Alan Shaw at the Historica-Dominion Institute's office, August 5th, 2010.Historica Canada
Alan Shaw at the Swansea Town Hall, 11 November 2008.Alan Shaw
"You looked like an oddity and you acted like an oddity; and well, we had to act oddly to fit the picture that was in front of us for all those years of war. And we had to. We couldn’t act as civilians in the midst of a battles."
So they dropped us on the shore and our officers were issuing, shouted orders from somewhere in the vicinity; and we followed these orders. We got into positions from which we could be dispatched to various sites on the mainland, within maybe a half a kilometer or less. And we were deployed constantly. The deployment was constantly changing according to the battle: how the battle was going; whether it was going badly; or whether it was going well. And we had to keep moving. We’d only get into an assigned position to be told to prepare to move again and we would move, usually inland.
It was an unfortunate mistake that particular moment in Normandy where the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Forces combined, they thought, to bomb the hell out of the forward German positions and what they had at their disposal by way of information was incorrect. We had possibly moved a kilometre or two southward, taking German territory as we went; and the air force, bomber command in England, apparently did not know that we had moved forward and that we were now in land that was previously, perhaps a couple of days ago, held by the Germans. Well, they bombed the hell out of that land and half of it was occupied by us. And that as a very unfortunate mistake, but it was one of the many mistakes that get made during wartime.
I spent about an hour and a half or more in a slit trench where our own aircraft bombed the hell out of our area, all around me, north, south, east and west of me. I was in the midst of a real deluge of bombs falling on me; and we lost a lot of men unfortunately in that bombing attack by our own aircraft. Friendly fire they called it. Well, when they’re coming down like rain all around you, or even when they’re fired just a single rocket from a fighter jet in the middle of the night, on 10 soldiers holding a position against the enemy, it’s not friendly at all.
Well, it wasn’t easy, I tell you. We had thrown so much of our physical and mental capabilities into wartime over a period of five years and in some, with some of our people almost six years. It wasn’t easy to suddenly detach ourselves from the philosophies of war to the philosophies of civilian life. It was not easy unless we had friends or relatives back here who could arrange something in advance of that nature. But I had no such possibility because my parents were not influential in any way to get me any kind of a job or anything even for starters that might have been for just a few weeks. I had to do this all on my own, bat around from one kind of job to another and a few weeks or months in one job, and then we’d get fed up and we’d transfer somewhere else. We didn’t stay very long in one job for several years, most of us. We were so sort of jittery and we couldn’t calm down easily.
You looked like an oddity and you acted like an oddity; and well, we had to act oddly to fit the picture that was in front of us for all those years of war. And we had to. We couldn’t act as civilians in the midst of a battles. If you can figure that out, well, it wouldn’t happen. So we were all sorts of jitteriness about us and what can we do and so on, what do we know about civilian life? Most of us hadn’t had any consequential job at all before we joined the army. And so we had no background that we could draw upon to enhance our transition to civilian life. It was a tough haul. It wasn’t an easy transition from war to peace.
Interview date: 5 July 2010