"I got pinned down with a sniper. I was in the trenches, my nose in the ground because as soon as I lift my head up even a couple of inches, the bullets were flying over me."
I left spring 1941 to Calgary. I had an uncle in Calgary who was in the roundhouse [a railway building] and I told him, if I go there, maybe I’ll get a job there with him. But things didn’t turn out that way because at my age, they kind of didn’t want to enlist me for some reason because I was just about that age for the service. So I had a bit of a job there in Calgary working for Chinese Gardens for just a short time, then my uncle says, “Well John, why don’t you join the army? At least you’ll have someplace to stay and you’ll have clothes and you’ll have food.” So I don’t know, I kind of listened to him, so I did join the army. But after I did join the army, I got my call. So that’s the way I got in the service.
We took a pretty strict training in England. How about that? And then after all that, then we got on our way to Italy, our ship got torpedoed. I think this was about 1943, yeah, I would say, or 1944 when this happened. We were just around Algeria, just out of Africa when that happened. So we got torpedoed in the Mediterranean Sea.
We were just lined up to sea, moving with hell when it happened. And our engine room got hit. So we all had to get off. 14 General Hospital was with us, but 14 General Hospital, they had lifeboats for them, but we didn’t have no lifeboats, so we had to go down on the rope, go down to the dinghy down and go down on a rope and there was about two or three of us come on this dinghy. We’re lucky somebody had a knife to cut the rope because it tipped upside down. We had a tough time to get away from the ship.
After we drifted away, and we got picked up I would say around midnight by an American destroyer. That’s as far as I could go. We went to North Africa for a couple of days until another ship come along to pick us up to Italy, to take us to Naples. That was nighttime. We went and relieved Indians [Indian Army troops] there because we had to go in the trenches, the first time we went into action, we had to go in the trenches. I remember that much. Yes.
And from there on, we were doing the same thing. Our job was more or less to find out what enemy had in there. Our job was kind of night work to find out things. But the enemy see, then we come back in the morning, then we do the same thing over again. When we changed with the Indians, we had to go on the transfer, we stayed there that night. Then before dusk, we were changed and we stayed there I think all day. I don’t remember if we stayed all day or not, but I remember us going in the trenches.
I got pinned down with a sniper. I was in the trenches, my nose in the ground because as soon as I lift my head up even a couple of inches, the bullets were flying over me. And I spent pretty well all day in the trench, my face down in the ground because I couldn’t move until the Red Cross come along and pick me up.
That was about the worst I got, I think. It took me a little while, I remember, to get over that. But my job, I was a gunner in the staghound [the T17 Armoured car], actually, I was a gunner when we use our staghounds, with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. That was my job really. But at that time when we first went into action, we couldn’t use them, we just had to go on patrol at nighttime to find out what’s ahead of us. But actually, my job was, I was a gunner, staghound.