Veteran Stories:
Charlie Barrett

Army

  • Charlie Barrett in uniform

  • A photograph of Charlie Barrett (right) and comrades in the Citadel after attacking Boulogne-sur-Mer on August 18, 1944.

    Charlie Barrett
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"So he figured he got these fellows all in the woods there and he brought down hundreds of shells on, just great clouds of smoke and bits of cars and things go up in the air. And he felt pretty happy about it."

Transcript

On D-Day

Well, I was Staff Captain, so we landed [in Normandy on 6 June, 1944], our brigade was the reserve brigade. So the assault troops had landed just ahead of us. And as the assault brigade, that’s our brigade, landed, our infantry units, two of them landed ahead of us and I landed following them and there was one reserve unit that landed behind us. But of course, when we landed, I did see those bodies of some of our men floating in the water and on the beach but because of what I’d been, [taking part in] the planning stage, I kind of just accepted it as normal, I didn’t sort of freak out at all, I just thought, well, this is normal, guys get killed in a war.

Being wounded further inland after D-Day

While I was up there, I got wedged in with a bunch of tanks that had come under heavy mortar fire and I saw the tank commander in front of me jump out and run for a big hole, I think it was probably a big shell hole I think from one of the heavy naval guns. And he jumped down and then decided I’d better jump down. And my liaison officer did too and then there were a few other people. And I felt decidedly claustrophobic in the hole. And my brigadier said, would somebody get up there and see where this is coming from. So I gladly jumped up on the top, up on the open and walked forward up to the crest of the hill. At that moment, a mortar bomb landed right at my heels and it just was the luck of, again, the great luck that the shrapnel, which would be enough to wipe out a whole platoon, I only got a little piece. And so I went back and that to England and went to hospital, several hospitals and then I was released from hospital and given a leave to go out before I went back.

His experiences in the Falaise Pocket

Well, the thing that leaves the biggest impression in my mind was the, what probably the Tiffy [a nickname for the Hawker Typhoon aircraft] bombers had done [at Falaise, where German Army Group B was encircled and largely destroyed in August, 1944]. And they just would come down, a German convoy trying to escape and they just wiped the whole works out. And here were the remains of burnt out trucks and bodies and the Germans used horses a lot too to pull carts and stuff for their gear and, cause they were short of gas I guess. And there’d be bodies of horses lying around, it was just a real mess. And it was still there when we were starting to drive up the road in the rain and mud. It was getting dark and you were driving through all the slime. And the engineers were getting out with bulldozers, scraping the stuff into the ditch and so on. But it was pretty messy.

Being put in charge of a military court

I was sent back to [conduct] a court martial. Of course, I’d heard of them, I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to do but we had a manual of military law that we all had studied at the staff course. So I went back to this little house in the country, where I was told to go. And the prisoner, two fellows who had gone AWOL [Absent without leave, a military term for abandoning your unit] in action, they bolted. And they were in the HLI [the Highland Light Infantry of Canada regiment] it was just too much for them. They admitted that they had done this so according to the manual of military law, they were, let me see, what do they call it, in the face of the enemy, they deserted in the face of the enemy. Well, there’s only one charge for that in the manual of military law and that’s firing squad the next morning. So I gave them a sentence that they go before the firing squad. We were so unenlightened in those days about battle, you know, trauma, whatever you call it, that we didn’t consider that the poor guys were not really equipped or prepared for war in the first place. Anyway, of course, they never went. They were sent back to Scotland to a prison and I never heard anymore about it.

Watching artillery strikes on German positions and how he thought about the enemy

Well, I think the thing that I remember most is, personally, was being up forward one day and I was with a forward observation officer of the artillery [who spotted and directed artillery strikes] and I tried to join them to see what he was doing and he was bringing down artillery on a copse [a small grouping of trees], the front he where he said he’d been watching it. He could see German staff cars driving into this place and he’d got a range on it with the artillery and he said, watch this and he called for one round fire, which means one round from all the guns. So he figured he got these fellows all in the woods there and he brought down hundreds of shells on, just great clouds of smoke and bits of cars and things go up in the air. And he felt pretty happy about it.

I don’t think we thought of them as people. You know, they were just the enemy. You didn’t think of them as people in a way. I think that’s the way our mindset was. After all, if somebody’s trying to kill you, if you don’t try to kill them then you know, you haven’t got the thing figured out.

The last days of the war

When we were told the surrender was going to be at such and such an hour the following day, we sort of gathered together and so I think we thought we were going to have a celebration. But there were hardly a word said when the hour struck and the last gun was fired, we just sort of sat around, we didn’t talk to each other, we just went off and did our own thing. We just, I don’t know, it was over and I think we just didn’t want to talk about it.

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