"There was a 65-foot cliff and the Germans were above, shooting as us below. It didn’t go well. We were like Daniel in the lions’ den."
We participated in the Dieppe raid. In the Dieppe raid, we had 26 men on our ship and 24 of them died. Then I was taken prisoner. On the beaches at Dieppe, we didn’t do much; we were pinned to the beach and were stuck there. There was a 65-foot cliff and the Germans were above, shooting as us below. It didn’t go well. We were like Daniel in the lions’ den. At one point I tried to get away; I swam for three miles. I made it to a destroyer called the [HMS] Calpe. It was three miles away from the shore and had come to pick up those who were able to get away. I was about 50 feet away from the destroyer, and I could see the Canadians who had already climbed aboard. Then three German Stukas [bomber aircraft] arrived. They bombed the destroyer; there was fire and explosions and all of that. My friends who were in the destroyer were jumping into the water. I said to myself: "There’s no point in going there, I’ll just have to turn around." I had no idea. If only they had warned me ahead of time. I would never have been a prisoner of war.
I said to him: "What are you doing there?" He said to me: "I can’t tread water, my back is injured." So I took him on my back and I hauled him to the beach, at least a few hundred feet away, to a small boat, an assault landing craft. I put him on the boat and I grabbed the chain to pull myself up. Then five or six guys came running from the beach; they banged my head and pushed me underwater and then the boat started to backup and I was left there. His injuries… He had not been injured. He was cited for bravery. He was never injured at all. He said that he was injured and unable to tread water. I got a bullet in the leg because of him and I wasn’t able to take the boat since they pushed me down. He wasn’t injured. If only he had helped me a bit to get on the boat. He was decorated for bravery and he received a big shiny medal. I never got any medal. Of the prisoners of war, only two got medals. One died and the other is Colonel [John Weir] Foote, the padre. He won the medal of merit – what do you call it, the VC [Victoria Cross]. He could have escaped, but he wanted to stay with his men. That was admirable. The concentration camp was terrible.
They wanted men for work commandos and I did that. I worked in a sugar factory. I worked in the woods. I worked on all kinds of things. I didn’t want to sit idle in a concentration camp. I went to different camps. I ran away and I got caught. They sent me to another camp. It wasn’t fun. We didn’t eat a lot. We were working in the woods. We had to gather a cord and a half of wood per man, per day. Otherwise, we couldn’t go back. There was no point in escaping, dammit, because you couldn’t. You didn’t have any connections, you didn’t know anybody. The airmen had people to take care of them, to take them back to England. There weren’t very many people who took care of us in the infantry.
I worked on the borders of Russia and Poland. On January 20, 1945, the Germans arrived and said, "We’re leaving". We left at around 9:00 in the morning. We were on a hillock and at the bottom of the hill we could see the Russians dressed in white coming towards us with their tanks. The Germans made us walk. The first day we walked almost 80 kilometres. We hadn’t walked a lot in three years. Our legs were stiff at night. We would sleep on the side of the road or in barns, depending. The Germans couldn’t give us anything to eat, since they didn’t have anything for themselves. We walked for 1800 miles. We would escape at night to go steal things.
When I got out of there, I weighed 128 pounds. The women liked us. They spoke to us in German. We were wondering what was going on there. They all wanted us to go stay overnight with them. I stayed overnight in one house where there were 12 women. During the war, the Germans put out terrible propaganda. They said that the Americans kept black people in cages, and that when they liberated Germany they would set free the black men and the women would be raped and killed. So that’s why the women wanted us to stay with them in their houses.
We gained life experience that no one else has. I did my part. I earned my rights as a citizen. When I saw what was happening in British Columbia [at the XXI Olympic Winter Games in 2010], it warmed my heart to see both English and French-speaking athletes beside the Canadian flag, sharing everything. It made me feel good. I hope that it continues like that.
I went back once with my wife. I was sent back, about two or three years ago. The federal government paid for me to go with a delegation. We were there for about a week, travelling every day. We went to see the towns and cemeteries and all kinds of things. Dieppe didn’t look much like it did when we where there. I went to see the beaches, I went everywhere. Nobody recognized us. When I went with the government delegation, it was different; they announced our arrival and everything. They welcomed us with open arms. When I went with my wife, we were all alone. I toured Dieppe and I said, "I am proud of this, I am Canadian through thick and thin. Canada is my country."