Veteran Stories:
René Massé

Army

  • Voucher for monetary value given to French prisoners in exchange of forced labour.

    René Massé
  • Photo taken at the 25th Anniversary's Dinner of the Ortona's Battle. On left: General Triquet, V.C captain for this event; René Massé and his wife; and General Betnachez.

    René Massé
  • René Massé, 19 years old, November 1943.

    René Massé
  • 22th Regiment Museum, Quebec
  • 22th Regiment Museum, Quebec
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"One guy noticed the word “Canada” on their uniforms and a woman replied, "Don’t tell me they sent savages to guard the king.""

Transcript

I reported to Montmagny [Quebec], where I had enlisted. I told them that I wasn’t interested in the infantry. I knew a little bit about the infantry because my father had been in the infantry during the First World War and my grandfather also, during the Boer War. When I enlisted, he said, “you bloody fool!” Maybe that influenced me. On the other hand, I had a liking for mechanics. I figured that we would be sheltered in the tanks, and take care of the repairs. It wasn’t exactly like that, but still, that was my general idea.

We called them "sardine cans". There were six of us, all stuck together in a very narrow space [inside the tank]. When we’d get leave, we would go to London. There was a lady there who took in servicemen. When we got leave on a Saturday or Sunday, she would invite us for tea at four o’clock in the afternoon. You could say that I was kind of the star. They called me "Frenchie" since I spoke French and all the others spoke English only. So "Frenchie" was the most popular among all the young ladies.

Somebody told me about the time when the [Royal] 22nd Regiment guarded Buckingham Palace. I don’t know if you knew this but the 22nd Regiment was the only regiment in the British Empire whose commands were given in French. So, when the 22nd was guarding the Palace, the commands were given in French. Passersby were asking who those people were and what language they were speaking - they wore British uniforms but they weren’t speaking English! One guy noticed the word “Canada” on their uniforms and a woman replied, "Don’t tell me they sent savages to guard the king."

The 22nd left Italy for Northwest Europe. They were low on manpower. The lieutenant-colonel said to me, "Frenchie, if you want to join a French Canadian regiment, now is your chance. The 22nd is requesting reinforcements." They placed me with the support company, in the platoon. We were all guys from Saint-Jean Sur Ichelieu. I felt really at home, even more comfortable. Within the 22nd, they called us the gang from Saint-Jean. There was the Saint-Jean platoon since we all hung around together. Only three of us remain from that group, the others are dead and I’ve lost track of the others.

In October and November [1944], it was hectic in Saint-Omer [France]. We were under a lot of stress, more than anything. I remember one time when we were bombed by the American air force by mistake because the regiment [the 1st Hussars] was too ahead of schedule. Whenever we met up with the French, Belgians or Dutch, they were always happy to see us; mainly the French and Belgians since I spoke French. You could say I had better contacts because of that.

When I was injured in Holland, I was billeted by a Dutch family. I felt bad since I was taking some of their food and they didn’t have a lot. For the two days that I was there, I took some of their food and I shared what was left of my rations. I still go back every two years, I kept their address.

When I came back to Canada, I wrote them to thank them for their gratitude towards Canada, for Canada having participated in their country’s liberation. They were happy to have me stay with them.

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