Bill Heron, November 4, 2009, Whitby, Ontario.Historica Canada
"Well, being an infantry man, it was terrible. We saw things that you can’t even imagine how bad they were."
I was born and raised in Brooklin, Ontario, born 29 May 1923. My father had a small farm, and later a hay and straw business. I attended Brooklin Public and Brooklin Continuation School, but skipped school and joined the army in 1940.
Training in Canada, of course, was basic training, especially in Camp Borden, where you were actually taught to salute and march, and the usual things that apply to army life. I transferred from The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment to the 1st Battalion, Canadian Scottish and went overseas, of course, with the Scottish and spent the war with the 1st Battalion, Canadian Scottish.
I didn’t return with the regiment because my wife and child were still in England, so I stayed over there as long as possible and got back to Canada only about three or four months before they arrived.
Her name was Olive, although she would never admit to it because she hated it. She was always called Bobbie. And even when I applied for the marriage license, I said to the clerk, he says, your name. I gave him my name, my rank and so on, 1st Battalion, Canadian Scottish, Canadian Army. He says, and your intended? I said, Roberta Ellwood. She said, that’s not my name. I said, well, what the hell is your name then? (laughs) She says, it’s Olive Ellwood. I said, Olive? And the little English chap, in a very broad English accent says, are you sure you wish to go through with this, sir? (laughs)
Anyway, she came to Canada with a son. Our son was born there 5 February 1944. I saw him once before D-Day and twice after. The time I saw him before D-Day was the time he was born, so he doesn’t remember that. I saw him twice after. So the first two and a half years of his life, I only saw him three times. That applied to many fathers over there, of course.
D-Day was originally planned for 5 June. Consequently, we’d been on ships, ours was an LCT, which is Landing Craft Tank [amphibious assault ship for landing on beaches], very, very cramped. But D-Day was moved from 5 June by [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower until 6 June because of storms in the Channel. We had about 75 miles of water to cross to reach France. It was terrible storms that day as well and most of us were terribly seasick and really didn’t care whether we lived or died. Which (laughs), but we were still very scared naturally on D-Day, being human, and you must remember, back in those days, tins were not available.
Well, being an infantryman, it was terrible. We saw things that you can’t even imagine how bad they were. For example, in one instance [in the Falaise Pocket], because of the thousands of dead bodies, there were 10,000 German dead in the area plus thousands of farm animals ̶ the place was rife with rats. But the news didn’t even mention this because they were afraid of a plague, of course. It was a very hot summer; everything was covered with maggots. You can’t even imagine what kind of a scene it was; it was beyond compare. What they did, it was such a jumbled mess, they sent in bulldozers to clean the roads, shoved all the animals and humans in a heap and then set fire to them, which they had to do to get rid of the rats. It was terrible.
After we finished with the Germans in the Falaise Pocket, we returned actually to the coast, north of where we had landed on D-Day and we took out different ports. At that time, we had no ports that could be used for supplies. Dieppe was taken out by the 2nd Division. Boulogne, Cap Gris-Nez and Calais were taken out by the 3rd Division, which was my division, along with the 2nd Armoured Brigade.
After that, we moved up to the Leopold Canal. We crossed the Leopold Canal under flame throwers. All the division's flame throwers, and there would be possibly about 40 of them, were lined up maybe 50 or 100 yards apart. They arched the flame over the canal and we crossed under the flame.
It was terrible fighting, far worse than what we’d seen in Normandy. As a matter of fact, we declared truce for a day because it’s a hog-raising area. The civilians had evacuated, the hogs were running wild and fighting over the bodies. So we had to declare a truce with the Germans for, I think, it was a day. It could have been two days, to remove and bury the bodies.
That lasted, in that particular area, approximately a month. It was called the Breskens Pocket. After that was finished, we went over and relieved the 82nd American Airborne Division in Nijmegen and spent the winter months there. There was still activity going on, patrols and such like. But it was really not harsh fighting or anything like that. As a matter of fact, we were stationed at that time, Groesbeek, where the large Canadian cemetery in Holland is now. We crossed the Rhine River in February and fought our way up along the Dutch border, back and forth into Germany and Holland, and ended up the war south of Hamburg in Germany.
You’ll never find a prouder Canadian than what I am. Ever.