Veteran Stories:
Joseph Wilmer Gagnon

Army

  • First page of a local museum research project on Joseph Wilmer Gagnon and the Canadian Forestry Corps during WWII. Full text available by request through the Memory Project Archive.

    Joseph Wilmer Gagnon
  • Wilmer Gagnon and Danny Whiteduck in October 1943.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Joseph Gagnon standing outside his hut (No. 4, his 'mansion') in the Canadian Forestry Corps camp in Belladrum, Scotland. Photograph taken soon after his Company arrived in Scotland.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Draft from the 19th Company leaving Belladrum camp about a month before D-Day. Many soldiers were drafted for this operation, travelling south to England. They were often being assigned to the Engineers Corps or the Army Service Corps to serve in Europe alongside the Americans. Photo taken in 1944.

  • Joseph Gagnon playing guitar at a concert put on by the 19th Co., Canadian Forestry Corps, for the local people. Photograph taken in Scotland, April 1943.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Soldiers of the No. 19 Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, putting on a concert for local residents of Belladrum, Scotland. April 1943.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Portrait of Joseph Gagnon. Note that uniforms changed a few times, and here he is wearing a beret and a black tie, whereas the first uniforms (some two years before) had a wedge cap. Photo taken in Ottawa in August 1945, shortly before he was discharged.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Inspection of a draft from the 19th Company, Canadian Forestry Corps. Photograph taken in Belladrum, Scotland, in early 1944.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Soldiers with the 19th Company, Canadian Forestry Corps, loading a truck and getting ready to travel south to England. Photo taken in Scotland in 1944, just before D-Day – soldiers from the CFC would be drafted to serve with other companies overseas. Joseph Gagnon is 2nd in the lineup from the right, with his head turned and face visible.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Photograph of Joseph and Doreen Gagnon on their wedding day. They married in Stockton-on-Tees, England on November 18th 1942. Joseph Gagnon was the first Canadian to get married in that town.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Programme for a concert prepared and put on by the soldiers of the No. 19 Company, CFC for the local Scottish residents. Joseph (Wilmer) Gagnon is listed as playing the guitar. Concert held on April 2nd, 1943, in Belladrum, Scotland.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Daily Orders Part II issued to No. 19, Canadian forestry Corps on March 5th, 1943 by Commanding Officer Major O.V. Roxby. Document details newly-attached soldiers, hospitalizations and releases, and reversions.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Ring made by an Italian POW in Scotland out of two shilling pieces. Joseph Gagnon got it made as a souvenir.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Cover of a fold-out Christmas card issued by the Canadian Forestry Corps to the 19th Company, featuring their insignia. View 1 of 3.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • First flap of a fold-out Christmas card issued by the Canadian Forestry Corps to the 19th Company. Rest of the fold out is a photograph of the entire company. View 2 of 3.

    Joseph Gagnon
  • Canadian Forestry Corps regimental Christmas photograph, part of a fold-out Christmas card. Joseph Wilmer Gagnon is in the back row, second to the right of the riflemen. View 3 of 3.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Wilmer Gagnon just coming off guard duty in Scotland. July 1941.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Wilmer Gagnon at the Cobourg Legion. 18 July 2011.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
  • Joseph (Wilmer) and Doreen Gagnon's wedding day, 18 November 1942. L.Cpl. Gagnon's best man, George Gamble, also a member of the Canadian Forestry Corps, No.19., stands to the right. The other individuals are friends and family of Doreen Gagnon.

    Wilmer Joseph Gagnon
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Listen to this story

"We took the Pole Route... and during that 16 days going across, our convoy sunk two German submarines.Then we had the propaganda news from Germany, saying that they had sunk a number of ships and that that there was a large amount of Canadian service personnel lost at sea. Well there was none."

Transcript

I went down to Maniwaki, and there is where I joined up, on April 26th, 1941. But I was only 16, so I gave my age a little older – 19. First I gave it 18, and they told me, well did your parents want you to go, and I said I don’t know, I just made up my mind. So the officer [rather] put 19, I said but it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I go overseas!

Forestry Corps, 19th Company, that’s what I was put in there for. We were at the time the largest convoy to go over. They told us we were 49 ships, and we were a large amount. We took the Pole Route, so we had 16 days on the sea, and during that 16 days going across, our convoy sunk two German submarines. When we got into the port, the first day of July, we got there at 4 o’clock in the morning in Scotland. Then we had the propaganda news from Germany, saying that they had sunk a number of ships and that that there was a large amount of Canadian service personnel lost at sea. Well there was none. They had named the ship that I was on, and two other ships that I could see the name. My ship was the Britannic, and the other one was called the Sterling Castle, and the other ship they had named was the Louis Pasteur, and another one but I couldn’t see the name. We had two big battleships, the English battleship the [HMS] Repulse and the [HMS] Ramillies and destroyers and corvettes, so we had quite a convoy.

WWII created the crisis in wood supply for the United Kingdom and for the Allied Troops. On its own the UK could supply only 44% of the timber needed to support the war effort in addition to civilian requirements. It was estimated that every soldier needed the equivalent of 5 trees – so you can imagine, we were over a million – for living quarters, messing, and recreation, for crates to ship food, ammunition, tanks, etc., for explosives, stocks, ships, factories to support him in the fighting line directly and indirectly.

The main area of operations was the Highlands area of Scotland. For the most part, the Canadian Forestry Corps camp was constructed from scratch and the personnel built barracks, roads, bridges, and set up power plants and sawmills. It took an average of just about 97 days from their arrival on the site to the start of logging operations. We were put to work the next day. My first job was, me and a couple of others, fellas, we had to dig a trench. So we, from our hut from inside the compound right to where they had made a well on the side of a hill, that just a great big hole dug in with a bulldozer, and they ran the pipe on top of the ground. So we had to dig that trench and put the water pipes underground because they would freeze in the winter. It was so wet and muddy that we made a sidewalk from hut to hut down to the cookhouse, and it was all made with slabs that we got from the other mills. Every time it rained every time was so slippery, the boys were falling down and getting hurt. So when they saw that, they brought in truckloads and truckloads of sawdust and they put about 2ft of sawdust all over the camp so we wouldn’t sink in the mud and slip.

When we first got there, like our hut at night, I was in ‘41. ‘41 and ’42 was the height of the German bombardments. What they did, German planes used to leave Norway and fly right over Scotland in the north to bomb Scotland the north and the south part of Scotland right to the English border, see, and then the other ones would come from the other way, from the south of England, and move up. We could hear them every night, and course we had lights in our hut, but you couldn’t show a light anywhere, and that’s why when you see a hut there’s no windows, there’s nothing, just a little vent at each end. So what we used to do was put the lights out, because they sounded so low, you know, and they had a groaning, like a, up and down, so we’d go out there and look but we never could see them.

We start working in, sometimes I was in the bush cutting trees down, and once we got started doing that, then, we kept working, sometime I’d go loading the trucks, sometimes it was doing other – maybe working a day in the kitchen, or a day peeling potatoes and stuff. And I done guard duty at night, course when we done guard duty we had to sleep during the day because we done two hours on, two hours off and didn’t get much sleep during the night. When we first got there, we had a couple of chaps that counted how many times it rained, and it rained for 108 days, every day.

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