Robert Walter Rodgers in 1944.Robert W. Rodgers
11th Platoon, Newmarket, Ontario, 1945. Robert Walter Rodgers is the third from left, middle row.Robert W. Rodgers
Flight 75, Pre-air Training School, Toronto, Ontario, 1944. Robert Walter Rodgers is the third from left, middle row. Robert Rodgers served in the RCAF before being transferred to the Army.Robert W. Rodgers
1939-45 War Medal awarded to Robert Walter Rodgers for service, in 1946.Robert W. Rodgers
"But he said, you’re supposed to be in Clinton, England, not Clinton, Ontario. He said, the rest of your outfit’s probably about two days out in the ocean in the boat by now."
I was working at the time in a steel foundry, making propellers for ships, pouring hot metal, planking propellers for ships in Owen Sound and I got a little sick of the dust and noise and heat. And the Royal Canadian Air Force came into Owen Sound one day and they were recruiting, so I went down with my father and enlisted. Happened to be on my mother’s birthday. So I reported down to Toronto at Exhibition grounds. At that time, they called it Manning Depot.
We got our basic training there and tried to teach us how to march and how to salute and how to throw a rifle around. And you know, after we got our basic shots that were up in the arm, we got four the first day and waited two weeks and got two more. So I know it was November when we got the shots because we were upstairs in the horse palace at Manning Depot. We went up there, there was a hundred of us lined up and the sergeants come in and said to strip off your clothes. So we took our clothes off, pretty near froze to death. No heat. So some of the fellows left their underwear garments on and they said, I said, strip, the sergeant said. So they had to strip off. And then four nurses walked in with all these needles and then we just lined up and put our left hand on the left hip and the right hand on the right hip and our elbows stuck out and we just walked up to them and turned one way and then turned the other and got our four shots.
They shipped us up to Arnprior, Ottawa. And up there, we learned engines and mathematics, because they said that we would have to go through as flight engineers. Then they decided that they were going to ship us overseas, so they told us one morning to, we were going overseas tonight, so this afternoon, get your packs ready. So we had the big blue air force bags and we filled them with our stuff. And then the trucks came to pick us up and take us on the train. We figured it was going on the train, anyway, they didn’t tell us, they just told us where we were leaving.
So they had enough trucks until the last, there was eight of us still standing there and the truck, but there was no driver. So this time, it was dark in the evening and they said, well, we’ll have to go down to the, where they kept the trucks and get a driver. So about an hour later, they come up with their driver and this time, it was black dark and the rest were all gone and they handed him our big envelope with the eight men’s orders in it, handed it to them and said, away you go, the rest are gone. So we got in the truck, all blanketed in this canvas and we thought we were going down maybe an half hour’s run to the railroad station. But we drove and we drove and we drove for an hour and a half, two hours. And we heard a gate open in front of us and he drove in, made a U-turn and got out and said, alright, out you get. So we all jumped out in the middle of a parade square. And he handed Jim Steevie the envelope with all our orders and got in the truck and drove away.
We were standing there, there was nobody around, the lights were pretty well all out by this time. And some guy come walking along and said, what are you fellows doing here. Well, they just brought us here. Well, he said, you can’t be out in the light, he said, go up and get in that empty hut there, upstairs is open. Stay there until morning. So we did that. There was just mattresses on the bunks up there. Got up the next morning and went down and went to the mess hall, ate - three days we ate and slept up there. Finally an officer and two men walked in, an officer of the day and he said, what are you fellows doing here. We told him we were sent here. Let’s see your orders. We handed him the orders and he was looking at them. Yeah, he said, Clinton, that’s Clinton. But he said, you’re supposed to be in Clinton, England, not Clinton, Ontario. He said, the rest of your outfit’s probably about two days out in the ocean in the boat by now.
So then they took us down to the, London again and they put us up there and they said, well, they’re all washed out because we don’t need any more flight engineers after the invasion. So they said, they said, what are you going to do. Well, you’re all going back from leading aircraftsman, you’re going back to just ground crew. I said, that’s sweeping floors, isn’t it? And they said, that’s about it. Well, I said, I want a transfer. So I just transferred over that day into the army. And then they sent us to Newmarket for our basic training. And I’d already had a bit of basic training in the air force so it seemed that I got joed into being platoon leader. And then when we finished there, the, I went down to Farnham, Quebec, for advanced [training] and there was five hundred of us from Newmarket. It had a population I guess of about a thousand people. And there was five hotels in it. And all you could buy was Dawes Black Horse ale in quarts. And they had no refrigeration.
So that night, when the boys all went downtown, there was a lot of them got into quite a bit of trouble that night. We went out on a route march the next morning, went through the town and I think there was three windows smashed out of these motel, or these hotels where the beverage rooms were. All the windows were smashed out of the three of them. And we had quite a talk with our Regimental Sergeant Major down there the next day about that.
While we were there, they picked out a few of us and we were, they had a German prisoner-of-war camp there of the officers, German officers. And they pull us out and we were, we’d take a prisoner in the morning and put him out to the some, in a Jeep or a small truck and take us out to a farm, where these French (Québecois) people were around there with farms. And the German prisoners would either hoe potatoes or tomatoes or whatever the Frenchman wanted them to do, he would do it whether it was use a fork or a shovel or a hoe or whatever it was. And we’d have to guard him for the day. And they’d come out and pick us up in late in the afternoon and take us back into camp. I did that for about three weeks I guess in the spring.
And then all we were doing was standing on the, in the towers, they’d send us out to surround the prisoner-of-war camp. But they were very well disciplined and very strict with the, I think they had lieutenant-colonels in there and all their high ranking officers were in there. The only thing we had to watch they didn’t break out, they wanted to get down into the United States. We were only 90 miles from the border at Farnham.
And they tried to, sometimes there was a, twice they broke out when we were there. A couple of them tried to get down into the United States. They went out over the fence some way that we were never told how they got out. We just, we were, I was sleeping in the bunks when the sirens went and I had to get out and go and by this time that I got after them, they were down about 15 or 20 miles south of the camp across the railroad tracks. The sergeant spotted one of them and going through the water was up to the, between this lad’s knees and his waist. And he said, do you see’em? I said, yeah. Well, he said, don’t stand there, he said, shoot’em. I said, you mean you want me to shoot them? And he said, that’s what we’re here for. So that was the only time I ever shot a rifle at a man. We got both of them that time. He was standing there giving me orders, in fact, he give it to me twice before I did it. But that’s the only time I used the old Lee, .303 Enfield at a man.
We were there when the Japanese dropped the atomic bomb. And the camp suddenly got emptied after that.