Shoulder patch for the 21st Army Group.Charles England
Charles England's pay book. 1943-1945.Charles England
Charles England's paybook.Charles England
Charles England, December, 2010, age 88.Charles England
Charles England, 22, in Belgium.Charles England
"And there was a horror beyond belief and you know, it’s, like it’s terrible when people do this to each other."
Now, what the Germans were doing to the European folks and I guess especially the Jews, I think that was probably what motivated me for one thing. And to know, we had Jewish folks in, in our unit and you know, and that’s a historical mystery why the Jews have always been in the position they are, because they’re just ordinary people and some of our more brilliant people, doctors and scientists, are Jewish folks. So why people are against the Jews, I don’t know. And I think that that’s what stirred me to go over there because it was so completely unfair and so I went.
As I recall, it was basic training was in Peterborough [Ontario]. And then the other training was in Kingston, Ontario. We went overseas from there. The English people, in spite of the fact they had millions of foreign soldiers in the country, they were very very good in Scotland where I spent a lot of my holiday time in Scotland. And they were, Scottish people were superb and I suspect that they appreciated that we were there to help with their misery. And it was a horror place to be with the German raids and then the expected German invasion. So yeah, it was a tough place to be. But they got on with it and so many of them were killed and their homes destroyed and lots of things destroyed.
So we just don’t talk that much about the war and what their experience was because I think, this was my experience, that when I got back from when the war ended and I was finished and I started examining all the staggering unbelievable waste, not just human waste but all the material waste, like and it’s horror and I don’t know if I told you because I think that men, there will always be war as long as men, men really like war.
When we got to England, we were in camp at Farnborough and was what they called a reserve camp. And then our first main function was when we moved to Leatherhead in Surrey in England and we had a radio link to North Africa to Surrey and we would get the radio messages from North Africa in Surrey and then we would teletype [electromechanical typewriter] that onto Canadian Military Headquarters in London. And that was all done in code, yeah.
And so that was, when we got there, we found we didn’t need as many radio operators but we needed teletype operators, so we went to the British post office school in Leeds [England] and that’s where we learned to type and learn the procedures for running the signal office.
Well, we didn’t go over on D-Day [Normandy landings, 6 June 1944], we went over early in July. And a lot of the landing ruckus is over by then and was good accommodation for landing in there. And so then we were just engaged in certain things, operations in France and then we went to Belgium. Then we went up to Holland and then we went back to Belgium in September, we went to Antwerp [Belgium]. And that’s when the Germans were afraid of losing the port of Antwerp so they really tried to destroy all of Antwerp and especially the ports. These people in Belgium had no place to hide, they didn’t have any air raid shelters. You know, like in Britain, you could go down to the underground or they have shelters but in the continent, there were no such things.
So they just had to take it. And there were many incidents where we, where a bomb hit and we dug people out and the houses there were all bricks and when we tried to dismantle houses, the bricks were hot, hot from the explosion. And we saw many mothers carrying their children and they were just blackened with the soot of the bombs and of course, their children were dead. And there was a horror beyond belief and you know, it’s, like it’s terrible when people do this to each other. Terrible, terrible. Yeah.
And Antwerp was very important because as long as that port was open, then we could get, Allies get supplies in to fight the Germans. So therefore, their big effort was to try and make that port inoperative. And the Germans were on both sides of that channel and that’s what the Canadians’ job is to clean the Germans out off those so that the ship things could get into the port. And then incidentally, that was when the Germans broke through in the Ardennes Forest* and the Americans had to stop them. And that’s what they did. Now, the Americans had a signal office in Antwerp but when the Germans broke through, then the Americans left Antwerp and went to fight the Germans and we took over their signal office, even though the bombs were coming, the rockets were coming in, the buzz bombs [German V-1 flying bombs] were coming in. That was our introduction to the war.
Our unit was called line of communication signals. And what we would do is send, wherever we needed, we’d send four or five of our people there and when the Canadian army came up from Italy into France, we send maybe four or five or six guys to each major point on the way up. And I was in Cambrai [France] with four other chaps and that was our job, was to make, keep the communications going.
Well, we got off the ship in Halifax and we got on a train and it was a particularly slow train I think because the important trains, we’d get off on a siding to let the important trains come through. So you know, we didn’t really get any sleep between Halifax and Toronto and I guess that was two days. And we had a little party at home and everybody went home.
*Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944-28 January 1945) major German offensive staved off by Allied armies