Photo of Charles Guest (on right) and a friend at No. 17 Canadian General Hospital in November 1944.Charles Guest
Private Charles Guest (on left) with his father, WOI Fred Guest, and his brother, F/O Fred Guest.Charles Guest
"A few moments later, he slumped forward and there was a small opening in the back of his head with some skull hanging by a flap of skin, and some grey matter on his tunic."
We [The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada] were sent out on the fighting patrol [on October 5, 1944]. We were in Northern Belgium near a place called Brasschaet, B-R-A-S-S-C-H-A-E-T [Brasschaat], which was; a Belgian Army training ground had been in that area. So there we are; we go out on this fighting patrol, you’re supposed to look for some trouble, I guess, and then try and move the enemy along. Our platoon, that [the patrol] was a whole company strong, that’s a big patrol, as patrols go, and our platoon was about 22 people, normally you’d have 30 something in a platoon, but there was always shortages of people. We were ordered to make a frontal attack on this enemy position; and this was going to be my first time in real action.
The Germans entrenched in a reforested area, where evergreens were planted in neat rows. The trees were about 10 feet tall and you couldn’t see much of anything through the branches, but the Germans could see because they were dug in and they could be looking below the branches. Anyhow, when the sergeant said, "let’s go," I was afraid, but I didn’t hesitate. My training had taught me that much; do what I was told. And I consoled myself with the thought that one was more liable to be wounded than killed. We advanced at a trot across an open space and into the trees, firing our weapons where we thought the Germans might be. I heard something swishing past my ear and glanced back to see the chap beside me was slightly behind and he was firing his machine gun from the hip. I stepped aside to kind of a little bit away from him.
He could see that we were being shot at from all sides, so he was, some of his bullets were going through trees and popping off chips from this side or that, and I could tell that. Somebody started to scream they’d been shot and for some reason, somebody had a tracer bullet in him. Anyhow, our attack faltered and we went to ground. We couldn’t make any headway against all the machine gun fire that we were facing. Germans were concealed, like I still couldn’t see anybody. And our sergeant who was leading the attack - the sergeant and lieutenant took turns leading attacks - Sergeant James Boyle, that’s the only name I remember, [from] Vancouver, was our sergeant. Anyhow, he was about 25 feet away. He called over, "cease fire;" and moments later, I drew my attention to him and he slumped forward just after he said that. And, this is really dumb, I called over, "Sarge, are you dead?" ̶ stupid question that embarrasses me to this day. I mean, what answer could he possibly give if he was dead?
Anyhow, he raised his head and looked at me with scorn, as if to say, "what sort of nincompoops are they sending me for reinforcements?" However, I did notice there was a pink hole between his eyes and he crawled away and it turned out he soon died. He’s buried along with seven others of the platoon in Bergen op Zoom [Canadian War Cemetery] in Holland, which wasn’t too far from where we were at the time. And a few moments after my embarrassing question to the sergeant, I felt a tremendous blow at my left side, accompanied by a loud bang. It felt as though I’d been slammed with a railway spiking hammer, and that’s kind of interesting to me. It’s not just any old sledge hammer; it was a smooth, long-pointed sledgehammer that they use for laying railway rails.
Kind of interesting how you think in words rather than, I don’t know how else, how thoughts work in people. And I was flung in the air from the blow and I did a 360 roll in the air horizontally. I remember looking up and saw a puff of smoke right beside me; and I could see the blue sky and a few white clouds, and up through the green treetops. I can remember noting that as I went by. By all accounts, I’d been hit by an exploding bullet of some sort. I landed about two feet from my rifle. Ever the little soldier, I tried to retrieve it and as soon as I moved my arm or, which had barely moved at all, I could hear the bones grinding. I could feel blood gushing down my side. I said to myself, that’s near your heart, you will bleed to death within a minute. And I was okay with that; and I said, well, to myself, that’s the way it goes. I was quite calm about all that and said to myself, you had better pray. And then I said, no, you don’t believe, and if there is a God, you aren’t going to suckhole [be sycophantic] now. And I’ve been an atheist ever since.
And then the next thing that happened since I got here (this has all happened pretty quickly). There was a sizzling sound and my hair was on fire. And I tried to get my water bottle to douse the flame, well, fire, I couldn’t see anything, it was over my head, of course. I called for help. And one of the few uninjured fellows crawled over and poured water on my head, and put my little fire out. And then he tried to put a dressing on the wound. But the hole was too large for the field dressing that every soldier carries for his own use. They were about four inches by six inches, and they fold out, I guess, but he couldn’t cover the wound with the field dressing. So he gave up on that and it injured my shoulder blade and my muscle was blown away so, I guess, it was a pretty ugly looking mess. And I wasn’t in any pain. I don’t remember anything being painful.
He gave up and said he thought I was a goner. He asked me for my mother’s address and said he would write and tell her that I didn’t suffer. A few moments later, he slumped forward and there was a small opening in the back of his head with some skull hanging by a flap of skin, and some grey matter on his tunic.
We were in sight of some marksman, so I put my face in the dirt and tried to make myself small.
My war was over.