Lorne Winer brushing his teeth at Aldershot, England. Taken 1942 or 1943.Lorne Winer
Lorne Winer (right) and his friend Solway in England, taken 1942-1943.Lorne Winer
Lorne Winer (middle) and friends at Aldershot, England. Taken 1942 or 1943.Lorne Winer
Lorne Winer (standing, far right) and friends at the Belfair Club, located close to Trafalgar Square, London, England. Taken 1942 or 1943.Lorne Winer
Lorne Winer in March 2012.Lorne Winer
"They talk about the stench of death. It stayed with me for about two years. It’s the most horrible smell; you couldn’t get it out of your nose. The smell of death is the very antithesis of life. Your body tries to shut it out, automatically. It tries to close your nose, your ears, your eyes. It negates life."
Then I joined the army, part adventure and part stories I was hearing about the Germans and the Jews at that time. One of the jobs of the Survey Regiment [1st and 2nd Survey Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery] was calibrating the guns. The other was of course mainly – the flash spotting [visual verification of a shell hitting its target] failed. We had a border location unit; that failed. But the main job was counter-battery and the idea was to bring down artillery fire, our artillery, onto to where the German guns were firing from. We had to do it in a matter of minutes. And we would get what they call northerns and southerns. You’d get a little square of maybe a half a mile. That would be a killing area.
And we would go back afterwards; I say we, whoever, the regiment, to see how we had done once the Germans had retreated. And we’d be spot on. We’d see all kinds of smashed artillery, German, with German dead and so on. So we did a pretty good job.
I remember one town, Colombelles [Normandy, France, town northeast of the city of Caen, was liberated by Canadian soldiers in July 1944 as part of the larger Operation Atlantic, the liberation of the southern part of Caen], it was a beautiful – there was a shop that sold some beautiful lace materials, very fine fabrics. And we would build smudge pots. A smudge pot was earth with some gasoline in there, so it would make a lot of smoke. The mosquitoes were killing us, they were feeding on – there were dead bodies all around.
And the one thing, I’m just reading a book about the North Africa campaign and they talk about the stench of death. It stayed with me for about two years. It’s the most horrible smell; you couldn’t get it out of your nose. The smell of death is the very antithesis of life. Your body tries to shut it out, automatically. It tries to close your nose, your ears, your eyes. It negates life.
And these mosquitoes were feeding on dead bodies, so everybody had dysentery. And they were plaguing us. Aside from the effects, the bites themselves were awful. And there were thousands of them, maybe millions. So we ransacked this store, liberated, and we took this fine lace which would keep out everything but let light and air in. And we would put the smudge pot into the slit trench and try to drive out the mosquitoes. And then you would dive in and pull this lace covering over your slit trench.
And that would be fine for about a half hour then some of the mosquitoes which had been neutralized would come to life. And we’d hear the buzz, oh my God; it was a terrible thing, terrible. Anyway, that was life in a slit trench. I lived in a slit trench on and off for about four months.
So this day we were bombed by the Americans. And I could see them sailing overhead and then I would see the bomb bays open up. Well thank God I was just underneath. They don’t come straight down they come this way, so they were coming away from me.
Anyway, the next thing I know we’ve got all sorts of our regiment are knocked out. And there’s Captain Pascal up against a tree with his – a piece of shrapnel had come right across and opened him up. He’s dying, he’s glazed. And I’m looking at him and I can’t believe it because two days earlier I had heard Captain Briscoe - God I hate to call him captain. I heard this Briscoe guy calling him Ginsberg. That was his way, his anti-Semitic, Ginsberg. He knew very well it was Pascal.
So I heard this here for about two days in a row, I couldn’t stand it any more. And I waited for him [his commanding officer] to come out and then I stood in the middle. I remember we had these, I forget what you call them but it was all mud, and I stood in the middle so he couldn’t pass me. And I said, “Sir, I hear Captain Briscoe casting anti-Semitic slurs and I’d like to know why you’re not doing anything about it.”
I couldn’t stand it any more, especially having that experience three earlier with Briscoe. And he [his commanding officer] says, “Mind your own business, Sergeant” and he stocked away. Two days later he was dead. I mean I just can’t get it out of my mind. I mean the irony of this SOB, somebody in the same army risking his life having to listen to anti-Semitic slurs. It was beyond me.
I was at regimental headquarters, I was a sergeant, and this gunner, which is private, you know and the engineers are trapper and tank is trooper and infantry private and the artillery we have a fancy name, gunner. Okay. This gunner came up – oh, somebody said to me, “Sergeant, there’s a Gunner” from X company or so on wants to talk to you”. And I said, “Okay.”
And I went out to see this guy and I said “You want to see me?” He said “Yes.” He says “I’m from a small town in Ontario.” He mentioned the town, a small town. “And I’ve never seen a Jew. And I was brought up that all Jews had horns. And when I was told there was a Jewish sergeant at regimental headquarters I couldn’t understand that.” It didn’t equate with his background and his knowledge of Jews. “I just had to come up and see. I knew it couldn’t be; something’s wrong.” And he said, “I just had to see. I just had to look at you.” He came up to see me, to see the Jew that was supposed to have horns.
There was a little town in Belgium and we had very little chance to shower. I mean we were pretty grubby and filthy. And we arrived at this town and there was a – it was at a fire station and somehow or other the fire station and the public baths were connected. We were lined up to go in to have a shower. We each had a towel and a huge bar of soap.
Now a huge bar of soap would be worth let’s say about $10 thousand; I’m exaggerating, but you have to imagine these women without soap for four years. While we were lined up we would be importuned by a lot of these Belgian girls, some with babies, who would sign language, would try to strike a deal that they would give you sex, trade sex for what was left of the soap when you came out of the shower. That was another sad thing that we saw. I mean this was a reality of people that were starving and didn’t have the basic amenities of life.