"What did I find? A German machine gun nest with two Germans sitting down in it… If they had not been talking, if they had been doing their duty, I wouldn’t be here today."
My name is James Ralph Michener, as you know. I was born in Welland in 1921; and I went to school, got my, what was then called, a senior matriculation; and then since my parents couldn’t afford to send me to Toronto to go to university, I went to work for about two years as a cost accountant. Then in early, early 1942, I joined the army, trained in the training battalion in Niagara-on-the-Lake and was sent to Vernon for a couple of weeks for training. As a matter of fact, by then, I had received my commission; I was a lieutenant in the infantry.
So then, I went back to my unit which had been moved to the east part of Canada on guard duty. I trained with them, or served with them for a year and half, I guess about, until December of 1943 when I went overseas. I trained in London on a few more courses and then early in 1944, I was sent down to Italy to join the [2nd Battalion] Irish [Regiment of Canada]. I fought with them during that year, except for two weeks that I spent in hospital with yellow jaundice.
Then in the fall of 1944, they sent all Canadians in Italy to Holland. And we fought there until the ceasefire on 5 May, 1945. My battalion, the Irish, stayed in Holland until the end of the year. Then, in December of 1945, we were sent to England and sent home. That’s my story, except for what I’d like to talk to you about also is what I call the luckiest day of my life.
On April the 28th, one week before the ceasefire, my battalion was stopped in Holland, waiting for orders to advance. The company commander came to me and asked me to take patrol on up what they call a bund in front of our regiment. It was a long narrow strip of land that went into the distance, as far as you could see. It was very, very narrow, about 10 or 15 feet high and sloped down on both sides on an angle of about 45 degrees, covered with heavy weeds and undergrowth.
Now, my company commander said that he wanted me to take a patrol down this bund, as I think the Dutch called it, to see if there were any Germans in the area. So I picked two men out of my platoon and down the bund we went. We were about a half a mile, I guess, or three quarters of a mile down there when I heard voices. Now, I’m not a language expert and I didn’t know whether they were German or Dutch, but I was taking no chances. I motioned my patrol down to cover me. I went on another 20 feet and then crawled up through the weeds to the top of the dike, as I call it. What did I find? A German machine gun nest with two Germans sitting down in it, having a real conversation. If they had not been talking, if they had been doing their duty, I wouldn’t be here today. I took them plus their [MP 38] Schmeiser machine gun, emptied of course, back to my unit as prisoners of war.
I had a book at home which I gave to my young son called the History of the Irish Regiment. In it, it states that on April 28th, Lieutenant Michener captured two Germans, for which I got an MID (Mentioned in Dispatches). They also claim in that book, the number of officers that were killed or wounded. There were nine killed and 13 wounded. And the other rank I’ve forgotten, but I would imagine it would be 200 or 300. I’m very lucky to be here.