Veteran Stories:
Robert Ernest “Mac” McGirr

Army

  • Robert McGirr's Certificate of Service.

    Robert McGirr
  • Troop line. The white star of liberation warn people not to shoot at everyone.

    Robert McGirr
  • Group Photo, 1942. Robert McGirr is 2nd from left in front row.

    Robert McGirr
  • Robert McGirr.

    Robert McGirr
  • Dress Badge of Princess Louise Dragoons, which is the only badge in Canadian Army with two crowns.

    Robert McGirr
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"15 000 troops onboard this ship. Could you imagine the chaos if we’d have been struck by a torpedo?"

Transcript

I decided that if I was not chosen to go into medicine, then I would join up along with the rest of my buddies. We had a boys group called the dynators, DYNATORS, United Church, Winnipeg. And there was 22. Two of them had severe physical disability, which gave them a category, and they were not accepted into the army. But I was in perfect shape. I was 11 seconds off the world’s record in running the mile. The casualty rates that they expected did not materialize, so therefore, I was surplus. Well, what do you do with a surplus officer? You try to employ him regimentally, and all the dirty work, write reports, accidents, reports, draw up a training syllabus for 1000 men, that type of thing. And it was good fun. I became a highly trained gunner. I took a gunnery course and became very proficient and we fired every weapon in the Allied Army. So we fired Japanese rifles, we fired German pistols and so on. We trained every day. We went outside in the 64 below Fahrenheit and it wasn’t the coldness of the air, it was the wind, the wind, the wind drove us, oh, it just cut right through you. So everybody stumbled around in great big wooly suits of sheepskin. And your face, you even covered your eyes, it was so cold. You had to do something, you had to keep training. And we did machine gun practice and we did tactics. I became so good in tactics that the officer in charge of the tactics wing, a Major Green from the PLDG [4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards] overseas, these were overseas instructors, so he said, “My dear boy, I certainly have been watching you and you’re, you’re good material for the tactics wing and I want you to become my assistant and you can stay with me for the rest of the war, thank you very much. End of period.” I said, “Whoa, no sir, you’re not going to get me, sitting here in a godforsaken little alkaline mud flat.” There wasn’t a tree for 40 miles. We got overseas on the [RMS] Empress of Scotland and when they got on, I happened to be the thirteenth man up the plank. So they said, “Okay, here’s a chit for a straw mattress, but we don’t have one for you, we have a pellias, it’s a big canvas bag filled with straw.” And they put in the bathtub. 15 000 troops onboard this ship. Could you imagine the chaos if we’d have been struck by a torpedo? They came along one day and said, “Right, you’re going back to Canada.” They said, “We’re breaking up some of the units, we need reinforcements. The reinforcement stream is drying up, and we’re in desperate need of trained men and we need them now.” And certain regiments are buckshee [meaning free] because instead of being able to raise about 20 more divisions, not 20 divisions but 20 regiments, they found that the recruiting stream dried up. So that’s when we got into the ‘zombie’ [a slang word for a conscripted soldier] business and conscription. So six of us were chosen out of a group of about several thousand and we went back to Dundurn [Saskatchewan] and we trained them night and day for over four months. At the end of which time we said, “If you stick with us and play the game and don’t go absent without leave or get into petty crimes, we’ll take you back to fight. We guarantee that we will take you back to fight.” And that’s all they needed. They were sick and tired of being put into reserve, so that’s what happened. Came back to Canada, trained for four months, night and day, took them all back with us and we went into action and we fought with them in northern France, Belgium and Holland. And the war ended on the, oh, around, somewhere between the 5th and the 8th of May, 1945. One day, I was right in behind this guy and he was dawdling along and he wasn’t, he didn’t seem very confident the way he was handling the armoured car, which was about a ten ton armoured car. Ten tons is a lot, let me tell you. That’s a big weight. Anyway, he ran off the road and went over the edge of a precipice and fell 2000 feet and was killed and all the crew in it. And what had happened was that the lock at the front of the vehicle had a tool tray about a foot square and about six feet wide. And that lock had been lost or stolen and they just put a piece of wire in it. And all of a sudden, this lid flipped up right in front of him so that he was totally blind, went right off the edge of the precipice and that’s a pretty vivid memory.
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