Veteran Stories:
Bill Ryan


  • Bill Ryan at 20 years old.

    Bill Ryan
  • Bill Ryan at Nanaimo, British Columbia, November 2011.

    Historica Canada
  • Bill Ryan, far left, and other members of the 3rd Medium Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery in 1945.

    Bill Ryan
  • Bill Ryan and his friend Sgt. Mark Toth on 11 November 2009 in Courtney, British Columbia.

    Bill Ryan
  • Bill Ryan

    Bill Ryan
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"And he’s got to go up a little bit to make his dive. They blasted him out of the sky. They seen him in their last minute, with all these anti-aircraft guns, and I would say the last minute, and they just blew it to pieces up there."


It’s a day in August, something like today. It’s Sunday. 10:00 in the morning, bright sunshine, they send me to take a message and I took a lot, that was my main job. Didn’t want to lots of time to send those messages over the air or whatever because they could intercept them, it was possible. So it’s more reliable for guys like me, although the snipers liked to get us and see what the hell we’re carrying. But anyway, so I go, and I go down the road and I’m finding, I’ve got a message for the [First] Polish Armoured Division. I go and I get just about, oh, half a mile from the camp, I can see them. And here out of the sun comes I’d say probably eight Messerschmitts [Bf 109; German fighter aircraft], right out of the sun, down low. Not a shot’s being fired and I’m looking, “Hey, I’ve got to get the hell out of this,” so there’s a hedge there. And I just went bounding, I mean, I’m going to hide like a rabbit. So they never fired a shot, they never a blast and they’re gone. But I went to see those Polish guys, they were just in shock. A lot of shots being fired now. Maybe down … . So, then alright, it wasn’t the place I was supposed to take the message, it was the wrong … So alright, I have to go back and see what we can, the location. I’m on my way back, nice day, Norton motorcycle, it’s running nice, but a little more noise than it should be. And I turn and look over my head and here they’re [the Messerschmitts] coming, right behind me, all in formation and actually straddling the highway. Well, I thought, “You know, I’d be such a perfect target, they could laugh and say, ‘Look, how good a marksman I am.’” And I didn’t want that to happen. So immediately I looked, I just steered into the ditch and over goes the bike and I’m one jump, I was like a squirrel in them days. And the good Lord maybe provided a slit trench, a foxhole and that. And I’m into that. And they never fired again. They go on and I come out, here’s a bunch of Canadians right across the highway, armoured outfit, looked like reconnaissance, I mean, they said, “Hey, are you trained to do that?” I said, “What?” He said, “We watched you making that jump into that … And he said, “That was the nicest maneuver we’ve ever seen and you must have lots of training.” I said, “You know what, I’m trying to save my hide, I’ll do anything.” Now, the rest of it then, they went on down and strafed my headquarters, where I was coming from. But they never, I can’t tell you the story, did we shoot them all down or what, that’s, but I remember that vividly. Because I didn’t like them over my head like that. Okay, bridge in Nijmegen [the Netherlands]. Every time when the Germans retreated, they blew the bridges. They made sure of that. That’s a big bridge, I’d say that’s the Rhine River, I know the river. And so they crossed that, they had it all the electrical stuff ready to blow it but a little kid had come along and pulled the wires apart. When they plunged it, nothing happened. But the allies were right on their tails so they had to leave it. The line was stationary there for about, oh, I’d say two or three months. We were stationed in two or three miles from the bridge. Immediately, the armies, probably, more, I don’t, Canadians, British, they set up about 50 anti-aircraft guns around the bridge, because they know and the line was stationary, the German border is about eight, ten miles, I think roughly. And they got to have that bridge. And you know, this is stationary, gives them lots of time to get this. And they’re not dumb. And so they line up a boat, they figured out the speed of the current on the river. It’s going from Germany into Holland. They figure out the speed, how fast the water’s flowing, then they figure out exactly how far the bridge is from where they’re going to launch the boat. They put the boat in, load it with dynamite and put that time fuse in with it, figuring out, “Okay, how close can we come now and send it down the river?” Well, the boat got maybe 100 yards past our moor and then blew up. Well, it blew the building to heck and gone from the sides of the river for, but didn’t get the bridge. Three times, three times they had been caught with engineers, had gone through our lines and onto the bridge with enough dynamite to blow it. But each time, they were captured on the bridge. Okay, they hadn’t got it, they shelled the heck out of it. I was two miles up on there for two or three months, stationary lines in, what would that be? Battle of the Bulge [16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945; major German offensive through the Ardennes mountain region, Belgium] probably somebody told you about that in Belgium, that was taking place at the same time. So we weren’t called to that, we were only about 50 miles away. And I think I was with the artillery at that time. So one morning, early, on a kind of foggy morning, I don’t know what I was doing out but it was 8:00 or before, I heard a noise. And I look up and here’s a plane coming at just about treetop level. He was under the radar. And he was coming full speed. And in between the wheels was about I’d say a thousand pound bomb, maybe heavier, strapped in between. It was obvious to me that this was a suicide. [The enemy’s thoughts were] “We’re going to get the bridge, we’ll lose the pilot.” He knows that he’s going to go but he’s going to … So not anti-aircraft firing at all, nothing. And now he’s already within, oh, a minute, say of … And he’s got to go up a little bit to make his dive. They blasted him out of the sky. They seen him in their last minute, with all these anti-aircraft guns, and I would say the last minute, and they just blew it to pieces up there.
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