Veteran Stories:
Roly Harper

Army

  • Lieutenant-Colonel G.F. Eadie inspecting C Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Kolkhagen, Germany, 24 April 1945.

    L. Charles H. Richer / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-114745 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
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"They took us to the local school and on the floor in the hallway was the bodies of 38 children in the village."

Transcript

I remember the first village we captured was called Marche [France].  And after we captured the village, we set our sentries out, of course, and we went back through every building in the village to make sure there were no Germans left there.  And I came across a – what looked like a one-story framed community centre.  And I looked through the window and I saw the bodies of 30 or 40 American soldiers that had been killed.  And they had been eating their Christmas dinner, and the Germans had come back into town and broken the windows of the community centre and shot all of them while they were having their dinner.

And I remember one of the first nights in France when we dug in, there was a terrible aroma. And we tracked it down to see what it was and found out it was a well at a farm next to us, and on top of the well was a lot of brush, and on top of the brush was a German scalp.  And we learned that the French Maquis* had captured a German soldier and scalped him and dropped his body down the well, which was kind of a dumb thing to do. But, in any event, that was the cause of the aroma.

The next village we came to was the village of Bande [France], which we, after we captured it, the civilians came to us and said they'd like to show us something.  So they took us to the local school and on the floor in the hallway was the bodies of 38 children in the village.  Apparently, one of the villagers had shot a German soldier.  And the German officer, who was an SS** officer,  lined the civilians up and said, “If you don’t tell me who shot our man, we're going to kill all the children under 12 in the town.”  And they weren't told so they shot the children in front of their parents.  I thought that was dreadful.

You saw the bodies?

Yeah.

Who was this man?

He was a German SS officer and fortunately we captured him two weeks later.  The town knew his name, and so therefore when we captured him, I didn't capture him, but our battalion captured him, and I won’t tell you what happened to him.

He was not taken to a prisoner of war camp?

No.  No.  They didn’t feel the Geneva Convention***  applied in that case, he was so cruel to the people in this town.

One time we arrived at a farm, and the first thing our officer told us was, “This is a farm, and this farmer had chickens.  You guys aren't to take any of his chickens.”  So McGarry who was next to me, he said, “Harp, we're going to get some chickens. To hell with the officer. “ So at 3 o'clock in the morning, McGarry organized [that] Boyce and I would go into the henhouse and McGarry says, “I'm going to pluck the chicken off the roost, I'm going to hand it to you Harp, and you swing it around, break its neck and hand it to Boyce and he'll put it in the bag.”  So that worked out fine with the first two chickens, but the third one started to squawk like hell and I just realized I had it by the leg instead of the neck.  So next day of course the officer was complaining about the noise that he heard during the night.  He wasn’t sure what it was.

The first concern I had was plucking them.  I said to McGarry, “We got a big job plucking these chickens.”  He said, “We don't pluck them.”  He says, “We skin them.”  He says, “You cut a hole in through the stomach here, your hand inside, pull out the chicken and it gets rid of all the necessity of...”  Yeah, it worked.  Yeah, he did three chickens in about two minutes.  Of course, he was a farmer from Manitoba.

But something else happened there that I'll never forget.  We had gone without food all day and we decided we would look into some of the houses and scrounge for food.  And Hamilton, Phillips, and Church came out with me to look for food and Phillips said, “Where will we go?” And I said, “Well, two go left and two go right and we'll flip a coin.”  So I flipped a coin and came up heads and Hamilton and I went to the right and Phillips and Church went to the left.  And we got about a hundred feet away from the house and we noticed a plane coming towards us and I could hear him machine gunning and see the bullets bouncing off the road coming towards us.  So Hamilton and I jumped under a freight car that fortunately was right by the road.  And I heard a bomb fall.  And I ran down the road and that [bomb] had killed Phillips and Church.  But made me realize that for a flip of a coin it would have been Hamilton and I instead of Phillips and Church.  And I went to their cemetery in Holland after the war and it was very emotional standing there, realizing it could have been me.

*Rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters

**Schutzstaffel, Nazi paramilitary organization

***Standards of international law for humanitarian treatment during war

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