Veteran Stories:
Joseph Clorice “Joe” Gautreau

Army

  • Joseph Gautreau, November 23, 2009.

    Historica Canada
  • Joe Campbell, Joe Gautreau, and Ed Johnson, 1944-45.

    Joseph Gautreau
  • Dagger with its scabbard belonging to Mr. Gautreau.

    Joseph Gautreau
  • Photo of Joseph Gautreau, 21, taken during his overseas service in Newfoundland.

    Joseph Gautreau
  • Picture of Madeleine Coppée, 11, whom Mr. Gautreau met in Belgium. Mr. Gautreau gave her bread and jam for her family and met her again in 1995.

    Joseph Gautreau
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"‘holy geez, I just got here and they’re really looking for me already.’ Anyway, I hurried up and got my rifle out;"

Transcript

My platoon was a Vickers [.303 inch] machine gun which is a used machine gun from the First World War. It’s got a tripod and a barrel, and it’s a water cooled gun, so you have to have a can of water, a gallon of water, and then there’s the belt - 250 round belt of ammunition. So in the actual jump, somebody has the ammunition, somebody has the tripod, someone has the gun and the other one has the water can, so this was the big problem. The tripod is so heavy. It weighs 45 pounds and us, we had a big kit bag and that was in the kit bag plus your pick and shovel, if you’re a private sort of thing. Your pick and shovel, and your rifle and your small pack, and they gave us a Gammon bomb [British No. 82 hand grenade] to carry; and that was all strapped on to your leg before you jumped. Once you jumped this was all tied to 20 feet of rope on your gear and when you jump you pull this pin and it pulled out both things, and kick the kit bag off and let it down on the rope so when you landed it wouldn’t be so hard on you supposedly; and it wasn’t very long before you were on the ground too. The thing was with me and my big kit bag, I think the bottom strap broke and the kit bag slid over and I couldn’t get it up to undo the last thing. They keep telling us in training ̶ in training you jump with a bag full of straw and it was daylight – I don’t think we jumped with a kit bag at night, but they tell us if we land that we have to undo the kit bag because you’re going to break your leg; so I could feel the thing weigh down and I couldn’t reach it. I thought ‘I’m going to break my leg now.’ But no. In the day time, you oscillate. The chute is going this way and you can control that, but at night you can’t tell if you’re doing that or not so, I figured I must’ve been oscillating like that; and at the end of the oscillation I landed on the ground and it was just like jumping off a chair. It was that easy for me. I just landed back on my back. So there was no problem for me to land. I landed in a little group of trees whereas a lot of people landed in water, but I had a perfect landing. I got to undo and get my rifle out and get my gear because the idea was there was a flare, a yellow flare, that was our rendezvous. They kept shooting this flare and that’s where we had to go, but I’m undoing my kit bag and the knot got so tight on there that I couldn’t undo it, so I had to cut the kit bag with my knife or cut the kit bag to all heck to get my rifle out because I could hear somebody walking around. I figured, ‘holy geez, I just got here and they’re really looking for me already.’ Anyway, I hurried up and got my rifle out; and I was trying to see where this person was and then I heard him – he walked to another tree or bush, whatever it was. I said ‘well, it’s going to be him or me so I better go after him.’ I went to where he’d been and I waited there; and then he moved again, so I went to the other place where he’d been and then he didn’t move anymore, so I figured, ‘well, this is it.’ I went out to see if I could get him and it turned out it was a cow so…the sweat stopped running down my back. All at once, geez, the shooting started and I got hit. I jumped in a ditch and the shooting stopped for a minute; and I tried to follow the ditch to get out and there was barbed wire right in the ditch and I got caught in that darn barbed wire, but I pulled and pulled, and ripped the back of my jump jacket and then I finally got onto like a dike it was and followed that into the bushes there, but I had got shot in my hand, so I couldn’t handle my rifle. I stayed in the bush there for a while and towards morning, our guys were coming. I could hear them talking, so I knew it wasn’t, they weren’t German. I come out of the bush and they saw my hand; and they said ‘oh geez, you got shot in the hand.’ I said ‘I know I got shot in my hand.’ My hand was all stiff now. I couldn’t hardly open it, so they put a bandage around it and brought me to where they had a doctor. It was like a farm house. I was there for two or three days, but because the idea was the commandos were coming ashore and they were to come directly to us because they figured we may be in trouble or whatever; and they said they’d be there in 24 hours and we only had rations for 24 hours but, as it turned out, the commandos couldn’t dodge the fighting. It took them three days to come to where we were and before they could open up and get to the beaches, and take the prisoners and the wounded out; and that’s how I got out.
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