Italian phrase book issued to Mr. Lewis to assist in communicating with Italian civilians, September 16, 1943.Ray Lewis
Italian and Allied military currency, vers 1944-45.Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis and a friend the evening they enlisted in the army, Calgary, Alberta, October 22, 1942.Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis and his sister on the morning he enlisted in the army, Calgary, Alberta, October 22, 1942.Ray Lewis
Telegram (dated October 2, 1944) and newspaper clipping related to Mr. Lewis' wound during the Italian Campaign.Ray Lewis
"And then when I was wounded, another fellow took my place, he got killed. Another fellow took his place, he got killed and by that time, I came back."
I tried to join the army on two occasions prior to getting into the army. But I was found out to be too young and rejected of course. And then finally, I got into the army when I was 17, probably with the help of my father, who was the quartermaster sergeant in Calgary. And I think there was a stipulation then they could have people in the army before age 18 as a bugler. And I think that’s what I was supposed to do but it never happened.
When I did get in, I was… it was October . I wouldn’t be 18 until January, so I really didn’t have any place to go. I had no training. They sent me to do no training. I was the orderly room runner which rode a bicycle and posted the daily orders in various messes and those kind of places. And then I think my father must have arranged that I have a driving test, because he knew that I was a truck driver prior to going into the army. And of course, I passed that without any trouble and two weeks later, I was instructing in driving. My first batch of candidates were senior officers. That’s pretty much what I did.
I then took courses at the Ford Motor Company plant in Windsor, Ontario and at Woodstock, Ontario later, prior to going overseas. Aldershot was the holding unit for all troops and I wasn’t there very long, maybe three weeks, and was sent off to Italy, because my qualifications were such that the Westminster Regiment, which was motorized, needed people with those qualifications - driver/mechanic.
But then when I got there, I was in the holding unit for quite a while at Avellino until the Hitler Line. Then I was sent to the regiment on about the 24th of May, right after the Melfa crossing, where my company commander [Major John Keefer Mahony] was awarded the Victoria Cross. Of course, you just went with the flow. I’d never had a rifle in my hand, I’d never fired a rifle, they give me a Bren Gun with the Bren Gun Carrier, so it was usually the commander, who was probably a corporal, then there was a driver and a gunner. And the driver and the gunner kind of changed off from time to time, you know, just I’ll drive today or you’ll drive today and those kinds of things.
So I had to learn to drive a Bren Gun Carrier. But at that time, we had a .30 calibre machine gun mounted on the front of the Bren Gun Carrier and we were… had a PIAT gun, which was an anti-tank weapon, Thompson submachine gun was available. I’d never handled any of these things before, ever. But Italy, which is rugged country but it was so mountainous… It was tough going. The job I had of course, I went to the regiment in May  because the guy who was doing that job had got killed. And then when I was wounded, another fellow took my place, he got killed. Another fellow took his place, he got killed and by that time, I came back and, and did my job. And while I was out, of course, these other two guys - which I learned their name but I never knew them of course - they were killed prior to my coming back.
But we had a veterans' tour of Italy five or six years ago I guess it was. And I visited both of those graves. But after D-Day, then it was a problem. When I got wounded, we weren’t getting any more reinforcement. After being away for two months, I went back to the regiment and one of the wounds was still seeping. I had to change the bandage on it myself. The Fifth Division, which I was in, and the First Division, which was also in Italy, then joined the other Canadian divisions and it was a whole Canadian unit [First Canadian Army] and that’s where we wound up at, in a little town of Delfzijl in northern Holland. About as far north as you can get.
Well the Germans, I think, were using up all the ammunition they had and they had their back to the sea, they had no place to go. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine, Gould, well, he was the same guy that got wounded with the same shell in Italy as I did. And there again in Northwest Europe, he and I had signed up to go to the Pacific war, because we knew the one there was winding down. We were quite a ways north. We went up over where a railroad track was elevated along, and we looked over this railroad track and we could see a German tank, maybe 500 yards away. And just as we looked up, we saw this tank and then we saw a puff of smoke, so we went down immediately, almost at the same time that shell hit just maybe 20 feet away, on the other side of that railroad track. So then we went back and took our name off the list to go to the Pacific.
I was overseas for six weeks less than two years. I was back in Canada before I was 21. And legally, I couldn’t vote and legally, I couldn’t buy liquor. After having been overseas for almost two years.