Veteran Stories:
James “Jim” Brittain

Army

  • Infantrymen of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment in a canoe training for the assault on Kapelsche Veer, Netherlands, 26 January 1945.

    Credit: Lieut. H. Gordon Aikman / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-142421 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
  • Captain A.W. Hardy, Edmonton, AB, Medical Officer with the West Nova Scotia Regiment, lying wounded, with Pte. W.E. Dexter, a unit stretcher-bearer who was wounded in the head, Santa-Cristina D'Aspromonte, Italy, 8 September 1943. Jim Brittain was a medic with the Lincoln Welland Regiment.

    Credit: Lieut. Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-115198 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
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"The chest wounds I knew some of them, you wouldn’t save them before, because they were still living but they had no chance of surviving forward. If they just lost a leg or wounds of that type, you could save them."

Transcript

My main job was to get them out of there as fast as possible, put on their, whatever it was and we had another jeep ambulances that would take them back to the clearing station that would decide which hospital they would go to. My job or our job was to just get them away from the battlefields or get them out of there, to the next clearing station [medical unit behind the front lines]. And medical clearing station would decide which unit they were going. You picked it all up by doing it.

The hardest ones medically treating was when their legs were blown off at the hip. The rest of the body, you could patch it up yourself but when legs are blown off at the hip, you didn’t have any place to fasten the tourniquet or the bandaid.

Oh, legs blown off, chest wounds. The chest wounds I knew some of them, you wouldn’t save them before, because they were still living but they had no chance of surviving forward. If they just lost a leg or wounds of that type, you could save them. But the chest wounds or head, the head, they might live for a while but they were on their way out, they couldn’t survive. So I always left, if there’s a whole bunch of them, there might have been a good half a dozen or a dozen at one time, I used to take the ones that we were sure to save and the ones that you couldn’t save, well, we finally got them out because the fellows there wanted to get their friends out or the people that they know. They wondered why I wasn’t evacuating the or taking out the severely wounded I knew wouldn’t live and getting out the ones that could live, with just a leg off or an arm or whatever it was, they would survive. Anyway, those were different decisions I would have to make.

They kept getting different medical officers every couple of months. Like, instead of them going in as internship, they would come overseas in the medic and that was their internship of new medical doctors. And we had to sort of train them for it because a few times they were, they were treating the patients as if they’re in a hospital back here and they were still telling us how to get out of there. Our job was to get them out of there as fast as they could and the new ones coming in sometimes, they’d want to do a full medical treatment with the shells still landing around.

The jeep ambulance I had would have a few stretchers up above me and one beside me. And I remember coming back with them, they started to shell and when the dust come up, I couldn’t see nothing and when it cleared, all the wounded that I had to put on had jumped off the stretcher themselves and ran into a building there. I remember getting them out and bringing them back and then coming back down the road.

And one time I had a stick with a red cross on it, there was a chute on it, I finally took it down because the Germans could see it and I remember one episode where the, the shells were landing behind me. I remember mentioning to the wounded, should I go fast and I generally went slow with them and for the shells, so they got me to go fast to get down and the German shells were landing behind me. I got out and I got away.

The one chap that I see now, he got me to put his leg back on the stretcher. It was blown off. But anyway, that was one little episode. That was the time that I had to put it on a door from a building there, until I got a stretcher to put him on. But he’s alive, I see him once in a while. He has a wooden leg.

I was in our own medical office, so we were reasonably close there. So I was taken care of immediately by the other fellows that were in the same building, so if I had been out in the field somewhere, I probably wouldn’t have made it. But I just happened to be and we’d taken over a house in Germany the battle had been around noon that day. I think there must have been about 50 casualties around noon that day and it was just about 6:00 that night that I … The battles were all over. A stray, a shell, must have had my name on it. Anyway, here I am.

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