Bill Young in Hamilton, Ontario, June 2012.Historica Canada
"But nevertheless, we always were on the high alert for German paratroopers. I don’t know if you have ever looked at a body of water for a long time and seen that there’s nothing. But if you’re out manning an OP on the coast and you’re told to watch for the German invasion coming, you see a ship every time you look out."
But I eventually ended up by going to RMC in 1936. We were the class of ‘40. We would graduate – it would have been if we finished our four-year course in 1940. However, the war came along and, in 1939, in early October, right after the Thanksgiving holiday, we were graduated. And, we all – in our class we were about 38 of us at the time – enlisted in units that were being mobilized. And, I joined the 40th Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, which was a Hamilton [Ontario] battery. And it was the only Hamilton unit in the artillery at that time.
Well our training resumed but we still didn’t have any real equipment. When we were in Canada we had no equipment. I had never even seen a gun, as an artillery man. We had broomsticks. We had things like that, but we had nothing to train on. We get to England. We eventually get some makeshift guns. When I say makeshift they’re a hybrid. Britain was – the Imperial [British] Army was switching to a [Ordnance QF] 25-pounder guns, which is the field gun. But the first four, they’d had [Ordnance QF] 18-pounder guns and they had a lot of those still kicking around. So, we sort of got a hybrid they called 18/25-pounders. So it was a mixture of parts, and that’s what we eventually got. And, at the time of the German breakthrough [leading to the fall of France in June 1940], we actually had our first firing practice at which we ever fired a gun and it was in Oakhampton, which is an artillery range in Devon [England].
And, I remember the scares that everybody had because Britain was going to be – German parachuters were going to land next door. Here we were in this God-forsaken artillery range in the hills of Devon. We had to keep watch every night for paratroopers – they were going to land. Why anybody in his right mind would think a German paratrooper would be consigned to an artillery range in Devon, I don’t know, but nevertheless, we always were on the high alert for German paratroopers.
I don’t know if you have ever looked at a body of water for a long time and seen that there’s nothing. But if you’re manning an OP [observation post] on the coast and you’re told to watch for the German invasion coming, you see a ship every time you look out. Actually we were told it wouldn’t be an invasion, we were told to watch out for landing parties who would be sent ashore to probe the defences, see what Britain’s shore defences were. But, of course we never had any. But anyway, that was the role of the Canadians that summer.
I served for a while as ADC [aide-de-camp] to [I Canadian Corps commander] General [Harry] Crerar. That was in England, and at the time of Dieppe [Operation Jubilee, 19 August 1942]. So, I have lots of memories of – an ADC’s job is really getting your - General Crerar to the certain place at a certain time, and to make sure that the people that knew he was coming showed up, and be able to tell General Crerar that as you’re getting there, “This is who you’re going to meet and this is where he comes from in Canada” – so he is well prepared.
It was a tremendous shock to everybody in the Canadian high command. Dieppe was a disaster, as you know, and it was treated as such. And, Crerar, coming from Hamilton, was especially concerned with a lot of the families he knew who had people killed at Dieppe or severely wounded. So he was very, very concerned.
We came out, not with the troops that went to Sicily that landed on the beaches. We were brought out as reinforcements. There was the 5th [Canadian (Armoured)] Division that came out with, I did, and the 2nd Medium Regiment went out with the – they were part of the Niagara army group, Royal Artillery, which in Canadian terms had three medium regiments, and they were just again used to be wherever there was a lot of firepower needed. And we were in Italy then, went over to the Liri Valley and, of course they needed all our firepower. My particular regiment had an OP, an observation post, that I had to get up to. I had fortunately a great big donkey, and you’d strap the wireless [radio] set to him and he would carry it up. At the end we were right opposite Cassino [Italy] and you could get very good views from there. So we did a certain amount of that, firing, and a lot of programmed firing.
The Liri Valley, for example, was our first real intense battle, and most of that was done as far as we were concerned by planned shoots. And, then as we moved forward we were getting targets of opportunity, which go into effect sometimes – “okay you observe but you can fire.” Anyways, that was the first and then we went on of course into other things. There was the Gothic Line [last major series of German fortifications in northern Italy] after they landed [Allies at Salerno, Italy, 3 September 1943], and then all the fighting up and around the rivers of Senio, Lamone, and other things. Anyway, after Rimini [13 to 21 September 1944 battle] and [the liberation of] Ravenna [4 December 1944], it was just hard slogging. Every river had to be crossed. Every river was in flood at that time, and the Canadians took a beating at some of them, that’s for sure.