L-R: 2 unknown (left); Charles Shattick (centre); Captain Mitchell; Fred Chapman, Holland, 1944.Fred Chapman
Fred Chapman in Aldershot, England, 1941.Fred Chapman
"I just jumped up on my feet and I said, come on you rotten dirty buggers, get over here. And they all moved. And that was my baptism of fire. That was one incident that I never forgot and I was scared to death."
It was when we landed on the beaches of Sicily, I was in the Sicilian invasion and I didn’t land the first flow. The first landing was done on July the 10th, 1943. I landed with my group on July the 13th, 1943. It was three days after. During that night, the German aircraft came over and they were bombing and strafing us and we were wide open on the beaches. And I at that time, was a warrant officer, even though I was only 22. So I was in charge of the men under me and I had to get them over off the beach, into a place that was at least sheltered a little bit by one of these rock fences that they are so familiar with over there. I went to get up, I was frozen stiff, couldn’t move. Maybe that lasted for a few seconds but I told myself, I’ve got to get up and get over here, get those guys over. So couldn’t have been very long, maybe only a few seconds but it felt like an eternity with the bombs and machine guns firing and all that sort of stuff.
But anyway, eventually, I just jumped up on my feet and I said, come on you rotten dirty buggers, get over here. And they all moved. And that was my baptism of fire. That was one incident that I never forgot and I was scared to death.
I was with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and we were right there with their headquarters and we’d take charge of anything that comes up in connection with pay, particularly when the soldiers wanted to go on leave or something and when they needed a little money for something or other. There’s paymasters for every regiment and a field cashier who was with the division, services all these regimental pay masters. And we look after a lot of things, that it’s not just the pay, some of the soldiers would like to send money home to their wives or sweethearts or whatever. That was all done for them by us at no charge to them and we did a lot of other things connected with their uniforms and that sort of stuff. So I had to pay for certain things and this was all taken care of.
We, we were there right with the division. We sat at a table under a tent with our rifles right beside us because if the headquarters happened to be overrun, then we got out and fought like everybody else. So we were there, we weren’t engaged directly with the enemy normally but the soldiers that were, marched right past our tents. And they were on either side of the road, in formations. So we were right there, we got shot at like everybody else and we got strafed and bombed and suffered artillery fire and all that sort of thing. How I came through it without getting a scratch, I’ll never know, but I guess the good Lord was looking after me at that time.
I was the warrant officer in the office but of course, we had an officer too, a major and a captain. And they were responsible for looking after the actual cash because you had to be careful. We, we had with us what we called British Military Authority. That was the facsimiles of the pound and shilling, right, you know, the English pound? And we had them in wooden boxes. The boxes were made of pine wood, they were beautiful boxes, something like what you used to call a butter box. There was absolutely no knots or anything else in them. They were beautiful wood and this money was carried in there. It wasn’t actual currency but it was a valid currency for issuance to the soldiers and they could go to the town.
The local people in Italy were quite familiar with this thing that came out, so they were willing to accept it. And the payoff is of course we carried a number of currencies. There was American currency, there was English currency, French currency, Belgian francs, Dutch guilders and this sort of thing. Everywhere we went, we picked up the currency from the local banks and so forth that were there. We were watchful all the time because some of the German aircraft, if they came over, I was in one spot where these German aircraft, what was called a Focke-Wulf. A Focke-Wulf was a better aircraft than the Messerschmitt [fighter aircraft] and was a fighter bomber. And we had an aircraft signal and this went off when I was doing something, I forget what it was, near one of the camps. And I heard this aircraft come over and it came right straight down to me. And I went flat on the ground. But of course, the way the trees and the foliage was, he couldn’t stay; he had to zoom and sort of veer off to the right. And I was there and I saw these bullets just tearing up the ground right in front of me. And because he had to move over, of course it went by me with just a few yards. But it was a very scary thing.