And he said, “We had to kill them.” I thought that was a pretty dramatic statement: “We had to kill them.” A bunch of kids that didn’t know what the heck they were doing.
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Well, I’m Les Miller, generally known as Les Miller. Although formerly I suppose you’d call me Andrew Leslie Miller. And I was born and raised on a farm in Manitoba. The war had broken out and I had no difficulty in finding a job. I was able of course to go into Winnipeg, had to visit a brother of mine that had been in the militia and was already in the army and he was called up immediately of course. And so I went in to visit with him.
I visited with him at the armouries, the Minto Armouries [Manitoba and part of Royal Winnipeg Rifles], and in our meeting, he said, “Are you going to join up?” And I said, “I don’t know.” He says, well, turns to his sergeant and he says, “Here’s my brother, he wants to join up.” And the sergeant said, “Well, let’s go and sign you up right now, we’ll get you in today’s pay.” I think it was all something like a dollar a day, a lot of money in those days.
So there I was, in 15 minutes, in the army. I had dreamed of combat during my years on the farm, based on stories I’d heard. And of course, the movies that I’d seen on it, and I was somewhat concerned because in the dreams I had, and I remember having three dreams when in every case, the dream led into combat, I turned and run. And so I was always afraid that, or concerned with what would happen if I did get into combat. I think perhaps this was one of the governing things in my dealings with the army.
One of the instance in landing of France, of course, and our regiment didn’t go over. We were formed into [American] General [George S.] Patton’s ‘ghost armies’ they called it, to try and make the Germans think we were going cross the [English] Channel at Calais [France]. But we never intended to cross the channel at Calais. So it was a month later that our division then went over to France. We spent a couple of evenings on shore, getting organized and getting our equipment of course, this is the whole division. And I was able to visit my brothers at the regiment then. And this is the last time I saw a brother and I was very pleased of course to meet the both of them and their remarks to me, you’ll have to keep your head down.
It was the next night that we were ordered to go forward then and take over from 3rd Division, who was supposed to have taken the Carpiquet Airport. We went up during the night and it was an interesting sight to watch as we drove up in our vehicle, our office vehicle, to see all these poor infantrymen walking up, knowing what they were in for. We stopped beside a brick wall, at this particular area, and was told we wouldn’t be setting up office until the next morning and so we promptly went to sleep. Which you always did in the army, you went to sleep every time you got a chance.
And we were awakened by the sound of ‘moaning minnies’ with the mortars coming over. We looked over the stone wall and there we could see the mortars firing at us from across the airfield. It hadn’t been taken yet. Of course, the question that come up, what were we doing there as a, as the divisional headquarters. We should have never been up that close to the battle.
Then while we were there, another fellow and I, another sergeant as a matter of fact, and I decided to take a walk around and see what was happening in the area. And immediately across the road from us there was a farmyard there with all kinds of animals killed and machinery smashed and buildings smashed. Then we went across an intersection to another area directly across this field and were able to count 80 dead Germans that had been shot down. They were evidently a parachute battalion. It didn’t bother me! Primarily because my friend that was with me was a First World War veteran. He looked over the field, he says, “I’m back. I’m back.” And so believe it or not, what did he do? He started going through the pockets of these dead Germans. And I was able to join him after a while.
This to me is a strange part of war. You’re trained to expect that. You know it. You know where you saw a dead person, this was to be expected. In my opinion, anyway. It didn’t bother me, I was a young man with good nerves anyway. And actually, I started going through the pockets too. Until I found out of course, they’d already been searched as a matter of fact. Which happens very often in those cases.
And then he went back anyway to the office and I, our truck office incidentally, and I walked down the road a bit on my own and I come across my first Canadian dead, sitting in the trench there with a bullet holes all up his back where somebody had shot him. It was only a week or so when I again was informed by an officer I met while I was crossing a certain area within our camp, who said, “Oh by the way, sergeant, your brother’s been killed.” I says, “Which one?” He said “Damned if I know.” So of course, I was a little interested, but he couldn’t have been any less concerned evidently. So I had to try and find out then which one it was and what had happened.
So I decided to go up to the regiment and see if I could get the information there. And I run into a group of people that hadn’t been in the fighting that day and again, I learned something that I hadn’t considered. I remarked that, I went into the camp and they were sitting around, very quietly as a matter of fact. And I talked to them for a while and I says, “You should kill everyone of those sons of bitches.” And the sergeant says, “Have you been up there?” I said, “No, I haven’t.” Well, he said, “Maybe you should wait,” he says, “until you have to, before you remark like that, make a remark like that.” I said, “What do you mean?” Well, he says, “We were up there today,” and he says, “We had to attack a German machine gun nest.” And he says, “There’s these young fellows,” he said, “they were screaming and hollering in fear, pulling out triggers. I don’t think they knew what the heck they were shooting at.” And he said, “We had to kill them.” I thought that was a pretty dramatic statement: “We had to kill them.” A bunch of kids that didn’t know what the heck they were doing.
And so I think I changed my mind again. Always, look at both sides of the picture and see what they were doing there. I was judging this enemy wrongly, because they were probably saying the same thing about my brother. “They had to kill each other,” you might say. That merely gave me a more, better feeling in dealing with whatever problems I would meet from thereon.