Veteran Stories:
Jacques Andre Catudal

Army

  • Jacques Catudal in Montreal, Quebec, January 27, 2010.

    Historica Canada
  • Jacques Catudal (in center, back row) at Port Hardy, British Columbia, 1945.

    Jacques Catudal
  • Jacques Catudal, circa 1944.

    Jacques Catudal
  • Jacques Catudal with his motorcycle, circa 1944.

    Jacques Catudal
  • Jacques Catudal (first right) at Courtenay, British Columbia, 1945.

    Jacques Catudal
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"So I said to myself, I'm a conscript; I might as well sign up for the active army."

Transcript

When conscription started, I wasn't protected since I wasn't a university student. I was a young man who was trying to carve out his path in life. So I met the requirements for the conscription and I was called. But I had some bad luck; I lost a year since the doctor who performed my medical exam at the time lost my file. So some men from the RCMP showed up at my house. I had been trying to get a job with Singer, which was a big manufacturer in Saint-Jean that made Singer sewing machines. So a few months later, not a few months, I mean a few weeks later, the RCMP showed up. I said to them, ''Dr. Watson performed my medical exam''. They said to me, ''May we speak with him?'' I said sure, so I called the doctor and he said to come over. They made us take an oath. But my application had been lost in the mail. They told me not to leave Saint-Jean but I told them, ''I have to leave Saint-Jean for about 15 days to go to a Scout camp''. Because I was a bit older, I was a Scout Master it was called. I said to them, ''We are going to Vendée, in the Laurentian Mountains, and after that, we're coming back''. So they said, ''No problem, call us when you get back''. So I called. My mother was concerned with the RCMP coming to our house. She said to me, ''My boy, what have you done?'' I said, ''Mom, I haven't done anything, don't worry,'' I said, ''I've been conscripted''. My father wanted me to apply to the Singer Company to find work because I was at an age where I had to work. If I didn't want to pursue my studies, I had to work. But instead of working, the Canadian government found me a fine position in the Canadian Army. But I was still just a conscript. So a month or a month and a half after having entered into the service, there was a publicity campaign on voluntary enlistment. So I said to myself, I'm a conscript; I might as well sign up for the active army. So I signed up the same year, one month after having entered into the service. From then on, all of the hustle and bustle started; the mobilisations, the military camp, the instructors' camp, and specialised training camps. At one point, I ended up in British Columbia, in the city of Vancouver via the transcontinental train that existed at that time. It was a beautiful trip. There were four of us. We weren't an entire platoon or a company; there were just four of us. Of the four, three of us were from the dispatch rider school, and the other guy, a guy named McKinnon, was from Ontario. So two of us were from Quebec and one guy was from Nova Scotia, he was a good friend. We became good friends since we had attended a specialised motorcycle school. We studied for one month, a month and a half, learning how to drive. There was a practical course and theory on motorbikes. We remained good friends. We were dispatched all three of us together but we weren't together for a long time. We were separated. The others went to different camps and I was sent to Port Hardy, which was to the extreme south [north] of [Vancouver] island, near the United States. Each day, there was always what the army called a 'roll call' to make sure we hadn’t escaped. There wasn't much chance of us escaping that situation. After that, we would do patrols. They would take us out to the shore on half-tracks and we would observe, to see if there were any submarines off-loading spies or whatever. The DEW line [Distant Early Warning radar chain] covered, I think, something like seven miles. It was quite a distance. They would never go directly to the shore; a submarine could go by undetected since it didn’t cut the surface of the water. At one point, one of my friends had quite a scare. He thought he saw a periscope. He alerted us and directed us to the location since we were quite a distance away. We had a good laugh because it wasn't a periscope, it was shark swimming around! Jeez, give me a break! A periscope! So that was a good joke. We had a lot of fun with that. We teased him about that for a long time, unfortunately for him. But as for me, at that camp and in Nanaimo as well, they wouldn’t call me Catudal, or Jacques, or by my number – no, it was “Frenchie” because I was a Frenchman. So they called me Frenchie. I didn't bother saying anything back, I just accepted it. Because if I had said anything back to them, it would have just stirred them up more and made me more of a target. So it went nowhere further - I accepted Frenchie, so what? I was probably the only one who spoke French out of the entire gang! When the war ended with Germany, we were all happy. We thought we were off the hook. But they told us no, because we still had the Pacific and we had to continue training since the war with Japan wasn't over. The war with Japan ended later. So we stayed another year. Not another year, but a few more months. Japan signed [its surrender] not long after that. So then we were gradually repatriated but I wasn't sent back to Quebec immediately. I served in a demolition unit to tear down [military] camps on the Pacific coast.
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