Rod McNeill's service medals: 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45).Rod McNeill
Rod McNeill, October 30, 2009.Historica Canada
"And I said, aren’t you afraid of getting shot? And he said, yeah, he says, you should be too. And I says, I am. (laughs) You don’t have to tell me."
I’m Rod McNeill from Peace River country in Alberta, in Northern Alberta. I was working on a farm, on a ranch, in Northern Alberta, 400 miles north of Edmonton. I decided I wanted excitement as a 17 year old and I tried to get in the army. They said, no, you’re too young and when I turned 18, I signed up. And I’m not sure whether it was Peace River I signed up in or Fairview, Alberta.
I went to Edmonton and, of course, I come right off a farm. I’d never been in the city before in my life, so I walk around with my mouth open, looking at these tall buildings in Edmonton. (laughs) And the barracks there, they shipped me to New Westminster. I was in New Westminster for several months, and then they shipped me to Prince Rupert. I was there for about two or three months, and then they shipped me overseas from there.
When I got over, I went to Aldershot and I stayed in a camp there, an army camp, waiting to go wherever they wanted to send me. I was with the [101st Loyal] Edmonton Fusiliers at that time and they sent me to the Edmonton Regiment, which I was hoping they would and I did go. I went on another troop ship to North Africa. There was two ships. The [Loyal] Edmonton [Regiment], the Seaforth [Highlanders of Canada] and the Princess Pats [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] were all on this, on two ships. One ship went straight ahead to Sicily. Our ship pulled into Philippeville in North Africa and it stayed there just overnight or we stayed there. And then we traveled on a troop train across North Africa to another big city, I can’t recall the name now, and from there, I went to Sicily.
One of the stories I would like to tell was when we were in Italy, and I was an infantry signaller, so of course, and that went with troops on patrol and everything. We get into Italy and we were going up the foot of Italy from the heel we started. We went up the foot. And one night I was still on patrol because everybody was sleeping in the regiment; and we had to have a guard out, warning them if there’s any Germans were coming in from the other way, coming towards us. And I was there all by myself and I knew there was somebody maybe 100 yards to my right and somebody 50 or 100 yards to my left, I don’t know where they were.
But I was watching very carefully. And watching everything and trying to see everything and scared too, a little bit. And all at once, something tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. (laughs) It was an East Indian called Gurkhas that were part of the British army. There was a whole division of them, and they were the best darn troops I ever seen. (laughs)
So when he tapped me on the shoulder, he says, hi Johnnie and I looked and all I could see was his white teeth showing. (laughs) I was looking right in his face, it was so dark out. And I said, how did you know I wasn’t a German or something like that, you know, I could have been a German for all you know. He says, oh, I knew, he says. I said, how did you know ̶ you’ve got no light, no sound, no nothing. He says, I felt your shoelaces and, he says, your shoelaces were flat. He says, they wear round ones. All of their troops all have round ones but, he says, yours were flat. I knew you were Canadian. (laughs)
We were going into the Hitler Line and I got wounded in the Hitler Line, about an hour’s walk into Rome. We were in there and we were told to dig in. There was trenches in there, but we were told to dig some more because there was more troops, you know. And we started to dig, I had a [radio] set on my back, I took it off and sat it down. And we had a young Ukrainian boy, just came up, he’d never been in action before. So he was with us and he was holding his set in his hand and started to dig because he was new. I guess he can hold the set while we’re, you know, and send the message. And a mortar shell hit the fig tree, which is, oh, they’re about 14, 15 feet high and that’s about all. And we’re right in an orchard of fig trees.
It hit this and I got a piece of shrapnel went in my chest, on the right side and down into my heart. And I got the other one into my knee. So I still hear about that sometimes. I went to a doctor not too long ago, about a year ago, and he says, were you ever shot? I said, no, but I’ve been half shot a lot of times. (laughs) And he said, no, he said, there’s a bullet in your, in your heart there, you know. He says, that’s by the aortic arch; it’s in there, he says, right by your heart. I said, oh, I know it’s there. I knew it was there all the time, I knew what he was talking about. So anyway, he, he said, another 16th of an inch and he says, you wouldn’t be here.
When the war ended, they came to me and they said, we want you to drive a Jeep. Now, you take this Jeep, we’re putting a German officer with you. He can talk German to the people, that are still snipers up on the rooftops and shooting at people and that, you know, who didn’t know the war was ended. Because they had no way of telling, they were living up there with nothing, you know. So I drove this captain and he was talking to me and I said, how come you’ve got an American accent. He had a southern accent, you know, in the States, southern accents. Well, he said, that’s where I lived, he said, I’ve been there for years and years and years. He says, and I came here for holiday and he said, they conscripted me and I couldn’t get out. He said, they wouldn’t let me go. Old Adolf Hitler, he wanted troops so badly, I guess they just said, you’re not going no place. So, he said, here I am. (laughs)
So I drove him around and he got a couple of snipers up there. And I said, aren’t you afraid of getting shot? And he said, yeah, he says, you should be too. And I says, I am. (laughs) You don’t have to tell me. But he didn’t. He could talk German, he had a speaker and he could tell them the war was over.