Veteran Stories:
Brian Murphy

Army

  • Captain Brian J. Murphy is pictured here in the front row second from the right with other members of the headquarters staff in Italy.

    Brian J. Murphy
  • Captain Brian J Murphy wearing tropical clothes, in Italy, with standard issue medical equipment.

    Brian J. Murphy
  • 11th Army Field Regiment NCO's, Medical Corps Italy. L-R: Corporal Edwards; Joe Dicarlo; Rev. Fields (Batman); Sgt. Jameson. Captain Brian Murphy sits center, 1944.

    Brian J. Murphy
  • Portrait of Captain Brian J. Murphy, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.

    Brian J. Murphy
  • Christmas greetings from General Montgomery's Eighth Army sent to Captain Brian J. Murphy's parents, posted from the 9th Canadian Field Ambulance, Canadian Army.

    Brian J. Murphy
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"I know at my age, when they get me there, they’ll never bring me back. He said, I couldn’t face my friends;I’m not going home. He was killed."

Transcript

They opened the barracks at 4:00 and they said, okay, everybody out, the trains are waiting for you. They put us on trains at 4:00 in the morning, heading east. Took us five days to get to Halifax, imagine, five days. All soldiers. And every minor stop, somebody was getting off to have a beer. So the police had to be careful when they got back on, that was funny. I’m going for a beer.

But it took us five days. We get to Halifax, the tracks go close to the harbour. We looked up, here is this biggest passenger ship in the world, the Queen Elizabeth. That was our ship. Thousands of soldiers, God. Just amazing. And this huge boat, 80,000 tons and it was one of the fastest passenger ships in the world. And that took us five days to get to the west coast of Scotland. We advised the last day we were out, German planes used to come in looking on the coast where the big ships come in but they didn’t see us and we landed at Greenoch, Scotland.

Greenoch G-R-E-E-N-O-C-H, just a small town but with a big harbour. And from there, we got on trains going to London and every stop that we stopped at overnight, the women of the town would get on the train and give us a cup of tea. Our bladders were just about bursting when we got to... And then when we got to London, we turned west to a place called Aldershot, a huge military base, huge military base, oh, just immense.

One weekend in London, I met a doctor from Winnipeg I knew and I said, what are you doing? He said, I’m in charge of overseas drafts, would you be interested and I thought, my God, I just got here, you know. For some reason I said yes. A week later they said, you’re to report to the London School [Hospital] for Tropical Diseases. So I thought, where the heck am I going? I was going to North Africa, imagine. And it took us 21 days to get to North Africa. We had to go not south or anything, we went back towards Halifax and a way down, crossed over to the coast of Africa, came up through Gibraltar and into North Africa. But the German subs were all over the place and we just lost one ship. Unfortunately, it was it was a hospital ship and they lost all their equipment.

From there, we got our orders to go through Sicily into Italy. That took us down to the toe of Italy, that’s when we crossed in and we went right from there up, way up to Ortona, right to the top. And we had all these rivers to cross, like the Germans were on the other side of course, they had all observation posts. Oh, the boys were, it was so hard to cross those rivers. And we got outside Rome, at Monte Casino, that’s a famous word, and there was this mount, with the monastery on the top and the Germans in the monastery watching us. The Germans at the top sure put up a fight but they were neutralized and we were able to get down onto the road to Rome.

We entered Rome on June the 5th but unknown to us, June the 6th was [the] Normandy [invasion]. We didn’t know about it of course. Hitler decided to pull his troops all out and leave it as an open city. So we just walked into Rome, there were no Germans there, they were gone. And then we had a week or two in Rome. Oh, wonderful. We saw all the sights and I had a personal introduction to Pope Pius XII. The chief Catholic Chaplain was one of my professors in Winnipeg and he said, look Brian, I’m getting together as many of the boys as I can and the Pope’s coming tomorrow to the Sistine Chapel. In comes Pope Pius the XII and they brought him down, they introduced me to him and he said, and what do you do, sir? I said, I’m a medical officer. Put his hand on my shoulder and said, very noble work, very noble. And I thought, boy, wait until I tell Mother about this.

We had to keep going north. We had to drive the Germans out of Italy. We had to get them to surrender. So we had to cross rivers again and we just had to do it but we got to Ortona, there was a terrible fight there. I lost my roommate from England. He was a lawyer from Medicine Hat who, he was always drinking and he fractured his wrist in Scotland and - one of these slow-healing fractures - and I said, Bill, this is your chance, go home to Canada until your wrist heals, see your newborn son. No, he said, I know at my age, when they get me there, they’ll never bring me back. He said, I couldn’t face my friends;I’m not going home. He was killed.

I promised him if anything happened, I’d go see his wife and child. So after I got back, I drove to Medicine Hat, got his address. There was a little boy sitting on the steps and he jumped up yelling, Mum, Mum, daddy’s home, daddy’s home. And he ran down the steps and on the walk and threw his arms around me. Oh, God. And I said, I’m not your dad but I want to tell you what a brave soldier he was. And the wife, she took her hanky and she was crying too. Oh God. That was hard on me.

My corps, the 5th [Armoured] Division, was transferred to West Germany, so we had to go over to Marseille and we had to go all up through France, ending up at Emden, E-M-D-E-N, Emden, Germany. And that’s where we were when the war ended.

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