Veteran Stories:
Émile Turcot

Army

  • Emile Turcot (L-R) is pictured here in camp with Robert Beauvais and J.B. Beland in Holland, April 1945.

    Emile Turcot
  • Emile Turcot is pictured here hugging his mother, while surrounded by his sisters, on the day he returned to Canada after the war, October 28, 1945.

    Emile Turcot
  • German medals claimed as souvenirs during the last days of the war, 1945.

    Emile Turcot
  • Portrait of Emile Turcot in uniform.

    Emile Turcot
  • German bayonet taken from a German soldier at the end of the war, 1945.

    Emile Turcot
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"The regiment commander would say, ''I need two lieutenants, I need three lieutenants,'' depending on how many dead and wounded there were"

Transcript

After, I went to Farnham. They sent me to the camp where recruits received their basic training. When I got to Sherbrooke, there was a group of derelicts. Of the 72, I don't think that there was one who hadn't served time in jail. One night, three of them got out and went and looted a fur store. The police came to pick them out of the platoon the next morning. There were two of us officers; there was Pierre Faribault, a great friend of mine who passed away on June 30 after 67 years of friendship. We managed to get all 72 of them qualified. I noticed when going in to their huts at night that there was one guy who was their leader. So I said to Pierre, ''I think that I'm going to use him''. He said, ''What are you going to do?'' I said, ''I don't know yet. I'll think about it tomorrow morning''. When we got on parade, I said, ''I'm going to do the drill this morning''. When they were practicing the drill command “slope arms”, they were holding their rifles all wrong. I noticed that their leader was the worst of all. But he gave me an idea that worked, and so much the better for him! So what I did is I said to them, ''You're all sloppy. You can't slope arms to save your lives. Only one of you is able to do it right''. So I said, ''Jo, come on over here and show them how it's done''. From that moment on, we never had any more trouble from him or the rest of them. We let him be what he wanted; a ringleader.

The next day, I left Montreal to go to Debert where the transit camp was located. From Debert, I went to Halifax. From Halifax, I took a ship overseas to France. There were 21 of us in a cabin for two. We slept four on top of each other. When it's like that, you really hope that the person sleeping on top of you doesn’t get sea-sick! It took us seven days to get to England. Because one morning, I spoke with one of the ship's officers and I said to him, ''It seems like the sun is on the other side today''. He said to me, ''Yes, we turned around and we're heading back to Canada because we have had too much submarine contact''. So we turned around, went back and then started all over again.

We were all officers, all generalists. We weren't attached to any regiment. We could wear the epaulettes from one regiment but officially, we weren't considered part of that regiment. Even though I wore epaulettes of the Fusiliers [Mont-Royal], I could have been sent to [the Régiment de] Maisonneuve if they lost one of their men, an officer. When we were at the Leopold Barracks [a transit camp in Belgium used by the Canadian Army to house reinforcement troops], the request would come from the front [lines]. The regiment commander would say, ''I need two lieutenants, I need three lieutenants,'' depending on how many dead and wounded there were. We would go and replace them.

When I got to the Fusiliers, I was a bit lost. I didn't know where to go. The truck took us there and then left us behind the lines. Then we went to meet with the regiment commander and he welcomed us. He said that he had already seen our files. He was up to date and indicated which company we would be sent to. He said to me, ''You're going to ‘A’ Company with Major Bergeron''. In the Hochwald Forest, it was hard because the Germans bombed us with what they called air-burst [shells]. When you fired at a plane, depending on the fuse at the end the bomb, the fuse would cause the bomb to explode in the air and the shrapnel would hit the plane.

The Germans had the most beautiful canon, an 88 [mm]. It was anti-personnel, anti-tank and anti-aircraft. They just had to change the fuses at the end. They would fire at us from below with air-burst bombs. They would get us in our holes. A lot of us were wounded. They would also fire at us with normal shells from behind our lines on the roads. That's why we went three days without eating. We didn't have any water or food left and we were starting to run out of ammunition for our rifles and machine guns.

Finally, we arrived in Groningen [Netherlands]. Groningen was a city which housed many works of art. So they asked us, as much as possible, not to use artillery fire when attacking the city in order to save the historical monuments. But we were forced to because we were did house-to-house fighting for three days. We noticed that the Germans had tunnels. When we took one house, they would come back underneath through another house we had taken the day before. They were both behind and in front of us. We lost a lot of men. The colonel at the time, Colonel Jacques Dextraze -he later became Chief of the Defence Staff; we called him Jim. Colonel Dextraze had a great idea which earned him his second DSO; Distinguished Service Order. He took off in a carrier with one driver and two soldiers. He had found out where the German generals' quarters were from a German officer that we had taken prisoner. He went directly to where it was in the city. The German general who was in charge thought that he had come to surrender. But instead he said to him, ''No, I came to get you''. So, after some discussion, the German general asked Colonel Dextraze permission to speak with his officer staff. After half an hour, he came back to him and said, ''We surrender''. So, I think about 80 officers that we already had and another fifty or so officers plus 700-800 soldiers all surrendered. You could tell that they felt differently about it. A lot of their faces showed that they weren’t too proud that it was over. Because in that group there were elderly people and children in uniform, the Volkssturm is what they called it; the people’s army. There were sailors, parachutists, [soldiers of the] Wehrmacht (Germany army), and SS (Schutzstaffel). There were all kinds of people; it was towards the end.

After taking the town of Oldenburg [Germany], we attacked the Alexander airfield which was outside of Oldenburg, a few kilometres from Oldenburg. That's an odd name in Germany, Alexander, but that's what it was called. They told us that the war was over. But what we didn't know is...we were on one side of the airport and the Germans were on the other side of the landing strip and we didn't know if they had been advised as well. So they asked me to go patrol and see what was going on over there on the German side. I went and did a tour of the landing strip. When I came back, I told them that they seemed to be finished as well. They didn't seem like a group that was ready for any action. They seemed pretty happy that it was over.

Follow us