Front cover of Morton Beazley's autobiography "The Ravages of the Second World War."Morton Beazley
Morton Beazley's medals. From left to right: 1939-1945 Star, Italy Star, France Germany Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal 1939-1945.Morton Beazley
Morton Beazley (left) and Mark Hanson (right) on leave in Rome, Italy, 1945.Morton Beazley
Morton Beazley's medal from the Thank You Canada and Allied Forces National Committee to celebrate the 55th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands in 2000.Morton Beazley
SS Ile de France leaving New York City in 1951. Ile de France was used as a troop ship during the war, and brought Morton Beazley home to Halifax in 1946.Morton Beazley
"She said, “Do what you have to do but be very careful,” she says. “And if the Lord wants you, he’ll take you. And if he doesn’t, don’t be scared.” And I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t scared to die."
One day, we were working away up in Italy, a group of us ran into a German explosives truck. Now, the geography in this part of Italy is full of fast flowing rivers and streams running between higher peaks, on which most of the villages were situated. The rainy season there would make the rivers swell very much and cause erosions on a large scale. So strong bridges were completely necessary for the villages and as a crossing point for military vehicles.
These bridges were very much needed intact to allow the Allies’ advance to continue. This German truck was systematically laying explosions and destroying bridges in order to slow us down, so they had time to regroup. I managed to climb up the side of the bridge, where I saw them on the other side. My men were to follow behind me as I attempted to get a handle on the situation. Just as I was climbing over the side, the Germans saw me. They saw me coming and dropped everything and made a dash back to their truck. I had my fully loaded Bren gun [light machine gun] and aimed at them before I had time to think. I counted eight German soldiers pile in and start making their escape. I emptied the Bren gun into the back of their truck, which was loaded with soldiers and explosives. As the truck began to round the corner, there was a huge explosion and deafening roar as the explosions ignited. The truck exploded into small pieces, along with the eight men over inside. There was a fair size crater that marked where the truck ended its war.
This sticks out with me as one of the most intense things that happened. It all happened so quickly, the magnitude of the fully loaded explosives trucks basically evaporated was quite large. Action like this managed to prevent the Nazis from slowing the Allied advance. You could imagine how time consuming it would be if we had to construct our own bridges for our troop movements. I was always in the back of my mind that those German soldiers had mothers and family back at their homes, who would be getting the news of their boy who was lost to this war.
Probably the most notable battle I remember was one of the last battles we fought in Italy, before being sent to France. We were spread out in a line and the far end was being pinned down. We were taking rocket fire, artillery and infantry assaults. Our fighting force was slowly being whittled down with casualties and we had no more men to put into the fight. The captain in charge knew his only hope would be to get more men to reinforce the line until the rest of the army could arrive to help out.
We had been in a camp quite a few miles back but it was dangerous territory. There was still a lot of men left in that camp who would be pretty useful in a fight. We only had one truck with us and the captain decided that Dunkirk [Morton Beazley’s nickname] would be the one best suited to drive this truck back to the camp, possibly under fire to pick up some reinforcements. A runner was sent to track me down. When he did, I gave Jonesy my Bren gun and told him to look after it. I followed the runner back to the camp and found out what he needed from me. He explained how important this could be. If the line fell here, the Nazis would be able to flank us and surround the Allied forces and overrunning a line. This could not be permitted to happen, no matter what the cost.
I settled in the truck to get back to the old camp. The truck was a large 2.5 ton vehicle. It had a huge steering wheel and these were the days before power steering. Luckily, I could drive just about anything I ever tried. The roads were rough and I took some sporadic fire on the way to the old camp. When I finally got there, I found the most senior person I could and explained what was going on and that I needed as many men as possible to get back to the front to hold the line. He asked me how many I could take and I said, I would pile them like firewood in the back if I had to but I was taking everyone who could go. Well, we ended up piling close to 50 men in the back of that truck and wound up with a corporal sitting along next to me.
As we started getting close to the front, we began to take fire from rockets and shells. Clearly the Nazis had seen the truck coming back and realized he had to have picked up some reinforcement troops or something important. So they were really trying to nail us. The shells and rockets were pouring down all through the huge open field was driving through. I was working the clutch like a maniac and driving in an erratic, zig-zag pattern. Nothing was touching us, a lot of missiles were landing really close over our head a second beforehand but nothing hit us. If we had been hit by one shell, 50 men could have died or we would never have made it back. The young corporal next to me was very distraught and panicky. I almost wanted to knock him out, he was being so crazy. It was hard to concentrate on the driving, he should have been in the back with the men, keeping them calm and relaxed and not up here acting like a child, distracting the driver who was trying to save everyone’s lives.
He eventually freaked out and jumped out of the truck into the far field. He thought he’d be safer on foot. I later saw him on a street in some small town in Italy and he saw me too. I didn’t bother to acknowledge him because my respect for him was lost.
I later learned that the captain had been watching all of my driving in the rocket fire from his position and was watching with anxiousness while praying we would get through. I was very glad I didn’t let him down. He expressed how very impressed he was with the driving skills I had just exhibited in this huge, ungainly truck. We were able to hold the Nazis and maintain the line, thanks to the extra men I was able to help bring into the fight.
I used to talk to them, every time I went into battle, I would have a talk with the boys and tell them, I said, "Listen, you fellows, you know, you don’t like to kill and I don’t like to either, now here’s what you will do. Don’t try to kill him, try to wound them, shoot them in the arms or legs or somewhere and it takes two men to take a wounded man out. If you shoot 10 men, if their strength goes down to 30 men, 30 men are all gone because 10 men are wounded, it takes two men for each man that’s wounded to carry them out.” So I said, “That way, their strength dwindles down and they have to back up and we pushed them back.” And I used to have talks like that with them. So eventually, they, they caught on to what I was trying to tell them. I said, “That way,” I said, “you won’t have this on your conscience if you just killed a man.”
I had a great talk with my mother before I left. Just when you’re born, there’s a day, there’s a mark up there the day you’re going to die. So she says, “If you happen to be over there and it’s your time to die, that’s what happens.” She said, “Do what you have to do but be very careful,” she says. “And if the Lord wants you, he’ll take you. And if he doesn’t, don’t be scared.” And I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t scared to die.