Veteran Stories:
Robert Stirling

Army

  • Robert Stirling and his older brother, Cyril Stirling, as Guards of Honour for the Queen and King's visit to Canada in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1939.

    Robert Stirling
  • Robert Stirling, March 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"And we finally landed, they dropped the ramp down; and I went to go out and I caught my heel on the last big lug at the end of the ramp and fell over backwards."

Transcript

Just before D-Day, they moved everybody in the big tents. There was about eight guys to each tent, four on each side. And it was all held in by barbed wire. You weren’t allowed to go out at all, unless you had a special permission and all that stuff. So we just stayed into there for a couple of days. And in the meanwhile, all the trucks and the carriers for the supplies were lining up in the different streets all around south of England. All the ships that were involved in the D-Day landing were lined up all over the place. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t explain it. There were just ships of all different sizes and descriptions you could think of: steamships and ferries; and tank landing craft and warships; and battleships and cruisers; and everything like that. I think it was over 7,000 ships involved in the whole setup. This was the evening like before we started out. And then we went out past the Isle of Wight and we went to bed, went to sleep, yacked about this, that and the other and said, oh well, it’s another one of those schemes that’s going to fall apart, but it didn’t. And at 6:00 in the morning or thereabouts, they woke everybody up and they gave them lunches. I actually had an egg sandwich for breakfast, really lived it up. And then they started loading; first of all, the assault landing craft, that’s what the initial guys, troops, were going to go and land on. I think there was about seven or eight of them; and they hold about 30 bodies. And they went in about half an hour, I guess, 20 minutes, before me. We were seven miles out from the beach, so you couldn’t see what was going on. And we finally landed, they dropped the ramp down; and I went to go out and I caught my heel on the last big lug at the end of the ramp and fell over backwards. And I had to hold my Bren Gun [light machine gun] out of the water. And my arm went through a coil of rope that the sailors were pulling up to anchor the landing craft and I just about get up and the next coil would grab my arm. I went up and down four or five times before I could yank it out quick enough. Yeah, I finally got up. The water was only about, oh, a foot deep or more we stepped in, didn’t know. I went across the beach. I was with the [Universal/Bren Gun] Carrier platoon and I was Bren gunner on a carrier. But there was such a congestion on the shore because everybody was dumping everything off. The rest of the battalion, other than C Company that went in with the [Royal] Winnipegs [Rifles], we had to wait for about an hour and a half, something like that. We went up about a mile inland, stopped and the colonel was collecting all the different officers from the different companies and the majors to give them directions what they were going to do and all that. And I couldn’t go anywhere until the carriers had been unloaded, but they were blocked from getting off the beach because of such congestion. So we waited there for, I think it was about 50 minutes and then we were told, we don’t stop for anything, you just go, go, go. We spent the first 24 hours wide awake. We didn’t get a chance to sleep. And every time you stopped, you had to get out. They gave us little shovels and mattock [similar to a pickaxe] to dig a hole. Well, if they opened up on you with artillery or mortar, or anything, you could dive into this hole you dug. Slit trenches we called them. So every time you stopped, no matter where it was, you got out and you started to dig. Sometimes you’d get down one shovelful or just get started and away you go to another, to somewhere else, you started digging there. So we spent all our time dashing all over the place and ‘digging in’ when we could. Well, the line companies were in there fighting while we were being sent here, sent there, and so we didn’t get any sleep at all the first 24 hours.
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