Veteran Stories:
Albert George Alfred Mahon

Army

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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"The plane coming at us it was from only about 20 or 30 feet up. He came at us at full speed. I could see the pilot’s face at the moment that he saw us. He became conscious that there was a gun right at him and he thought it was his last minute this day. I thought it was ours."

Transcript

After eight days at sea we were finished up in Algiers to find that all of our equipment on the freighter which had preceded us was already at the bottom of the ocean, sunk by frogmen in harbour. We knew that we were advancing eastward towards Tunisia and Libya, hoping to meet the Eight Army which was advancing westward from there. In a matter of some months we did.

The weather conditions were pretty bad, being November. That’s the real rainy time in North Africa. The ground was terrible. You couldn’t hardly walk on it without picking up ten pounds of mud on your boots. That’s the way it was. Real sludge. We had to learn the trick. I don’t know quite how but we put sand bags on our feet and tied them around the ankles. The material of the sand bag prevented the mud from sticking. That’s how we could walk through it. We used that to smarm all over everything we had for camouflage, including the gun. The gun was hard to see from the air. When we were being attacked one day, I went into action and as soon as I ordered “Fire”, nothing happened. There was a misfire or a double feed – I don’t remember now – but the plane coming at us it was from only about 20 or 30 feet up. He came at us at full speed. I could see the pilot’s face at the moment that he saw us. He became conscious that there was a gun right at him and he thought it was his last minute this day. I thought it was ours. When he did that, he just pulled the stick back and veered way up. But that was close! Maybe if he had just pressed his firing pin we would have been out of it. He didn’t. We are still here.

It was a political situation there where I think the French, those allied to us, were in the minority. These were the people who were been running by Vichy, France at that time who were working in close cooperation with the Germans. You may not realize this far away from it but that was the situation. The invasion of Algiers was a touch and go thing with regards to how the French Army was going to take it when we came in. In Algiers, when we came back to there, we wanted to go out for dinner. We were rather careful where we went. We had to learn what you might call “free French” and what wasn’t. We took this in our stride then but those are the things that stick out in my mind rather than anything else in terms of action with the enemy.

Two years later at the end of the war we were at a prison camp just north of Rome. It had a whole bunch of German intelligence officers in there because this prison camp was run by the Allied War Crimes Commission to which we were attached, collecting evidence for the eventual Nuremburg trials. We had these German intelligence officers and we also had 30 German generals in there. I was Guard Commander. Everyone in those dressing rooms or cells was bugged. That was before we knew about bugs but we were using them then! I knew they were being recorded over time. They would switch prisoners, leave one alone for days and then put somebody else with him so that he would talk. They would confirm this against other interrogations and so on. They would try to also communicate with each other, such as when they went to the toilet leaving messages and so on. All this kind of thing we had to be privy to and share with the interrogation officers and do what they required of us. Some messages were allowed to go through and put back and others were destroyed. Things like that.

There was a plan among the [German] intelligence officers to make a break which we nurtured. We allowed it to go through until the very last minute. Just when, neck on just before they made the attempt, there wasn’t very much point. It would not have been very successful anyway. That was the one thing that lasted for awhile.

Incidentally, we did have for a short time, Himmler’s {Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS police] wife and daughter. What the heck they were doing there, I don’t know! But that’s where they sent them.

I know they wanted our unit back together again and we were supposedly going to the Far East, namely to Burma. I know I spent several weeks in Rome taking Japanese aircraft recognition. I was so glad when they dropped the bomb [the American bombing of Japan in 1946], [because] I didn’t have to go. I wasn’t looking forward to that.

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