Veteran Stories:
Fred Engelbrecht

Army

  • Major J.M. Figott and members of his company of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry kneeling at the graves of Canadian soldiers killed at Dieppe on 19 August 1942. Dieppe, France, 1 September 1944.

    Lieut. Ken Bell / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-176696 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
Enlarge Image

"The sad part is, the tide starts coming in, and with the tide, comes the bodies. And the water's just redder – blood-red like ketchup. It's a terrible place."

Transcript

I suppose, the original idea was, that we would get into the town – the tanks would get into the town, too – and we would just hold it for a second and then withdraw and that was it. But, we didn't get into the town. A few men got in – I don't know how many got in. Some people say they did, I doubt it. Brigadier [Denis] Whitaker said he got to the Casino. He was the leader, he was a captain at the time, and he said he got as far as the Casino. I never even got to the Casino. I got to the wall.

I get up to the wall; by now, I pretty well lost my whole section. There's only one other fella and myself, and I think it was – I don't even think this fella was in my section. I think by now, my own section were just scattered a little bit. We don't have control. Everybody's fighting for survival at this time. You're not fighting to win, you're fighting for survival. Anything to get you some place where they can't get you. Anyway - oh, it was full of dead and wounded. Yes, of course it is. Now, when I get up to the wall, and I was there until, oh, pretty well close to noon I guess, I don't know, and I came back. When I came back - now I told you, I only had the one fella with me now – the rest of my section, I don't know where they are. They're probably killed, or I don't know.

When I come back, I'm running down towards the beach and – remember the “TLC”* and the tank there? And – I was assuming that it's the same tank that I was supposed to be protecting – is sitting there, and I slide underneath it. Because tanks are off the ground, you have two, three feet. And it's out of action, it's not going move, and nothing's going get you – I mean, [with a] Churchill tank on top of you. So, I’m quite happy there. I'm sitting there – I’m underneath there, trying to figure out what to do. I'm kind of waiting for some little, small ships to come in, so I can get down to the water and get out of there.

I'm underneath that tank, I told you. Now, I see some small “ALCs” – that's assault landing craft,** 30 men. I'll get on one of them, get out – get back out. So, I go down to the beach, and I'm wading up to about here – no, first of all, there's the brigadier, there, and he's telling us, “Take the wounded and put them in the craft” – that's going back to the mother ship. And they start “oodling” out the wounded. Now, I told you 30 men, they've got 40 to 50 wounded in there. Not only that, there's the living, and they're starting to now walk on top of the wounded, and no way in hell am I going get in that ship and walk on the wounded. So I grab ropes, like, all around, like, hanging ropes, you know, you stow on a ship? I grabbed one of those ropes. Everybody else gets the same idea that I do at the same time, we're all grabbing one of these damn ropes. And as the coxswain of the ship, that's operating the motor, he can't move the ship. There's too [many people] – the water is four inches off the gunnel of the ship because it's overloaded. The people hanging onto it – not only that, but the number of people that are in it. For 30 men, that it’s capable of, there were probably 50 people in it.

He [coxswain] gets on the gunnel the gunnel was eight, six-inch gunnel, wrapped around his ship, an [LCA]. And he got an iron bar, and he was knocking heads, knocking people off the ropes, in order – so he can turn the ship around. In order so he can turn the ship around and get it out to sea. He raised the bar, I looked up at him, he raised the bar and I just backed up, I put my hands up – what am I going do? I just turned around and walked back into shore, I waded back into shore, now.

Now, when I get to shore, the [LCT] that I came in on – I'm presuming it's the same one, I'm not sure – is laying on its side. It's not, not turned into that way – it's turned with the tide and it's on – thankfully along the shore, and it's leaning towards the water, as opposed to the land – at that angle. And, so we get on the water side, because it's a very – it's just a couple feet of water, and it's a good place because nobody can touch you there. No one can touch you, nothing, no, none of the artillery, none of the mortars, none of the gunfire. It's a very good [place] – but, the sad part is, the tide starts coming in, and with the tide, comes the bodies. And the water's just redder – blood-red like ketchup. It's a terrible place. And as you walk, the bodies keep following you. I kept kicking them out of my way. That's the frame of mind you're in. Terrible, terrible, terrible place. And I go around the front of the [LCT], there's the brigadier there and he said, “Get the people off the [beach]” – no, first of all, he said – yeah – “Get the people loaded into the [LCT].” They tried that, didn't work, wasn't successful, ’cause, some sniper had his sights right on that ramp and as soon as you picked up a stretcher to load somebody in, the person on the stretcher was dead. As simple as that.

Now he's screaming, “Somebody get a goddam gun! Somebody get a Bren [light machine] gun and get back to the wall” – ’cause we have no protection, no one's protecting us. We're all in the grease, no one's protecting us. And he looks at me, and I think it was, “Oh my god. Why look at me?” So I get a Bren gun, and a French Canadian Fusilier.*** I say, "Go around, gather up those clips" – because every soldier carried clips for the Bren gun in his pouches. So we get half dozen clips, go to the wall. Now I'm not doing anything. All I'm doing – I don't even raise my head up. The gun's mounted on the wall.

It's a Bren gun. I'm just reaching up with my hand, pulling, squeeze the trigger, spray it a little bit. And all I'm spraying, is the buildings of the town, the windows. I don't – ‘cause I can't see on the level ‘cause I'm not that high up. I'm looking at the windows of the buildings; I give it a little spray. Just anybody in that direction – going to be quiet for a little while. The only thing – you asked me – the gun I was carrying I didn't even fire. I was carrying a Tommy gun.^ I never fired it.

It's a Bren gun now. As I'm firing [on] the town, I look to my right and on the high lands, going towards the castle, it's on the right-hand side where the cliffs are – base of the cliffs – and they're going to the cliffs where all the tunnels were and the gun emplacement in the cliffs were. And I could see this – a couple of men I would say – going across the field. And it looked to me, I'm thinking, “Holy Christ, how far are they? 500 yards maybe, I don't know.” I'm thinking they're in range, anyway, for that Bren gun. I threw the gun around, emptied the magazine at them, and they scatter. Now, I know at least, yeah, they were in my range. But did I hit anybody? Did I kill anybody? No. Don't ask me, I haven't a clue.

Now, I'm sitting there, waiting for the guy with more ammunition, and there isn't any. He's not coming. What am I doing there? I go to go – I got to get out of there. I can't stay there. Those people - the Germans, whomever – where ever they are, aren't going like me because I've been a pain in the neck just spraying them with that Bren gun every now and again to keep happy.

I run - I’m starting to run, come back – it's the second time I'm going back to the beach again. And this time, I'm running away from the wall-like, towards the beach, towards the water. And as I'm running, it's like clouds of starlings over my head, on either side, everywhere. They're not starlings, of course, they're grenades, with a wooden handle. Ever seen a German grenade? A can, wooden handle. It's a personal grenade. And, when I see these “birds,” I call them, I dive into the rocks. Head first, right into the damn rocks, and there's the most horriblest racket you ever heard – awfulest racket, horrible racket! And deadly silence. And I say to myself, “Am I dead? No… No.”

*Landing Craft, Tank (LCT)

**Landing Craft, Assault (LCA)

***Soldier, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal regiment

^.45 calibre Thompson submachine gun

Follow us