Veteran Stories:
Charlie Fielding

Army

  • Mr. Charlie Fielding, then serving with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, attached to the Governor General's Foot Guards in Europe during the war.

    Charlie Fielding
  • The Verheggan children: Whilemina, Hennie, Peter, Miekie.

    Charlie Fielding
  • Certificate of recognition signed by Field Marshal Bernard Montgormery awarded to Sergeant Charlie Fielding "For Good Service" during the Northwest Europe Campaign.

    Charlie Fielding
  • Mr. Charlie Fielding visiting schools.

    Charlie Fielding
  • Mr. Fielding gives lot of time visiting schools to talk with young people about his war experience.

    Charlie Fielding
  • Charlie Fielding's Military Medal Citation, page 1. 1945.

    Charlie Fielding
  • Charlie Fielding's Military Medal Citation, page 2. 1945.

    Charlie Fielding
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"He said, ‘My family and I always remember you and your crew. You brought us food when we were hungry and coal when we were cold. It was the best Christmas we ever had.’"

Transcript

From Belgium, we swung up into Holland and went through the Battle of the Scheldt [during the Northwest Europe campaign, 1944-1945]. Our job was really to recover. Our tanks would get stuck in the bog, in the mud and stuff like that, and our job was to get them and pull them out. As we were going along we were losing tanks and crews and people killed. Altogether we were a thousand when we were finished. There was 100 killed and 150 wounded that didn’t come back into action. We started out with 70 tanks and we lost 100. Children at schools say: ‘How can you lose 100 if you only have 70?’ They forgot that we kept getting replacements for them.

After the Scheldt, we moved along to Breda […] and got into the south side of the city at Tilburg in Holland. We were stationed there, not stationed just harboured there, for a few days. One day my sergeant major came to me, by the name of Danny Harrington, and said: ‘Charlie, I’ve got a job for you today.’ He says: ‘Grab yourself some lunch and come with me.’ I didn’t know what he wanted. He took me into the station in Tilburg. By this time the government in the southern part of Holland and Belgium had got the trains running and the prisoners, the enemy prisoners, German prisoners, were coming through by the trainload. When I meant trainloads, they were in coaches not boxcars like ours were treated. Every prisoners had a seat in a coach. There would be coach trains coming along and they’d stop always at Tilburg for servicing. He said: ‘Your job, Charlie, is to stand on the station here and when the trains come in nobody is to get on or off.’

This went along pretty good until noon and lunch. I decided to take with me a can of corned beef because that was a good versatile piece for lunch. As I was eating about half the can, one train stopped in front of me and there was a boxcar on the train. It wasn’t supposed to be. None of those were supposed to be boxcars because every prisoner had a seat of his own. I thought, well, that’s strange. The boxcar door was shut and I opened it. To my surprise there stood an enemy soldier, German soldier, kind of an old guy. He was about 35 years old and looked surprised and hungry. I beckoned him out of the boxcar and he stepped down. He looked so hungry and sad. By this time I’d eaten half my corned beef, and I handed him the other half. He gulped it down. I gave him a drink of water and put him back on the train, onto one of the coaches. I was with the NATO forces in Germany fifteen years later, my family was with me, and I walked into a shoe store. Somebody started yelling at me and wanted to know if I was the sergeant that gave him bully beef in Tilburg. His name was Mr. Hoffmeister. I kept in contact with him for a couple of years and he passed away. So there’s a little story, off the side.

There was another story. As we went along farther, we were on the Maas Canal for the winter. One week we had to pull out to a small Dutch town by the name of St. Oedenrode. It was a little town of about 1,500-1,600 [4,000 - 5,000 inhabitants by 1945] I think there would be, just a village. When the tanks pulled in, we pulled into a schoolyard but the schoolyard was no longer a school. They had no school at that time. It was made into a wooden shoe factory. As we pulled into the schoolyard, beside the tanks, there were poles made laying there. They would use them to make the shoes out of. When we got in there the children started running, little children. Most of them were very young. They kept running and talking to us and things like that. They looked so hungry, their hair was falling out and their stomachs were swollen. Their eye’s was the hungry eyes.

We decided right then we would spare our rations, half and half. We gave it to the children because we knew they would take it home to their parents and the children would get something to eat. We didn’t give anything to the authorities of any kind.

As we were doing that my tank crew noticed four little children sitting on the poles. They weren’t too pushy. We gave them some and then they took it home with them. The next day they come back. All the children come back. One of them must have got a can of corned beef. He came up to the tank and he said: ‘Mister, you got corned beef? It was sure nice.’ We tell that story at the schools all the time.

We got to know this little group of families and gave them some stuff. They took it home and they came back the next day. I can remember the children’s names. There were four of them. The oldest was a girl, Wilhelmina. She was 11. The next one was Annie. She was nine. Then there was a little boy in there, Peter. He was five. There was another little sister who was seven. They asked if we’d go, my crew, if we’d go to their home to visit their parents. We used to do that for about a week. There were one thing we kind of had fun with. Did you ever play Monopoly? We didn’t know what they were saying. How are we to play with them. After a while, you know, we’d kind of cheat a little bit. If the dice came up, we’d say a couple more points here and there. They said, "No, no, no."

By the time we left there in a week they were laughing, but their eyes still were hungry. They never changed. We left there and went up to the Maas Canal. We were there pretty well just before Christmas. We went snooping into one of the canals. A barge had partially sunk and it was full of coal. There were two crews, the mechanical crew and our recovery crew were together. One of the boys looked at the coal and he says: ‘You know, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get some sacks and take this coal back to the children at St. Oedenrode?’ We managed to get some sacks from the cooks at the cookhouse, gunny sacks that potatoes come in. Each crew took four sacks of coal back to the children and the families in Holland and got back to our unit when we moved away.

And you know what? Sixteen years later, I was telling you we were stationed in Germany with the NATO forces, we decided to go and visit the people in Holland, my family and I. When we got there I knocked on the door and it opened. A young man opened the door and I said: ‘Does Mr. Verheggan live here?’ He says: ‘You’ve got to be Charlie.’ I says: ‘Well, you must be Peter but you’d never recognize me.’ He said: ‘Oh yes, I do’, he said, ‘My family and I always remember you and your crew. You brought us food when we were hungry and coal when we were cold. It was the best Christmas we ever had.’

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