"The sheer lunacy of racing across those burned off wheat fields to attack the enemy who were ready with concealed gun emplacement and trenches seemed ludicrous."
I joined the army and I went over to Europe and I was a radio operator. I was with the Royal Canadian Signal [Corps]. And I was assigned to the Lake Superior Regiment. From that, I was assigned to Charlie Company, which I was with three different times and always the same group. Anyway, what my job was to keep everybody informed by radio, and our crew, the Lake Superior, was part of the 4th Armoured Division and we were armoured support. Every time a troop of tanks or squadron went out, we went with them. So that was our job.
August 9th, 1944, the big push, code name, [Operation] Totalize. This grand plan was put in motion to move south as quickly as possible to link up with the Americans who were driving north to Saint-Lô [France] and close the only road east of the retreating German Army. If this could be accomplished, and we would close the Falaise Gap, as it was known, the results could really shorten the war, but maybe 100 000 Germans would be trapped, the surprise was something to dream about.
Once started, our first goal was the village of Bretteville-le-Rabet, which was the confluence of three roads that came from Falaise. First our B Company, that’s the Lake Superior Regiment, piggybacked the tanks of the 22nd Canadian Armoured Regiment. This was done in daylight, and in those burnt fields of wheat everyone was exposed to fire. The drive bogged down and the tanks retreated, leaving B Company exposed on all sides. As we, Charlie Company, we were in reserve, we would come to the rescue of our sister company with their wounded in the fields. Our colonel, Marell, ordered us to resume the attack. We would abandon our vehicles, grab rifle, ammo and a shovel and proceed as infantrymen for the first time. This was going to be a baptism by fire as it seemed impossible to do. The sheer lunacy of racing across those burned off wheat fields to attack the enemy who were ready with concealed gun emplacement and trenches seemed ludicrous.
Once everyone is lined up and the order is given to advance, we jump up and go 100 yards or so and hear the order down and dig. As soon as we finished digging, the order came, up and at ‘em, and all the while, the Germans were throwing everything at us including the kitchen sink I believe. Heavy and light artillery, mortars and moaning minnies [the rockets fired by German Nebelwerfers] and small arms were landing everywhere. After four or five of these dashes, we had covered a lot of ground. Funny things happened at times. The bombardments slowed down and away we went again. Then down and dig. Well, I see my buddy lying on his back and he yells at me that he’s not going to dig because by the time we finish, we will up and away again. Within seconds, here comes the biggest barrage ever that the enemy threw at us. I hear my buddy scream for my shovel. I throw it at him, he digs. He learned a valuable lesson that day. He just finished digging and we were on the move again. We had a big laugh.
We would have to dig again with only one shovel. The ground was hard and very hard to dig. We did most in record time. The weather was hot and even though we used our water sparingly, we would soon run out. With all the ash from the burned grain fields and dust exploding from the shells, we would suffer in silence. Finally, we would put the run on the Germans and many surrendered. Our company lost quite a few men when we were finally relieved. We knew we had accomplished a lot and took some pride in the end result of that day’s work.
On the morning of August 19, 1944, after the Falaise Gap had been closed, there was still many determined German troops fighting their way eastward. This night, we were harboured by a farm along a fence line that encircled a large apple orchard. We took turns doing guard duty, while the other three slept. We did this every night for two hours and I took my turn, took us until morning. I was leaning against our Bren Gun Carrier when I spotted something suspicious. All I could see in the half dark of breaking day was the movement near a large apple tree in the middle of the orchard. Something was moving. At first I thought the farmer had tied a dog to the tree. It would slowly come out and then dart back behind the tree. I woke the crew up to see if anybody could tell what it was. Finally our sarge yelled, “Come out with your hands up!” as we had our fingers on triggers. Lo and behold, sure enough, a guy jumped up and came running over to us. He was a Polish soldier who had sneaked through the German lines to report that a large segment of the 1st Polish Armoured Division had been trapped by the Germans. Apparently the Germans had opened up their front line, and once the Polish Army had gone through, they closed the gap behind them.
Once he reported this information, it was quickly passed on to divisional headquarters. Orders were given to the regiment and the rest of 4th Armoured Division to proceed at full speed to try and effect a rescue. The going was tough, as the Germans fought ferociously. We were to go without sleep on the 19th and we were just inching along, all day on the 20th, we pressed on, with everyone taking turns trying to break the German line. After six or eight hours stop on the night of the 20th, we advanced again before breakfast. We were only less than a mile away from those Polish soldiers who were holed up. They were in a large cemetery with a high stone wall around it.
Finally, early on the afternoon, we would reach those stranded Poles and rescued them from near disaster. They were Polish and Germans wounded in this compound who our medics looked after. These soldiers had been out of water and food for two days. They were also out of ammunition. So they had to use German guns and ammo to keep the Germans at bay. Most of them were crying as we gave them water and food. They hugged us and a few could speak a little English, thanked us again and again for saving them. They were sure that the Germans would kill them all if they were captured. It had been a race against time and it just took us so long, we thought we would be too late. This is just another small success story on the road to Germany.