up their machine guns first. They were coming through the hay and the house behind me had a tiled roof; and I heard this funny noise. I turned around and all these tiles are shattering behind me. So I decided, I’d better get out of there, and they had a ladder. I guess I was up about maybe 15 feet or so. So I missed the first rung, of course, I was pretty nervous. And I figured, the only way I’m going to survive this thing is to get into this house. So while making that big decision at the bottom of that ladder, they decided to open up on with their artillery from these self-propelled guns. But the shells are landing around me now and I got to the house, and the doors were all locked, so that didn’t stop me for too long. I dove through a window.
And when I got in, I slid across the floor and in front of me was a door. It was open and it was a door into the basement. And I guess there was two, three feet of water in the basement, but I sat on the bottom step. And these guys proceeded to blow the house down. But they shelled and shelled, and shelled it until it was all down. So I just stayed there until there was no more noise and figured, these guys are self-propelled, they’re not going to hang around too long.
So anyway, they eventually, I guess, went and I thought it was safe to go out, so I worked my way through all the pieces of wood and two by fours and whatnot, and got out of there. I was lucky I got out. I was afraid I might be trapped in there, but I was able to work my way through the timbers. I got out on the road. There was nothing happening then, everything was clear. This is dark, dark, by the way; it’s at night by then. I had to find the other 11 guys from our 12 man troop and I found them about a mile down the road.