Lieutenant I. Macdonald (with binoculars) of The 48th Highlanders of Canada preparing to give the order to attack to infantrymen of his platoon, San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943.Credit: Lieut. Frederick G. Whitcombe / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-163411 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
"The air attack was short and sharp. Reports were that three enemy aircraft were shot down, unconfirmed of course, but the ship beside us in convoy, the ST HELENA, was hit by a bomb on the stern. The four-man naval gun crew were killed but none of the other passengers was injured."
My name is William Treasure. I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in May of 1919. I lived in Winnipeg all my early life, went to school there, worked there, and in 1935 I joined the militia, and in the next four years I spent three years with the Signal Corps, militia, and just over a year with the Army Service Corps militia.
In May of 1940, my unit mobilized, and I was appointed as a sergeant, and we spent the next two or three months stationed in Winnipeg. Then to Camp Borden in August, where we stayed for another two or three months, and in November, I was selected as a. transport sergeant to accompany a convoy of trucks from London, Ontario, to Camp Debert, Nova Scotia where we were stationed for that winter.
In June of 1941, I was selected to attend the Eastern Officers’ Training Center in Brockville, Ontario, and in August I graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant, or one pip wonder, as we were called.
In late October, I was ordered to report to the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, which was also stationed in Camp Borden. On my arrival there, I was greeted, welcomed, told to put up a second pip and take 15 hours embarkation leave. I reported the next morning again at 8 o’clock, spent the day getting organized for a move, and that evening we boarded the train for Halifax.
On our arrival in Halifax, we boarded the LOUIS PASTEUR, which was a French liner, not very big, which had been seized by the Canadian government, and used as a troop transport. We spent an eight-day crossing of the Atlantic, arriving in Greenock, Scotland and boarded trains there, and headed south to Camp Aldershot, in England.
After a few months in Aldershot, we moved out into large estates, and had several moves around the country. I was with two different Service corps companies of 5th Canadian Armoured Division. Eventually I was posted to the 7th Canadian Light Field Ambulance, of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. And after about a year with that unit, I was promoted captain and was posted back to a Service Corps company.
In October, 1943, I was instructed to report to the Movement Control people in Liverpool and become baggage officer on a ship which was taking a division to Ireland for Armoured corps training.
When the units arrived and I carefully stored all their baggage in the hold, marking it on a very careful map to show exactly where each units’ goods were, the units arrived and we embarked and sailed ‘into the blue’. Instead of Ireland, we wound up in Scotland where we laid to until a convoy was formed. And we set sail around the early part of November, 1943, out into the Atlantic and turned south and had a very pleasant 21-day voyage.
But there was one interruption: after we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, the first night in the Mediterranean the captain said, “Now, if we have any problems with enemy attacks, if it’s an air attack, I’ll order all personnel to go below A deck, and if it’s a submarine attack, you will be ordered to come above D deck.”
At six o’clock our air cover left and headed for North Africa, and at five minutes after six, the German air force arrived from the north. The captain immediately ordered all personnel to go below A deck, and all personnel to come above D deck. So we had a lot of people crammed into B and C decks.
The air attack was short and sharp. Reports were that three enemy aircraft were shot down, unconfirmed of course, but the ship beside us in convoy, the ST HELENA, was hit by a bomb on the stern. The four-man naval gun crew were killed but none of the other passengers was injured.
The ship hove to, without power, and we stopped with it. Eventually the captain ordered his ship to be abandoned, and our ship, the SS Monterrey, picked up all their passengers and we were double-shifted in our boat, had to share our accommodation, and we were cut back from three meals to two meals a day, to make sure that the food lasted until we arrived at our destination, which turned out to be Naples.
As we waited outside Phillipville, for some reason which I do not know, a tug arrived on the horizon towing the St. Helena which was obviously down by the stern, and as it passed us, it blew up ---lots of water into the air. And slowly the stern sank, the nose rose, and it went down, stern first, in the most awesome sight that I think I’ve ever seen.
And on the deck of our ship, everyone watching was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. It was very impressive.
After we arrived in Naples, the captain said, “I am not waiting any longer than five o’clock. What isn’t off the ship by then goes with the ship because there are daily air raids on Naples.”
The baggage crews from shore came swarming aboard, loaded everything helter-skelter into nets which were dumped onto the dock, and all my very careful baggage reporting was thrown aside and everything was one major heap! It took three days for all the units’ parties to sort out their unit baggage and get everything that was entitled to them back where it belonged.
My unit was moved to the outskirts of Naples, to what we called a cabbage patch, where we then lived for three weeks, waiting for our transport to arrive.
When we got our transport, we were loaded up and taken across Italy, to Ravena which was near Bari, and stayed there for a few months, until the division was reorganized, at which time it moved up the east coast to the rear of the fighting areas while one of our battalions, the Perth Regiment, was bloodied in its first encounter with the enemy.
After that, we slowly moved into a fighting position and spent the winter there, pretty static, because there was not much manoevre room for tanks.
In the early spring of 1944, we then moved across Italy to the west coast where we reorganized, rested, and then moved forward to participate in the battle of the Hitler Line around the town of Casino.
During the waiting period, I was honoured to be commander of the divisional guard of honour for the visit of Maj.Gen. Vanier, who was the Canadian ambassador to Free France at that time. And the parade, such as it was, took place in an olive grove, under the shade of trees for cover purposes, and it went off very well.
Shortly after that, we became involved in the attack on the Hitler Line, in which the 5th Canadian Armoured Division had a very small part. And then we moved over to the east coast to the area around Ortona, and moved forward slowly to assault the Gothic Line, in which we had a fairly large part. It was successful, and after a little bit of skirmishing for a while, the division moved over to the west coast, boarded American Landing Ship Tanks and sailed to Marseilles.
When we landed in Marseilles, we convoyed up to Belgium where we stopped and were billeted around the town of Rouliers and I had a chance to get leave back to England.
After that, the war for our division started again. We moved across the Rhine into Germany, swung left into Holland and participated in the liberation of Holland.
That was the end of our activities as the war officially ended, and we just marked time until we were taken back to England, and then to Canada, for discharge.
I returned to my civilian job in February, 1946, and then in May, 1947, unhappy with civilian life, I applied for re-appointment to the army. And in June 1946 -- correction 1947 -- in 1947 I was appointed as a lieutenant and carried out duties in Winnipeg, Camp Shilo, and Canadian army staff college in Kingston.
And then to Germany for two years with the Canadian NATO contribution.
Interview with William Treasure - FCWM Oral History Project
Accession Number CWM 20020121-095
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum
Entrevue avec William Treasure - Projet d'histoire orale du AMCG
No d’accession MCG 20020121-095
Collection d’archives George Metcalf
© Musée canadien de la guerre