"We said, Jerry is going to catch hell now and we got the news on the radio; the invasion had started."
We were then moved to New Westminster [British Columbia] and it was lovely. We were the only soldiers in town. The people were very kind to us and my best friend fell in love there and was married. His name was Joe Legere and he was from Port Elgin, New Brunswick. And I was best man at his wedding. He was 24, his bride was 19 and she was in the CWACs, Canadian Women’s Army Corps.
This was in early 1944. Well, people were planning the invasion of the continent. They knew there was going to be heavy casualties, so they took the active servicemen and we wore a little round badge on our sleeve called GS, General Service. And the National Resources Mobilization Act soldiers were just called up and they didn’t have to go overseas. We called them zombies.
And so my battalion was probably about two thirds active service and one third zombie. But many of the other battalions that were around had a much higher rate of zombies in them. So we were taken out of our battalion, Saint John Fusiliers, and sent to Vernon [British Columbia]. And they were organizing what they called the 14 Brigade. So we were finally told that we were going overseas. My friend’s wife, Joe Legere’s wife, came up to say goodbye to us. And as we got aboard the train, leaving to go east, she hugged and kissed me and said, look after him, Chic. And off we went.
Then when we got into Greenock, Scotland, we had a wonderful welcome from the people who were on the docks, flags, Welcome Canada and so on. And we were sent to a tent camp in Yorkshire [England], not particularly comfortable. And we did hardening training. I would say two or three times a week, we’d go for route marches, 20 miles or more, to toughen us up. And then one day, we saw - there was an airfield close to us - the sky was filled with airplanes. We said, Jerry [the enemy] is going to catch hell now and we got the news on the radio; the invasion [of Normandy] had started.
So numbers were taken out and we were sent to Aldershot in England and there we were lined up and there were regiments all ready to receive their reinforcements. And one of my buddies said, hey look, let’s join that regiment, they have a pretty shoulder flash [insignia]. The names didn’t mean anything to me. And so we went out and it turned out to be the South Saskatchewan Regiment.
However, they cut off [at] the L’s and my friend, Joe Legere, went to the Essex Scottish Regiment. So off we went as the reinforcements to these battalions and when my regiment, the South Saskatchewan Regiment had its first battle, we went over on D-[Day] plus 30, July the 6th .And we had our first battle on July the 20th, two weeks later, outside of Caen and it was a bad battle, so far as casualties were concerned. Many of the veterans of Dieppe were with the battalion at that time and they said it was even worse than Dieppe casualties.
And so the next day, I went up to ‘B’ Company, of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, as a private soldier. They had enough signalers. Well, I had been there a couple days when they said, you’re a qualified signaler, we’re going to send you on a one-day course to learn how to use the [No.] 18 set. And I went to some place, it was an old French château and there was a whole bunch of other people learning to use the 18 set, wireless set. It was about 18 inches wide and about 24 inches high, weighed about 40 pounds but unfortunately, had a six-foot aerial on it, so it was sticking way up in the air so you became an easy target. We learned to use that in one day and guess who shared my trench with me? It was Joe Legere, he was there from the Essex Scottish.
So I went back to the battalion, he went back to his battalion and a week later, I got word that he had received a burst of German machine gun bullets in his chest and had died instantly. So I hadn’t looked after him. And I get very emotional when I think about it, I’ve lived with that for 65 years now, that I didn’t look after him.
When I came out here in 1972, I called and found out that his wife - his widow - had remarried and she didn’t want to talk to me. So I talked to her on the telephone but I haven’t seen her.