"As I bent down, that’s when I got hit, hit in the, right over the eye and I thought I lost my eye. That was my worst thing that ever happened to me. I was bleeding like a stuffed pig."
Well, we trained all through England. My wife, who was born in England, like her mother, and I told her, “We went to towns that you never heard of.” You know, we had schemes, you go up and sort of imitating the real thing. You were out for four or five days and sometimes we were against Canadians, sometimes against British.
And we went over to [France] D-Day plus 28, 30 or something, the second div [Second Canadian Infantry Division] of which I was a part of, our regiment [Royal Hamilton Light Infantry] I should say, they were at Dieppe [19 August 1942], so they gave the Third [Canadian Infantry] Division the honours to go in on D-Day. We went over D-Day plus 28, something like that. We went right through them, that’s how you go through, I don’t know if you knew that, you go through them at night.
Verrières was our first fight and the Germans were up on the hill and we were in the valley [Operation Spring, 19-25 July 1944, objective to take Verrières Ridge, strategic high ground between Caen and Falaise, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry took the village of Verrières]. We were green troops, green being we hadn’t been in action before and it was our first action. And we used to lay cable, like Bell telephone lines from four companies, A, B, C, D, four companies to the regiment. And we used to lay the line just anywhere. Right along the ground. As long as you get from point A to B, headquarters. And when they were shot out, that’s why we had one of the most dangerous jobs going, we used to run out and do a fast repair and run back. That’s why I say, I had to be very fast.
And I think, yeah, it was in July, right, right, and it was very dusty where we were. And every time you laid the cables down, you raised a lot of dust. When you raised a lot of dust, the Germans on the hill, they used to start shooting. So he starts swearing, “Get those, you know, so and so’s lines away from me.” See, because when they go to Europe, even the padre has to dig his own slit trench. Not like in England, where you have a batman do all these things for you. Everybody does your own. And this guy, he was a Catholic, he says, “You’ll have to say a few Hail Marys on Sunday,” to him. And I thought that was a very funny thing to, to say, to show that he’s only a human being.
This was a special place [road between cities of Caen and Falaise], it’s like going from here to halfway to Montreal, to Oakville or somewhere, very important transportation and lines. This is where we have to go, we had to go to Caen, which is about, it’s like going from here to Niagara Falls. Very very important, route line. Cable line, and for roadways too. For our tanks, tanks need a lot of room. Yeah, and we held our own though on the first. We got shocked when you hear this guy got killed, this guy got killed. In fact, the guy I was supposed to relieve got killed. What we did, we were a bit stupid when I think back, we set up a telephone exchange, which we operated in England, like the Bell telephone operate exchange, you know, you have to plug in. You’ve seen movies I’m sure of that, yeah, where you have to plug to get some.
Well, we set up an exchange in this Verrières and we took shifts, three or four hours, I forget now. And the guy before me, he was near a tree. And a shell came in, an 88 [88mm anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun], German come in, hit the tree, bounced in and killed him. And I was supposed to go on in half an hour or a little while afterwards. And they took him out and I had to go in, the next man in, I had to go in earlier, and that was my first sight of a dead comrade. It was a shock but after a while, you get used to it, you get used to these bad things.
Yeah, that’s when I got hurt again. Yeah, in Nijmegen [Netherlands], which is right near the border [with Germany] like Windsor is to Detroit. That’s where they sent us for a rest. You’re in the line 10 days or two weeks and then they pulled us out for a rest, to go to Nijmegen, which was a very bad mistake, as far as I’m concerned.
The first night, I was so bushed, the guys says, “Come on, Sam, we’re going to the pub,” the local pub. And everybody went except me, I says, “No, I’ve got to get one night’s sleep,” and I’m dead tired, I usually used to go on leave, I’d have one night’s sleep, get washed, cleaned up and then next day I would be okay. But that was my mistake. I was in the third floor. People volunteered their homes. But unfortunately, the people in the northern Holland were also collaborators. They got to know them, just like the people in Windsor get to know the people in Detroit. They became friends, they inter-married and all the rest of it.
So that first night, every house that the Canadians were in got hit, got shelled. So I guess the, because you see somebody in city clothes, you don’t know who they are, whether they’re German, Dutch or what, we couldn’t distinguish. The Dutch could but we couldn’t. Because a lot of the Germans spoke Dutch and vice versa. So anyhow, word got across to them and they had these big guns and they shelled every house that we were in. And I got shelled. You get to know where they’re coming, I heard it coming but I didn’t know from where and I says, “No matter what happens, I’m going to put my pants on.” As I bent down, that’s when I got hit, hit in the, right over the eye and I thought I lost my eye. That was my worst thing that ever happened to me. I was bleeding like a stuffed pig.
VE Day [7 May 1945], we were in Germany. Because the last few days, you hear rumours going on. So when it’s finally come out, officially come out, because we were one of the first to know because we got the message through from brigade [Fourth Canadian Infantry Brigade]. And we handled the messages, so we knew officially it was over. So, I think that’s the only time I really got drunk in my life. Germans used to deliver their beer, you know, how we deliver our gas in trucks with long pipes, this is how they delivered beer. So we commandeered one of them, we told the guys to get lost and we laid down on the grass and we took the beer hoses and didn’t have far to go, we drank, a bunch of us, Zieglers. And we drank.
But then, even though the war is over, things have to go on. And I drank, so unfortunately, we got nailed, there was about four or five of us and they came around. “You have to run the exchange,” they have exchange set up there somewhere. So they put us on the exchange. And I don’t think I did anything right, you plug it in, “Just a minute, brigadier, just a minute,” talking to our colonel. But nobody gave us any reprimand, they didn’t say one word to us. And I was the most sober one of the bunch, so you know what that is like.