Red Cross's Armband.Arthur Haley
Arthur Haley in Aldershot, England, 1945.Arthur Haley
German binoculars picked from pile of equipement at Falaise, France.Arthur Haley
Arthur Haley, February 15, 2010.Arthur Haley
Drawing by Arthur Haley, August 6, 1944.Arthur Haley
"Whoa geez, what a scary thing to see that bomb door open, to hear those bombs go whistling, coming down right at you. It’s a terrifying introduction to war."
So then I was called into the army in 1943. I hadn’t expected that because I had three kids; working on war work at the international harvesters, so I thought, well, they won’t take me. But, by golly, they were desperate. It was after the Battle of Caen, they had lost a tremendous number of men.
So I was sent overseas in 1944 and they found out that I was an excellent shot on the range because my chum, Dave Cooper, and I used to hunt all the time. So they trained me as a sniper in Bordon, England. Once I got over to France, I found out they don’t use snipers at the North Nova Scotia Highlanders [Machine Gun Battalion]. That’s where they sent me. But they needed stretcher bearers and I had had some first aid training so I said, that’ll be a good job because with all the hunting I had done, I didn’t believe I could shoot a man. It was that thing in the back of my mind. So when I got an opportunity to become a stretcher bearer, I thought, this is perfect.
So they gave me a kit and a great big red patch to wear on my arm. So I said to the sergeant, how come they need stretcher bearers? Well, he said, the rest all got killed. I says, well, that sounds strange. I said, with that big red patch on? He says, that’s a target.
We’re marching along, minding our own business and I heard the roar of the bombers coming. I thought, oh boy, here comes our boys. I looked up and here’s about 50 of them. And they’re sailing over. So I just took off my helmet and I waved at them, and I says, give them hell, boys. And the next thing I headed for cover. The bomb doors opened. They started the bombing raid a mile too soon. [laughs] That was my initiation. [laughs] Boy, I was lucky there was a German little trench there that I just dove into there like a rabbit, boy. [laughs] We were lucky, we didn’t have a casualty in our group, but the Polish [1st] Armoured [Division] were on our right with their group and they really gave them an awful blast. Whoa geez, what a scary thing to see that bomb door open, to hear those bombs go whistling, coming down right at you. [laughs] It’s a terrifying introduction to war. [laughs]
See, as a stretcher bearer, you were last man. You followed well behind, watching for wounded men. And a guy got hit, my job was to go up and the very first thing I felt, I didn’t smoke but I carried cigarettes. So I’d get a cigarette out, put it in his mouth first and light it and make sure he’s comfortable because sometimes a guy gets wounded, he doesn’t realize how bad he’s wounded, you see. But, to him, it’s the end of the world idea, so that can kill quicker than the wound itself. So by giving them a cigarette, then I’d bandage him up, call for the first aid jeep and he’d take them back to field hospital. But my job was to get the emergency part done – stop the bleeding basically, you had to stop the bleeding.
I just had a kit bag with lots of bandages and sulfa powder. Sulfa powder was one of the best things they ever had in the army. The guys would get a lot of blisters. They did do a lot of marching, so you’re going to get blisters. And I’d put the sulfa on those and put some in their socks. And, boy, it healed and I never realized how wonderful it was actually until later in the war. But it was a big saver, I’m telling you, that sulfa powder. I just leave them lying right there; stand his rifle up and put his helmet on the rifle so that it would mark the spot and there was a group used to come up behind us and they would put him on a jeep and rush him back to field hospital.
In Holland this one time, they just finished the battle and my officer come running over and he says, I understand that one of our fellows up there about 100 yards is wounded, would you go after him? I says, sure, sir. So I called another guy by the name of Art Cross, I said, hey Art, give me a hand, will you. So he dropped his rifle and grabbed the other end of the stretcher and away we went up the dike. We got up about 100 yards and nobody, about 100 yards and then went a third 100 yards, I says, aw, the Germans must have picked him up. So we turned around and started back and all of a sudden, I felt the handles of the stretcher drop and the next thing, there’s a boom … what? The Germans had been watching us in the slit trench and when he saw we turned back, he picked up one of these hand grenades that they have, that had a handle on them like a broom handle, and they called them potato mashers [Stiehlhandgranate], that’s what they looked like. And he’d thrown it and it landed between us. So Art just dropped, grabbed the thing up, swung his arm back to let it go and it went off. And he lost a couple of fingers on his right hand. I got a piece on the side of my face and in my right arm. And I could see how bad he was wounded. I just grabbed the big bandage we carried in our uniform, it’s a big heavy bandage, and I just wrapped and wrapped and wrapped that hand and I says, get on your knees and start crawling. So we crawled all the way up to the next dike and there was a culvert there. I says, go through the culvert and just then, one of our fellows came up with a Bren Gun [light machine gun] and covered us; and the good job he did, the bullets were thudding into that dike behind us. We came through alright, but Art lost two fingers. Yeah. We were kind of crazy to go in there after, but my job was to get him if he was there and so you just followed orders.
As far stretcher bearing concerned, one of the worst things I ever had to do, we’d just finished this one battle, I think we only had two late injuries so I got them bandaged up and back, so the officer come up to me and he says, would you have a look at that carrier over there, it’s been sitting there for two days, he says, make sure that there’s nobody in it. I says, okay, sir. So I called one of the other stretcher bearers, come on, we’ll go over and see. We opened the door to that carrier and you wouldn’t believe it. There facing you was two headless bodies. An 88 [German anti-tank] shell had come right through that carrier and took the heads right off them. So we had to take them out of there and lay them out ready for the burial party. By the time we got finished, I was sick as a dog. That’s an awful thing to see something like that and have to do it, really got you.
I was one of the real lucky guys. I don’t care what anybody says. When you stop to think of some of the other guys, I felt kind of sorry for them. We’d have a mail call. We’d get out for a break; we’d only get maybe two days. You’d get a new uniform and mail call. Well, I’d have maybe three parcels waiting for me. That wonderful wife of mine sent parcels all the time. And in those parcels was the thing I liked the best because I used to help her make them. Oatmeal cookies, as big around as a baking soda can, and I used to cook up the date filling for them and then fill them as she cooked them. And she had these boxes full of those cookies.
One time I got back, there was three boxes, so I called all my gang together and says, come on, fellows, we’re going to have a feast. Boy, were they happy. [laughs]