Veteran Stories:
Emile Leon “Bill” Thibault

Army

  • Family photograph taken in England in May 1945. From left to right: Mr. Thibault's brother Andre, his cousin's Leon and Georgette and at the far right, Emile Thibault.

    Emile Leon Thibault
  • Certificate of Discharge for Mr. Thibault.

    Emile Leon Thibault
  • Fragment of a letter that Emile Thibault wrote to his brother Andre Thibault on November 3, 1944, when he was a Prisoner of War. Brother Andre kept the letter and, decades later, gave it to Emile.

    Emile Leon Thibault
  • Mr. Thibault's WWII, Korean and Peace keeping medals. From left to right: 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp; War Medal (1939-45); Korea Medal; Peace keeping; United Nations Service Medal; United Nations Emergency Force Medal and Canadian Force decorations and clasp.

    Emile Leon Thibault
  • Mr. Thibault as a new recruit in November 1943.

    Emile Leon Thibault
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"And they would take us in the morning. We’d march about two miles, take us down into the salt mine was about 2,000 feet below level"

Transcript

I ended up being attached to the Regina Rifles, which was the 3rd [Canadian Infantry] Division, 7th Brigade. We were moving up the coast and ended up in Belgium. We crossed the Leopold Canal, which is the border between Belgium and Holland. We crossed with boats, early in the morning naturally; we crossed before daybreak. We went in and the Germans had us, planted, because we couldn’t use support like we normally did, like in southern France, where the solid ground, they used artillery. And they would shell just ahead of us. But there, they couldn’t use it because of the flooded out area. They didn’t want to make a worse mess of it by shelling it. So we went in without any support.

I got in about maybe 200 yards or 150 yards in, I’m not sure. But anyway, our platoon, which is about 30 men altogether, we lost a lot of people there. Our officer got killed as we crossed the canal in the boat, which I didn’t know until after. But when daylight came, the reinforcements were supposed to come to us but they couldn’t make it, so we were stuck there but couldn’t get back over the canal, we couldn’t go ahead. Quite a few killed, I found out later from quite a few; I was hit just about daybreak. And my left shoulder, I was laying down naturally. When you’re under attack like that, you’re laid down to try and protect yourself. And it hit me at the top of my shoulder and came out under my arm. And I bled - I don’t know how close it came to the artery but I guess I bled pretty bad - but thankfully, I don’t remember very much of that day. I come to a couple times and looked around, there was nothing happening, no noise, nothing. I guess I passed out again.

Anyway, by nightfall, I’d laid there all day, I don’t know if they thought I was dying. I guess I was pretty gone but the Germans came in and all I can remember, the one guy roused me with his foot and hollered, raus! And I kind of looked up and he seen I couldn’t raus, which means get up. So I just laid there and I laid there until nightfall. And a young German soldier that had been hit in his hand came along, I think he was hit in his left hand, he came along and we talked, or tried to talk, communicated anyway, and he helped me up. And he grabbed me from the back, behind my back on my belt with his right hand and he guided me back; I don’t know how far we walked. I was staggering I guess and we ended up in the first aid station and there they looked after me, dressed my wound and we stayed there about a week or so. And then we ended up in civilian hospitals in Amsterdam and altogether, they moved us back, they treated us just like the German wounded. We were moved back at the same pace through the trains and vehicles and what have you. I ended up in the German prison camp, [Stalag] XIB, which was - as far as we could figure out- we were near Essen, which is an industrial area in Germany.

In the prison camp, the way we survived or the way we lived, you made it up with one guy which you called your mucker. I don’t know where that come from, that came from English I guess, a mucker. And you looked after each other. When you got a Red Cross parcel, at that time, we were supposed to get one Red Cross parcel a week. But we got one between two guys. So we’d get the Red Cross parcel which saved our lives really because we weren’t fed that well.

But before they gave them to us, the German guard had an ice pick. He’d make you open up the parcel and he punctured every can so that you couldn’t save it up to escape with it. You had to eat it like if it was meat or something; you had to eat it within a certain length of time. Anyway, we were there for about two months and they came along and for some reason, they called out 200 Canadians from there. The camp was maybe 10,000, between the Americans and the British and ourselves; they called us out and they sent us to a smaller camp south and west of there. Anyway, it was a small camp, it was close to a salt mine. And they would take us in the morning. We’d march about two miles, take us down into the salt mine was about 2,000 feet below level, and there were huge rooms that they’d blast out at night and we had to load the trams and they’d take the salt out. And we found out that it was for, eventually, they were going to build a Focke-Wulf [German fighter aircraft] factory down there underneath the ground.

And it was dry, it was nice, and this was in the winter and it was just a nice dry mine. But the interesting thing was that there was prisoners down there, political prisoners, mostly Germans, that had been in there since 1932, 1933, when Hitler went in. And did they’d objected to him; they were down there and they’d bring them up only about an hour a week. We came up every night and stayed in our camp. And we eventually got out in April of 19[45]. The British had come in and they overran there and they let us out. But that’s basically what it was. Our day was, you’d get up at 6:00 in the morning, you’d march to the mine. Meals from the Germans were, you’d get a brew of coffee, which was made out of sugar beet, the pulp from sugar beet and they roasted it and it turned the water brown but it didn’t taste at all like coffee. But it was warm and it was brown. And that was our coffee; that was breakfast.

When we got back from the mine, they’d divide a loaf of this dark bread, this black bread - it was just heavy black bread - that was for six people. You’d cut it up and each guy got a sixth of a loaf of bread. And a bowl of soup. And your soup most of the time was beet, turnips, the beet top or the turnip and that’s what it was. There was nothing else in it. And that was basically what we were fed.

It was about an eight-hour shift in the mine and you didn’t work that hard. You know, I mean, there was, we weren’t that well fed. But other than that, everything was going great.

They flew us out of there. Eventually when we got back, they flew us back to England and put us in the hospital and checked us all out. My wound had healed as well as it could. I didn’t have to go back in for an operation or anything.

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