Photo taken when Fernand Giguère (right) enlisted, 1943.Fernand Giguère
Newspaper article from La Patrie, July 8, 1944, after an accident of training. Fernand Giguère had been wounded and some of his friends were killed.La Patrie
Fernand Giguère's Pay Book, 1943-45.Fernand Giguère
Fernand Giguère in Montreal, Quebec, January 28, 2010.Historica Canada
Postcard sent by the uncle of Mr. Giguère's wife, when Mr. Giguère was at Sherbrooke, Quebec, 1943.Fernand Giguère
"A piece of shrapnel took off a quarter of my right shin and then another piece grazed my lip and got lodged in my teeth. It looked worse than it was."
[Basic instruction] was just military orders; knowing how to march, turn, advance and how to handle a .303 rifle. There were all kinds of basics to learn. For some, it was harder and for others, it was easy. Me, I was lucky since I already had a foundation so it was easier for me. It always seems a bit easier for some than others, that's why. A soldier had to be completely trained in terms of military conduct before going to Europe.
We were in Farnham. From Farnham, they took us to Saint-Bruno to give us a three-inch mortar demonstration. The mortar fired shells above little hillocks. We formed a semi-circle shoulder to shoulder; there were about 62 of us. The bomb was placed incorrectly and so it exploded in the mortar. Exactly ten people died right on the spot and then three more died on the way to the hospital. Twenty people were injured. What a tragedy. A piece of shrapnel took off a quarter of my right shin and then another piece grazed my lip and got lodged in my teeth. It looked worse than it was. There was a lot of blood but it wasn't that bad. It was only later on that I realised that I had lost my hearing completely, when I was being transferred to Ste-Anne’s Hospital to be operated on in order to remove the piece of shrapnel from my leg.
I was discharged about one week later. But what happened is that in Ste-Anne when they operated on me, they swabbed my leg with ether. I didn't know it at the time, but I was allergic to ether. After the operation, my leg swelled up not twice but a good third bigger than normal. It was red, red, red. When the doctor came by to examine me he said, ''You can go home tomorrow''. But I asked him to look at my leg first. I pulled back the blanket and he exclaimed, ''Ah!'' He said, ''That's another thing entirely. You're better off being transferred back to the hospital''. So they took me back to the hospital and they examined me. They gave me baths with... well, they had a solar lamp and they directed that on my leg for several minutes, three times per day. That's how I was able to keep my leg. It went back to normal.
Three weeks later, I returned to the camp in Farnham. I was a bit traumatised. I was in shock and I would say it took me a couple weeks to get back to normal. The ones we trained were volunteers, people who signed up as volunteers and hadn't been called up by law. Because they had passed a law that said that every young man between such and such an age, and who wasn't married, was obliged to report to the army. We called them ''zombies''. They were forced. The military police even went to get them. A lot of them ran away to the mountainside or into the woods to evade the army. A lot of people didn't want to join. Some of them were caught and afterwards, what do you think? They had to keep up.
There was one guy who left a mark on me. We always inspected the rifles and one morning, I was inspecting his rifle and I noticed that it was dirty. That meant that the guy didn't do his work properly. So I called him over and I said to him, ''You know, this can be very dangerous because sometimes the bullet can explode in the barrel''. I said to him, ''Make sure that your rifle is cleaned properly''. That guy, he had been gone five or six months, I believe. He died overseas. It had a strange effect on me. I wondered if he had continued cleaning his rifle. A lot of thoughts came to mind, but it couldn’t have been that. It was maybe just my imagination.