Veteran Stories:
James “Jim” Davidson

Army

  • Photo of Jim Davidson, Applewood, July 1985

  • Photo of Jim Davidson at Gravenhurst Cenotaph, Ontario, November 11th, 2009

  • Photo of Jim Davidson, Rome, 1944

  • Citation commemorating Jim Davidson's speech at Applewood, Ontario, July 1985

  • Cartoon depicting Jim Davidson's return to Ortona [Italy] in 1996.

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"Padre East was a wonderful man and he traveled with us all the time. A lot of times, if we were going out to look for dead soldiers, he’d come with us and give them a burial service right there in the field."

Transcript

One thing my dad told me, never take a promotion. He said that, stay on the floor and you’ll stay alive, he used to tell me.

I was in the scout platoon, which was we did scouting ahead of the regiment all the time for the benefit of the companies coming up behind us. You run into the enemy and find them and you have to try to find out what strength they have there and then you shoot up everything because you’ve got all kinds of firepower and get out and come back and tell your commanding officers what we’d run into and what they’re going to expect.

And we went out on burial parties and we knew men were knocked down, we could try to get their bodies back. One of the best friends I had was our padre. Padre East was a wonderful man and he traveled with us all the time. A lot of times, if we were going out to look for dead soldiers, he’d come with us and give them a burial service right there in the field. Because we couldn’t carry them back most of the time.

Well, you had to depend on your buddy with you. If you were sleeping, he was awake and you always had someone on guard, wherever you were. We had to go routine, we’d work for two hours or four hours and then sleep and you definitely leave your, somebody else guarding you. You couldn’t leave the front bare. You had to have someone looking after you all the time. You could never prepare yourself for it, you never knew what was coming so you were just on edge, like I was never so upset in my life and yet, you just have to take it.

One of my best chums was taken out, he went haywire and they had to take him out and send him back to England. But then he wasn’t one, there was thousands of them, like that. But in Ortona [Italy], which this city was badly shot up and after we’d taken it, we had to go back and that was our rest area and they were shelling the daylights out of the place all the time. On Easter Sunday [1944], we had a big church parade because we were out of action and the Germans peppered us with artillery. Our pipe band lost half its members with shellfire hitting us and the church that we had for the big celebration was hit even. And I was lucky I was a Catholic and we went to a different church. But we lost a lot of men that day and they shelled the daylights out of us.

But like with shellfire, you can’t prepare for it because you don’t [know] when it’s coming or where it’s coming or if it’s going to hit you or not. So you just have to realize it’s there and I prayed a lot. I was very nervous.

I had two friends with me right from around Gravenhurst [Ontario] and we were all through the war together. The bunch, we stayed together and went out on patrols together and everything and it was a wonderful feeling to have friends right from my hometown. There was quite a few of us in Gravenhurst and I think 11 altogether and a lot of them, most of them were in the 48th Highlanders [48th Highlanders of Canada], so that was nice. Like one patrol, we lost our whole platoon in the one patrol and three of us, the three I mentioned, got out, got away. And the rest were all taken prisoner or killed.

Our captain of our platoon, took us out on a fighting patrol and we got ambushed and he was killed right leading the attack. And Captain Heinington, and we all took off and got back out, all of us, except him. And then the next day, the colonel said: ‘Go back and get his body and bring it out.’ We went back and we were really ambushed that night so they took 18 of us prisoner or killed and as I say, the three of us got out and got back to the regiment. But that was the worst occasion we had during the whole war.

And then at the end of the war [May, 1945], right just about a week or two left, our [lieutenant-]colonel [Donald A. Mackenzie, DSO] in Holland was killed [on April 11, 1945] and I just happened to be very close to him, he was in a jeep and an 88 gun [German 88mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery] hit him and it killed him and his batman with him. But those were bad examples of what happened. The Hitler Line [a German defensive line] in [central] Italy was like I said, our most famous job and we even got a patrol through the Hitler line and opened it up so that our other regiments got through with us. And Rome fell very shortly after [on June 5, 1944] and we were on the top of the hill overlooking Rome. They wouldn’t let us in, the Americans were allowed to take it, which very sorrowful about. Well, we had to sit there and watch them go through us all dressed up in their smartest uniforms and us in our battle dress. So we had to sit and wait, two days.

Well, it changed my whole outlook on life. Well, I expected I was going to be working in a little factory here in Gravenhurst and eventually have a house and everything and probably get married. And that was all shot to pieces when I come home. The town wasn’t the same at all. You don’t fit right at home. Like nothing’s the same there. My family had all grown up and everything and like I mean, my brothers and sisters, my mother and father and that, you found the distance between you’s that wasn’t there before. That’s a crazy thing to say but you’ve heard it from everyone else, all you could find was the Legion [The Royal Canadian Legion, a veterans organization] because they were the guys you were with and they knew how you felt and you could talk to them.

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