Veteran Stories:
Lally Robert “Jim” Finsten


  • Lally Finsten. September 1940.

    Lally Finsten
  • Lally Finsten at a railway station in London, Ontario, June 1939. Mr. Finsten was on his way to Petawawa, Ontario to participate in a summer camp with the Royal Canadian Engineers.

    Lally Finsten
  • Lally Finsten in Haslemere, England, 1943.

    Lally Finsten
  • Lally Finsten (second from right) at the United Nations camp in Rafah, Gaza Strip, 1959.

    Lally Finsten
  • Lally Finsten's service medals (left to right): Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal 1939-1945, Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, United Nation Emergency Force Medal, Efficiency Medal, Canadian Decoration.

    Lally Finsten
  • Lally Finsten at The Memory Project event in London, Ontario, June 2012.

    Historica Canada
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"We have some carpenters and guys like that, and that’s I guess partly why we got turned into a construction battalion."


I joined the militia with a friend of mine, he was in already, and he talked me into joining up, and we went to summer camp in 1939 and then when the war broke out he went off with the unit and I was too young and they wouldn’t take me, so I waited for another year, and I stayed in the militia, took training and whatnot, I joined up in August of 1940, we went overseas in 1941, in June. What you know, 17 and 18?  You know, hey? People had all kinds of different reasons, older people I am sure had reasons for doing things. We did it because everybody else was doing it, that was, we just joined up because everybody else had joined up I think, you know there would have been no real political reason or things like that, not at that age, not for me, anyway.

Being a new unit, most of it, the early part, most of it was just teaching drill, military drill and rifle training to the new recruits, you know, and that was my job mainly. They were a good bunch, a lot of them were older fellows, some were farmers. I know we had one fellow, off a farm, he could not march, he could not swing his arms and legs in unison, you know. And had an awful time trying to teach him, get him sorted out, but eventually we did. We had some older fellows, and we have some carpenters and guys like that, and that’s I guess partly why we got turned into a construction battalion.

When we got into England I got on to the driving and got into the transport section and I became a driver, and I was that for about two years, and as I say I had learned to type and they needed a typist clerk for something, and I said I could type, and I then became a clerk, and that’s the way I finished up.

It was just after D-Day* when I got posted to Army Headquarters London, England in the engineering department, and my job there became finding places to buy the supplies for the different jobs that were going on. And we had several big companies that we could deal with and others you would have to go and scout around and found out who could supply what, you know. The companies in Britain there, were quite limited into what they could produce, you know, so we had a base of companies for certain things, you know, and we could usually get that, but when it was something special you had to scout around and see who could possibly provide the end material, so we did it.

And then, when, after the war had ended, we were turning down everything and as the need came for – we had to get rid of the different hospitals, one thing or another, and I was helping doing that and turning the stuff over to the British Red Cross, we turned all our hospitals over to the British Red Cross, so. Getting a lot, you know, enough to eat a lot of times, there was, you never went really hungry, but you had to scout around and found out where you could. We had ration cards and you could get the basic ration you know, once a week you would get a piece of meat about that big, you know, if you were lucky, you had to cultivate the local grocer and things like that, you know.

We, as I said, the sergeant major that I was driving around when I was in Haslemere [Surrey, England], he would make deals and, you know, hospital wanted to get something done or something that, he said, “Well, yeah it’s, we could do it, but you know, a couple of bed sheets would help and stuff like that,” so. Because up to that time we had, all we had was, what they called a palliasse – was big, like – like a big mattress cover, and then nothing put in it, you know, and that’s what you slept on. I think we got a set of biscuits, too, they were like a mattress pads, but they were – you put three of them to make a mattress, you know, and he was able to get us some of them, too, so. There was wheeling and dealing, there was a lot of it going on, no doubt about that, I mean, everybody was looking out for themselves as much as they could I guess, so.

*6 June 1944 – Allied invasion of Normandy, France

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