Veteran Stories:
Walter Romanow

Army

  • Members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion in training near Manchester, October 18th, 1943. Mr. Walter Romanow is pictured on the front row, second from left.

    Walter Romanow
  • Walter Romanow, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, April 18th, 1945.

    Walter Romanow
  • Walter Romanow (left) and Bob Sullivan of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Picture taken in Normandy, Summer 1944.

    Walter Romanow
  • Book cover titled "War Diary of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Compiled and Edited by Walter Romanow, Morris Romanow, Helene MacLean, Rosalie Hartigan and Bill Dickson".

    Walter Romanow et. al.
  • Mr. Walter Romanow, May 2012.

    The Memory Project
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"[...] but apparently the story goes that Roosevelt and Stalin had arranged for Wismar, the City of Wismar on the Baltic Sea, to be taken by the Russians. Apparently, and again this is what I heard, what I remember reading, Churchill found out about that and he said “We had better get to Wismar before they do.” And they put our battalion in ahead of the British troops and we made our way to Wismar."

Transcript

[Enlistment and going overseas.]

The war broke out when I was 15 and I went to Technical Collegiate in Saskatoon, grade 9. Immediately across the road from the collegiate was a World War I armouries. And I walked over to the armouries and got talking to them, and they had a unit, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. And they said “If you want to be a boy soldier, go ahead.”

So I spent a lot time after school, I’d deak out of school occasionally to learn Morse Code, Semaphore and that kind of thing. And a couple years later I was old enough, just before I was 18 I went over to the Active Force and they accepted me and I took my advanced training in Calgary. And at one point I had completed my advanced training and they called me and they said “Go to the Orderly Office and pick up a train ticket. It’ll take you to Kingston, Ontario where the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals is meeting.”

So I went to the headquarters building, up the stairs, and I wanted to go through a door and a fellow was on his hands and knees, he was painting. He said “Can’t you see I’m painting? You can’t go through here.” He said “Go around the back door.”

So I went around the back door and opened it, and there was a big bulletin board. And right in the middle was a big sign that said “The Canadian Army is looking for volunteers to form a parachute battalion. Inquire within.” I inquired. The following day I was with them and I went to Camp Shilo [Manitoba] as a member.

At this point their paratroops had come from Fort Benning, Georgia where they had been working with the Americans. And as a group we went overseas and that’s when I went to Manchester to take my – but had it not been for that fellow on his hands and knees painting, I wouldn’t have been a parachutist.

[Incident with the Soviet troops in 1945.]

Within a day or two they told us to make our way up to, oh I don’t recall the history but apparently the story goes that Roosevelt and Stalin had arranged for Wismar, the City of Wismar on the Baltic Sea, to be taken by the Russians. Apparently, and again this is what I heard, what I remember reading, Churchill found out about that and he said “We had better get to Wismar before they do.” And they put our battalion in ahead of the British troops and we made our way to Wismar. Took Wismar, there was very little opposition.

On the 2nd of May [1945] that we took Wismar, again there was very little fighting. It was about noon that we took Wismar. An hour or two later a Russian Officer, in his vehicle with a driver, came and said “You fellas get out because Wismar is supposed to be taken by us.” And we said “We just did what we were told. You said to take Wismar so we took it and we’re going to hold it until somebody tells us to move.” And the guy again said “You gotta get out.” And we said “Our British have to tell us to get out.” That was on the 2nd of May.

There’s a story that I’ve written that a couple of days later, on the 4th or 5th, my Company Commander called me in and said “Walter, I want you to speak to these three Russians. You speak Russian.” I said “No I don’t but maybe my Ukrainian will do.” I said “I speak Ukrainian.”

So I went to these three Russians and I began talking to them and one of them said “Where’d you learn to speak Ukrainian?” And I said “Well my mother and dad came from Europe.” He said “You speak very well.” And my Sergeant Major again said “Tell them that they gotta get out.” So I started to talk to them and then one of these Russians said “Never mind”, he said – and he came a little closer, he said “We don’t want the city.” He said “You can keep the city.” He said “We want to get into that big wine cellar under City Hall.”

And indeed, there’s a big wine cellar. Matter of fact, we had placed Canadian guards around the different – we went down and there was kind of a wheelbarrow, a big wheelbarrow, two-wheeled barrow, loaded it up with booze of all kinds. The Russian took it back. And they were leaving, he turned around and he came close to me and he said “Wychodzi z Bogiem”. In Ukrainian it says “Go with God.” And they left. A couple of hours later we could hear singing from the Russians on the other side.

And a few days later on the 8th you’ll recall was the ending of the war in Europe. Russian military people had come in, senior people, met with British people and they exchanged whatever they talked about. And a day or two later we left, back to England and then made our way to Canada.

The war was still on in Japan and we began moving to meet American troops to go overseas, and the war ended in Japan. They sent us back. And shortly after that, I forget the date but it’s in my war diary, and we were eventually discharged.

[Life after the war.]

And I went back to Saskatoon, finished high school. So I did go back and finish my grade 10 and 11. And then I went on, took a freshman course at the University of Saskatchewan, took a BA, and then went to the University of – well I went to Eastern Canada and began to studies and eventually made my way to Detroit and took a doctorate at the university in Detroit in Communication Studies.

Then I began teaching at the University of Windsor. I set up a Department of Communication Studies and began teaching. And I developed the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Windsor. And my last eight years were a Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and then I retired.

At that point, one of my sons had moved to Edmonton to do graduate studies in law. And the other three children said “Well if he’s going, we’re going too.” And one by one they followed my son to Edmonton, and the four of them in Edmonton.

At one point a seven year old grandson phoned one day and said “Granddad, why aren’t you moving to Edmonton?” I said “Well Evan, I hear it gets cold in Edmonton.” He said “But Granddad you’re retired, when it gets cold don’t go out.” So my wife and I came out to Edmonton.

Shortly after my wife came down quite ill with Alzheimer and the last 10 years she’s been in Edmonton General with Alzheimer. She’s been there for 12 months. And so I moved to a residence apartment building right across the road from what they call a Continuing Care Centre where my wife is. So I visit her daily a couple of times. But she doesn’t know me, she doesn’t know the children; it’s complete memory loss. And that’s my story.

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