Injured paratroopers of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion recuperating at No.11 Canadian General Hospital, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), Taplow, England, June 1944. Front, on ground: Private L.S. Henwood, "A" Company. Seated, left to right: Private J.H. Adamson, HQ Company; Lance-Corporal Bill Mitchinson, "A" Company; Sergeant Gus Parker, "A" Company; YMCA Supervisor Cody Moffat. Standing, rear: Sergeant D.F. Wright, HQ Company.Capt. Jack H. Smith / Library and Archives Canada / PA-209708 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
"I can’t remember the building being any more than six, eight feet, but it was small brick building and we were sand bagging it. So we went back and had a smoke and while I was leaning against the wall, a sniper hit me. That showed I should have quit smoking sooner than I did."
Well, we were in about two weeks and I think it was the 51st Highland Division came and took over our trenches, first night we moved back to Ranville [Normandy, France] in the reserve. And the next day, we moved into the bridgehead, we were there reforming, we lost a lot of riflemen, and my sergeant came up and he said, “Bill, he says, give me the PIAT,* here's a rifle, you're going back with C Company.”
So, when we went back I was now a C Company rifleman, and I guess we hadn't been back all that long and I don't know three or four of us were up in a little brick building. It was our advanced line, part of it, I can’t remember the building being any more than six, eight feet, but it was small brick building and we were sand bagging it. So we went back and had a smoke and while I was leaning against the wall, a sniper hit me. That showed I should have quit smoking sooner than I did.
Well actually, he missed me, and leaning against the wall, he hit the wall, the bullet hit the wall, all up my leg I'd been sprayed with brick dust, brick, little pieces of brick out of this old brick building. And so it knocked me right down. Somebody yelled for medics, and four stretcher bearers came up and put me on a stretcher and carried me back. They had looked at it at battalion, our first aid post and next thing I'm still on a stretcher. And the stretcher's put on a jeep with another one of our guys that had been hit, so there was two of us on these stretchers. And the jeep drove us back to the bridgehead.
We weren't light troops. The same in going into Normandy, people say, “You jumped into Normandy on D-Day?” I said, “Yeah.” “You're our hero.” I said, “No, just an ordinary boy.” We had ordinary boys and girls join the Canadian Army forces. And we were just ordinary, but the real heroes were the ones coming off the barges, especially the first ones. God, they'd been on the barges for hours and hours, seasick, they come, you don't know if you're going to step off into 10 feet of water or four feet of water. 50, 60, 70 pounds on you, these were the heroes. And I hadn't thought of it then, but I just thought a lot about it a year ago, I thought, god, they hadn’t got ashore, us airborne guys, we had been left hung out to dry in Normandy. We couldn't swim back, too. It'd be tough swimming back to England. They were the real heroes.
I never skated since the war, but, I got to do other things, I can, but I couldn't skate, my foot wouldn't take the cold even.
(How did you feel about being pulled out and the war being over? Were you relieved? Were you sorry to lose your friends?)
Well I was sort of, it's kind of disappointing you're letting your team down, you're letting your battalion down, when you're taken out. And I couldn't even get back, I never saw the battalion again.
(Do you ever think about those guys? What do you think about them? The guys that died, I mean?)
Yeah, sort of sad about it, and you think why them and not me? You know, basically why did they get killed and I didn't? And,somebody wrote – one of our guys wrote a poem about – it's quite long, I forget how it goes, but, I think it said, “You bought me time.” This is relating to all our friends, buddies who died. They helped someone else, like myself live. So they bought us time.
*Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (portable infantry anti-tank weapon)