Veteran Stories:
Harvey Edward Theobald

Army

  • Mr. Harvey Theobald's medals and decorations, from left to right: Military Cross (MC); 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (CVSM) with overseas service bar; War Medal (1939-45), with oak leaf cluster denoting Mention-in-Despatches; Peacekeeping Service Medal; International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC) in Indochina Service Medal; Canadian Centennial Medal; Efficiency Medal; Canadian Decoration (CD) with bar.

    Harvey Theobald
  • Letter from Major-General A.E. Walford, Adjutant-General, Department of National Defence to Mrs. H.E. Theobald, congratulating her on the award of the Military Cross (MC) to her husband, November 14, 1945. Major Harvey Theobald's Military Cross was awarded for his actions while commanding "B" Squadron of The Fort Garry Horse during the attack on the Calcar-Udem Road on February 19, 1945, in the midst of the Rhineland Campaign.

    Harvey Theobald
  • Captain Harvey Theobald of The Fort Garry Horse, somewhere in England, 1943.

    Harvey Theobald
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey Theobald (left), commanding officer of The Fort Garry Horse, presents a regimental plaque to the Mayor of Doetinchem, The Netherlands, on the twentieth anniversary of the town's liberation, April 1965.
    Lt.-Col. Theobald formed part of the liberation force and the tank in the background is a Fort Garry Horse Sherman donated to the town in 1945 and refurbished as part of the anniversary celebrations.

    Harvey Theobald
  • Mr. Harvey Theobald, November 11, 2010, in Ottawa, Ontario.

    Harvey Theobald
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"So we headed towards the ramp and down we went. Instead of landing in five feet of water, the next thing that I knew, we were down in the bottom of the sea."

Transcript

I was born on the 1st of December, 1921. I was born in Jeffery Hale Hospital in Quebec City. My momma told me that I was born with a, I think they called it a veil or a shroud [a caul]. I’d never heard of it before. But evidently some children are born with it and it’s a covering that covers the whole of the face.

And the nurses take it and keep it in the hospitals in glasses of formaldehyde or something to preserve it, because they know that sooner or later, a ship’s captain will be along and the ship’s captain likes to get a hold of a veil or a shroud and the sailors are superstitious and they, the old tale goes, that if you have one of these onboard the ship, that everyone onboard that ship will be safe from drowning.

And someone who’s born with one is supposed to have that same superstition. And I guess it proved to be because the only time I was in really serious danger of drowning was on D-Day [the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944], when we [“C” Squadron of The Fort Garry Horse (10th Armoured Regiment)] were transported by a landing ship, and in order to get us ashore, when they opened the doors of the thing, there was a great big ferry at the entrance to the Landing Ship, Tank [LST]. And I was last on so I was first off. And I was onto the ferry.

And when the ferry was completely loaded, the ferry was propelled by four huge outboard motors at four corners of the ferry platform type of thing. And the guy who commanded it stood at the right front of this craft and gave the signals for the fellows when they wanted to steer one way or the other and they just turned the propellers.

Anyway, when we got in reasonably close to shore, he was supposed to tell me when we got to five feet, because we had special gear [a Duplex Drive (DD) flotation screen] around the tank that we could go into six feet of water without drowning the engine. He told me when we got to five feet that it was time to get off. I was busy at the time and I wasn’t looking so much at the shore because I was on my radio transmitting a message to [2nd Canadian Armoured] Brigade Headquarters which was on another ship and telling them exactly where the regiment [was], all by code names and everything else.

So I was busy transmitting this message, telling them exactly where parts of the regiment were and he said, “away you go.” So we headed towards the ramp and down we went. Instead of landing in five feet of water, the next thing that I knew, we were down in the bottom of the sea. And I knew that we were in 26 feet of water instead of five feet of water. And I knew that because the tank was about approximately 11 feet high and I had 16 feet of aerial stuck up. And when we all finally got up, there was only the tip of the aerial that was above the water.

Two of the chaps were very, very good swimmers and I asked them later how they could swim so well with all the stuff. And they said, well, they figured that they would probably play it safe and if something happened onboard and they had a premonition or something, if something happened, they didn’t want to have their boots on because that would stop them from really swimming. And so they were smart enough to take their boots off. And they had had the underwater training that we all had had, if anything happened, you went down in a tank in deep water. And we had part of the turret basket cut out so the fellows from down, the two chaps in the hull of the thing could then come up through the turret and get out through the top part.

And when we went, there was two openings of the turret. The loader/operator on his side had his hatch open and I had my hatch open on the right hand side with a gunner sitting in front of me. But these two fellows got out with two chaps that were down below, Pat got out right after we did and then they started swimming. But the other two chaps and myself, we weren’t strong swimmers so we figured we’d better well stay where we were. And I held onto the little tip of the aerial, just enough to keep myself going. But then I dropped all my binoculars and I dropped my pistol that was around my [waist]; got rid of any weight.

We knew that no other ship could stop to pick us up because the word was that if anyone was in the water, you couldn’t stop to pick them up. So we were just holding onto bits of flotsam and jetsam. Because we had no Mae West or anything with us.

And, eventually, oh, I don’t know how long we were in the water, treading water, a chap came along, a Royal Navy fellow in an amphibious jeep. And he said, “I can’t stop, fellows, to pick you up and I couldn’t take you onboard anyway but I can throw you a line.” And I said, “well, throw us a line and we’ll hang on.” So he threw us a line and we grabbed a hold of it and the amphibious jeep then went in and dropped us off on the shore.

And we were so, I mean, after being in the water, oh, we were just numb. When they landed us on the beach, none of us could move. Anyway, that saved us from drowning.

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