"We were probably ten miles or more out of Rotterdam and we just loaded up and went towards Rotterdam. And then we met the Germans coming the other way. And we weren’t supposed to greet them too much because they were our enemy but they were just people like everybody else I guess."
I didn’t join until November 1942 I guess. I got my call and then I joined up there in November 1942. But I had to take my basic training and my advanced training here first. And I took my basic training at Maple Creek [Saskatchewan] and my advanced training in Calgary [Alberta]. And I was in the Calgary Stampede [an annual rodeo and fair] just before I left for overseas and we left by boat overseas.
On the 11th of November, I left for overseas and I went on a boat. The [SS Louis] Pasteur was the name of the boat that I went on and it was a beautiful, calm ocean all the way. There was about 27 ships in the convoy and the one that we were on was a Japanese or Chinese boat and it had a Norwegian captain on the boat. And it only had about 600 [troops] which was not very many. And I was with the Saskatoon Light Infantry and they used the Oerlikon machine gun [20mm cannon] and we had set up on the boat and I was on duty there all the way over. And I had just gone down to get some food for lunch at midnight, because we stayed all night, the cook said, “Well, why do you bother, nothing’s going to happen.” And by the time I got back out, it was happening [the convoy was attacked by German U-boats]. The whole sky was lit up with tracer bullets [bullets with a small pyrotechnic charge that, when when ignited, illuminates the bullets trajectory, assisting the shooter making aiming corrections]. And two of the ships were sunk I guess and I think there was three planes came over and they were sunk too.
I was a batman for an officer and I could choose between doing that and doing guard duty and I’d just as soon work in the kitchen and I wouldn’t be starving anyway. I waited on tables to spend my time kind of in the officers’ kitchen but our kitchen was a two-ton, three-ton, I don’t know how big a truck and we just kind of put a canvas at the back and made a kitchen there and we had quite a bit of dried food but we got quite a bit of fresh stuff too in Italy when there was cattle there. Like we made kind of pets out of three little lambs and then when we were going into where the bullets were really flying, then they figured we shouldn’t put the lambs in there, something like that. So we had lamb meat for a while. And we had other meat that come to the country. And of course, the main thing in Italy was vino or wine, you know, they didn’t serve you coffee, they served you a glass of wine.
I was just in the headquarters and my biggest duty was just kind of serving or doing whatever needed to be done around there, like setting up your kitchen and taking it down again. And we come to this place and they told us we were supposed to set up our kitchen and we just had it set up and then they told us to load it up again because they weren’t going to stay there. So I just started loading it back up again and [another soldier started] what a lot of swearing and cussing having to do this. And I just thought, “Well, this is what we have to do, so we do it,” and I heard one guy say, “I wish I was like Hesje,” he meant, take it with a smile, whether it was unloading or loading.
It was just mainly waiting on the tables but I peeled potatoes and get the vegetables. Like the guy wrote home and said the shells were breaking all morning here, they making scrambled eggs or something. Like you just do what you do.
We had a canvas that we put up over the back end and then we’d set up our kitchen kind of behind the truck and then the truck was our cupboard. You just kind of set it up at the back of the truck and then they would come or we’d probably, when we were doing it for the officers, we’d put up the tables and then we’d have to wait on the tables, feed them.
We were probably ten miles or more out of Rotterdam [the Netherlands] and we just loaded up and went towards Rotterdam. And then we met the Germans coming the other way. And we weren’t supposed to greet them too much because they were our enemy but they were just people like everybody else I guess.
Somebody said, “You must have got a real hearty welcome coming back,” and I said, “Well, I left from Crooked River [Saskatchewan] and I came back to Crooked River and there wasn’t anybody there to meet me.” I walked a couple of miles to my brother’s place and that’s how I got home.