Veteran Stories:
Phil Le Breton

Army

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"When I first went in, I would dig a slit trench; it was shallow, shells would cover me in shrapnel probably. But Jesus, two weeks later, I was going down six feet and I felt I wasn’t far enough."

Transcript

My name is Phil Le Breton and I landed on Juno Beach with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. The main assault went in about 8:15 and that, but the rest of us who were [with] other parts of the battalion and as it happens, usually the higher up you happen to be with the battalion headquarters so, of course, we didn’t get in until a couple hours later.

We were there for a year or two. We lived and we slept… That’s why I was with the signal platoon I’m talking about. There was one killed on the beaches. After five days, the eleventh that would be five days later, two more were murdered by the [Waffen] SS [Schultzstaffel: the armed wing of the Nazi Party]. And I went to the field from the holding [reinforcement] unit of both of them. And it was sad.

And then Sergeant Tidy and Collins. I felt very sorry for Ted Tidy. His wife took it so very, very hard. They were deeply in love, I think; and she just never accepted the death of her husband. Him and Collins were in front of our signal truck. They were just yapping and a shell just got them. (sound) Bang, they were gone. Yeah, that happened. The Normandy beachhead, you know, it was so narrow; and the Germans, they came over at night and they bombed. Their field of fire ̶ they didn’t have far, five miles in maybe, you know, and they just would throw everything in there. Well, and some days, they did. Yeah.

The hardest part for any of them was I, well, I shouldn’t say that. It wasn’t easy getting from the mother ship to the landing craft. They were bouncing like crazy, it was rough; and they had this equipment, they’re going down rope ladders, and finally got in the boats. A and B Company, and the companies who led, there was nothing in front of them. Basically, they were going in and our B Company unfortunately because of the tide, it drifted them in front of a German pillbox [concrete bunker]. It caused heavy casualties before they finally knocked it out.

I spent my 23rd birthday at Carpiquet Airport. And that was a hotspot. I have a medal that was given to me on a trip overseas. It was called “L’enfer [de Carpiquet]”, the [Battle of] Carpiquet; that’s the “hell of Carpiquet.” And yeah. They shelled there; and we got into a German bunker, thank goodness for that. We were there for the rest of the time. They were hitting really the bunker and then it would get full inside with cordite [explosive powder] smell and smoke, until it cleared. I never got out of it. There was two of us; and what we did after it got late and things quieted down, one of us just shared both [wireless radio] sets, you know, just turned the volume up a little bit and we were able to do that. It was the next day, on the fifth, we had to get out of the bunker pretty soon because we had been consolidated. They were moving up the rest of the battalion, so some of us had to get out of the bunker.

So, anyway, this bunker had two layers of steel rails on the top of it and earth, which was camouflage, and sod on the top. So, anyway, I’m getting a little bit battle wise at the time because I knew, I knew what these things could do. When I first went in, I would dig a slit trench; it was shallow, shells would cover me in shrapnel probably. But Jesus, two weeks later, I was going down six feet and I felt I wasn’t far enough. And you’d only get behind a wall and the shell would come, bang, the wall’s gone. Whee, there’s no protection here.

We also had our pride… After two weeks, the Royal Canadian Corps [of] Signals, they came in on D-Day and they stayed for two weeks. Then they moved out. They says, this is your problem now. So probably a day or so later, Sergeant Cornell, my sergeant, came to me; and he says, you and Jack Perry (and Jack Perry was a corporal), are going to take over. Jack, because he was a corporal, would do the day work, but he said, I’d replace him whenever. Well, Tidy was killed and then he was the lance sergeant [corporal acting as sergeant] on the fourth of July. So there was a vacancy there. So they moved Perry up to sergeant. And then they gave me a couple of hooks [chevrons noting rank] and moved me into his position. And then I was the chief operator on the [Universal Bren Gun] carrier [lightly armoured tracked vehicle] for the command vehicle. On the command vehicles there was the colonel, signal officer, the intelligence officer, of course, the driver and the signalers. And on one side, the Universal carrier has an engine that’s down the middle and the back sort of. On one side, there’s a place you can sit and there’s the other side, where we had our [wireless radio] set. On one side, there was the brigade, the other side was the signal set. I worked the brigade side until the battle of, finished the Battle of the Scheldt. That was Scheldt Estuary in Belgium, most of it, I guess.

I served right through on every battle and that was from Normandy through the Channel ports and on into the Scheldt, the Battle for the Rhine, liberation of Holland, until on the fifth, it officially was over for us; and I was there except for once in February, and I got, I went on leave to England. It was a break for me. I came back in and they left me; they didn’t say nothing, they just left me at headquarters. Finally, after a week or more, I said, I guess it’s time to go back to the front line, back to the carrier. I did and I never left.

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