Veteran Stories:
Mike Hawryliw

Army

  • Colour photo of the Department of National Defence plaque at the Experimental Station, Suffield, Alberta.

    Mike Hawryliw
  • Department of National Defence Certificate of Appreciation presented to Mike Hawryliw who served as a test subject in the Experimental Station, Suffield, Alberta during the Second World War. Presented to Mr. Hawryliw in 2003 with $24,000 compensation.

    Mike Hawryliw
  • Photo of Mike Hawryliw in uniform with armoured corps beret at age 20, circa 1942.

    Mike Hawryliw
  • Framed Medals. From Left to Right: France and Germany Star; 1939-1945 Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; 1939 - 1945 War Medal. Several Legion pins and awards.

    Mike Hawryliw
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"I was in Suffield under those gas experiments. And the other guys looked at him and they said, ah, you’re full of it, you know. You’re just saying that. So after that, I kept my mouth shut."

Transcript

Haryliw, HAWRYLIW. It’s an old Ukranian name. We had the First World War, veterans living around and they had a hard time because the enemy used chemical gas. We lived in Riversdale and our mailman, you could hear him puffing and huffing down the street. And I always thought there was somebody chasing him. And when he’d come to our door with the mail, I went to meet him and I said, how come you’re running and puffing like that, nobody chasing you? Well, he said, I got gassed in the war. And therefore, I can’t breathe. So in the Second War, when I wore hardware equipment was protection from gas. So we were given gas masks. Now, when this Suffield thing come up, I wanted to know more about gas. When I joined, I was waiting to go to training and it wasn’t coming and one morning, the officer asked, they wanted volunteers to go for this gas experiment. Somebody said, is it dangerous? And well, he said, yes, they usually come back in good shape. So I said, okay. There was 15 of us volunteered to go in that group. But they were fair about it. They asked you to volunteer to go, and then they warned us that just before the departure to Suffield, you can back out. But one guy backed out and one didn’t pass the medical. He passed to go into the army but not to Suffield. But in Suffield, it’s the same thing. Whenever an experiment came along, they would ask volunteers and they always said, you can always back out, back out at the last minute. Which sounded fair. They put dabs of gas on your arm through a thickness of a uniform. And then they said, well, okay, you’ll go to bed tonight, you’re going to find it’s going to itch but don’t scratch it. And gee, by morning, there was a blister there, big as a 50 cent piece. So we had to report to the hospital in the morning. And then part of the experiment was not only to create a blister, but how to treat it. And they had a lab there that perfected ointments to treat that. So in time, blister went down. I don’t think you’d see any, I couldn’t see it more than this. But for years, there was a little mark where the blister was. And then there was other experiments. They would have a shell, a gas shell blow and we would be standing there with our masks on, a rabbit in a cage, facing that way and a goat in the pit, facing that way. He would blow the whistle and we would jump up. You could hear the shell going ahead and the wind would blow the vapour. We also heard that some of the animals died on the way back to camp because they had no masks, but we did. That was something good to know, because in the future, I would have to depend on that mask. Oh, right at Suffield. We were 30 or 50 mile out of Medicine Hat in the hills. It was very enclosed. All there was was brush and tall grass. And keep the public out, you know. There would be no money involved other than our $1.30 a day army pay. They told us, no money, but we would get two days for every week we were there. So as a result, I got 10 days leave and two days traveling time. And they also warned us or not warned us, but thank you for your service here, but I’ll ask you, when you walk out of these gates, say nothing to anyone, what happened or what you’ve seen and keep it a secret. So I took this kind of serious. I never told my family and I don’t know if some of the others did or not, that was their business. Talking about food, when we volunteered to go to Suffield, well, in the regular army camps, breakfast time, you got a little bit of porridge and coffee. But at Suffield, boy, you sat at the table and you had packaged cereals, tea, coffee or milk, you know, real food. Boy, isn’t this nice, eh? And somebody else piped up and said, yeah, but look here in Suffield, they’re feeding you good because tomorrow, you may not be here. But they treated us good, we fed good . We did get $24,000, got a letter and in it was a cheque for $24,000 for the service at Suffield. And since then, the DVA [Department of Veterans Affairs] in their, DVA in their paper, have put out a notice that seeing as how some of the participants in Suffield didn’t tell their family that they had been there, like I didn’t, because my, our family didn’t know, I kept it a secret, what the DVA wanted was families of veterans that had been at Suffield were eligible for that $24,000. So if you do find someone, tell them to go to DVA. If nobody believes you, they’ll tell you a funny story about that. Like we were told, don’t say anything you were there or what happened or anything. So sometime after the wear, sitting at the legion around the beer table and some of the guys were talking about maybe, ah, one guy had a leg off and another guy had this, another guy had that. And one guy piped up and he says, I was in Suffield under those gas experiments. And the other guys looked at him and they said, ah, you’re full of it, you know. You’re just saying that. So after that, I kept my mouth shut.
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