Salvation army Christmas card, December 25, 1944Robert Routledge
Salvation Army Christmas card, December 25, 1944Robert Routledge
"And all of a sudden we heard the whistle of something coming down. And it was an incendiary bomb."
It’s Robert Routledge. I enlisted in the reserve in July 1940. I went to Farnham, where we trained there for a few months and then I decided to go active and I finally joined the regular army in October 1940.
How was the experience? It was the greatest of my life. My young life, if you want to put it that way, all in all. At that time, you know, the whole idea was, well, let’s go and do it and get it over with. And that’s exactly what I did. 1940, when I joined signals, we were here in Montreal, we were based in Montreal at first. And from there, we moved up to Barryfield and we joined up with another outfit. We were known then as the First Canadian Armoured Division. But then they decided that there were already a first division, so they changed it to the Fifth Canadian Armoured. And from there we went to Camp Borden and November ’41, we left for England.
And there’s a story behind that too because we had the first American convoy or escort if you want to put it, at that time when we sailed over from Halifax. And they— I think it was half the American fleet at the time. They left us at Iceland and the British navy took over which I think consisted of about three or four dirty destroyers, considered to a half the American fleet.
But on the way, we got up one morning and we were all alone out in the Atlantic, our ship broke down. And that was quite a surprise because, you know, the submarines were around but I guess I’d been lucky all through it because 48 hours later a single British destroyer came and said, “Follow me” and from there, we went into Gurrock in Scotland.
Well, a lot of the fellows were seasick but I was never sick. They tried to get me sick one night, we were playing cards down below deck and tried to get me sick but I guess I held onto it long enough and we had an old joke there that, you take a piece of fat and you put it on a string and you pull it up and down in your throat, you know. Of course, the fellows heard this and away they … It didn’t bother me but I finally got up on deck and when— it never bothered me, I loved being aboard ship. But it was, you know, a scary thing but we thought, well, if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. That was it.
But I say, luck all the way, because the convoy that we went down to Italy in, the convoy before us, they got hit. And a couple ships sunk down there. The convoy after us got hit and yet, we never saw a thing. It was peaceful all the way, as far as we were concerned. But you could say we had more good times than bad times. There were bad times but that was it, that was life as far as we were concerned. We all had our buddies, thank heaven for that. And we also laid wire. And the funny part about laying the wire— I know one night, we were getting shelled and the word came out that one of the outfits had lost their communication. So my buddy, he was a lineman and he called his driver, he had his driver to get the jeep and that, you know, and he said, Come on, let us go, Murray, we’ve got to go and fix the line, see what’s wrong with it. And of course, his driver didn’t want to go, you know.
That’s why I say good times, bad times. And he said, "Oh no, oh, he said, I don’t feel good, he said, I don’t feel like going, Jack." So I was in bed, I just got into bed and when I say bed, I had a cot that I’d pilfered someplace, you know. So Jack said, "Hey Bob, will you come with me?" I said, "Oh geez, Jack." He said, "Oh, come on, Bob." As I say, we had been buddies for a while. I said, "Okay", so off we went and my gosh, we tramped for quite a bit. And the shells were still going. But mind you, they’re going overhead. But they were still, you know, pounding around there. We checked the first one, we checked the second one, we checked the third one, they were okay. We get down to the fourth one and I guess when the shelling started, the guy that was on the phone had had his phone with him. He jumped into his slit trench, and of course he dragged the phone with him and the wire came off the phone. That’s all that was wrong. You know, and we said, Holy mackerel, all that for nothing, you know. So we shrugged it off. We told the guy off and we went back down.
But those were things that we had to do, as far as the signals were concerned. And it was great. I can tell you another night there that I had a driver, he was a young French fellow and nicest guy you’d ever want. And we were sitting outside by the side of the truck and it was getting dark. And the Germans were over on a high hill, because that was their favourite trick was to get high ground and then fire down on you, you know. And you always knew that if you could hear the whistle of a shell coming, you were okay. If you didn’t hear it, you wouldn’t worry about it.
And all of a sudden there was one that went off quite a distance away but it was close enough. And my buddy, Don his name was, he jumped down in the slit trench that we had built, made there because we were there for about a day or so, you know. And he jumped in but I had taken my boots off. So I find— reached around— and it was almost dusk, you know. And I found the one and I put the other one up, but I couldn’t find it. He kept yelling out, Come on, get in there. I finally found it and I threw it down the hole, down the slit trench. And of course, he let out a yell, he thought it was a piece of the shell or something. All it was was my boot. We got a big laugh over that.
But those were the kind of things that we got. I mean, when I say that, I’ve been shelled, I’ve been mortared, I’ve … Another funny thing was down in England, when we were down in Brighton. And that was a real seacoast town in Britain. And we heard a plane, but we were, it was after supper we were sitting there and we hear this, rrrr, rrrr. You could always tell the difference between a German bomber by the sound of the motor and our,— you know. Of course, an argument took place there, ah, It’s one of ours, I said, No, that’s a— I don’t know— it’s one of ours. And all of a sudden we heard the whistle of something coming down. And it was an incendiary bomb. Now these incendiary bombs, they came in a big casing. Then they burst open and you get these flares that light up everything before they drop the heavy stuff, you see.
Well, we had more fun putting that out, I’m telling you. You know, we knew if we didn’t get them out that something would follow. And there was a flare burning just behind our building, there was a flare burning at the hotel behind us and whatnot and you can’t put them out with water. The only way you can put them out is to put them out with sand. So we had one guy and we said, Hey, you get ahead there and we were pushing him ahead to put the, you know. We weren’‘t the heroes, we pushed him up there and said, Come on, you get that thing out. So we finally got it out. But in the meantime they came down in a parachute and this friend of mine, he got the parachute. I got a piece of the timer and a piece of the fin and whatnot of the— when he came down.
So the next day of course, Intelligence came around and they wanted to know what had happened and wanted the pieces, did anybody have … Nobody knew where the pieces were or where the parachute went. My buddy, he sent the parachute home to his wife and that’s where— it was pure silk, you know. As I said, those were the days. So that’s why I said, we had fun. And I know there’s a lot of them, if we had to do it again, we’d do it all over. Because you know, as far as I’m concerned and whoever’s concerned, I think the Canadians are the best troops of any place. If there’s a dirty job to do, Canadians got the job to do it and they did it.