"When you realize, the war’s over and all of a sudden, it happened, it gave you a funny feeling that the war is over, not yesterday, but today it’s over and you’re up on charges of murder."
We were about 35 miles out of Paris and I had a friend with me and equipment, his name was Pichette, from Hull, Quebec. And he kept telling me that in Quebec, all Frenchmen said that you’ve got to see Paris die. So when we were about 35 miles out of Paris, he talked me into hitchhiking to Paris. So we hitchhiked a little bit out of Paris. All traffic was going up the road because all supplies was going up. So anyway, we got as far as a few miles out of Paris and two students, university students, had bicycles, picked us up and took us into Paris. [We] went down to the Notre Dame [de Paris], and from there, we went down the [Avenue des] Champs-Élysées, right up to the Arc de Triomphe there, up and down there on the bicycles.
While we were doing this, it never occurred to me until the last few years that there wasn’t a person, there wasn’t a car; there was no movement on the Champs-Élysées from Arc de Triomphe to the other end. We went up and down there that afternoon on a weekend, not one person, nothing. It was just, I never thought nothing of it until we came home. In other words, the Germans left. They left Paris without any damage and before the Americans came, my friend, Pichette and I were the only two Canadians that landed in Paris before the Americans. We were the only two Canadians on the streets of the Champs-Élysées.
I had another day in Paris and I have a picture to prove it. I was there, I forget who I was with, but I was under the Eiffel Tower and I had a little German camera, which took little pictures; and I was just walking around and I saw a speck in the distance. The speck got bigger and bigger, and bigger and then all of a sudden we realized an American [Republic P-47] Thunderbolt [heavy fighter aircraft] was going to make an attempt to go under the Eiffel Tower.
I took the picture. It’s quite clear, but I ducked. Before he got under the tower, I ducked. I just laid down and I do have the picture. January the first, New Year’s morning, early in the morning, we were woke up by a lot of firing of ammunition. And again this time, an American Thunderbolt came over our field. It was led by a few German Fokkers [fighter aircraft] and they strafed our field, and we lost every plane. This was on, I believe, January, New Year’s morning, January 1945. We lost, we had three wings on there and we lost every plane on the airstrip.
Before that, you know, we used to take care of our planes, we used to hide them. But by the time we got towards Germany, we were so sure of ourselves that we lined them up in nice rows. When the Germans came, they just came down and strafed every plane.
We had the army ack-ack [anti-aircraft regiments] with us, but they put their guns down on the ground level. And when the Germans came low, they had no chance to shoot or they’d shoot ourselves. So we had no protection on that morning, but that’s the way things are. You do things and you find out that, someone else finds out ways and means to get around it.
So that night, everybody was on alert and everybody’s up [on] night watch. And every bush you saw in the, we had a canal by our place, every bush we saw, it seemed to move that night; and we were kind of nervous. We thought the Germans were going to come through that night, but next day, we realized that that was it, that there’s nothing happened that night and word got back, that was it. That was all the ammunition and planes they had left at that time.
The day after the war, some German person was shot, killed, and all the RCAF [Royal Air Force] and army had to line up [for] next few days because the family of the killed person came and examined each one of us, to see if they could find who shot this person. It was difficult to understand from one day to another, you’re out there and a lot of the soldiers you’re killing and this, different groups and firing, whatever you’re doing, when you realize, the war’s over and all of a sudden, it happened, it gave you a funny feeling that the war is over, not yesterday, but today it’s over and you’re up on charges of murder.
There’s certain things you feel when you… When we went through some of the bombed out cities, nothing but ruins. Bulldozers rode through so we can get through and what I noticed was people digging for friends or for relatives, or for something they wanted to get out of their house. And not one of them, they all seemed to want to live. They want to survive, even in all that damage. That’s one thing I seemed to realize. No matter how bad it was, everyone wanted to survive.