Letter from Major General E.G. Weeks to David Havard's mother, October 29th, 1946.David Havard
David Havard (in the middle) and comrades, holding a hook rug in Rottingdean, England, c. 1943-44.David Havard
David Havard at Victoria, British Columbia, May 1942 (Leftt) and after enlistment, September 1942 (Right).David Havard
Rest break in a shelter prior to crossing the Rhine River. Left to Right: David Havard, Captain Billo, Gunner Mikolash, Gunner Humphries (kneeling).David Havard
"And I suddenly become aware that I was no longer invincible. And that’s the rude awakening you get when you’re young, in the service."
And we landed near Caen, the city of Caen, which was just a shambles from being shelled by our shells and their shells and their bombs and our bombs. It was just this mass of rubble, quite an eye opener.
And I always remember, you know, when you’re young and immature, you think you’re invincible, as I did. We were lined up in convoy and moving along beside our infantry and one of the fellows that I had been in training with, at basic training, was just across from me and I was talking to him and all of a sudden, a shell dropped and a piece of shrapnel killed him instantly. And I suddenly become aware that I was no longer invincible. And that’s the rude awakening you get when you’re young, in the service.
I was in the field artillery and the field artillery supports an infantry regiment. And we supported the Black Watch [The Royal Highland Regiment of Canada]. And so when they needed artillery fire to help them, that’s what our guns did. And I was with an officer called the forward observation officer who goes up at the front and looks for observation places where they could see what was going on. And then tells the guns where to fire the shells. And I was the radio operator who sent the fire orders down to the guns. That was my job.
We traveled in a thing called a Bren Gun Carrier which was a light tracked vehicle with quarter inch armoured plate around it but the top was all open. We travelled all through Europe in this thing. There were four of us: – a driver, the officer, he had an assistant who double checked his calculations for firing the guns and I was the signaller who sent down the fire orders when an officer decided where he wanted the shells to go. And we virtually lived in that Bren Gun Carrier. Sometimes I went as long as 48 hours without any sleep because the radio had to be on 24 hours a day. A lot of time, I just slept sitting up in the Bren Gun Carrier.
But occasionally, we got a different driver, who also doubled as the signaller and then I would get some relief. But most of the time, that wasn’t the case and I was the only signaller and I had to be on duty pretty steadily.
It was quite a dangerous job. We had a whip aerial, like a fishing rod that sat up above the carrier by the radio. It had to be replaced a number of times because flying shrapnel would cut it off. The Germans had Hitler Youth. They were suicidal almost. After we cleared a town, some of them would stay behind as snipers in buildings and shoot at you as we were going through. And I was sniped at two or three times, but they missed me. So I was lucky.
We went into Belgium after France. We went through part of Normandy. And then into Belgium, near Antwerp, around that area in the Scheldt Estuary, it was pretty hectic there, a lot of shelling from the enemy. And they had by that time started sending over what we called buzz bombs. They were unmanned bombs that flew through the air and all of a sudden, dove onto their target. And then a little later, they started shelling, sending over what we call V2s. The buzz bombs were called V1s. And the V2s made no noise at all, they just came out of the sky and crashed all over the place. You got no warming at all.
When we first went into Antwerp, it had been freed by the British. But the Scheldt Estuary, mouth of Antwerp, was still occupied by Germans and that’s who we had to get out. And once they had gone, then they started shelling Antwerp with these V2s, it became like a ghost town. Everybody went into their basements or cellars or wherever they could get and it was just a real somber place.
All their food had gone. Many of them in the big cities like Amsterdam actually starved to death. A lot of people starved to death. And they were freezing too because all the coal had been taken and as a matter of fact, there was a Jewish section in Amsterdam and the Jews had been taken away and their homes had been left and so the people in Holland were freezing to death and they started tearing down these buildings and using the wood to make fires to heat their places with. That’s how serious it was.
When we got into Holland, they were really hungry, then we gave them food and I can always remember, we had a, a mardi gras at one place, a sort of a celebrating situation and we had free hamburgers. And the Dutch were so hungry, we gave them food but they were so hungry that they were just like birds. We were well fed and they’d pick up anything we dropped on the ground. They were just like birds looking for food. That’s how hungry they were.
The awful thing about war is I really think the civilians take the worst beating because they had to leave their homes and their homes got ransacked. And I don’t know what happened to those people after the war, how they got it started up again, if they survived. And I don’t know where they went, to tell you the truth, but they left their homes vacant and you’d go into a home and, and there would be kids' toys on the floor where they’d been left playing them and they had to been rushed out and taken away to someplace safer. That’s what it was like in Holland.