"For instance, if you attack a position, and manage to capture it, it has a positive impact on other troops. Well, then, you can be recommended for something, and you'll get it"
My name is Tony Poulin. I'm a retired Colonel who served mostly with the Royal 22nd Regiment in Italy, Northwest Europe, and later on in Korea. And after that, I spent some time in the Congo during the revolution. I had fifteen months of front-line action. Was wounded a couple of times... lightly, fortunately. And was recommended for DSO - Distinguished Service Order - in Italy. It ended up as a Mention in Dispatch for bravery. And later on, in Korea, I got the Distinguished Service Order again, recommended. This time it stuck.
As you may or may not know, in battle, decorations really are geared on the importance of the success of an action. For instance, if you attack a position, and manage to capture it, it has a positive impact on other troops. Well, then, you can be recommended for something, and you'll get it. But you can knock yourself out, and really perform beyond your best, most hopeful capabilities, and get nothing if the action does not result in something good from our standpoint.
So I'll talk to you today about the attack on the San Martino feature [Battle of San Marino] in Italy on the sixteenth of September, 1944. At that time, the reinforcement situation was very poor. And I had only but fifty-two men left in my company. A company is normally one hundred and twenty five. In action, you don't have much more than eighty-five to ninety men to start with. So what with sickness, malaria, dysentery, casualties caused by the enemy, and so on, you're lucky if you attacked with eighty to eighty-five men. This was the case when CO - the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Allard, later on a General - called me to his observation post, and pointed out to me a little wall. He says: "That's the objective you've got to capture before tonight... before darkness." He was exhausted. He was fed up that he'd being going steady for a long time. And he said: "Look, you'll have a whole regiment of artillery at 24 guns, a troop of tanks - four British tanks, and you'll have all of my machine guns, our mortars, plus those of the brigade - my machine gun company and mortar company. Make your plan, and good luck." That was my send-off. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. Very little time to make a reconnaissance myself. From the map and the confirmant on the ground, go back to my company, brief my platoon commander on the action, and make my plan. Well, somehow I made it anyway.
Darkness came at about nine-thirty at night, and I fixed my start line. Crossed the start line at twenty to eight. Unfortunately, my armoured troop had not shown up, and I'd not been able to brief them. So we attacked anyway without them. I had made plans to have myself boxed in completely. To the flanks, left and right flanks, with mortars and smoke to blind the enemy, plus a very heavy concentration of ten minutes rapid fire - so that's three rounds per gun per minute, on the objective itself, and our machine guns joined in the party.
So at twenty to eight we crossed the start line. Two platoons forward, I'm in the middle, slightly back. When we get to the top of the little elevation, it starts dipping down, and what do I see but an unfinished barbed wire fence about three feet wide by about eighteen inches high. Immediately, the two forward platoons had only one thought: how many anti-personnel mines or booby traps are there in that mine? And the men went to ground. No matter what the platoon commanders tried to do, they could not raise them. They just stuck there. When I got to that point, I could sense the machine gun bullets firing through the smokescreen on sixth line. And I could sense them coming down, a few inches at a time, until they would reach their targets - my men, and the wire. Well, I said to myself: "I've got to get them out of there." So I backed up, took one hell of a leap over the fence, and my boys followed me. And then the two platoon, shamed into doing what I was doing, just got up as one man, and we attacked.
As we went down the slope towards the objective, we heard the rumble of tanks. Our troop of tanks was finally arriving. So I just spotted the Canadian tank commander, jumped on the back of the tank, and told him: "Go right ahead, boy! Shoot for all you're worth!" And he did just that.
It was really funny that during the attack, there were big haystacks burning, the two or three houses on the objective were burning, and one could see shadows floating back and forth, you know. So I saw one shadow come out of a house, burning, and I shot at it with my revolver. Then my ordnance says: "Major, you've just killed a fence post." So anyway (laughing), I went on, so much for that.