Ruins of Oldenburg, Germany, 1945.Roger Proulx
Guard Duty in Oldenburg, Germany, 1945.Roger Proulx
Three friends: Essiambre, Davignon, and Proulx, January 1946.Roger Proulx
3rd Regiment de La Chaudière, Wangebooge Island, Germany, 1945.Roger Proulx
Roger Proulx, October 1944.Roger Proulx
"Even if they were enemies…When you see a five or six-year-old child digging through a barrel of filth and flies and eating that… That’s hunger."
Basic training was completely different than ordinary life; you had to get used to taking orders. There was a stove in the middle of the place that you had to heat up with coal. We each took turns keeping the fire red-hot all night long. It was warm around the stove but when I got up in the morning, there was ice in the corner where I slept. Then we would have to shave.
The army only contacted our parents after we arrived in England. They were kept in the dark that entire time. In Amersfoort, Holland, they hadn’t heard from me in a long time. My parents figured I had gone overseas. We wrote to one another, my brothers and sisters. I received letters from them when I was in the town of Oldenburg [Germany]. That’s where I was stationed the longest.
There was a house in which Germans lived. There was a young girl my age that would come to see me all the time. She would ask me for cigarettes and chocolate. We fell in love. Your first love is always the strongest. My mother said to me, "If you are old enough to be in the army overseas, then you are old enough to make your own decisions. If you’d like, wait until you’ve come back to Canada before bringing her over. Then, once you are settled, you can arrange to have her join you." My mother was wiser than me and she knew that once I got back to Canada, I would forget all about her.
The poor German people had nothing to eat. They were starving to death. This was right after the war. You would see six to ten-year old children digging through the barrel in which we threw out our food. They would take out the sludge and eat it. They were starving. It really touched my heart. As often as I could when I saw those children, if I had any chocolate or tea, I would give it to them. I gave the families everything that I could give them. I felt so sorry for them. We had everything and they had nothing. Even if they were enemies… When you see a five or six-year-old child digging through a barrel of filth and flies and eating that… That’s hunger.
At first, we weren’t allowed to fraternize with any of them but we did anyway. It was a bit of a surprise to us and to them. Eventually, we became friends. On Saturday nights, the army would send us to a big place where there was a dance floor and a big lunch with sandwiches and cake. Her first idea wasn’t to come and dance with me. I had asked my sister to send me a bottle of beer or wine. She had bought a bottle of Rye. She scraped out a loaf of bread [and hid the bottle inside].
I was invited to eat with German families. [Often], the father had been a German soldier and was deceased, leaving the mother a widow with her two, three, or four children. They invited me to eat with them in their house. They had black bread. A loaf weighed about 10 pounds. It was a hard as a rock, but despite that they shared their food with me. I have good memories of the German people. Not so much at the beginning but at the end, yes. I could tell that they were the same as us. They didn’t want war. They could clearly see that Hitler wasn’t all that he was cracked up to be. A lot of them said so, but some of them didn’t say anything. You could tell that they were still under the Nazi regime. At the end, we didn’t stay in the barracks anymore. We would arrive in the villages and stay in the houses.
One thing that I noticed about the Germans is that they were very polite. When they saw each other, they would always embrace. When they saw each other again, they would embrace again. That really struck me. I thought, why don’t we do that? We only embrace when we haven’t seen a person for two or three months. If we see a person one day and then again the next, we won’t embrace the person. Well not me at least.
I was left with the impression that they were very warm people. When we were first guarding the prisoners, we would always keep our rifles at our sides. Later on, we would lean our rifles against the wall and play games with them. We would play games with the prisoners. They were more like friends than anything else.
We didn’t see them as prisoners anymore. We were always eager when the sergeant came by with the mail to see if there were any letters for us. That was a big day when we would receive two or three letters or packages from home.