"We were going to advance with our tanks and then we were going to get out of our tanks and become the infantry."
When I first joined up, here in Kelowna, they started us out on squad drill and I could not swing my arms right when we started our drill. When my right leg went out, my right arm went out. And the sergeant major - Sergeant Major Henry was his name - and he halted the squad and he went off over to the armouries here, there was a big willow tree, weeping willow tree. He went over and took his jackknife out and cut out two branches of that, took the leaves off, cut them off just about the right length. Never said a word to anybody and just come back over and said, Dickins, hang onto these. And I put one in each hand and Lipinski was in front of me, he said, Lipinski, hang onto these and don’t let go. By the left, quick march! That’s how I learned to swing my arm.
I came to Kelowna in 1937 from Saskatchewan, where I was born. Joined the army on the 27th of July, 1940, right here in Kelowna. And did our basic training in Camp Vernon. We were then going to be the 5th Canadian Motorcycle Regiment. We didn’t have any motorcycles at that time. Then we moved on to Victoria and Esquimalt, where we were given motorcycles and we became quite proficient in our motorcycle training, as a reconnaissance regiment. I just might add, I’m glad we didn’t go to war in them because you certainly didn’t have any protection on a motorcycle. But to qualify as a driver on a motorcycle, you had to be able to drive a motorcycle with a sidecar with a passenger in it and keep the sidecar off the ground and do a figure eight to qualify as your ability to drive.
Then we went on, they decided we were going to become a tank regiment. And we were called the 9th Canadian Armoured tank Regiment, the British Columbia Dragoons. And we moved on to Camp Borden where we got some tank training. And got ready to go over to, down to Halifax and got on the boat, the [HMT] Andes. And went over to England and landed at Liverpool where we did most of our training, official training over there with the proper tanks and the rest of the, the rest of the allied troops that were there in England training.
We did that, we stayed in places like Crowborough in England and Marlborough. I was selected to go over on an advance party, to go to Africa for some battle training. When we left England and got to Africa, at Algiers, we found out then that the Canadian delegation was headed for Italy and we joined our regiment right there in Naples. So I didn’t go back to England at all from there. And we joined our regiment there and then we joined, we became then the First Canadian Corps. First Division was already there, because they’d come up through Sicily. We joined them there, we were called the 5th Canadian Armoured division with a maroon patch. We were called the, the “Mighty Maroon Machine”. That was the nickname they gave us. And they were all tank regiments.
In Canada, if you’d have seen the equipment we trained on, you’d wondered how anybody ever won the war with that kind of equipment. It was World War I tanks called Whippets, they were just able to get you, what, that you’re in a tank, you’re in solid metal and all that sort of thing. That’s what you got used to. Once we got to England, then we got different tanks. We got the Canadian Ram, we got the Churchill and we ended up with the Sherman tank. And that’s the best tank we had and we ended all through the war with the Sherman tanks.
When we first got them, they were under-powered weaponry. We had a 75 millimetre [gun] on it and we were facing 88 millimetres and we ended up getting 105s and then we could, we could meet them head on with that kind of weaponry. But at first, we were faster. Our Sherman tanks were much faster moving around than the German tanks, the Panzer tanks they had. They were very slow but they were heavily armed and deadly when they got their beat on you.
We lost a lot of tanks in a lot of those battles. I was very fortunate. I had an excellent driver and he could take a hull-down position and so I could just peak over knolls or things of that nature. And so we were very fortunate, we were, that we didn’t get hit at all during any of those combats.
We went through Italy, through places like the Liri Valley, the Hitler line, the Gothic line was the last big function that we did in Italy. And then we moved over, took our tanks over, ferried them over to the lower part of France, because D-Day had already started. And joined up with the rest of the Canadian forces in Belgium. And then went from there right on through up to Holland, to Delfzijl pocket and places in Holland. At Appingedam, one of our toughest battle certainly in Northwest Europe was the city of Appingedam.
As a matter of fact, we were in the northern part of Holland when we got word that the war was, that Germany was surrendering. At that stage, they did not feel there was enough German troops in the area that we were going through or not, we didn’t have infantry. We were told, we had been told the day before we were going to be doing this. We were going to advance with our tanks and then we were going to get out of our tanks and become the infantry. And do the house clearing and that sort of thing. And that’s the time when we found out that the Germans were surrendering.