"That’s what the feeling at that time was in those years that you wanted to do your bit, do your part in winning the war."
I was actually 18 and a half when I joined up. And I decided to go into the Armoured Corps. I felt that I really wanted to get into action and join up. That’s what the feeling at that time was in those years that you wanted to do your bit, do your part in winning the war. So well, the Canadians had a largely volunteer army, it’s only until later on during the war when the conscription came into effect [national overseas conscription implemented in November 1944].
When we got off the ship, the officer assembled us in a very sort of jocular way. He said he had to make an announcement, that I was no longer corporal, I was a trooper and he had been instructed by his superiors that my stripes on my jacket had to be removed. I was just like anybody else, a non-commissioned officer. So obviously he knew this before we got on-board. I’m assuming that but the boys, so other fellows on the ship were good natured about it and they helped me, they thought it was fun that they helped me remove the stripes on my jacket. But as I wrote about it, I felt a little undercurrent of anti-Semitism because he knew I was Jewish. And he took a lot of pleasure I guess and just make me feel uncomfortable.
We spotted a German tank about a two or three hundred yards away, sitting on a little hill and we could tell that their gun was fearsome. An 88 millimetre gun that was much more powerful than anything we had on our side. But we spotted that gun in one of our forays into the area that we were operating in and suddenly, we had a blast that we thought that we had been by one of the German tanks but it turned out to be a [anti-tank] mine, our tank had just gone over a road mine and blew up the track on our tank. And I was on the radio operator and told our squadron leader, commanding officer that we’d been hit. I guess I was emotional, excitable type of kid and I must have reflected that. I wasn’t able to stay calm as I should have in a situation like that.
I had to tell you though, my wartime experience was that people, most of the people, people like young kids like young people like myself, going through a harrowing experience, we learnt to handle it eventually very well. And there were other guys in our regiment who were different types, boastful braggers, bullies and so on, who the first time they experienced something like this, they just fall apart. And I know that I never fell apart, it was something that I had to live with. That experience was something that shook me up but only temporarily and I quickly recovered and I was able to become a veteran.
Some of the people in authority had decided that they couldn’t get the collaboration of the Army Medical Corps to look after some of the wounded. And they decided that why not make one of our tanks in our regiment look after ourselves, instead of relying on another part of the army, we’ll look after ourselves by transforming one of the tanks into a Red Cross tank. Removing any visible weapons, some of the tanks, that particular Stuart Tank had a Browning machine gun, took off the gun and removed anything else off the back of the tank and just provided space for stretchers. And gave us some very, very brief training in how to handle wounded men, how to apply a tourniquet and things like that.
It still brings a lump to my throat when thinking about it [Christmas Eve 1944]. And just we were, as I think I wrote about the fact that we found this bunker the Germans had built, that sort of camouflaged hole in the ground that we were able to crawl in there, the three of us. And thanks to my dad’s parcels, we had some delicious goodies in there and we had a little Christmas celebration. And it was something special as I mentioned, I think when I wrote about the fact that we represented three different types of religions, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish and clinking [canned fruit] we didn’t have glasses but whatever we had, sort of. Well, the three of us drinking, it was special, you know. We didn’t know of course when we got out of that bunker if we’d be alive the next day but in any case, that’s one evening and we were thankful for the fact that we were alive and could celebrate it that way.