"So anyway, Monte Cassino was right up above us and holy cotton, they were peppering us with, I don’t know what kind of, what, they weren’t big guns but they would come down and land, bury in the soil."
It was just after Dunkirk [evacuation of Allied soldiers from French port town of Dunkirk, 26 May to 3 June 1940] and all that business and I thought, well, maybe it’s about time I signed up. An officer came from Camp Borden [training facility in Ontario during the Second World War], recruiting people for the Fifth Canadian Armoured Division, signals, and he recruited me along with a lot of others. So we ended up in Camp Borden in early August 1941.
It wasn’t bad there. The trouble is, you eat a lot of sandwiches at Camp Borden. And I don’t know if you know, Camp Borden, it was a sand hole I think and every time the wind blew, you got it in the food and everything else.
We went over on a Polish ship, it wasn’t that big but anyway, this was in November 1941 and when we were on the way over, we ran into some pretty rough weather and we certainly felt it there. A lot of the fellows were seasick most of the way over. I wasn’t but I felt sorry for the certainly men had been picked out as anti-aircraft and they were given a Bren machine gun [infantry machine gun] and they had to be way up on the upper part of the ship. And the rain and everything, oh, it was a miserable job, I’m glad I didn’t land that job. But we got over I think about eight days going across and then we landed in Gourock in Scotland and went by train down to Aldershot [England, garrison where Canadians soldiers were housed], which is where everybody ends up I think.
And then I was sent to the Westminster Regiment there. It’s now the Royal Westminster Regiment from New Westminster, B.C., because we were attached out. We were signals between the regiment and division. So that’s why they were sent out and we had to look after all their radios and things like that, anything communication was our job. So they were a good bunch and I enjoyed it out there.
Our company commander, Major Douglas, he was an old schoolteacher and I think he knew half the Westminster Regiment boys that were in his school at one time or another. So he said to, he was giving us a bit of a lecture about something and a fellow by the name of Tim Lock, he said, “Are you talking Tim Lock?” “No sir.” “You’ve got some affliction that makes your mouth open and close. In other words, keep your so and so mouths closed when I’m talking then. You were in the, your father was in the army and he said, you should know better.” And Gunn was this chap’s name, he was quite a character. So he told us after, he says, “My father was in the German army but you don’t see me goose stepping.”
We were out one night in the dark, driving along this road and all of a sudden, I could hear this grinding thing and he put us right into the wall of a house. And I had all these batteries in the back and of course, everything upset and oh, it was a mess. So a chap that was in the, he said, “Oh, you had Crash Keys”, that’s what he was known as. The fighting platoons went ahead and we were in the first outfit behind them. And so we set up what they called the echelon and maybe we’d have to go and fix radios up at the front or they would bring them back to us. And so that was the way they worked all through the war.
And so anyway, we got to the first night we were parked in just kind of an orchard of some kind, I don’t know if it was an olive orchard or what it was, it was early, it was May. So anyway, Monte Cassino [Italy, hill outside village of Cassino, location of 4 major battles between the Allies and the Germans between 17 January to 18 May 1944] was right up above us and holy cotton, they were peppering us with, I don’t know what kind of, what, they weren’t big guns but they would come down and land, bury in the soil. But we didn’t lose too many people there at that time but there are all these things coming over all the time and oh, it was kind of eerie for a while.
Anyway, I used to walk through the Menin Gate [Ypres, Belgium, dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I who have no known grave], have you seen pictures of that? Every day I went through there and all through the war, I guess every Saturday, they did the Last Post and the Reveille with a Belgium gendarme joined it. That wasn’t an army man. But Ypres [Belgium] was a nice town and Hoge [Belgium] was the town beside it and they were all big boarding houses. We were up in about the third flood on one of them. But anyway, I was, where we kept all our signal stuff was about a mile away from the company headquarters where we got our meals and whatnot, so somebody had to stay there at dinnertime and then come back after and get their meal. So I stayed there and then I came back and while I was in the mess hall, have you heard about those snake raiders planes that used to come in at sea level in England and you see they’d come in on the Channel and go up the streets. But apparently, the whole company was out on the street, lined up ready to get their details for the afternoon. And I was in having my lunch. So I didn’t really know what went on but apparently, it missed our street, it went up the one beside it but boy, there would be about 150 men out there if they’d come up that street and there’d be a lot of them. So apparently everyone was scooting under vehicles and everything else.