Veteran Stories:
Joseph Les “Old Indestructible” Wagar

Army

  • Les Wagar with his girlfriend at the time, Phyllis, in 1942.

    Les Wagar
  • Family photo taken in 1942. Mr. Wagar was the only son to serve.

    Les Wagar
  • Pay book, 1942.

    Les Wagar
  • Certificate and accompanying news article, May 26, 1945.
    Les Wagar was awarded a certificate for Outstanding Good Service by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in July of 1944. May 26, 1945, it was included as part of an newsletter article written about Mr. Wagar and his father.

    Les Wagar
  • Les Wagar in Olds, Alberta, at event held by The Memory Project: Stories of the Second World War, June 29, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"However, playing dead isn’t kosher. Playing dead is cowardice."

Transcript

Our attack on the Quesnay Woods, the last part of Operation Totalize, and I had to play dead. When you’re sniped at by tanks, in the middle of a field, with all of the wheat taken off, you’re in a killing zone. They laid a lovely trap for us. (laughs) And as soon as company headquarters came into view, boom, boom, boom. The tanks down in the edge of the forest let us have it. Company headquarters was immediately defunct, finished. And I was not. I was in smoke. I had seen a dirty pair of coveralls come out of the smoke up ahead of me. And I wondered what a dirty pair of coveralls were doing in the middle of a field, in the middle of a field in France. Turned out that a guy in 15 Platoon, they were a platoon ahead of me, he took the one that was meant for me and it blew him apart. I was in the smoke. So I’m in smoke and thinking, gee, now they can’t see me. (laughs) In the meantime, they’re just raking this slope with machine gun fire. So I said, it’s kind of silly, they’re just raking, they’re not shooting at you, just raking the field. So I came out of the smoke and here’s my friend from 15 Platoon, a head and shoulders, no arms, no legs. That’s all there. I started zig-zag, zig-zag. I have to get into the wheat and instead, I’m sitting in this stubble. But my little clock said, you haven’t got, you won’t make it. So I saw a mortar crater over here. Dropped in the mortar crater and I stuck my head up to see where the hell people were. And one of the tanks, you could almost hear what he was saying to... hey, don’t shoot guys, he’s mine. And he dropped it right here, about a yard away, and a smidgen back, okay. Now, when the fire velocity shells cut a wedge like, like this, shrapnel goes this way, doesn’t go that way, so none of the shrapnel hit me. What hit me was the concussion. I went up in the air and down. And he would have seen me go up in the air and down, so I stayed down and played dead. He knew I was dead. Thought I was dead. I wasn’t dead. Nothing happened. However, playing dead isn’t kosher. Playing dead is cowardice. This is how you feel. I was all shook up anyway. I didn’t want to move. I just simply didn’t want to move. I didn’t move out of there until stretcher bearers came up. Stretcher bearers came up. I said, how did you get here? (laughs) But a corporal from 14 Platoon had dropped in on me and I wrapped him up. He had a bullet hole in his lungs. He said, don’t do that or don’t bother with me, take him out, meaning me, because I’d been babbling about this. And when you’re that shook up, you scare yourself. So I went back to the, they told me how to get out. He told me that the two radio men were out and the company commander was out. One dead, the other two wounded, okay. One radio man had his head cut right off. Anyway, so I went over to the ditch, went back to company headquarters and tried to tell them what had gone on. Well, I wasn’t very coherent. They wanted me to come back up again and show them where the bodies were. My God. So I did, scared to hell. It was night by now out in the middle of that damn field. And anyway, we went back during the night, bits and pieces of Able [Company] and Baker [Company] and more of Charlie [Company] and Dog [Company] came dribbling back, and gathered there. In the morning, we started marching back to regroup and get new bodies.
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