Veteran Stories:
John Herbert Robotham

Army

  • John Robotham, 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • John Robotham in March,1945, just before crosing the Rhine.

    John Robotham
  • Acting Lance Corporal John Robotham, Dispatch Rider, 8th Brigade, 3rd Division Petrol Service Corp.

    John Robotham
  • The notice John Robotham received of Germany's surrender. May, 1945.

    Johnn Robotham
  • Third Division Petrol Corp in front of the parliament building in Victoria, British Columbia, 1940, before being sent to Camp Borden for training. John Robotham is in the third row from the bottom, sixth person from the right.

    John Robotham
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"And that’s the way it was with the army, you had to find somebody close to you. You couldn’t be on your own. You had to be in close contact and make sure he’s all right and he makes sure that you’re all right,"

Transcript

Anybody who said they weren’t scared, well, they weren’t telling the truth. I was scared. I was scared all the time. You had to be scared. That’s why you kept alive. As you were scared, you made sure you were doing the right thing.

We were supply, ammunition and petrol supply we might call it. He was a truck driver. He drove a truck and, of course we were together, like, because I had the motorcycle; and we were, it was outside of Caen, at the Caen battle, it was getting pretty bad and he got killed there. And another fellow that was a good friend was, his name was LaDeroute [Mr. Robotham’s recollection]. He was a French boy, he lost an arm. And Sergeant Williamson and myself put bandages on him to stop the bleeding and got him into first aid, and he lived.

Well, I was alongside of him, but like the trucks were all around there; and we were just sitting there waiting for orders, you know what I mean, and then we got shelled. No, he had a direct hit. There was nothing that... He’d just got in. He’d just climbed into the truck and the shell hit right into the cab, blew the truck up and him. The shrapnel got this guy even alongside him in his truck and took his, I think it was left arm, I think it was, he lost. Because he said he still, we went to see him, he said he still could wiggle his fingers. This is something you’ve got to get used to.

We weren’t very happy, of course. We seen it. And when you know you lost it, I was very, very upset two or three days because I relied on him, I had to find another buddy then. You always, everybody had a buddy. One that you looked after him and he looked after you sort of thing. Or there might be three of us. And that’s the way it was with the army, you had to find somebody close to you. You couldn’t be on your own. You had to be in close contact and make sure he’s all right and he makes sure that you’re all right, and stuff like that. That’s the way we worked in ours. The infantry, I don’t know, they were different than us because their rate of death was, of course, an awful lot higher than ours, an awful lot higher because they were, of course, they were in the front of it.

We also fed the Dutch people too. We took loads of bread and coal, and stuff like that. I know one day there, we had a load of coal we were taking, I don’t know what town it was, but we were going along and the kids were running after us. We were going slow. So we were throwing pieces of coal to them and they thought that was great. And bread too and then they’d load their truck. They’d just load their truck up with bread. Then they’d take it into the square. I guess it was to be the mayor or whatever it is that distributed it to them, but they were starving. It was terrible. And that was the worst place for the Dutch, being hungry.

We stayed in one farmhouse. Well, we went to this farmhouse because that was the only place we could get heat when we weren’t doing any work. We used to smuggle coffee to them; and one old fellow there, he was cold and I give him my cardigan. I didn’t need it anyway. And so we used to go in there just to keep warm. And they were really good to us, but the men were in bed. They were so weak that a lot of them had been in there weeks because they were feeding the children and the wives. And this place we were at anyway, it was terrible in some places there.

So it got so that we didn’t want to go there anymore because it was too… We never had anything like that. Our food wasn’t posh or anything, but we always had food. And when I was on dispatch, I’d load up with bully beef [canned beef] and then they had cocoa or coffee, and that. It had cordite [smokeless explosive powder] through it and you struck it, and it heated the fluid up. And we had the hard tack [dry, hard biscuits] stuff because that didn’t go mouldy. Bread would go mouldy quick, so we had hard tack and put them in our saddle bags. Especially if we were out, maybe out for a day or two days, just depends where you went. So that was it, that was the party.

Interview date: 19 October 2010

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