Veteran Stories:
George Custance

Army

  • Mr. George Custance in Edmonton, Alberta, December 11, 2009.

    Historica Canada
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"We still had towers around the fence, keeping them in the compound and they had rifles of course if anybody strayed away. But they weren’t anxious to get out, they liked it here."

Transcript

I was born in Ashmont, Alberta and went to school out there and came to the city [Edmonton, Alberta] to … And I worked up on the Alaska Highway as a matter of fact when I came to the city. I was too young to get in the service, so I worked up there for two years. I came out and I look young for my age, of course, and so I couldn’t get in the service. Some lied about their age and got in age 17. I was tail end of 17 years old when I joined up. Went down to town and joined the army. They had a recruiting booth there along 101st Street. And so I went to Camrose [Alberta] for my advanced training and from there, went, that was two months period in Calgary, Currie Barracks for the rest of my training. And then I was on the draft for overseas and I’d taken pneumonia and when I got down to [Camp] Debert, Nova Scotia, they found I had pneumonia. And so they kept in Truro, Nova Scotia for a few months convalescing. Well then, at that time, they weren’t taking any more recruits overseas that way, [due to] the [planned] Japanese invasion, of course. They sent me back west, I was guarding prisoners of war in Medicine Hat and Wainwright. I went up into the east towers, there was about six of them around this compound and the prisoners were playing soccer in the compound, and there was a barrier rope around. And if the ball happened to go in, I guess, the fence, they had to get permission from towers to go and fetch it because otherwise, it could have been a challenge for breakouts or something. We changed guards periodically and back to the barracks and that was the highlight. They’d bring you around lunch. These prisoners weren’t violent or anything. We at times went down in amongst the camp and checked them out. They weren’t trying to make a getaway or anything and we exchanged badges and things like that, and we were quite compatible. And we still had towers around the fence, keeping them in the compound and they [the guards] had rifles of course if anybody strayed away. But they weren’t anxious to get out, they liked it here (laughs). After that, after Medicine Hat, I went to Wainwright and shortly after that, I got discharged. When we were guarding prisoners of war in Medicine Hat there, we didn’t bring our rifles back into our barracks and one of my best chums was, this one fellow was unloading his rifle and he shot him dead, right in his bunk. One of his buddies just was unloading his rifle and you eject the shells and after you close your magazine, you fire. There’s supposed to be no bullets in the gun but there was one left in. It was quite dramatic. Sad thing.
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