Fernand Trépanier, Seaford, England, November 1942.Fernand Trépanier
Fernand Trépanier, Brighton, England, February 1945.Fernand Trépanier
Members of the King Guard, April 1940.Fernand Trépanier
Italy, October 1943.Fernand Trépanier
"We fought with our bayonets. After mopping up a bit, we came face-to-face with a tank. Not easy when all you’ve got is just a small rifle in your hands, face-to-face with a tank."
In 1939, when war was declared, I thought that I could be a serviceman. [Adolf] Hitler declared war on September 1st, 1939 and 21 days later, Poland had already surrendered. I can still remember it the night we heard about it on the radio, that Poland had surrendered after only 21 days of fighting, and that it was the beginning of a world war and any day I could be called to go. And I thought this was an opportunity for me to enlist, since sooner or later they would come to get me. It was just as well that I sign up right away, voluntarily. Liberty is a cause worth defending.
We arrived in England. That was about the only thing that I resented the government for doing; sending us overseas just before Christmas. We arrived at Greenock [Scotland] on December 18, 1939. It was during the blackout period and there was a lot of smog. It was the worst time. We were in utter darkness; there was no light at night and right at Christmas. They could have kept us here with our families, since for many it was perhaps their last Christmas.
We arrived at Farnborough on December 19. The first night I went out with a friend from Rivière-du-Loup. He didn't speak a word of English. We arrived at an intersection and it was completely black outside. There were no lights on in the houses and no lights in the streets, especially with the fog, the smog. We could see buses going by but we didn't know where they were going. So we knocked on a door to get some information. The people invited us in. We were the first Canadians to arrive there. They offered us a cup of tea. They asked us if we had any family or friends in England. I answered no. The mother asked us, ''What are you going to do for Christmas? Why don’t you come and have Christmas dinner with us?'' They invited us to spend it with them. It was our first evening there, and we already had an invitation to Christmas dinner.
When Casa Berardi was taken [Italy, December 1943], the Canadian troops had been almost immobilized for nearly a week. The Germans had secured the manor that was located on the higher ground. It was truly fortified, a real stronghold. Not to put down any of the other regiments, before us, eight regiments had attacked the manor unsuccessfully. There were nine regiments in the Canadian division. After studying the results, Captain [Paul] Triquet – who was awarded the Victoria Cross – said [to the commander of the Royal 22nd Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Emile] Bernatchez, ''They aren't at the right place. We have to attack from there.'' Bernatchez trusted him and he decided that we had to make a detour, and attack from the flank. Since we were the last regiment of the [1st] Canadian [Infantry] Division to attack, we risked everything; we attacked and we managed to get through. I saw the courage of the men. They were well-led. It was a good plan of attack and the real success was in how the men executed it.
Immediately we engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the infantry troops. We fought with our bayonets. After mopping up a bit, we came face-to-face with a tank. Not easy when all you’ve got is just a small rifle in your hands, face-to-face with a tank. But we managed to blow it up. After the first stage, there were only about 35 men left. There was still another stage to get through before we could get to the casa. But we made it; the courage of the men was tremendous.
It was during the battle for Casa Berardi that I was injured. We captured the casa, we controlled it and the last of the Germans had fled. But they counter-attacked to try and take it back. Only 17 of our men remained, out of 85. A shell exploded behind me and injured my legs. I couldn't walk. I thought I should be evacuated but there were no stretcher-bearers left. I said to the company commander, Captain Triquet, ''I can't walk, I need to be evacuated.'' He said, ''We can't evacuate you, there are no stretcher-bearers and it's impossible to get any. They are all dead or wounded''. I had to get out of there. We had a German prisoner. I took the German prisoner but my commander couldn't give me an escort. I had a German Luger, a pistol. A Luger is the best pistol in the world. I grabbed the German and I asked him if he spoke French. Nein! Do you speak English? Nein! Parlante italiano? Nein! I motioned to him that I wanted to be evacuated. He looked at me and answered no. I turned him around and once his back was to me, I stuck my pistol in his ribs and I grabbed him by the neck. Get me out of here!
To be evacuated, the quickest route was still under German fire. But it was the best way to get to the rear lines. By going that way, carried on the back of a German soldier, nobody fired at us. That's how I was evacuated; with a German. Afterwards, they blamed me indirectly for having done the work of the Red Cross but with a firearm. I didn't have a choice. I didn't mistreat the German. I just used him.