Unidentified sergeant of the First Special Service Force, wearing the distinctive USA-CANADA spearhead shoulder title, Anzio beachhead, Italy, 20 April 1944.Library and Archives Canada / 3302126
"And we went to Anzio Beachhead, a lovely resort. We were only in the same hole for 99 days;"
I was on a gold dredge in Dawson City [Yukon] in 1939-40 and in that area. In 1942, I came across country from Dawson to Whitehorse on a little RD4 Cat [Caterpillar bulldozer] with a sleigh on it, no road or nothing, we come through the trail and we just missed the train that would get me home for Christmas. So I stayed the winter, running assistant manager and night guy on the Whitehorse Inn. Came out in the spring and went to join the army. And I was sent to Vernon [British Columbia], 1942.
I hardly got finished my basic training and I was shipped out with the Royal Rifles of Canada, 2nd Battalion. The first one was lost in Hong Kong; and they were all French, which didn’t amuse me very much because I don’t know how to speak French. So we got to Otter Point on the other side of Vancouver Island and from there, we marched up to Nanaimo [British Columbia]. Well, I learned long ago in the army, when you first get in, you’re not going to beat them, so you might as well join them. So I was about the best kind of a soldier anybody could want and worked hard at it; and I was told, how would I like to go down and join an outfit in the States? And I thought, well now, that sounds like a good idea. So away I went, top secret outfit, for a special service force [First Special Service Force].
Well, I got to Calgary and we all came down to Helena [Montana] and trained. And we trained in Helena, nine months of training to take out that heavy water plant in Norway, 1,800 of us. And we were told, you’re not coming home. Well, I mean, you might not but I am, you know. So anyway, we took mountain training, and I mean mountain training, parachute jumping, hand-to-hand, every weapon that the Germans had and every weapon that we had, had to be expert on them. Long marches with 50 pounds on your back, I mean, 50 mile marches. Tough, to get you in real shape. And then we went out in Norfolk, Virginia and took amphibious training, rubber boats and that sort of stuff; and we made two of those during the war.
Well, they didn’t know what to do with us when we got told, well, the Norwegians had already taken care of that heavy water plant. So they shipped us up to the Aleutians for Kiska and we went ashore there three days before anybody else in the Bering Sea in rubber boats and told them there’s nobody there, so back came the order, bring them back to Frisco [San Francisco]. So back we went, we got 10 day leave, first leave I’d ever had and being Vermont, 10 days; and from Vermont, well, we went down to Norfolk, Virginia for amphibious training and from there, we landed in Casablanca. Across North Africa in a “Forty and Eight” [boxcar], and out of Algiers into Naples and that was our test, we were going up in the mountains in Italy.
Our first run was a defensive thing that they told everybody about and we just kept on until we took the mountains and let them break loose for the other armies to come north from the south. And we went to Anzio Beachhead, a lovely resort. We were only in the same hole for 99 days; and out on patrol practically every night until they finally broke out of there and we were the first troops in Rome.
From Rome, we came back to Salerno and trained American navy on how to put rubber boats overboard. And we went into southern France with [Lieutenant General Alexander] Patch’s 6th Army [Group] on rubber boats at Marseilles. And from there, we just kept going what we called the “champagne tour” along the French Riviera to Menton, and later, we were broken up. The Americans went back into battle and the Canadians all went to England.