Veteran Stories:
Joseph Wilmer Gagnon

Army

  • First page of a local museum research project on Joseph Wilmer Gagnon and the Canadian Forestry Corps during WWII. Full text available by request through the Memory Project Archive.

    Joseph Wilmer Gagnon
  • Wilmer Gagnon and Danny Whiteduck in October 1943.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Joseph Gagnon standing outside his hut (No. 4, his 'mansion') in the Canadian Forestry Corps camp in Belladrum, Scotland. Photograph taken soon after his Company arrived in Scotland.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Draft from the 19th Company leaving Belladrum camp about a month before D-Day. Many soldiers were drafted for this operation, travelling south to England. They were often being assigned to the Engineers Corps or the Army Service Corps to serve in Europe alongside the Americans. Photo taken in 1944.

  • Joseph Gagnon playing guitar at a concert put on by the 19th Co., Canadian Forestry Corps, for the local people. Photograph taken in Scotland, April 1943.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Soldiers of the No. 19 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, putting on a concert for local residents of Belladrum, Scotland. April 1943.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Portrait of Joseph Gagnon. Note that uniforms changed a few times, and here he is wearing a beret and a black tie, whereas the first uniforms (some two years before) had a wedge cap. Photo taken in Ottawa in August 1945, shortly before he was discharged.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Inspection of a draft from the 19th Company, Canadian Forestry Corps. Photograph taken in Belladrum, Scotland, in early 1944.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Soldiers with the 19th Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, loading a truck and getting ready to travel south to England. Photo taken in Scotland in 1944, just before D-Day – soldiers from the CFC would be drafted to serve with other companies overseas. Joseph Gagnon is 2nd in the lineup from the right, with his head turned and face visible.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Photograph of Joseph and Doreen Gagnon on their wedding day. They married in Stockton-on-Tees, England on November 18th 1942. Joseph Gagnon was the first Canadian to get married in that town.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Programme for a concert prepared and put on by the soldiers of the No. 19 Company, CFC for the local Scottish residents. Joseph (Wilmer) Gagnon is listed as playing the guitar. Concert held on April 2nd, 1943, in Belladrum, Scotland.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Daily Orders Part II issued to No. 19, Canadian forestry Corps on March 5th, 1943 by Commanding Officer Major O.V. Roxby. Document details newly-attached soldiers, hospitalizations and releases, and reversions.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Ring made by an Italian POW in Scotland out of two shilling pieces. Joseph Gagnon got it made as a souvenir.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Cover of a fold-out Christmas card issued by the Canadian Forestry Corps to the 19th Company, featuring their insignia. View 1 of 3.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • First flap of a fold-out Christmas card issued by the Canadian Forestry Corps to the 19th Company. Rest of the fold out is a photograph of the entire company. View 2 of 3.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Canadian Forestry Corps regimental Christmas photograph, part of a fold-out Christmas card. Joseph Wilmer Gagnon is in the back row, second to the right of the riflemen. View 3 of 3.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Wilmer Gagnon just coming off guard duty in Scotland. July 1941.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Wilmer Gagnon at the Cobourg Legion. 18 July 2011.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Joseph (Wilmer) and Doreen Gagnon's wedding day, 18 November 1942. L.Cpl. Gagnon's best man, George Gamble, also a member of the Canadian Forestry Corps, No.19., stands to the right. The other individuals are friends and family of Doreen Gagnon.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
Enlarge Image

"So the Forestry Corps, I would say, had done more work than any other regiment because we started from the day we landed until the day we left."

Transcript

Wilmer Joseph Gagnon, Canadian Forestry Corps

Going Overseas

Even going from Camp Valcartier [Quebec] to Halifax [Nova Scotia] on the train, I think I saved a guy from jumping off the train. He knew we were going overseas and he wanted to jump off of that train so bad. He didn’t want to go. So I talked him out of it. “Don’t be dumb,” I said. “If you jump off of that train,” I said, “You might injure your body so bad, you might even kill yourself.” So I said, “Going over,” I said, “You don’t know. I said, you probably come back alive,” I said. So I said, “Don’t jump.” He didn’t either but he was ready to jump.

The Role of the Canadian Forestry Corps

We were like the British coalminers: once you got there, you didn’t get out. Because [Winston] Churchill wanted to, I think he read a forestry report where they felt that they had to have five trees for every soldier. And there was one thing not mentioned and they needed 35,000 logs for D-Day.* And you saw the raft, we built rafts and we built wooden boxes for ammunition, for food and for gun handles, for building ships and all this stuff. So the Forestry Corps, I would say, had done more work than any other regiment because we started from the day we landed until the day we left.

On Guard Duty

And I was 16 years old when I joined up. So I was called to go and do guard duty, you saw those four guards in the picture. Well, they had four. And we had to go and guard this camp. So you worked two hours on, two hours off. But we had no ammunition. We just had the big 18 inch bayonet. So the officer give us a lecture, now he said, “When you’re on guard duty,” he says, “If you hear somebody coming up to you at night, you tell them to halt.” We said, “What about if he doesn’t halt?” “Well, you tell him three times. If he doesn’t halt, you shoot.” I said, “Well, how can you shoot if you don’t have a shell?” He said, “Well, he doesn’t know that.” I said, “No, but you do.”

Friends and Fun

I was pretty good friends with three Daigle brothers that came from New Brunswick. He could play the harmonica real good. So once in a while, we used to go up to our canteen because at first, we had what they called a NAAFI.** And the profit was supposed to go and buy extra food or something. We never saw anything, so we decided to take them out and run our own canteen. And then I think he saw that paper I had, smokers, make a smoker, so you could drink all the beers you could from the profit of the canteen. So you know, we made plays for the local people like, you know, of shows and stuff like that.

Equipment Troubles

I had to go and parade in front of the Minister of National Defence and I had that big 18-inch bayonet, they hadn’t give us the new Lee-Enfield [rifle] with the spike. So we had open boxes of trucks like with benches inside and they had put a two by four for a railing on the side. When I come to jump off, my bayonet went between the railing and the vent. And a company officer always put me in, he saw my friend, two lance corporals but he kept everybody about the same height and always put them on the front row. So here’s my bayonet all crooked, I didn’t know what to do, because I was in the front. So I managed to put it on a stone and I jumped on it a bit, not too hard, I didn’t want to break it, it was steel. But it was still bent a little bit like that.

So as we got on parade, there’s the Minister of National Defence coming with the company officer. So I said to my friend, I says, I sure hope he doesn’t stop in front of me because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stop from laughing. So anyway, he’s coming down, he stopped at one and then he, two, three, he stops again. And we had an old company officer, you never saw a grin on his face. He was very serious. He was a First World War veteran. Would you believe it, he came and stand right in front of me and he said, “Where are you from?” I said, “Maniwaki, Quebec.” “Oh,” he says, “I know that place real good, he says, that’s where all the good lumberjacks come from.” He said, “I’ve been around there.” And he started away and there’s the old commanding officer with the grin on his face and I tell you, that was I think one of the hardest times in my life not to smile, was watch him. And he went by. I got away with it but I had an answer for it. If he had have asked me how come my bayonet was crooked, I would have told him it was made to go around a corner.

“Your job is important”

[00:06:22] We did load a ship with lumber, yeah. And it went to Africa and I took a chalk and I wrote my name and address on the board. I get to, it was about a month after, first thing I get this letter from the soldier in Africa. He says, “I want to tell you, he said, that you people, your job is important,” he said, “We used your lumber today, we landed in Africa.”

*Allied landings in Normandy, France, 6 June 1944

**Navy, Army, & Air Force Institutes – British government organization established in 1921 to run recreational establishments and sell goods to servicemen and their families

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