We were # 2 Canadian Concentration Unit and we had to go out in the field and find all the isolated graves and remove them to the permanent cemeteries.
Whitby Commons, the # 2 Canadian Graves Concentration Unit was formed up to go over to look after filling up the military cemetery. I was there from May until the 13th of July. We had four vehicles and only 12 people. It was a complete unit and we had two officers, two sergeants, two cooks, two drivers, two corporals, two general duty men. It was all we had, and it was 12 people and four vehicles.
And we were boarded a liberty ship called the Empire Plowman and at 5:00. And we set sail that night at 9:00 on the 14th of July. But we never got to the beach head ‘til 9:00 on the 18th of July and we had to stay off anchor because of the tide. And then we disembarked on the 19th of July and we had to go to a marshaling area near Banville, Calvados, France.
Well, we were there one day and then they moved us to Bernières-sur-Mer, a small village near there. We could see the English Channel from it and we moved to Bernières-sur-Mer the 19th of July, 1944.
When we started our work, we first had a temporary cemetery and employed French civilians but they were not satisfied. Whether they didn’t like the work or what, I don’t know, but anyway, they were getting paid and given food as well. But they were complaining all the time that they didn’t have enough food and they didn’t get paid well enough.
We eliminated the French civilians and we went with the POW camp, which was outside of Caen a ways. And so we started to draw POWs to do the work of exhuming the graves and going to cemetery and putting them in the plots and that.
One group from the POW camp that was SS troops, took them out in the field but they refused to do the work and we brought them back to camp to do some clean-up, where we were billeted in Cormeilles. Took them back and we never had them. But we eventually had a group of POWs, we had the same 10 every day unless we needed more. Like if there was two units out doing the exhumation, we had to get another 10. There was another group that we kept all the time so when we were going to move from Cormeilles to split the unit and half was going to Calais and half was going up to..... The Germans, the POWs wanted to go with us. They were ones that were just kids after the First World War.
We would have to go out with a crew and go to the map reference, Dieppe, whatever was there available, whether it was one or two or more graves, like now. We opened one gravesite right at the beach head that had 300 bodies in it.
And there was times when the map reference wasn’t right and there was a lot of time spent looking for the grave. And then sometimes, there would be a cross on there, it might not be a Canadian, it might be a German or it might be even a British soldier that had been attached to a Canadian army force. In the beach head area, we had a British hospital unit that handled the casualties and we went there to get one Canadian soldier. The crew didn’t find the Canadian body’s dog tags until after they came to the 23rd grave they dug up.
We were such a small group and we were isolated. We were under the British war graves commission. We had contact with the British echelon and the Canadian echelon. But we were actually all on our own. We were a group from all across Canada. We were just like a big family and …