"[...] we were just trying to get there and get settled up, you know. And it was all very exciting and unnerving and so on, but I'd do it again in a minute. "
The antiaircraft [unit] that I was in, the 32nd [Field] Battery, our major was Jack Cousins of Belleville [Ontario], a real man. He was also the head of a school in Belleville, I believe, in pre-war, but he was all man. I mean, we'd go through the fire for him.
And the as for the D-Day landing [June 6th, 1944], we went to the Isle of Wight [England] previously. We were on the Isle of Wight, and the joke of the war to us was we were guarded by Americans. (laughs) And but of course on the Isle of White they had civilians there and they had kids, and they knew that we had chocolate bars and cigarettes. And so the kids used to gather outside the wire and we would give them cigarettes for their moms and dads and so on and chocolate bars and chat for a while. And I'll never forget the little kid that was talking to me. And he said, "Do you fellows know where you're goin'?" And I said, "No." I said, "As long as the island floats, I guess we'll be all right." He said, "You're going to France," he said, "within a week." And the kid was about four or five years old. "You're going to France." He said, "I heard daddy and mommy talking about it." And it too was a secret move.
And so we ended up when the move did come on the 5th of June , we loaded up and on the gun and then drove down to the beach not the beach there, there was no beach, but down there to the LCT, landing craft tank. And we drove onto that landing craft tank and the armada sailed all night. But according to our reports we slept, of course, because we were mostly seasick. But according to the reports, they met German vessels somewhere out in the [English] Channel. And somehow or other they got wise to us that we were coming through, but they didn't know where we were going. And that was all we knew until after.
But when we got to Juno Beach [the sector of the Allied invasion of Normandy assigned to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division], they we drove off the LCT onto a flat-top. It was like a floating floor in your house. I had never saw one before or since. And it had a motor on the rear of the thing and a sailor to run to drive the motor to push this thing in at high tide on Juno so that we could drive off because we were on wheels.
Now, this actually happened, it may not even be recorded, but it was clear, it was daylight and I was sober and a little if a little upset because it the guns were pounding and it was a noisy place. And right beside us was a Jeep with a Canadian officer, I swear, in his dress suit and he carried a swagger stick instead of a gun, but he had his driver. And we were just right near the you could see the land from where we were on Juno as we pulled along. And the flat-top stopped for a few minutes and the officer, he was just about four feet away from me and I could hear him clearly and he said, "Give her the gun, John." And the driver put the Jeep in gear and eased over to the edge. And as soon as he cleared the edge, the Jeep stood on its head and sank and it went down. And there was an eddy. You know, a whirlpool of water. So obviously a bomb or shell had landed there and created a hole that filled with water. And the only thing I saw we were there for 10 minutes after that happened. So they both drowned. But the reason I will never forget it is in the whirlpool, in the eddy was his cap, that flat-topped cap that officers wear with their dress uniforms and the swagger stick. But we but I didn't see any bodies; they didn't come up.
And then we drove in on Juno. And we were doing I would estimate we were doing about 80 miles an hour because the logic was if you hit a mine, if you were travelling at enough speed, the mine might blow to knock off the back wheels of your vehicle but you might survive. Anyway, whatever the logic, the driver was carrying the mail and we were really goin'. And right beside us, this long truck with a canvas over the top of it was was passing us. So he had to be doing a hundred kilometres an hour. He had to be doing at least that. And the man was looking through the wheel. I was sitting up on top of the ammunition, I could see him clearly, and there wasn't a there wasn't a speck of glass left in the cab of that truck, but he appeared to be unscathed. There was no blood flying or anything. And he was looking through the wheel and he was really goin', really movin', and he went out of sight.
We got to our gunsite and put the put the gun in action and but first we had to dig a pit, which is about two feet deep. The idea being that with the Bofors, 40 millimetre antiaircraft gun [one of the main gun equipping the 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division], your truck is about four feet high and you get that sunk down in the ground, that means your barrel will be down so that you can depress it and use it for ground defence if you have to, if you needed it. That was my logic anyway at the time. And so but they dug another hole near and for the man, spare man, to sleep in.
And during the night I remember waking up and crawling around on my hands and knees and it was pouring rain and and a plane came over. And even then we knew the difference between our aircraft and the Germans' because ours have a smooth sound or did at that time. They had a smooth sound, and the Germans sounded like they had no mufflers on the things. They were hit and miss, you know. And so I heard this thing. And then the machine gun cut in and he seemed to know where we were approximately, but it was so dark and they couldn't they didn't show a light or anything, and he stitched a row of holes across between me and the gun and he went through the tarp. And according to the reports the next morning, four men were killed under that tarp. And that was my welcome to Juno Beach.
The next morning I did see one civilian on the beach. We never saw any Germans because on the cottages in the cottage area you have your cottages back from the water and then you have your vacant land and your buildings behind that and also the German army. So we didn't see we didn't see any Germans who weren't prisoners on D-Day, none at all, the crew and our gun because we weren't fighting anybody, we were just trying to get there and get settled up, you know. And it was all very exciting and unnerving and so on, but I'd do it again in a minute.
That I received an award, that's true, but it didn't come during the war. I came back to Canada and I went to the I got it through the DVA [Department of Veterans Affairs]. I went to Brockville [Ontario] to a bricklaying class there, bricklaying stone masonry because I'm an outdoor person. And the letter came from the Department of Records in Ottawa. And it stated that I had been mentioned in dispatches for distinguished service and His Majesty was grateful and all this crap, and they gave me an oak leaf to fit on the on the ribbons. But I was not impressed with war ribbons because to me they had blood on them because being in the anti-aircraft you hit a plane and it doesn't fall right in your lap. The planes then were travelling about 200 miles an hour. And you will understand this because you when you hit them, normally the black smoke goes out the back and the plane carries on and crashes, and that's exactly what happened. So we were spared looking at a lot of bodies.
And I saw none no bodies on D-Day except one civilian Frenchman who was out there and he was shaking his fist at every gun that went by because behind the cottages were open fields and that's where his cows were. And when the Navy opened up, I guess they killed every cow he had. So he wasn't too we weren't too welcome. But these are my recollections at the moment.
And I got one trip back to England because I was in England for four years before D-Day. And I married an English girl and our first baby was a little girl. Well, all the competent this is my opinion, all the competent doctors were in the military and England was a beehive at that time because they were bombed every night. And so I got the telegram when we were up in Holland that the baby had died because the doctor operated on her. She had internal problems. And she lived through the night, but she died the following day. But and then so they gave me seven days compassionate leave and but then transport was a problem because I got back to the Channel, but the Channel had a storm and they wouldn't let the boats sail. So I didn't get back for the funeral. I didn't get back until the day after the funeral. And I'm glad I did get back because my wife was a mess. She thought being me being a foreigner, she thought that I might blame her for not looking after the child. But it wasn't her fault at all, it was the operation that killed the killed the baby. She's buried in Worthing, Sussex, England.