And I thought to myself, well, good God, I could’ve been one of them if I hadn’t been declared unfit for action. I’ve carried that cross for years. I guess it’ll never leave me.
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I spent my wartime career with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders [of Canada], who went to France in July of 1944 and I discovered the reality of war, much to my horror and shock and disbelief. I was number two on the Bren gun. My buddy, he was number one. He carried the Bren gun or we shared carrying it. I had a rifle. We got through the Normandy campaign. We went up and had the battle on the Seine River, crossing near Elbeuf [France], and we went on up to Belgium, near Bruges and that got nasty, real nasty wasn’t it, at a place called Moerbrugge.
It wasn’t until the 14th of October that we got mobile and moving and we were ordered to cross the Leopold Canal [in Belgium] at the eastern end. And we did without any trouble, we got across on a broken bridge while on foot. And we crossed and advanced up the road to a little town called Watervliet. So we had to spend the night there.
During the night, the Germans attacked us and they were firing flares and we couldn’t really see them. It was a really scary night. The shells, bullets flying all over and shells. And we were in a house out alongside the road which was reasonably secure. But the next morning, when daylight came, they started an artillery bombardment, the Germans did. They had some big guns from the coast that turned around. They were there to protect the coast. And the great big shells started landing all around our house and one shell hit the house right across the road from us and just about knocked us all to pieces. And lo and behold, the next shell hit quite close to the house where we were and I was looking out the window and the shell blast knocked me down, knocked me out more or less, stunned me. And I found I couldn’t get up. I wasn’t physically affected, but I was so terrified and shocked that I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t move. It was a horrible feeling.
The RAP [Regimental Aid Post] doctor sent me to the hospital to a psychiatric ward. Other injured people of course went there for medical care, I went for psychiatric care. And it was ruled that I wasn’t fit for front line duty any further, and believe me, I was relieved at that because I don’t think I could have survived any more. Shortly after that episode, our unit was moved across through Antwerp [Belgium] and up on the Scheldt [Estuary]. And a number of my friends there became casualties. And I thought to myself, well, good God, I could’ve been one of them if I hadn’t been declared unfit for action.
I’ve carried that cross for years. I guess it’ll never leave me. So they put me into a holding camp. There were a lot of people in similar condition, I was surprised to discover. And they’d formed us into a work company. We’d go out and dig graves or we’d go out and load trucks with ammunition and things like that, around Antwerp area. And this work company that I was assigned to, moved into Nijmegen, up in Holland, up in the salient [the Nijmegen Salient].
Just around Christmas time 1944, I was assigned to this 3rd Division Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit. I was assigned to look after the store. They were centered in Nijmegen, about two blocks in the Nijmegen bridge. And you can imagine the condition there. The town had been bombed pretty badly, buildings knocked down and there was constant artillery shell fire coming into the town, over on the island and the other side of the river. So I served with them right until the end of the war.