"This is our camp." Tent accomodations for Air Evacuation Unit. Notice the dispatch motorcycle to the right. Photo taken in Germany, spring of 1945, at the end of the war.Chuck Steen
City of Eindhoven, The Netherlands, after a bombing raid. Photo taken in the fall of 1944.Chuck Steen
Evacuating the wounded, fall 1944.Chuck Steen
Photograph of General Montgomery (Left) and King George VI on the way to signing a peace treaty. Chuck Steen shook hands with both of them, as "Monty: thanked all the men personally for a job well done. Four thousand, two hundred men were succesfully evacuated without a single loss.Chuck Steen
Chuck Steen after enlistment, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, August 1943. Here he is wearing his 5A Blues.Chuck Steen
"If it wasn’t for him saying that: he said, I’m proud of you; and he said, I’m proud of what you did. So from then on, yeah, I did. But it took a long time."
Came the morning, that invasion was on, that was 6 June 1944. And that afternoon, we were called to go down to Portsmouth because they were bringing back the wounded and everything else off the landing barges, anything that they had. So they needed help. So we were dispatched down there. We didn’t have too far to go and we were unloading them. And that was an awful sight as far as that goes. And I tried to get that out of my mind because some of the people didn’t even get off. But one chap, in particular, you know, you kind of chuckle afterwards ̶ he said, I trained for five years, and he said, I never got off this boat and everything else, never fired a shot and here I am. So I kind of said to him, well, I says, you’re shot up but, I says, one day, you’ll get back there again and whether he did or not, I don’t know.
We spent most of the winter in Holland, up in Eindhoven. And that’s the winter that nothing was moving at all. It was one of the coldest winters that we ever put in as far as that goes. By this time, we were always living in tents; and sometimes we slept underneath our own trucks and one thing or another that, wherever we had to go. But this time, we went and moved in, but there was no heat and no running water or anything like that, so we had to do without it. At least we were under, where we were dry. And we were hit a couple of times by incendiary bombs [designed to start fires] and one thing or another. We lost one bunch of fellows; nothing we could do about it. And that was scary.
But the one thing that I’ll always remember was New Year’s morning in 1945, around about 9:00. We were going out to the airfield. Some of our boys were in town celebrating the night before, but most of us stayed in, weren’t going out. And we were supposed to cross a runway. They had used a bunch of Tiffies, [Hawker] Typhoons [British fighter-bombers], and had taken off and next thing we knew, there was some noise going on and we looked out the back of the truck; and we thought they were our own planes still celebrating or whatever. Well, when they seen the markings on them, they were Germans. German airplanes, something like that. And they were shooting up the field. Yes, they made an awful lot of damage and everything else. And that was the saddest part that morning because we lost a lot of people and I was hit a couple of times myself, but never knew until later that day. And being a driver, got the first ambulance going around picking these people up and taking them to the hospitals or whatever, you know.
But the saddest part was that so many that lost their lives, these young people. And they always said that none of those planes got back to the airfield, well, that wasn’t to be because years later, when I came back and started working for Kramer Tractor, this one chap came in and he was a German fellow and it was Mr. Kramer’s mechanic. So we got talking over a beer one time and this episode came up and he said, I was one of those pilots that shot up your airfield. And he says, there’s quite a few of us got back. I said, we were told, nobody got back. Well, he said, I’m telling you we did. And he says, this is one job we didn’t want to do; we had just had no option either. We go and fly, and shoot you fellows or else we go to the Russian front. So he had no option.
But we became good friends because it was a war. He didn’t want to be in that war any more than we did as far as that goes and, so that was one of those moments I can always remember. I’ll always remember coming home and I was the last one to come home, to be honest with you. The war was over, we were with a small town, just north of Winnipeg, Stony Mountain they called it. My dad was a guard there. And maybe half the population, I think, was in the service. So when I came home, I was one, like I said, one of the last ones. I know some of the mothers came up and said, how come you came back? And I never gave that too much of a thought, not until years after, that I wasn’t supposed to come back, just like a lot of other men and women. We were supposed to be over there and get killed, like they did. They lost their sons and stuff like that. And for the longest time when I got my medals and everything else, I never took them out of the box. They stayed in their drawer for years.
But I always went up to the, I took my kids up and everything else to honour the soldiers, but I never. It wasn’t until my grandson was born; and he was in, I don’t know, maybe grade six and show-and-tell. And he asked, grandpa, come over to the school. Well, I said, sure. Well, he says, I want just to show you and you can tell us a little story. But he said one thing, he says, I want you to do is, I want you to wear your medals. And that kind of hit me and that was it. And that was a start. If it wasn’t for him saying that: he said, I’m proud of you; and he said, I’m proud of what you did. So from then on, yeah, I did. But it took a long time.