Veteran Stories:
Francis Ambrose Christian

Army

  • Francis Christian at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 28, 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Francis Christian in artillery dress uniform at Petawawa, Ontario, where he was finishing up training prior to going overseas, 1941.

    Francis Christian
  • Canadian Army Identification card. Francis Christian received this card as he was discharged in Toronto, Ontario in April, 1946; "The date of my birth is incorrect as I lied about my age when I enlisted, I was only 17 years old at the time."

    Francis Christian
  • Francis Christian and his wife Irene in 2007 at Camp Hill Veterans' Hospital, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they both volunteer their time.

    Francis Christian
  • Francis Christian and Her Honour, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Myra Freeman at Province House, Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2005, "The Year of the Veteran."

    Francis Christian
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"There were 44 of us in the building and only four survived. I was shell shocked terribly."

Transcript

If my memory serves me correctly, I left Halifax [Nova Scotia] on the first day of February, 1942, and I arrived back home on the 1 February, 1946, exactly four years out of the harbour and into the harbour. That’s something I was always proud of, I guess. About 20 miles off of Halifax, we were fired on by two torpedoes, which missed us; and the navy sank the sub that did it. That was my first taste of war. I always remember that. The navy had two ships guarding us and they actually sank the sub. I saw the tail end of the sub come up and then go down. You know, it stood straight up in the air and then sank below the waves. That was quite an experience. I served with two infantry units and while I was with the infantry, I had the pleasure of being in the same room with the King and Queen when he presented the colours [honour guard ceremony] to two Canadian regiments. That was King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. I spent close to two hours within 20 feet of Their Majesties, sitting with the major. So I felt pretty good about that. I can remember something too. One of the regiments was The South Saskatchewan Regiment that he presented the colours to, and he stuttered. And every time he said South Saskatchewan, it was a blast. From there, I went to The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders [of Canada]; and then I sustained an injury to my ankle and went back to the placement camp. And then I went to a unit called Headquarters "A" Group. That was the people who, like okay, D-Day had come out and these were the people that looked after replacements for like, casualty replacements. Then I went back and had my foot reevaluated. The doctor gave me a clear go, so I signed up for France. On D [Plus] 18, it was the eighteenth day after D-Day, I went across the [English] Channel to France. We landed at a place called Bernières-sur-Mer. "Bernières by the Sea," I guess they call it. We were there for several days and a British [Medical] unit came in; and they were setting up and our sergeant said, look, go down and help those fellows, he said. So we went down, we started carrying stuff ashore and then finally, I looked down and I realized I had a dozen quarts of five star South African brandy, so I just kept on walking. That caused quite a stir, I’ll tell you. I thought we were going to go to war with Britain. I was the most popular guy in camp, I’ll tell you, for a few days. Well then from there, we marched inland 40 miles and we picked up transportation; and we headed up the coast and I was in on the Battle of Antwerp. By accident, I mean, we were there and the Germans counterattacked, and came back to where we were. And it was kind of scary, but we beat them off and we counteracted their counterattack and that was the last of the Battle of Antwerp. Then we got stationed about eight kilometres out of Antwerp; and we were there for several weeks, doing guard duties and things like that. As a matter of fact, while I was there, this [Brigadeführer] Kurt Meyer [officer in the Waffen-SS], the famous German general they tried for shooting the Canadian prisoners? He was at our detention area while he was waiting to be shipped to Canada to go to Dorchester [Penitentiary]. And the sergeant of the guard said to me, he said, go over to the general, he said, and see if he wants anything to read. He said, we can’t treat him like an animal. So I went over and asked him if he… He says, yes, I speak English. He said, and I read and write it. He said, if you’ve got a couple magazines, I’d appreciate it. And he said, by the way, I enjoy your North American Western stories, he said. If you could bring me a western story, I’d be interested. So I went down and I got him a couple of Liberty magazines and things like that and I picked up a western, it was called, Hang Them High [He Hanged Them High]. I remember that, I remember the name of the story and he thought that was kind of funny when I gave it to him. He said, I like your sense of humour, he said. Gee, he was pretty well facing a death penalty. So he beat the rap anyway. I was drafted to The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. And they gave us some leave, a couple of days, it was a weekend actually down in Antwerp. And when I was down there, I was in the building. It took a direct hit from a V-2 [Vergeltungswaffe 2: long-range ballistic missile] and there were 44 of us in the building and only four survived. I was shell shocked terribly. I lost my hearing for a few days. Like when you get one ton of TNT blows up just like two floors above you, I was on the bottom floor and the bomb hit the top floor. So as a result, I didn’t see any action because I was pretty shook up. They shipped me down to a place called Hoboken in Belgium; and I went back to England, and I stayed there until I came home in 1946, just doing ordinary duties. They couldn’t send me to action, I was out. I was pretty badly shook up. But I was one of the lucky ones that survived. It still gives me problems. When I put my hands up over my face the night when it went bang and I’ve still got the, you can still see the shrapnel under my skin, both hands. I had to handle it myself. But I’ll tell you, as far as the people back here, you were nothing. A veteran was nothing. Half the time, the guys that took your job over when you left, kept the job. You… Veterans couldn’t get, they treated us very badly. It’s only this past ten years that they’ve started to recognize us, really. In my opinion, I thought we were treated very badly after the war. Well, I tell you, it made me think of one thing. You’ve heard a lot of people talk and growl about the Royal Family and all the money it cost us? But I learned this much: if you’ve got a King and a Queen, you’re not going to have a dictator. And if anybody touches Canada, the British Empire’s behind you 100 percent. I learned that much. I’m a monarchist right from the word go. I’ve been to a few countries and saw how things were. When you see women and children eating out of garbage cans and things like that, all because of a dictator, it makes you decide what’s right and wrong.
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