Veteran Stories:
Louis Joseph “Mel” Melanson

Army

  • Personnel of The Toronto Scottish Regiment (MG) in a Universal (Bren Gun) Carrier near Tilly-la-Campagne, France, August 8, 1944.
    Credit: Lieut. Michael M. Dean / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-131368

    Mr. Melanson used a Bren Gun Carrier during the war.

    Lieut. Michael M. Dean / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-131368.
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"As I took the box and I handed it to Ernie, the gun fired. And the sky lit up and you know, we thought we had blew up. The two of us, we put the box down and we were feeling each other, to see if we were still here."

Transcript

My friend and I, Ernie Broad, he’s from Perth [present-day Perth-Andover], New Brunswick - he’s dead there now, passed away - we were having trouble on this [telephone] line here and the tanks and the Bren Gun Carriers [light armoured tracked vehicles] were always tearing everything apart. So I said to Ernie, I said - it was a T in the road - and anyway, I said there: "Ernie, I’m going to, this time," I said, "I’m going in the culvert and I’m going to take the wire through there, [so] they can’t break it." So I got halfway to the tunnel, through the culvert, and I come onto a box about the size of a shoebox. So I started backing up a little bit and everything else, in water, so I passed it over to my friend; we had a flashlight and we looked at it, took the top off, it was all loaded with explosives. The Germans were going to blow up the road. Stop the communications. So I said: "Oh well, we got that one out. So, put that one aside." I said: "I’m going to go in again and give her another try."

So anyway, I went in, come across another box, oh my God. So backing up, backing up and backing up out of the culvert. And right across the road from there, there was a house, but unknown to us, there was a 5.5 Long Tom there [an American long barrel 155mm field gun]. And as I took the box and I handed it to Ernie, the gun fired. And the sky lit up and you know, we thought we had blew up (laughs). The two of us, we put the box down and we were feeling each other, to see if we were still here (laughs). So, anyway, we had a little trouble on that road. Poor Ernie, he was down the road aways, the first thing, an 88 [88mm German artillery shell] come and landed on the other side of the hedge a little ways from him, knocked him ass over kettle, he flew in the air and I thought: "Oh my God, he’s already dead."

So anyway, drove down there with the jeep, and here he was, staggering around, he was deafer than the post, he couldn’t hear nothing; because the shell had landed so close to him that he couldn’t hear nothing for about four or five days.

Yeah, I got shelled in one place there and they had a great big wrought iron fence. And I was sleeping in there and a couple of the boys were sleeping in this room. Shell come through there and hit the wrought iron fence. Otherwise, it was coming right into our bedroom; where we just moved in, moved into an empty building and slept, eh. Yeah. And you could see all, I seen over, I could see, I was low, down, I could see that. And shell exploded and it just looks like a whole bunch of welding, you know, somebody welding when it hit there and moved the wrought iron fence about that square, about an inch and a quarter. And some of it drove through the back of our half-ton truck through the reels of cable and everything else sticking out. And the next morning I got up and shook my blanket and there was a little piece of shrapnel, [gestures] about that long. Looked like a piece of coal. It come through the window and it burnt the hole right through my blanket.

Yeah, you go out at night, oh God almighty. A guy was there, I had been out part of the day. But see, some guys so tired that they fall asleep on a moving truck. Hang on to a pole. The truck would stop and they’d be still hanging onto the pole. You had to wake them up.

We were in there, we moved in there at night so the Germans couldn’t see us and we dug our slit trenches and everything was put into sandbags and hauled away so there would be, and the camouflage that’s put up. The same thing with the gun pits and all that. And that’s when we stayed there for about a month, preparing for that drive at the time. And on April the 5th or 6th [during the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy between January and May, 1944], at 11:00 that night, the campaign opened up and we had, I read, 1,550 guns fired simultaneously, all at one time. It lit up the sky. You could read the newspaper [by the light].

And everybody started moving in, the infantry moving past us and everything else. And we got caught. The driver and I went down the telephone lines; telephones were caught, broken. We had to get out and you can’t drive with no lights on your jeep or anything there because we were too close [to the front line]. And the tanks started coming out of the woods on there and everything else, the Sherman Tanks and all these. And here we were with the jeep and we couldn’t see them, the dust and everything else. Oh, we got a heck of a scare that time (laughs).

So anyway, we finally got by. We were scared. The two of us, you know, a 50 ton tank can run over you pretty easy; little jeep. But anyway, we got back, we fixed up the [telephone] line, we come back. So anyway, after that, the campaign started in the next day or so, we started the advance, they took [Monte] Cassino. And Cassino is one of the most natural fortified places in the world.

I did some guarding on the Nijmegen Bridge [in The Netherlands, during the Northwest Europe Campaign in 1945], it’s the longest single span bridge in Europe over the Rhine River. And the Germans were trying to, with frogmen and all that, to blow it up and destroy it so we could stop with communications. But that [the bridge] was on the way to get into Germany, see. And on that river, we used to have these huge searchlights that they used for airplanes in the air and we had them shined on the river so we could pick up anything, a log or anything on the river. So there was no, any movement or anything, you shot at it and took no chances.

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