Veteran Stories:
Gerald Vaughan “Gerry” Derick

Army

  • Gerald Derick in Côte-St-Luc, Quebec, January 28, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"Well, he certainly taught me certain things that I’d never heard before, and one thing was that you had to show your lack of fear all the time, and he would walk around as if he was on a picnic during a gun battle."

Transcript

And I actually was sent to officer training at Brockville, Ontario in 1941 I guess. And finished there and started a long period of training at centers like Saint-Jean [sur-Richelieu], Quebec, Farnham, Quebec, Huntingdon, Quebec and so on. And then did not go overseas until fall of 1944.

Yeah, went through this whole business of being in England for quite a while and then over to Holland and Germany. I think that the company that I was attached to had a company commander named Major [Frederick Albert] Tilston. Well, he certainly taught me certain things that I’d never heard before, and one thing was that you had to show your lack of fear all the time, and he would walk around as if he was on a picnic at the, during a gun battle. And we had been taught during training to take cover always. But he said, “ Don’t do that, it looks too stupid, you know, it’s cowardly.” So as officers, we should stand up and walk around and be brave and so on. And he instilled that in us.

We ended up in trench war, yes. And if anything, that’s where I really was involved in something, of which I’m not wildly proud to talk about. But we were in a trench, facing others in the trench and the trench that we were in was very, very lately soldiered. And I remember at one point being told by, not the company commander, but by the captain in charge at the same time, to take the platoon and go across to another trench. But it was a ridiculous thing to do and I couldn’t believe that we were doing such a thing. You know, one trench facing another and we’d take an adjoining trench and walk down it to meet the others to get shot at. And it just seemed so ridiculous to me, but anyway, it was an order, so we had to do it. And I kept thinking, how can this be avoided.

But it eventually did happen that, apart from the bombing that was going on constantly, there was a great volley of grenades sent at us, one of which hit me on the leg and exploded. And I used that as a reason to say, “Well, that’s enough of this, we’re going back to the trench we came from.” Because we were going, we didn’t know where, we didn’t how many Germans that were ahead of us. This was regarded by some, including Major Tilston, I felt, that it was an act of cowardice. And when I did have occasion to meet him after this period, I found that he was a, I may be wrong, but I felt that he was avoiding me, maybe because he didn’t approve of the way I behaved. So... And it’s the thing that bothers me to this day. So when I was told to take this platoon and go from one trench to the next, it wasn’t just for myself, but it was for the platoon as a whole that I decided on the way there, any excuse would do to call it off. Which is what I did.

But the war is like that, it’s self-sacrificing, very often. And I guess I wasn’t prepared for that. I still wouldn’t be. And I’m trying to be straightforward and honest in what I’m saying, but I don’t think I was a particularly brave soldier or anything like that. But I think that it was important to think about not only yourself, but as a platoon commander, the whole platoon, and the situations in which we could put them.

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