I could see the water, then I could see the land and then I could see all the fortifications. And I thought, what in the hell am I doing here?
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I was with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. I was born in Scotland in 1922. I was in an orphanage most of my life. My parents had passed on, so when I left school, I got the opportunity to either join the British navy or come to Canada. I had an uncle in Canada, so I thought it was best to come to Canada. So I came to Canada in 1938 and to Manitoba on a farm; and I worked on the farm for a few years and then, as the war started, I decided I should join up. So I joined up in January 1943.
I joined up in Winnipeg and took my basic training in [No. 103 Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre] Winnipeg and then went to [Camp] Shilo, Manitoba, for the advanced training. At that time, Canadian Parachute Battalion had come from Fort Benning [Georgia] up to train at Shilo, so I decided to join the paratroops. I was with C Company; and C Company’s role on D-Day was we had to go in ahead of the main battalion and secure the drop zone. So we went in about midnight on the sixth of June and C Company flew in [Armstrong Whitworth] Albemarles [medium bombers turned transport aircraft], which is another obsolete British bomber. They would only take 10 paratroopers at a time.
But the idea, I think, was to fool the Germans by coming in in old bombers and dropping paratroops. They were supposed to be 100 of us land in the one place and then go about our job. But with the people shooting at the aircraft, they flew all over the place and there was only 30 of us really got to where we were supposed to be.
Whether we cleared the drop zone or not for the battalion coming in, I don’t know. It was just a complete mish-mash. Nobody seemed to know what they were doing. But actually, we did know what we were doing because we accomplished our mission. Then the battalion came in and we took up our stationary position in the high ground on the east end of the beachhead and, of course, D-Day started that morning and the troops came in by sea.
Of course, being a private, we never really knew the big story, the whole story, like what we were supposed to be doing. You know that after it’s all over, but we got on, our company like I say, went in half an hour ahead of the main forces, so we took off from a different airport in England than the main battalion. But I remember, I was supposed to be first out of our plane and you jump out a hole in the floor, which is about six feet long. Like I said, there was only ten people in that plane and there is windows in the back of Albermarles, so I did see out a little during the trip across the [English] Channel. And you could see all the ships down below.
But once we got into, coming near the coast, of course, our drop zone was quite close to the coast. I had to kneel in the back of the plane on the edge of the hole with my hands on each side, facing up to the pilot and I could see everything. I could see the water, then I could see the land and then I could see all the fortifications. And I thought, what in the hell am I doing here? You know, because we’re coming in about 500 feet, we’re very low, because you never jump high. It’s the only means to getting onto the ground. So we’re coming in at 500 feet, so you could see everything that was happening. But as soon as we were across the gun fortification, it was time to go, so I just pulled my arms in; and you roll headfirst out and you’re gone into the ground. Your chute opens and you land right away, from 500 feet you do.
In wartime, there’s really no good times. We had our good times in England, yes, when you’re not fighting at all, but as soon as you get over to Europe and you start fighting, there is really no good times after that.