Joseph Forest, November 23, 2009.Historica Canada
Joseph Forest's service medals.Joseph Forest
"I watched it coming towards me before I realised what it was; it was a wave of water coming our way. The Germans had blown up the dams."
I enlisted in the army on June 12, 1939 and I participated in the Second World War. I came back in one piece! During the war, I rode a bicycle for a few months until we got to Holland where the Germans had blown up the dykes. One day I was going down a road, and I had a full convoy of loaded trucks behind me, and I saw something that I couldn’t understand. I watched it coming towards me before I realised what it was; it was a wave of water coming our way. The Germans had blown up the dams. I had the time to load my bike into a truck. There were trucks in the convoy in case something happened. So I loaded my bike into one of the trucks. The wave approached us, came up square to the doors and we were stuck there. We were lucky though because during those days the Germans had a lot of planes but they didn’t have any gas for them. So we could travel without being afraid of being shot at from the sky.
So we erected what was called a "floating belly" pontoon bridge. Then we got on, and we didn’t even have to handle the wheel; we held it straight or we went straight through. The first bridge we put up was a mile long. And then wherever else they needed a bridge, we helped. Sometimes it was a 30 or 40 or 50 foot long bridge. Sometimes there was a large river and then the approach wasn’t suitable to build a straight bridge because of the water, so we had to build further back. We would never build where they had destroyed bridges because we didn’t know what the piles of debris held. So we took a detour and built a new bridge. Sometimes we were sent to build a bridge at a certain site, but when we got there, there was no one around chalentour. We didn’t build anything that could get us hurt.
And then sometimes, you would arrive thinking that nobody was there, but if there was cover or a forest or something on the other side, the Germans could be hiding there. You couldn’t hear or see anything, but the area was wooded. They had "everything but the kitchen sink" as the saying goes. So we would get together to build the bridge, and then as soon as we were done, you would hear, "pow, pow, pow!" and they would blow it up. I once saw a bridge be re-built three times before our artillery could defend it. That could happen. Then we had to direct them from where they were in the woods. Us, our orders were to build a bridge as quickly as possible, but they were hoping for us to finish so that they could blow them up, because we were pretty well in advance. Even our infantry, when they got to a river, didn’t have the necessary equipment to cross it. We had to build them bridges, and often in a hurry!
To build a bridge, we unloaded one of the big pontoons; it was as big as from here to the wall and about as high. The pontoon floated on the water and we build walls around them, one after the other. Then we put two tracks or two flagstones on each side. The driver didn’t even have to touch the wheel. The pontoon kept itself straight because the bridge was straight and it rested the tracks. If they played with the wheel, it would make a big mess! So that’s how we went across. And then, once the basic frame was laid down, we would bring over other supplies to make the bridge more permanent. So that’s how it worked.
Sometimes we had nothing to do for a week. So since we knew that we would be stopping for a week, and that the bridges were holding up ahead, we would dump all of the supplies and leave. It was like a city, it was all streets. The drivers weren’t ordinary drivers. The 86 Bridge needed refurbishing all the time. The same parts were put in the trucks and each truck carried a part of the bridge. Sometimes there was more than one. Once you got there, the dump was there, all of the streets and that and you loaded up. The driver was responsible for making sure that he had the same parts in his truck all the time. When it was time to make the bridge on the other end, each truck would arrive in a line, and the bridge was built. Poor driver who arrived and discovered that he had all the wrong parts! The channels in Belgium and Holland weren’t big but there were a lot of different places that required building. Those ones didn’t take that long. We could build a bridge that was over 200 feet long and which could bear a 40 tonne vehicle, up to 40 tonnes, in three hours!