Veteran Stories:
John James “Jack” Charlwood

Army

  • Keith Acorn and John Charlwood (right) in Germany, 1945.

    John Charlwood
  • John Charlwood doing his laundry, Germany, 1945.

    John Charlwood
  • Newspaper Clipping about the enlistment of John Charlwood (in centre) and his friends.

    John Charlwood
  • John Charlwood's Discharge Certificate.

    John Charlwood
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"We all forget the bad times, but we can always remember the good times, and you hear some of the old veterans talking about some of the good fun they had and all that. Well, it wasn’t always fun, believe me."

Transcript

It was getting to the point where a lot of the younger people, they were joining and there was this five of us that sort of hung out together, went to school together, some of us. And we just decided one day that we would go down and join up. So on a Monday morning, this one guy had an old car, we jumped in it and we went down to the Horse Palace at the [Canadian National] Exhibition and we all joined up with the army there. We went to join Connie Smythe’s 30th Battery [30th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery led by Conn Smythe, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs], I think it was, but he was over-strength at the time, so they put us in the [Royal Canadian] Army Service Corps. We weren’t there for very long when they turned around and they transferred us to an infantry outfit called the Lorne Scots. We went overseas with the Lorne Scots and formed II Corps Headquarters. From II Corps Headquarters, Prince Edward Island didn’t have representation overseas. And they wanted it. So what they did, they disbanded the II Corps Lorne Scots and brought in as many people as they could find from Prince Edward Island and they took over II Corps. Well, there were three or four of us, I think, were asked to stay on; and I, being a dispatch rider, was one of the ones that stayed on with the Prince Edward Island Light Horse. Then we went to various holding units and we wound up in a place called Three Bridges in England. From there, when the second front was coming and we pretty well knew, they shipped us down around Calais, a place called Ramsgate. And I think that was just to throw the Germans off in thinking that’s where the landing was going to be. And then they shipped us all back where we did land at Juno Beach. From there, I guess one of the things I remember, when I first got off the barge in France, was a British sergeant walking down the beach and we had been given a can of hard tack, a can of corned beef and loaf of bread when we got on the barges. I got off and I’d had enough of the bread and I just threw it on the ground, and this British soldier says to me, he says, my lad, he said, in a couple of days, you’ll wished you had that. And I know what he meant because from then, we were just getting hard tack for quite a while. One of the first jobs we had there, we were guarding some German prisoners. That night, we were doing it at night, we were on the night shift, some of the German aircraft came over and strafed and it went right down the road and we were on one side of it and, fortunately, nobody got hurt. Another thing we were told too when we first got to France, we were to dig slit trenches [a narrow, shallow trench] to sleep in because of the shrapnel and that that came over. I guess I was lazy and so was this other fellow so all we had was one blanket each and a ground sheet. We didn’t dig a slit trench, we just slept on the ground. But we slept together because it got darn cold at night and one blanket just wasn’t quite enough. But the shrapnel had started to come down and you’d think, oh boy, tomorrow night I’ve got to dig a slit trench. But we were still lazy and didn’t do it. [laughs] Another experience we had, I was on my bike, I ran into a convoy of tanks. And it was going up this here dirt road, but the bank on one side was higher than it was on the other and there was driveways sort of cut in, in the bank, for the farmers to go in and out of. So I was riding behind these tanks and there was a lot of heat and dust coming off them and I thought, golly, I’ve got to get up in front of these guys. I tried to get up where one of these here driveways was cut and I thought, well, if I get on the end of the tank track there, and then just gun it around quick. And when I did, I hit a rut and fell right in front of the tank. And, fortunately, the tank driver, he saw it and he just turned off one track. They told me, you get back on your motorcycle right away because if you stand around and look at it for very long, you won’t. So, that’s what I did there. Well, a lot of times, we did convoy work. Like if we were moving, we’d have our fleet of trucks and there’d be a couple of us, and one would go on ahead to a crossroad and stop traffic. And that was in France also. And we did some of that in England. And then the fellow that would be relieved at the back, he’d go back on ahead and drive onto the next stop road. And sometimes it was just delivering a dispatch someplace. But, basically, [we were] taking control of convoys so as they didn’t have stops and they [could] keep the whole line moving right through. When we had the Harley Davidsons, particularly, I liked that, but then when we went to France, they took the Harleys off us and gave us an English bike called a Norton. They weren’t as nice to ride. We always thought we were more like sitting in an armchair and some of us had windscreens on them [the Harley Davidsons] and that, and whereas you couldn’t put anything like a windscreen on a Norton and that. I don’t know, they were just totally different. You were more leaning forward I think on a Norton, than you were sitting back on a Harley. We all forget the bad times, but we can always remember the good times, and you hear some of the old veterans talking about some of the good fun they had and all that. Well, it wasn’t always fun, believe me. So I think the young people should know that too.
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