Unfortunately, on July the 31st, 1944, my friend, Herb Williams, was killed. I didn’t find that out until after I was back in England. And so they took me out then, I was taking to the first aid station, then I flew out, they flew me out to England that night, [...] and I went to 17th Canadian General Hospital.
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In the Spring of 1943, I was down in the English Channel in billets in a place called Angering on the south coast of England. And it was there in April 1943, my commanding officer called me down to the orderly room and asked me how old I was. And I said: ‘19, Sir.’ And he said: ‘I have a letter here that says you’re only 17.’ And I looked at him and recognized my father’s handwriting, he had written them that I was underage, he thought I’d gone far enough I think. So I said: ‘Would they be sending me back to Canada?’ And he said: ‘No, they would send you back to a reinforcement unit until you’re 19.’
And so from there, we were in several places in England and Barnsley in Northern England. And then from Barnsley I guess, in July of 1944, and D-Day had began on June the 6th, 1944, so I was 19 on July the 15th, 1944 when the they then told me I was eligible to go to Normandy as a reinforcement. But a friend of mine by the name of Herb Williams from Brantford, Ontario, we became very good friends, we both went out and both were formerly with Highland Light Infantry [of Canada]. Although I didn’t know him too well originally. Well, instead of going to the Highland Infantry, we were sent to the Essex Scottish [The Essex Scottish Regiment] and the Second Division [2nd Canadian Infantry Division]. The Highland Infantry was the Third Division [3rd Canadian Infantry Division].
So Essex Scottish and the Second Division, they had taken a lot of casualties in the previous few weeks and so he went to one company, B I believe, and I went to C Company and I was only there about less than a week I guess when I caught some shrapnel from German mortars and I lost part of my left foot and a piece in the back. Unfortunately, on July the 31st, 1944, my friend, Herb Williams, was killed. I didn’t find that out until after I was back in England. And so they took me out then, I was taking to the first aid station, then I flew out, they flew me out to England that night, back to the, and I went to 17th Canadian General Hospital and I figured where that was located and then I went to 18th Canadian General [Hospital] in England, which was in Colchester on the southeast coast. And that’s where the German V1 buzz bombs [the German Fieseler Fi-103 pulse-jet powered rocket] would come over, night after night. And I recall lying in the hospital with the blackouts down and seeing the flames coming from these rockets coming across. And of course, when the engine cut out, the V2 [V1] would come down and explode. So that was kind of a harrowing, all the cigarettes would light up about that time in the ward, there was no restrictions of smoking in that hospital.
So I was there until the latter part of September , when I recall, I think it was September the 19th, we were downtown Colchester one day when we saw a huge armadas of aircraft going over, gliders and troop carriers and so on, and we wondered what was going on. We didn’t find out the next day, that was the beginning of Operation Market Garden [an Allied military operation mainly conducted in the Netherlands between September 17th-25th 1944]. And I recall that, it was a disaster for the troops that took part. And shortly after that, I was sent to another camp in England, I can’t remember the name, but it was a staging place to get back to Canada. And while there, we were in London one night and outside of Waterloo station when we heard a tremendous explosion and it was a V2, the V2 rockets [the German V-2 ballistic missile], the only one I’d ever heard. Of course, that was the beginning of these intercontinental ballistic missiles that the Germans had come up with. And so it wasn’t too far from where we were and that scared the daylights out of us.
Shortly after that, we had a chance to go home and we embarked on a hospital ship called the [SS] Letitia and we left in December or the last part of November I guess and down into the South Atlantic, through the Azores Islands and back up to Halifax. And we arrived in Halifax on December the 8th, 1944, I remember that very vividly. Got on the troop train and back to London, Ontario, where I enlisted. Well, I didn’t really stay there but the train took us to London where we had a delay and then we got the train to go on home to Galt [Cambridge, Ontario].
And before we left, my sister, who was in the CWAC, women’s army [Canadian Women’s Army Corps], she got on the plane and told me that my brother [Warrant Officer Class I William Harold Cyples] in the RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] had been killed in October [November 17th], 1944. His plane that he was piloting, he was a pilot, it was a training flight for him with some other people, it crashed and he was killed. And he was […] the leader, he was being buried in England a half hour drive from where I was but I didn’t know. Such were the communications at that time. Today, you’d know exactly, you’d be at the funeral, but I didn’t know until he got home that he had been killed.