So I opened up the barn door and it was full of Germans. But luckily for me, they wanted to surrender.
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I was born on a farm in Prairie Grove, Manitoba. I went to join the army when I turned 16, in the Orpheum Building in Winnipeg. I said, I’d like to go into Fort Garry Horse [a tank regiment] because that’s where all my buddies were. The doctor says, look son, he says, you’re underweight; you’re underage. If you don’t want to go in this new outfit that’s starting up, the 18th (Manitoba) Reconnaissance [Battalion], he says, go home to your mother. So I didn’t go home to my mother. (laughs)
They asked for drivers and I volunteered. That’s what I was during the whole war. You had to go on a scheduled course and you had to shift gears and make sure you didn’t grind them. (laughs) Made sure you were not a speed demon or anything like that. So that’s how we passed. We had to give an example of what goes on in the engine, intake compression power and exhaust, and all that kind of stuff, mechanical. That’s how we got the position.
We were in Debert, Nova Scotia. They told us not to say anything because we were leaving. We went into town that night; and all the people said, oh, you’re leaving. So it wasn’t very quiet. We went to Halifax and went over with the biggest convoy that ever left Canada. We got halfway across and we ran into submarines. I came up the next morning and asked the sailor, I said, where is that tanker that was on our left? And he says, oh, he says, they got it last night with a submarine. So then we were all scattered and we had our gray coats on because it was cold; and then next thing you know, we took them off because it was warm and we could see the coast of Bermuda. It took us eight days to get to England.
We started out with Jeeps, because we didn’t have any big vehicles. Then we went to the 15 hard weight [truck] and then we got American Staghounds [armoured cars] with twin GMC [General Motors Corporation] engines in them, six cylinders and they were like a tank but on rubber tires. After Falaise [Battle of Falaise Pocket], we started going across France and we were out ahead of everybody because we were reconnaissance. We were liberating towns as we went. Then we went into Belgium and we liberated Oostende, Brugge, Blankenberge. Then we went to Holland and we liberated a lot of towns in Holland. I can’t even remember all of them. Then we went to Germany.
Well, reconnaissance is actually, we were out ahead of all the other troops, finding out where the enemy were. Then we would radio back, and they would set up a barrage and try and get them. We’d drive out, well, we had Joe Smollen in the lead car; he could speak German. Then we had Neuman, who was, he could speak German; he was in the middle. Then, oh, Friesen, he could speak German; he was from Steinbach and he was in the back car. We ended up actually one night, we ended up so far into the German lines that we were concentrated into this German division. They were asking questions and the guys answered, and then they let us go. It was scary. Our colonel was only 26 years old. We were the youngest Canadian regiment in the Canadian army.
Well, I’ll tell you, we had some harassing deals because we pulled into this yard one night, about 12:00 am, and I got up at 6:00 am and there was a big barn there and I thought, geez, I’d better go and take a look and see if I can find some eggs. So I opened up the barn door and it was full of Germans. But luckily for me, they wanted to surrender. So they said, nicht schiessen Kanadischen Soldaten; nichts im Rucksack [don’t shoot, Canadian soldiers; nothing’s in the backpack]. (laughs) In other words, we want to be with you.
Then another time, this Bleuit, who was attached to us from the signals [Royal Canadian Corps of Signals], said to me one day, he says, hey Rook, he says, what are you doing? I says, not an awful lot, why? He said, well, how about driving the 1 500-weight [truck]? He says, I’ve got two more squadrons to check batteries in the cars. So I said, sure. So we’re going across this open field and all of a sudden he says, holy shit. I says, what’s wrong? He says, take a look. Here’s a Messerschmitt [German fighter plane] coming at us, hedge hopping, and the guy was smiling at us. He couldn’t have had any ammunition left because he just went over. Luckily, the majority of them all wanted to surrender, so we would take them back to the camps. There was so many of them that had given up.
When the war ended, we were in Germany. We went back to northern Holland, in the town of Leeuwarden; and then we were there for darn near 18 months. Then they shipped us to England and from England, we came back to the United States. There were ships in the harbour and shooting water up in the cannons. Then there was the Red Cross there. This woman said to me, she says, what do you want? She says, do you want a banana split or a hot dog or a hamburger? I says, banana split. (laughs)
But New York was something else. Everybody was hooting and hollering; and it was really something. I’ll tell you one thing, though, I wouldn’t want to have missed it. The camaraderie that we had was something else. Yeah. Yeah, you’ll never have that again.