"So I got out of the car again and I lighted a cigarette and I held the cigarette in my hand and I had my troop follow me and I walked through Falaise. It was completely shattered, just like an earthquake really."
My regiment, the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment, the job it was to find the enemy and keep in touch with the enemy. We landed five days after D-Day and our role was to capture the Carpiquet Airport and also the town of Caen [France]. We fought our way from Normandy, we captured the Caen Airport, then there was the Falaise Gap and the fight for Falaise. Tremendous casualties there, for us and for the Germans.
But we succeeded breaking through at Falaise, where we captured German, Kurt Meyer. And once we broke through, our job was to open up the [English] Channel ports. At that time, all our supplies for [General George] Patton’s army, heading for Berlin, were coming over the beach. So it was terribly difficult to get sufficient supplies. We were sent out to clear the Germans out of the Channel ports so that they could start bringing in ships and unloading properly. And we moved through Holland to do that.
Dieppe [France] was a port that they wanted to capture, they could use it usefully. And as we moved up the Channel, we came to Antwerp [Belgium] and finally, Dieppe. I was the leading troop of the squadron and I was ordered to seize and hold the town of Tôtes, which was a little village outside of Dieppe, secure and hold. So we went in there, we captured the town, we were picking up prisoners, and suddenly, we came under fire from an enemy equipped with quite heavy guns. So I organized the troop and we were able to pin down the enemy forces until the rest of my squadron arrived. And the thing was that this was Dieppe, which was a Canadian thing, you see.
So we’d held the town of Tôtes, a little town outside of Dieppe. Because we held that town, and pinned down the enemy force that were trying to drive us out, it enabled the 2nd Canadian Division, which was the Dieppe division, with the Essex Scots and all those guys, we were able to hold the town of Tôtes so the division could advance and secure Dieppe.
The thing was, we were outnumbered about four or five to one by then. We were right under their guns and it was just amazing that I didn’t get hit. At that time, we were in armoured cars. You’re in your armoured car, but in this case, and you’re talking on your radio, you’re giving orders to the rest of your armoured cars, but at one point, I got out of the armoured car and organized the troop on the ground so we could pin down the enemy.
We did this many times, but it just happened to be that the commander of the division was handy and this was pure luck. Because I’d done operations like this all the way up from Caen, the Falaise Gap and all the way up through Holland, we did this many times. We were given a job we called seize and hold, which is a job that the cavalry do, the reconnaissance regiments do.
We started out with motorcycles at the beginning. Then we finally got little armoured cars and then we got big armoured cars. Finally, we did the breakout at Caen and at Falaise, the Falaise Gap, which was the big turning point. I do remember that the Germans were trying to sneak out. And of course, we had control of the air. We caused tremendous casualties, as they streamed out through this narrow gap, trying to get out, because the Americans were on the other side of it.
We got to Falaise and it was getting dark and the driver couldn’t really see, you can’t see lights. So I got out of the car again and I lighted a cigarette and I held the cigarette in my hand and I had my troop follow me and I walked through Falaise. It was completely shattered, just like an earthquake really. And there were lots of dead in the street. I walked very slowly because I really couldn’t see anything. We didn’t want to show any lights or anything. And finally, I stopped because I’d got the troop through and it was just beginning to get light, a little bit of dawn. So we were through Falaise, that was the start of the breakout.