Veteran Stories:
John Arthur Newstead

Army

  • A picture of John Newstead in 1944 (possibly 1945), taken in Maidstone, England while on leave visiting family. "I think my aunt talked me into getting it done," he recalls. Mr. Newstead sent copies of this photograph to his family and his future wife back home in Ontario.

    John Newstead
  • "Doc at chores." John Newstead (right) and comrade Doc doing the wash in Holland, possibly Germany in 1945. "I tented with Doc. He was a First Nations man from the southern part of Ontario."

    John Newstead
  • "Entertainment (unpaid!) in camp," in Germany, 1945. "Some of the boys after a couple of bottles of schnapps!"

    John Newstead
  • Mr. John Newstead's discharge record, entitling him to wear his War Service Badge after the war.

    John Newstead
  • Mr. John Newstead (right) and a comrade photographed while setting up a staging camp near the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany in 1945.

    John Newstead
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"There were numerous patients you didn’t know if they were going to make it or not, and you got them there and that; and they were still alive when you got there, so you were happy."

Transcript

I’m John Arthur Newstead and I was born in Muskoka Township [Ontario] actually in 1925, 23 January. Well, I think my father expected me to enlist, of course, when I was 18. It was normal for that time. My mother, I don’t think, was anxious. But this was a reinforcement unit, and this just, this had people from all different parts going into [it], but I went with the [Royal Canadian] Artillery group. The only person I can [remember], a guy named Noffke, I got a kick out of; and there was Turk Broda was on the ship with me and he was a goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So I can remember a bombardier, when we were still at dock, was seasick; and he was still seasick when we got to England. We were there about a week and they came to me and told me that I was going to be driving an ambulance [with No. 2 Motor Ambulance Company, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps] and that was it. During the time we were there, there were no road signs. All the road signs were taken down in case the enemy landed before, that was what they were taken down for. So you, you were on your own. There was an orderly with me in the ambulance. I was the driver and he was the orderly. You weren’t going 100 kilometres an hour or any terrific speed, you were going 10 miles an hour, 15 miles an hour ̶ as quickly as you could go and still keep on the road, that’s the biggest thing. If I remember correctly, burn cases went to Basingstoke [Park Prewett Hospital]. You used to hate to get a load going to Basingstoke. They were in very, very bad condition. They’d been burned, you know, and, or head wounds went there too and they were another problem. If you wanted to get sleep, you had to stop somewhere and have a sleep because if you went back, you had another load. It was a very tense period, of course, in England at that time.

Some of the suffering that went on, you saw, you know, it was horrendous, of course. I can remember one time, we had a patient who was very bad and the orderly asked me to stop at the first hospital we came across. We go and get him a needle; and that was a British civilian hospital, they made us take him off our stretcher, put him on their stretcher, give him this needle and put him back on our stretcher. That’s how ridiculous some things got. There were numerous patients you didn’t know if they were going to make it or not, and you got them there and that; and they were still alive when you got there, so you were happy.

There was numerous of those because there was a tremendous number of wounded on D-Day [the Allied Normandy landings of June 6, 1944], so that’s what the casualties were like at that period. And mostly I can remember about D-Day was the skies were just black with aircraft heading for Europe, for bombing and fighter planes too, but mostly bombers. Thousands and thousands of them. And it’s a weird feeling actually, to be part of it because you’re, you don’t really realize, you do realize the importance to a degree but you, you’re more interested in what you’ve got to do than what the whole thing is about.

[Later] we landed in Antwerp and went from Antwerp into Holland. The things that bothered me is more than anything else, when you’re in a place like where you’re in a camp, things get set up more than they do if you’re in the field, if you’re moving. There used to be kids coming into the mess line, Dutch kids. You know, they were almost starving to death, probably were starving to death; and more than once, you’d give them your rations and get some more. I don’t think people realized how much it hits the kids and things like this; and what wars do to them. You know, eight or ten, or 11-year-old kids and they’re just starving to death. So it’s not a pretty sight.

These kids would have to eat what you had there because all you had were your mess tins. They were two cans that you got your rations in in a cup, that’s what you used to get your food in. So you had to get those back or you couldn’t get some more yourself [laughs]. So the kids would have to eat there; they couldn’t take it home unless they could get something with them to take it away in. But there weren’t cans and things that were lying around like there are now.

War is no screaming hell for anyone. It’s not the answer to anything. You know, I might be being philosophical, I don’t know, but that’s what I always felt after the war, that this was such a waste. It was absolute chaos. It was, you know, it was just flat.

And there’s only one thing I can remember about, one thing about the war. The war was still on, we were in a place called Leer, it was in Germany. There was a provost [military police] in front of this building and he said, "around the back, fellows." We went around the back and it was a brewery, and you could fill your empty Jerrycans with beer [laughs]. So that’s one of the lighter things that happened.

Most people, you met all kinds in the service, most of them were pretty good heads. And, of course, they were all in the same barrel and they were hoping for the best. And I think that’s one thing that you, you get the impression that there’s good in nearly everyone somewhere along the line. It may be hard to find at times, but mostly they’re pretty good.

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