The greatest day of my life was April 13th; liberation day. Ah, for me, that was the best birthday present.
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Well, I enrolled on July 13, 1940. At the end of two weeks, they sent us to Valcartier to start our military training. I really liked it. At least I felt safer there than in Montreal; at least we were clothed and fed. We woke up a 6 am each morning and started our training by eight. It was “left, right, left, right” and then onto the field. It was physical culture and I really liked it!
We spent six months in Valcartier. Afterwards, we departed for England. Three months before Dieppe, they sent us to an island, the Isle of Wight, which faced Portsmouth. We were trained there, you could call it “commando-style” training; it was very hard. For the Dieppe Raid, there were two “C” companies. I was in the “C” company with the Calgary Tank [14th Army Tank Regiment (the Calgary Regiment)] with the TLC [Tank Landing Craft]. Our job was to blow up the casino. We had Bangalore torpedoes, that’s what they called them, it was TNT, but some soldiers weren’t able to … the minute they opened the boat door, we were hit with [German] artillery. Sixteen men stayed in the boat, in the TLC, so only six or seven (men) remained or something like that. The rest (of the men) were all dead. When we went ashore, we couldn’t see the Germans. They were all well hid in cement bunkers. So we were a good target for them. As for me, I disembarked at 5:40 in the morning and by 2:40 in the afternoon, we were taken as prisoners. It was the Brigadier Southam who raised the white flag because we were about to drown since the tide was coming in. We started with 300 sailors, but afterwards only about 50 or so remained. So he raised the white flag and the Germans came to get us.
So we spent 32 months in Poland and 14 months in handcuffs! We worked from 8 in the morning until 6 at night. We worked in the woods, you may have seen photos, and then in the summer during the harvest, we would start working at 6 in the morning and work until 6 at night, since the soldier, he told us: “Any prisoners who refuse to work will be shot!” So we worked 12 hours per day and then the autumn grain and potato harvest began (in the fields), and we began working a bit later. We worked 6 days a week. Between us, as prisoners, the relationships were very solid. We were like brothers. Nobody wanted to kill anybody else; everything was going pretty well.
Before being liberated, we did the “death march”. We walked from Poland all the way to Germany during seven weeks. Sometimes we would get to eat a little something, since we would see a field of carrots or something and we would go dig up the carrots and eat them. They called it the “death march”. Some people died along the way. The journey lasted seven weeks and then we met up with the Americans. The Germans didn’t want the prisoners to be taken by the Russians, so they took us to Germany. Meanwhile, the Russians were approaching on the other side. Even the Germans - the soldiers - didn’t want to be captured by the Russians, so they went to the Americans’ side. It was General Patton’s army. It was them who circled us in some place and we were in the middle of it all. We were surrounded by the American army. That’s what saved us! Ah, that was such a wonderful day for us. When they saw us, when we arrived face to face with the American tanks, they saw that we were Canadian and British because of the khakis we were wearing, so they let us through. The German guards who were with us threw down their rifles and shouted in German, “der Krieg ist fertig” which means, “the war is over” in English since they didn’t want to be taken prisoners by the Russian army. They preferred to be taken as prisoners by the Americans. The greatest day of my life was April 13th; liberation day. Ah, for me, that was the best birthday present. Three days before, I was with René Cardinal and since I knew we were in Germany, I said to him, “For my birthday, I hope that the war will be over!” That made him laugh. I remember that I wasn’t wrong; we were liberated on the 13th (of April). Oh my goodness, what a relief! I didn’t want to be at war anymore. You see, during war, people fight and then they get up the next day and are ready to do it all over again. But if people joined hands, there wouldn’t be any war. That is what I hope for: harmony between all people!