Alex Kowbel outside Calais, France in September 1944.Alex Kowbel
Alex Kowbel in Sussex, New Brunswick, 1942.Alex Kowbel
Alex Kowbel sits on the rubble of what remains of the main street in Cleve, Germany in February 1945.Alex Kowbel
Alex Kowbel (middle) with fellow comrades in Hasselt, Germany in March 1945.Alex Kowbel
Alex Kowbel (right) standing with his father (middle) and brother John (left) who was home on embarkation leave, 1941.Alex Kowbel
"I did a little walk and there was a small cemetery and I looked at some of the names on it and this officer who had come to say hello to me at 2:00 in the afternoon was already buried by 6:00 in the evening."
My name is Alex Nick Kowbel. I was born in Melville, Saskatchewan on October the 6th, 1922. I had a good friend, actually, my oldest brother’s wife’s brother, approximately my age, about a year older, he joined the, the Corps of military staff clerks. And when he came home on leave, he told me about them and said, why don’t I try since I could do typing, etc. So I went to try and I could not join the corps, I was not sufficiently proficient, evidently, for their high standards.
So I just joined the army and I […] the district depot, #12 District Depot in Regina [Saskatchewan]. And the reason I joined them was they, the Corporal who was the recruiter, found out I could type and he was way behind his work and he persuaded me to advance my date of birth by a year or two in order to get in.
I did land at Juno Beach [in Normandy] off an LST, that’s landing ship troops, crawling down rope ladder and wading to shore. Although we were not under enemy fire at the time, we had control of that particular beach at that time. I think that was Saint-Eustache-sur-Mer where we go back occasionally. And then I joined headquarters Two Canadian Agra. Headquarters Two Canadian Agra was under attack when I arrived. The truck stopped about, oh, I would say half a mile from where I could see the action. And he said, ‘Sarge [short for the rank of Sergeant], your unit’s up that road, this is as far as I go.’ So I walked up there and I found a Major, I can tell you his name but I don’t … He was sitting underneath a six foot folding table, trying to call away the…
We were being bombed by our own Air Force at the time. It was just a big mistake. Unfortunately, there was a German ammunition dump nearby which was exploding at the same time. I had quite a welcome. The Major said to me, ‘Sarge, I tried to report in properly but he said, Sarge, just get undercover. And that was what it was like when I first arrived at the unit.
And from there on in, we moved very rapidly. We moved sometimes two or three times a day and artillery doesn’t normally do that. But we did it this time. I think it was about the third, second or third night I was there. The Major and I were plotting our gun and because of the attacks, we’d had our positions previously, everybody was nervous and we put our headquarters into a gulley. We tried to do the plotting by the light of a very small wattage bulb, in a gulley, in the trees and we covered the maps with the cardboard covering so the light wouldn’t show. And we tried to do the work from that position. I remember saying, I’ll never be able to do this. But I guess we got through it.
Our job was to clear the [English] channel ports. We went through France, we went through Boulogne, but we were usually outside the cities, not inside. We would be the artillery support outside the cities. I remember, I believe it was Boulogne, we were dug into the side of a mountain that had previously been used for some sort of German manufacturing rocket launching, that sort of thing. But we had, they had little caves dug in, deep in this mountain. I believe that was outside Boulogne and we worked from there.
Also I remember that particular area when I saw the type of barracks, if you could call them that, where the slave labourers worked. So it must have been some sort of industrial complex which housed all these slave labourers. Mind you, there weren’t any there when we got there but I could see what pitiful conditions they were in.
Well, one thing in particular when I was in Nijmegen [The Netherlands], I told you I had been a gun Sergeant with the 14th Canadian Field Regiment before D-Day and the battery commander of that was a Major Kibler, KIBLER, and he came to our headquarters outside of Nijmegen. He knew I was in the headquarters and he came and chatted and said hello, this would be about 2:00 in the afternoon. He had been transferred as well out of the regiment and I’ve forgotten what unit he was with at the time he visited me. And I went out maybe in the evening. I always used to do a, a small walk or just to see whether things had changed.
Anyway, I did a little walk and there was a, a small cemetery and I looked at some of the names on it and this officer who had come to say hello to me at 2:00 in the afternoon was already buried by 6:00 in the evening. His jeep had hit a mine on the way, this is what I was told, and he was instantly killed and buried. It was quite a shock.