Jan de Vries in July 1943 in Scarborough, Ontario on leave prior to being sent overseas. He had not yet qualified as a paratrooper.Jan de Vries
Jan de Vries, 1944.Jan de Vries
Jan de Vries' boots.Jan de Vries
Jan de Vries' V-42 fighting knife.Jan de Vries
Jan de Vries' jump smock.Jan de Vries
Jan de Vries, 2009.Historica Canada
"On D-Day it was pitch black; and some of the guys went out and the moon gave them light to land by. But it was pitch black; and I thought, jeez I gotta be landing soon. Next thing I know, I hit the ground."
The air was full of planes. Now we couldn't see any because the portholes were too high and the only time I recognized, when we saw the flashes of the anti-aircraft guns when we went over the coast of France. I think that's what scared the pilots. They were as green as we were. On D-Day it was pitch black; and some of the guys went out and the moon gave them light to land by. But it was pitch black; and I thought, jeez I gotta be landing soon. Next thing I know, I hit the ground.
I remember I was about six or seven miles away from where I was supposed to be. I didn't know it then, but I hit the field, and got out of my chute; and ran over to the edge of the field. I looked through a bush, and I looked through the hedge. I saw this track and I moved on; there was nobody. I was hoping to run across a couple of guys from the group [1st Canadian Parachute Battalion]... nope, not a sound.
I went and reported to headquarters; and said I was a little late, but I got staggered and lost. They said, well go and join your platoon. So there are only a few of the guys from the platoon dug in at the edge of a field; and I picked a spot, and then an order came that I was to go find the Germans. So I went and crossed a field alongside of the hedge that was running along where I had decided to put my trench, and then I was along this field and there was a bush on the right. I had to step over one of our guys. He had [been shot by] a sniper and he had a bullet hole right there [between his eyes]. So that made me bend down and move a little faster.
Nobody knows about June twelfth, but 700 German regiment men were ready to attack with tanks and a self-propelled 88 mm guns [German anti-aircraft artillery gun]. They were using that 88 to send shrapnel into the trees where we finally settled.
What happened that morning, when we heard that noise and the battle going on, we thought, oh happy days they're [the Germans are] getting it not us. Then a message came to report to company headquarters immediately, light weapons and light equipment. So we all doubled back and then Captain Hanson, who took over the company, he said we're going to brigade headquarters, they want some help. So there are about forty of us and we all doubled over to brigade headquarters. The brigadier, now he was a good man; and he told me after the war, he said he wasn't going to die. He said he knew he wouldn't die because he'd been shot in Africa and he’d been given up for dead. So he knew that he wasn't going to die in this war. So he led us on the double through fields and we'd gone up this dirt track. There was depressed trees, hedges on each side. Brigadier was walking along there with a swagger stick [short stick similar to a riding crop], saying come along lads nothing to worry about.
But we hurried up and crossed this road. It was a chateau property, and that's where we found all these dead fellows that had been killed, jeeps, and Bren Gun carriers [lightly armoured tracked vehicles] with ammunition exploding and burning. The Germans had made a mess of the whole area.