We could see the enemy clustered around this farmhouse and I said, this is it and so we all got up and ran like hell, firing from the hip, even the Bren guns firing from the hip, and sprayed that whole area.
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Battle of the Ardennes
All my men and all men in the battalion had 10 day passes for Christmas . But then all of a sudden, I’m told to collect all the passes. All passes are cancelled and the Navy took us across to Belgium. It was very unusual because nobody at battalion or brigade came to us to tell us what the mission was, what the task was, except to man this line on what was called Blueberry Hill. Confronting us in the front of us were German tanks. And we didn’t have anti-tank equipment with us at all. Our mission was to dig in, stay there and prevent the Germans from advancing any farther into Belgium. That’s it on this line.
As we went across the barges across the channel, all we had was the uniform and equipment we had in Normandy in June . So our battle smocks, Dennison smocks, are very light, they’re just canvass. And we had no winter boots or anything, no gloves at all. We had just what we carried. So suddenly, we were into the Ardennes in Belgium [January-Feburary1945] where the snow is, I mean really, it’s knee deep.
But the Ardennes came to a halt at some point and it was such a great relief when orders came down to get out of our trenches and attack [25 January 1945] . In Rochefort [Belgium], we had a pretty good idea that the Germans were retreating. They are performing a retreating motion with small arms fire. We are not in, they have some tanks with them but the tanks are moving too. So most of it we are mortaring, we are shelling ahead and we are moving up behind all this gunfire to take over Rochefort. What I had in mind at this time and I think I share that with a lot of other men, that we’ve got to get success and get this done quickly in Rochefort because of all things there, there’s going to be shelter. There’s buildings and maybe even a fire. For the first time, you get your hands warm. And into some of the stores, there’s something there, in some buildings, we’re going to find some gloves and maybe a pair of socks to change. And so that’s what happened. We got into Rochefort and took over the town completely, chased the Germans and they retreated.
Those who are left in the village who haven’t taken off, they’re do or die. Some commander has said, you’re there to defend this until your death, that’s it. So those that remained, most of them were killed. It had been overrun by the Germans, Panzer divisions on Christmas Eve, because the place was scattered with American dead. And I’m talking hundreds, hundreds of American bodies.
The Rhine drop was a magnificent drop [Operation VARSITY 24 March 1945]. It was so beautifully planned, the objectives were all sand table planned. We all had a look at the thing on the sand table. The drop, when we found out was going to be at 10:00 in the morning with the skies clear and sun shining. And the whole brigade was dropped in a little more than two football fields. So the result was that once you landed and got out of your harness, you were able to gather your men together very quickly and only run 500 yards to the attack point. And that’s how it happened. It just went like clockwork.
I could hear the crack of rifle fire and machine gun fire and I could look up to see that the canopy was open and sure enough, there’s a couple of holes through the canopy, you know, small, nothing tragic. The canopy’s not collapsing. But obviously there was rifle fire from the drop zone. Within seconds, you’re on the ground. You look around and say, Jesus, this is just like the sand table. We could see the enemy clustered around this farmhouse and I said, this is it and so we all got up and ran like hell, firing from the hip, even the Bren guns firing from the hip, and sprayed that whole area.
Within seconds really, we had the place secure. The Germans came out and surrendered. We are doing the task of breaking off from the American command to make a mad dash with the Six Airborne Division leading for the Baltic [Sea], and up to a place called Wismar [Germany], north of Hamburg, to establish a point, a holding line to keep the Russians from advancing any further into the west. And from the day we started leaving the Elbe heading up past village after village and town and town after town, the Germans were surrendering, flying white tablecloths and pillowcases from the windows.
Well, it was an exciting few days from about the 3 of May  on when we made this advance with the tanks into Wismar. We knew that we had to contain this. Our orders simply were that we would move out to the perimeter, establish roadblock entries to the city from various points and that the Russians would be coming up shortly, if not already. We were getting flooded with fleeing civilians who are in tears and they’re carrying babies and they’re in a terrible state of shock. And they’re flowing through us.
But then we had the Germans army, of all ranks. Who want to surrender to the Allies, to the British or Americans. But not to the Russians. They’re all fleeing the Russians. The problem was that many German officers of Colonel and above, they would stand there and say, “No, no, Geneva rules, we surrender to an officer of equal rank.” What the hell, we didn’t have an officer of equal rank, so we promoted one of the guys from Saskatchewan and we got him a helmet and we marked on his helmet that was an eagle and he was a colonel. And his name was Diock. Well, the officers didn’t know that Diock was just a private, but we had to do something to keep the thing moving.
But within three days, the Russian army arrived. The Russians wanted free entry to Wismar, so we made it very plain, this is as far as you go, period, that’s it. The brigadier [Brigadier James Hill] had said to me since the war, he knew that we were going to be making a last dash to end the war. And he wanted the honor to go to his Canadians.