Monty Marsden (aged 16) in Orillia, Ontario, 1941.Monty Marsden
Monty Marsden, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, waiting for a train while on leave in England, October 1945.Monty Marsden
An unidentified paratrooper of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion greets Soviet soldiers at Wismar, Germany, May 2, 1945.Library and Archives Canada
Paratroopers and gliders landing during Operation Varsity, March 24, 1945.Canada, Department of National Defence
Monty Marsden in Chilliwack, British Columbia, October 19, 2010.Historica Canada
"This British medic come along. He said: "How are you feeling, Canada?" I said: "Not too good." So he gave me another shot"
My name is Lambert Marsden, they call me Monty. And the unit I was with was the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion with the 6th [British]Airborne Division [United Kingdom]. So I was finally called up and actually joined the army on 26th of January, 1944. Thereafter, they sent me to Brantford, Ontario, basic training centre, from Toronto. I did my training there and they asked for volunteers for the paratroops. I think there was maybe a hundred of us volunteered and they selected thirty to go to Fort Osborne [Barracks], Winnipeg, for further assessment, psychiatric, psychological, health wise.
And from there, there was, out of the thirty, there was twelve of us [who] made it, to proceed to Camp Shilo [Manitoba], the Parachute Training School. Of the twelve of us, six of us made it, with qualifying as paratroopers after. Much rigorous training. In March 24th , we flew from England to Brussels and we met up [in the air, over Belgium] with another 17th Airborne Division [United States] [as part of the airborne operation codenamed Varsity on March 24, 1945]. So we flew in tandem to a place called Reese and Wesel, Germany. That’s where our drop zone was.
Prior to that, the drops had been in nighttime but this time, it was broad daylight. And we were with a reception committee waiting for us. And as we were nearing the drop zone, coming over the Rhine, our plane started to buffet because we were under flak [anti-aircraft] fire. And we were at 500 feet and the explosions were happening and we were just rocking and rolling with the airplane, this way and that way. And when it came time to jump, there was 20 men in our aircraft and I think I was on the 14th [rank, in the jump line-up]. And we got all the commands to stand up, hook up and stand at the door. And when it was my turn to leave, the second man in front of me fell. I don’t know if he tripped or got shot because there was flak hitting all over, but I never knew if he had died or they come around again and dropped him. To this day, I don’t know what happened to him.
So we got out in this 500 feet above the sea level and lots of gunfire. You could hear the bullets snapping around you but from 500 feet, it didn’t take too long to, maybe four or five seconds, to reach the ground because I think you’d drop maybe 120 feet before your [para]chute opened. So might have had 350 feet to survey the area where you had prepared for landing. And I landed in what they called the "drop zone" and I knew that gliders are coming in shortly after, ten minutes after we had. And I was running across the field and I got shot in my thigh and [the bullet] knocked me maybe 20 feet. It didn’t hurt. Complete shock set in. There was a shell hole there I crawled into and we carried what they called five ampoules of morphine and you broke the glass tip off, give yourself a shot through your uniform. And maybe about ten minutes and then this British medic come along. He said: "How are you feeling, Canada?" I said: "Not too good." So he gave me another shot, in about ten minutes. So I was kind of out of it, spaced out, yeah.
But up to then, I knew the gliders were coming in. I said: "God Monty, you’re going to be hamburger." One of those wheels come over where I was, I could see him line up. I don’t know if they, to this day, whether the pilot saw me and veered off a bit but the wings passed over me, the wing. And he crashed into the corner of the forest about 100 feet from me. But there was no survivors. Him and the copilot were dead on. But maybe about ten minutes after that, the mortars are firing and they zeroed on this glider that came over me. And I didn’t know at the time, it was full of ammunition, that was like the 24th of May [Victoria Day fireworks], just keep your head down.
Shortly after that, I was picked up by stretcher bearers. I must say, the stretcher bearers were, I still really admire them for their work. They were a group of British medics in our unit that were conscientious objectors. And they didn’t carry any weapons, nothing. They took their training, jump training, and jumped in. And did their medical tasks.
Interview date: 19 October 2010