Veteran Stories:
Jack William Banks

Army

  • Contemporary photograph of Jack Banks (on the right) his grandson Robert Dehmel and son-in-law Fred Dehmel.

    Jack Banks
  • Jack Banks' eye glasses from the 1940's.

    Jack Banks
  • Service Book and Clothing Book, which detail the "what and when" of Jack Banks' service.

    Jack Banks
  • Contemporary Photograph of Jack Banks, standing in a cemetary in Holland, 2005, in honour of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of The Netherlands. Several soldiers from the 48th Highlanders are buried in this cemetary.

    Jack Banks
  • Medals from the Netherlands (on the right). Medallions from being on the winning sports team of the 48th Highlanders.

    Jack Banks
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"When you went in to Germany it said, “This is Germany. You must not fraternize” [interact with civilians]. When you got where it said “This is Holland,” it said, “You may fraternize, but do not loot.”"

Transcript

I am Jack William Banks. I was born 18 November 1925. When the Second World War started my brother was called up in 1943 (he went in September, I think it was), and I joined up on my birthday, 18 November 1943. I was really patriotic at that time. Times were tough. I had been working for my future wife’s uncle and aunt. It was like a second family to me. I worked for them for four years at ten dollars a month. Here was a chance to go places and see things. It was an adventure. That’s the way I thought. As well as being patriotic, I knew that the Germans had to be stopped. Even though I was a kid, I knew that.

The first thing, and this was the only time I ever was ashamed of the Canadian army, there was one trainload after another coming in to Pier 21 where we left from in Halifax and they made us line up there. They brought out 69 guys, I remember it exactly. They had them handcuffed with both wrists, one big MP [military police officer] on the right and another big MP on the left; and they dragged those guys up that gangway onto the [SS] Nieuw Amsterdam. Some of them were screaming and crying, and carrying on something fierce. It turns out, I think, a lot of those people were terrified of going over the water. I can’t think of any other reason that they would be acting like that. Some of them were dragged on their heels and some were dragged with their knees scraping. It was absolutely degrading what they did to those guys. That has been with me all my life, to think what difference would 69 people make? Might better if they had left them here.

When we all got on board that ship we were supposed to leave at 12 o’clock midnight and, of course, we didn’t. Rumours were flying that the Germans were out there in their submarines waiting to sink us. They were waiting and so on, and so forth. It turned out a sergeant had locked himself in a washroom; and went in and slashed his wrists with a razor blade. When they found him, of course, he had bled to death. He left a note saying that he was terrified of water. So he killed himself rather than go across the water. That was pitiful, wasn’t it?

When we did go we had escorts out of Halifax for, I think, the first day or something, maybe not even that long because this was a fast ship. I think I told you before that we hit this dreadful storm. I think were supposed to be there in Scotland in nine days, but that storm was so fierce that that big ship could not go against it, so they had to turn and go with the storm. Nobody was allowed on deck, of course. I can still feel that ship going up and creaking; and then it would lay over on the right side and you would think “Oh, she’s going right on over!” and then it would drop – boom – and your feet would leave the floor. This went on day and night for, I think, about three days and three nights. When it calmed down, they let us out. Oh, it was beautiful, sunny weather and it was hot. They never told us where we were, but we asked guys from Indonesia who were the crew. [We asked them] where we were; and they said we were in the Azores. They said if anybody gets sunburn you would be charged. A lot of guys did sunburn.

It took us 13 days to get to Greenwich, Scotland. The Germans did have a submarine waiting for us as we entered the Irish Sea. I would have loved to have been able to get up on deck, but the stairs were jammed. They said “lifeboats,” but you couldn’t get there. The guys that did said we had an escort vessel on each side. We could hear the depth charges [anti-submarine weapons] going boom, boom, boom, buh-buh-buh-boom. They had a plane up there that was dropping stuff too. They said a big oil patch had come up, so they figured they got the German submarine. I don’t know. I wasn’t up there to see it.

I can remember going across the Rhine River and seeing the rifles sticking in the ground. There was the odd German one, but most of them were Canadian. They would stick the bayonet on the rifle and shove it in the ground that way and then they would hang the guy’s steel helmet over top of the rifle. There were dead horses and cows with their feet sticking in the air there.

When you went in to Germany it said, “This is Germany. You must not fraternize” [interact with civilians]. When you got where it said “This is Holland,” it said, “You may fraternize, but do not loot.” They took 40 of us up to The Hague on these Bren Gun Carriers. They said the Germans were still walking around with their rifles, but they were actually rounding them all up and putting them in cells behind wire.

The war was still on but they had kind of a peace treaty right there, a truce. They would not fire on us and we would not fire on them. We guarded this. A lot of people don’t know this, but they had a mine field they had taken two miles wide and 20 miles long. They figured that the Allies might invade there because it was a sandy beach. Of course, they never even put a row boat across there but they mined it all there terribly, so we had to keep the Dutch people from going over to their summer homes in Scheveningen across from The Hague. We did lose one 14-year-old boy. Thank goodness he wasn’t on my street. He bounced a ball that went over there and when they found out they hollered to the boy, “Don’t move, don’t move,” but the kid was scared. He thought he had done something wrong and he ran for the fence and stepped on a mine that killed him. I have never seen anything much about that mine field, but it was two miles wide and 20 miles long. They just took all the houses and just flattened them right out – just made a field of it.

I never was sorry that I went because that war had to be fought. I felt good that I had joined up. It was an adventure from day one until the last day. There is a lot that I could tell you yet. [laughs]

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