Veteran Stories:
Harry Saelens

Army

  • Private H. J. Saelens enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces on August 11, 1944, at 19 years of age

  • Harry Saelens in uniform battle dress on the 40th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. Saelens returns to Normandy almost every year for the celebrations.

  • Sale of memorial bricks, with proceeds going to the Juno Beach Museum. Left to Right: Branch 153 Royal Canadian Legion 1st Vice President; Harry Saelens; Branch 153 Royal Canadian.Legion President

  • Canadian flag presentation to Madame Gondree, replacing the flag that she had stolen from outside of her café. June 6, 1992

  • Saelens holding a blood-red poppy on the fields of Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1994

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"I was in what was they called an underage platoon, which meant that the minute you became nineteen, you were on draft and sent overseas"

Transcript

My name is Harry Saelens, and I was a member of the Canadian Infantry Corps, World War Two, which was a replacement unit for overseas service. As I became eighteen, I then enlisted in the Canadian Army active. Did my basic training at Camp Chatham, No. 28 infantry school. And did my advanced training at Canadian Forces Base Ipperwash. We were then moved to Base Petawawa, just north of Ottawa, and I was in what was they called an underage platoon, which meant that the minute you became nineteen, you were on draft and sent overseas. During that time, my basic duties was giving arms and foot drill - this is with rifle, and then marching, and also working on the ranges. Handling 303s [Lee Enflield], rifle, bren gun, sten gun, and throwing grenades.

Because the war ended in Europe on May the 8th, 1945, I had not reached the age of nineteen, but my birthday was in July. So we had a choice of going Pacific, because we were still fighting Japan, or going occupation to Europe. My parents were from Europe, and I had relatives there, so I thought that would be the best way to go. And then I was finally discharged in 1946, and returned to civilian life.

I went to an airshow in Hamilton, and saw a number of air cadets performing there. So I came back to our branch, and talked them into sponsoring an air cadet squadron. We started that in, I believe it was 1977. And I took the job as training officer, and served with the air cadet squadron for eleven years, and the last three years I was a commanding officer. So being that this was a branch of the military, with my army service in World War II and my air cadet service, I was awarded a Canadian Forces Decoration, and discharged at the rank of Captain. Which was a nice to go from a private in World War Two to having the run of the officers mess, and some of the good times that we had in different bases like Borden, Trenton, Avenue Road in Toronto...

It was very sad on my one trip in France to go to a large German cemetary. It was June the 6th, and there was not a soul there. There had been wreaths laid at their monuments, but they had no visitors. Every other place you travel in northern Europe and France, etcetera, June the 6th is still a big day, with many celebrations

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