Willam "Boots" Bettridge at the monument to The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, Juno Beach, Normandy, France, 2007.William Bettridge
Sergeant William "Boots" Bettridge, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, circa 1944-45.William Bettridge
William "Boots" Bettridge.William Bettridge
German prisoners of war taken by The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, Juno Beach, June 6, 1944.William Bettridge
Veterans' Memorial Woodcarving, Gage Park, Brampton, Ontario. William "Boots" Bettridge served as the model for the woodcarver, Mr. Jim Menken of Orangeville, Ontario.William Bettridge
"And he says, Boots, get me the hell out of here. Life is so precious, nobody realizes until you face death."
They [the tanks] were to get up to the wall. This was before we landed, just a few minutes before we landed, then they were to jump out of the tank. There was a [Grenade, Hand Anti-Tank No. 74] sticky bomb [anti-tank weapon] they called it, it was a bomb about the size of a coconut you’d buy in a store that had a lining around it that you pulled off and then one guy on each side of the tank ran forward and smacked it against the wall. It would stick there because of this sticky stuff. They had five or six seconds to get back in the tank and get out of the way before those bombs blew up to make a hole for us to get through the wall. But they landed behind us. So the unfortunate part of that is, once we got over the wall, then we had a railway track to get over; and my buddy, Shepherds, hollered at me. He says, Bill, for God’s sakes, wait til them tanks quit firing.
We had an objective to get to on that day and that objective was six miles away. So by the end of the day, and it was getting near dusk by the time we got there, there was a little hamlet called Annisty, ANNISTY [Anisy, France], and we reached that; and we were pretty beat up and tired by that time, and missing quite a few guys. That night that we landed, a friend of mine from Brampton had a rookie with him in his trench; and Frank left his bayonet, which was attached to the end of his rifle, standing up in his trench because you just dug a trench big enough to submerse your head in case any flying bullets won’t hit you.
The German patrol come in that night and this rookie made the fatal mistake in the trench of sitting down, resting. He fired a shot and right away, that gave our position away. And so one of the Germans took a flying leap, he missed and landed on the bayonet that was sticking up on top of this man’s trench. He didn’t kill himself, but he just stuck it into the side of himself, so he wasn’t killed. So Frank took him down to headquarters.
Shepherd and I, we had dug a hole and we had slept all through this. We were so tired. We never knew this had happened until we heard about it the next day. Later on, that man that had his rifle standing up in there, on an attack in Carpiquet Airfield in France, he lost his right arm. His right arm was blown off just at the wrist and I was right behind him, so I was able to rip a shoelace out and tie it around his wrist to stop the bleeding. At that time, we had a doctor in an old German bunker as a sort of a temporary hospital; and he cut the rest off. You go into a state of shock when something like that happens. You know what he says to me? My nickname was Boots; and he says, Boots, get me the hell out of here. Life is so precious, nobody realizes until you face death.
And so we were taught to be strict with the German people but fair. And so we were going down the street with my sniping partner, knocking on doors to see how many soldiers they could put up, because it’s just going to be a day or two stopover then we’d be gone. So my buddy and I come to one door; and we knocked on the door, and no answer. So knocked with my rifle butt real hard; still no answer. So we tried the doorknob and the door was open. I says, Frank, listen, be careful, you watch the right side and I’ll watch the left side because there might be somebody in there. So we went in very carefully and, of course, nothing happened, so we checked this one bed, sort of an empty bedroom. And then we went into another bedroom and I heard a little whimper under the bed. We hadn’t shaved or anything for a week or two. We were dirty looking with guns and pistols, and grenades hanging all over us. I says, Frank, here, I’m taking all this stuff off, you get out of here for a minute, there’s somebody under that bed.
So I thought by making it look like I wasn’t going to at least kill them, because they’re taught that we’re going to rape and kill and all this stuff, the propaganda that they were given, so I got down on my knees and half walked on my knees around to the edge of the bed. This lady, she was probably only a couple years older than me, I guess she never had time to get out with the rest of the people because she was hiding a little girl. I didn’t know that at first until I got around and I put my hands together, and made a sign that we’re not going to hurt you, we just want a place that, the German word for sleeping is schlafen. So I said, we just want to schlafen. Okay, I had a piece of chocolate in my pocket. I broke it in half and gave half to her; and she finally gets up and there’s this little girl sitting there, staring, just scared to death. I guess she was six or seven years old, maybe, something like that. They were so happy that we weren’t going to do all the things that they told [them we would do]. You can see now why she couldn’t get away, she had this little girl.
So she showed us to the spare room, and she’s getting white sheets out. I said, Frank, look, crisp white sheets, we haven’t seen them since we left England, four years ago. So we kind of laughed that off and we were just kind of busying ourselves, getting ready to get into these nice white sheets, even though we didn’t have a bath or anything. There was no water going. All the places, their water lines were blown up. We hear a knock on the door and there’s this little girl with a bouquet of flowers. She had gone out in the yard and picked the flowers, and brought them in and gave them to us. I wished I had have thought of getting their address, it would have been quite a reunion because being eight or ten years younger than me, she might have just been still living and wouldn’t it have been quite a reunion if I’d have met that girl?
Interview date: 29 September 2010