Veteran Stories:
Alan Canavan

Army

  • Alan Canavan pictured on his motorcycle during exercise "Smashex I". Henfield, England, Spring 1943.

    Alan Canavan
  • Mr. Canavan's Discharge Certificate dated 29 November, 1945.

    Alan Canavan
  • Beret Badge for the 7th Reconnaissance Regiment (17th Duke of York's Royal Canadian Hussars).

    Alan Canavan
  • Mr. Canavan's medals, from left to right: 1939-1945 Star; France & Germany Star; Defense Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal 1939-1945; Silver Jubilee Medal.

    Alan Canavan
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"I happened to be smoking a cigarette at the time. And we hopped out, got into this slit trench and a bomb went off so close that I couldn't see daylight. It blew the cigarette right out of my mouth. And I thought, good heavens, this is the end of the war."

Transcript

Before D-Day [June 6th, 1944] all the regiments that were going to participate on D-Day were moved to the very south of England. And one of our jobs at that time was to bring in the maps that were required for these other regiments and go into these sealed off camps. And it was very easy to get into them but very difficult to get out because they didn't want people to, you know, just go out and not come back. So we were allowed to go in and deliver these maps. And they were all secret at that time and they weren't allowed to open these things until they were aboard their vessels.And we delivered what we had to and then got back out and went back to camp.

And when D-Day took place, we were stationed the regiment was stationed in Chichester [England]. And the night before D-Day we heard a lot of aircraft and wondered what was going on. And we suddenly realized that this was the beginning of D-Day. And these later on we could see these planes towing, what were they, gliders. They were towing the gliders. And we had a very wonderful view of all this going on. And D-Day took place.

Well, we stayed in Chichester for the month of June and into the early part of July. And then we moved the regiment in convoy to London, and in London we were escorted by the Metropolitan Police to Tilbury Docks. And there we were to board our ship. Well, the ship that we saw had a bow all bashed in and we didn't think it was very suitable or seaworthy so we delayed getting aboard. They put another ship in its place, and we got aboard this ship. It was called the Fort Covington, which was and the thing had been made in Canada, the ship, and all the equipment was all Canadian. We felt right at home.

So then we started to sail down the Thames. And this would be in the evening, about July the 12th, somewhere around there. And we sailed down to the mouth of the Thames and around past Dover and by that time it was dark. And we sailed across the English Channel. And in the morning we were off the coast of France at somewhere around Courseulles-sur-Mer.

And they unloaded us from our ship into landing craft. And they went in so far and then we had to wade ashore in a couple of feet of water. And when I remember getting out of the water an, English engineer, Royal Engineer, said, "You know, mate, if you had been here two weeks later, you would have made a dry landing." So we were two weeks too early for him.

Anyway, we landed and de-waterproofed our vehicles and then started to take off for Caen. When we got into Caen, we took our position. It was a nice old house. It seemed to be on a slight rise on the ground. And in the grounds we noticed there were a lot of narrow, shallow trenches, only a couple of feet deep. And we wondered why were these all dug that way. And while we were wondering, the Germans must have known that we had arrived because they sent a barrage of mortars over and we found out what those little shallow trenches were for. And as time went on, we found out that we needed a more deeper trench than a little shallow slit trench.

And so we looked for the deepest one we could find. And the interesting thing, we got into one about at least 6 feet deep and the mosquitoes were bad and they sounded just like aircraft, so you had to be careful.

Well, I served in the Intelligence Section of the regiment [7th Reconnaissance Regiment (17th Duke of York's Royal Canadian Hussars), the reconnaissance unit of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division], and the Intelligence Section was a very small group. It had one officer, one sergeant, and six troopers. We I don't think we ever operated with six troopers because either one was sick or one was away or something like that. And our job was to we were split up and one of us I had C Squadron to look after. And there'd be two others for A and B Squadron. And our main role was to go down to these squadrons and get a situation report and bring it back to the unit and put it on a very large map board.

And in the course of a day's operations, one of the things we had to do was to go down to Divisional Headquarters and get the situation report there and bring it back so that all our officers would know what was going on in the whole area.

And we were doing it. We were either troopers or lance corporals. And the thing was that all other units sent people down for situation reports and these other people were all lieutenants or captains or majors, and we were troopers. You know, it was most unusual, and yet we were accepted just like anybody else and we did our job. It really wasn't our job. It should have been the officer's job.

But what happened was these situation reports were brought back compiled and then one of our people would enter that into the war diary. And I will admit that our war diary is a very dry, boring thing to read because we were warned not to say where we were or really what we were doing. There was very little you could write about. And it was only after the war we found out that some other units, their intelligence people had made a story out of the whole thing which was nice to read, but ours was poor.

Gosh, there were dangers that you had to face, naturally, and I think there were two cases where I was really scared and one of them was the day we got bombed in France by the Royal Air Force. This raid was called a post-air support raid and it was to be two hours of length. And we had taken up a position outside a little area called […] and noted for a large quarry. And above the quarry, the Polish [1st] Armoured Division had troops, and in the next field south of them we were stationed. We had a technical regimental headquarters set up. And I was in a half-track with a radio operator and my job was I had a big map board with the bombing plan laid out on the map.

So at 2 o'clock the raid started. We could hear the bombers coming over. And in a few minutes we heard bombs going off but they were way behind us.

And these bombs are dropping right in our lines. And as the bombing pattern came closer, we realized that we were in a very dangerous position. So I told the wireless operator, asked him if he had a jumper lead that he could put on his radio and we'd both get out and get into a slit trench. I happened to be smoking a cigarette at the time. And we hopped out, got into this slit trench and a bomb went off so close that I couldn't see daylight. It blew the cigarette right out of my mouth. And I thought, good heavens, this is the end of the war. However, we survived that, but our vehicle had a shrapnel hole through the engine and that drained all the glycol out of it and our camouflage net was on fire. So we put that out and we had an order to retreat. So we gathered our group together, a small group, and went out onto the highway and we took a roll call and we had one extra man and it turned out to be an artillery man. And he had been asleep when the bomb raid started and woke up and saw us running to vehicles, so he ran and joined one of our vehicles and he turned out to be an artillery fellow. And we returned him to his unit and we carried on from there.

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