Paul Nemez at the age of 19, in Portage La Prairie Barracks, Manitoba, 1942.Paul Nemez
Paul Nemez stands next to the cenotaph in Swan River, Manitoba, during Remembrance Day 2007.Paul Nemez
Paul Nemez, 2009.Paul Nemez
Paul Nemez's dog tags from when he was in service from 1942.Paul Nemez
"But we just walked around and just looked; it was terrible. For the amount of people that left their equipment there, they just left it there because they were in big trouble."
When we landed in Normandy, well, I’ll tell you, there were boats as far as you could see. It was just boats all over and the guns were going, the tracer shells, you could see them. They were just plunk, plunk: they were coming down on the shore; you could hear them falling. But that’s the way it was when we got over there, but there was no fighting there right then. I don’t know why the guns were going like that, but you could see the tracers. They had tracers in them and you could just see them. And they just dumped us off in the water about just maybe 30 yards or so in the water; and we walked out through the water and then we were onshore. And then we started walking. And we just kept going. And that was just after all the raid was done, you know, the raid on Caen and different places.
And so we went on to where the [Royal] Winnipeg Rifles were and they got slaughtered there. It was a rye field; and you could go onto the rye field and there were sections of equipment, just one beside the other. There was no people and I don’t know how many dead, but I think they lost a lot of people. But there would have been lots of wounded too. But we just walked around and just looked; it was terrible. For the amount of people that left their equipment there, they just left it there because they were in big trouble.
And from there on, we were at that spot for quite a while when we got to the place where we were going. We didn’t do any fighting just then. But then we started to go and we got to, I don’t know, just I forget the names of the towns, I think we were at May-sur-Orne or something like that. We were there for a couple of weeks, I think, and finally, we made an attack and we got through it. And then we just kept walking until, you know, there’d be an odd battle here and there, but they were running then. And when we got close to the Seine River, that’s where I met my end. My friend, we were digging in [preparing trenches] and it was a forest around this Seine River there, and the shells were 88s [German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery]. They used the 88s, the Germans did, and they were firing them and they would burst on impact when they’d hit the tops of the trees, they would burst and that’s when we got shrapnel.
And my friend got killed there. I just had used a pick, there were rocks and picks, and I loosened it all up and he went in to shovel it out and he got killed. He spoke his last words to me and I have never forgotten that, that still hounds me once in a while. So that’s what happened and we came back. I think we were 90 miles back to the hospital and we had our operations. Our operation was done by a German doctor, he operated on me. They were prisoners. And all the orderlies there or the stretcher people were German people. There were six of them there. And they were all loose. They didn’t want to go back into the battle, that’s for sure. Then we went back to England and I went in London, hospital. I don’t know the name of the town. I forget the name of the hospital, but I was in there for three or four weeks. And then after that, I went to a rehabilitation place and stayed there for a month or two, and then come home. They sent me home. It was four months after I was wounded, I came home.
A lot of places along there that there was nobody, but there were women and there were children. We went through one place and it was about two days before I got wounded. We went through a place and there must have been, oh, I don’t know, there were just hundreds of people, they come out of a place, they had a shelter there of some kind; and they come out and they just loaded us with flowers. We were all, equipment was all loaded with flowers. We had to stop because we couldn’t get through and they had to clear them out because we had to keep going. They just loaded us with peonies and all kinds of stuff on it. They were so happy to see us.