Everything was silent. You could hear the odd pop, pop here and there, a rifle and then suddenly. And the first thing I heard was a bird chirping. I’d never heard a bird chirping for a long, long time.
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In 1939, the war was declared and Canada declared war on the 12th of September, 1939. I joined the regiment the first day they stated and that was 800 men joined the regiment that day. I was 18 but two days later, I was 19.
While I was in the Black Watch [The Royal Highland Regiment of Canada], my father had joined the engineers but he was still in Canada. Now, on the 3rd of September, 1940, we sailed for the United Kingdom and we landed there in 1940. My father then came overseas in 1941 with a field company of engineers. And I transferred to be with him in this field company of engineers.
Now, I’d like to describe the, it was the 16th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, of the Third Canadian Division. And it was quite peculiar because a field company of engineers is comprised of about 200 odd men. But within that field company, we had three father and son combinations and seven brother combinations, including a pair of identical twins, and an uncle and a nephew, who were all in at the same time. And this is a little unusual, you know, but this is what happened.
I had three uncles in Vancouver [British Columbia] and one was in the navy, one was in the army and one was in the air force. And the guy that was in the air force, he’d been in the First [World] War as a young boy in the merchant marines. And he was flying over my head at times in the air force and they all came back.
And on D-Day, my unit was scheduled for the D-Day, the 6th of June . So I landed on D-Day on the beaches in Normandy [France] and we were in support of the Queens Own Rifles [Regiment] from Toronto, we were their engineer company and so the Queens Own, they went in and we went in with them, we had to get them in and our job was to go up the sea wall [massive fortifications meant to protect coastal areas from ocean activity but also an obstacle to the Allied invasion force on D-Day], try to knock down the sea wall but it wasn’t that bad. And it was a hell of a lot of noise and all that stuff. But then we went inland. Now, it was a very, very busy day.
Anyway, we get to Germany and it was very bad fighting in Germany. And it was the first time I’d been up so close to bombing and that, where in Britain, you know, you could look out and see planes going over but the bombing was somewhere else. Anyway, it was right in front of us and you could actually see the close support bombing and we’re looking up watching the close support and we could see the bombs coming down. And we didn’t know if they were going to fall on us or whether they were going to fall on the Germans but that’s one of the things you have to put up with in the army.
We were getting into Germany now and it was getting very, very hot and heavy. And I ended up in the place called Leer near Emden. And we were using artificial daylight for night fighting. The only problem was in the artificial daylight, we were being illuminated by the searchlights, we were being shown by the searchlights so it was not very, very successful. But anyway, we finally got in through near Emden.
And the VE Day [Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945] was getting near. We were told it was going to be a surrender but to be very, very careful, stop firing and that but some people wouldn’t be able to get the message and so you know. Anyway, gradually, it got quiet and quiet and quiet. And you know, they talk about the sounds of silence and this is what it was. Everything was silent. And there’s a sound because everything for all that time, for all these months there’d been noise in the background and suddenly, there was silence. You could hear the odd pop, pop here and there, a rifle and then suddenly. And the first thing I heard was a bird chirping. I’d never heard a bird chirping for a long, long time.