Veteran Stories:
Bert Emmanuel Nystrom

Army

  • Commemorative plaque of the Battle of Caen with the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (RCOC) insignia carefully punched into the brass covering of a 75mm shell from the battle. Bert Nystrom tediously tapped out the entire surface of the plaque by hand.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Destroyed Canadian Army Morris Commercial C8 Field Artillery Tractor ("Quad") vehicle. Near Caen, France.

    Bert Nystrom
  • RCOC personnel with destroyed Morris C8 Quad vehicle. Near Caen, France.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Destroyed bridge at Caen, France. Bert Nystrom on right.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Canada Club pass card for Paris, France. March 1945.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Paris street map issued by the department store, Au Bon Marché.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Group of fellow RCOC musicians on a rooftop in Holland.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Unknown fellow RCOC musician on a Dutch rooftop.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Bert Nystrom with accordion in Holland. For Mr. Nystrom and his friends, music was a welcome relief from the war.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Bert Nystrom playing a German Goldklang guitar in Holland.

    Bert Nystrom
  • Two Dutch children befriended by Bert Nystrom and his fellow Canadian soldiers. Nijmegen, Holland.

    Bert Nystrom
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"When peace was finally declared in Europe on May 8th, 1945, my dad, along with many other soldiers, didn’t immediately return home and stayed to help distribute food, keep the peace, and assist displaced persons. "

Transcript

My name is Karen Nystrom.  I live in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  My father, Bert Emmanuel Nystrom, was born on May 5th, 1919 on the family farm located a few miles north of Wabigoon in northwestern Ontario.  He was the eldest of three children of Swedish immigrants that arrived in Canada in 1916.  He enlisted in the Lake Superior Regiment on October 9th, 1940 at the age of twenty-one.  He was later assigned to the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps [RCOC], and served until June 24th, 1946.

His basic training was completed in Fort William, Ontario, now known as Thunder Bay, and he obtained mechanical training at Queen’s Park in Toronto, and overseas he had further battle training in England and Scotland.  Outside of army training he learned soccer and boxing, and remained a fan of the sports for many years after the war.  My dad survived D-Day on Juno Beach, specifically Nan Beach sector, the Battle of Caen on July 8th, 1944, and the liberation of Holland.  He saw action in Belgium and Germany as well.

Although my father never discussed the war in any great detail, he often spoke well of the Dutch people and their immense strength and courage.  Dad felt that of all civilians that were unfortunately involved with the war, none suffered more than the Dutch, and for the rest of his life he kept a very high regard for them.

Dad told a story about one time in Holland when he was surrounded by several small starving children, begging soldiers for food.  The only treat he had with him was bitter chocolate rations.  He broke the chocolate into portions and doled it out.  The children loved the treats, but shortly afterwards they became sick.  The chocolate was simply too rich for their empty stomachs.  Dad was so upset and it affected him deeply, as I heard that story often over the years and every time he told it he became saddened.  He witnessed the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany and I simply cannot imagine the horrors he saw there, but he never discussed this event, although I’m sure it haunted him in the continuous nightmares he suffered for the remainder of his life.

I have hanging in my home a commemorative plaque of the Battle of Caen made by my father, with the insignia of the RCOC carefully punched into the brass covering from a 75mm shell from the battle.  The entire surface of the plaque was tediously tapped out by hand, and dad told me it helped calm him between battles and skirmishes.

Dad, however, did tell me about trying to have a little fun whenever possible, which wasn’t often.  I enjoyed hearing stories of his playing guitar or accordion with other musical army pals.  Their instruments were often obtained from civilians, and amazingly my dad was given a guitar in Holland and managed to lug it safely back to Canada.  Dad told me that it felt strange and awkward to have fun back then, but one never knew what tomorrow would bring.

I did not know about my dad’s wartime photo album, his war medals, or details of his army service until after his death.  These were all locked within the trunk.  He did, however, expound on the uselessness of war and from his only experiences with it, was vehemently against it.  When peace was finally declared in Europe on May 8th, 1945, my dad, along with many other soldiers, didn’t immediately return home and stayed to help distribute food, keep the peace, and assist displaced persons.  My dad returned home to Canada and continued his mechanical training, finally obtaining his mechanic and welding tradesman’s papers in the mid-1950s.  He married my mother in 1950 and raised myself and two young sons of my mother’s, their father having been killed in action near Nijmegen, Holland in 1945.

Bert Nystrom was a naïve farm boy when he went overseas to defend Canada’s freedom and to eliminate tyranny in Europe, but the horrors of war certainly left their mark on him for the remainder of his short life.  He passed away on December 5, 1975, only fifty-six years of age.

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