Veteran Stories:
Léonard “Pete” Gauthier

Army

  • French Canadian soldiers at the attention waiting to be inspected by Major-General Georges P. Vanier. Mr. Léonard Gauthier is part of that group. Picture taken in front of a church in Chandler, Quebec (1945).

  • Mr. Léonard Gauthier in 2010.

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"When my mother saw me arrive at our house with those things, she said to me, “Where are you going with that?” I told her that I had enlisted in the army. She made a scene."

Transcript

Léonard Gauthier, I’m 87 years old. I have lived in Chandler [Quebec] since a tender age. As I remember, I went to school like everyone else until the age of 12-13. We couldn’t study like they do today because the families were big. We couldn’t leave to go study outside. In our family, there were 18 children. Our father was the only one who worked to support the family. It was hard, so we had to stop our studies early to stay home and lend a hand. The last place that I worked was in the Arvida factory in Chicoutimi in [19]39-[19]40. The foreman said to me, “Mr. Gauthier, go to the office at 4 o’clock.” I asked him what I did wrong. He responded, “You haven’t done anything. I would have liked to have kept you since you’re a good worker.” I went to the office, and the boss told me to go home. I had received my pass to join the army. One of my brothers had already left for the army. We had to go. It was the mandatory conscription [under the National Resources Mobilization Act voted by the government of Mackenzie King in 1940]. My father didn’t want me to go. I told him that he would have one person less to take care of. Going there or elsewhere. I could have gotten killed at work the same way. He had cultivated some land behind where we lived. My father went to see a lawyer and obtained an exemption for a “farmer’s son”. I wanted to join the army. I learned that they were going to create a reserve army. They asked if I was interested. I talked about it to a few of my friends. We went during the fall of 1942. I enlisted in the reserve army. I didn’t tell my parents. When we went to enlist, they told me to go get my kit; my helmet, my rifle, my backpack, everything. We went to get our equipment. We had to return three days later. When my mother saw me arrive at our house with those things, she said to me, “Where are you going with that?” I told her that I had enlisted in the army. She made a scene. I told her that I would only be called if they needed me. I was going to stay in Chandler. I stayed in the reserve army. I was there until [19]45. I worked in the factory. We worked. We were about 100 or 125 in the reserve army. They had put us into three groups. I had Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. We only received the news from the radio, we didn’t have any journalists or televisions like they do today. My parents were always telling me how terrible the number of deaths were. I told them to take it with a grain of salt. The officers never spoke to us about that. The only thing they told us is that they would need soldiers. They never told us what was going on in Europe. I joined them on the front steps of the church. I was happy to be joining them, since they were going to the front line. During the landing at Normandy, one of my friends was killed. My teacher was on a patrol on a motorbike with a basket on the side. Two soldiers were coming back from a patrol. They were coming back to go in another direction. My friend offered to take over. They went on a patrol and hit a mine. Both of them died. It’s General Vanier [Major-General Georges P. Vanier] in my photo with the officers and his group. They had come by to inspect us. It’s there that the photo was taken, in front of the church in Chandler. Afterwards, mass was held in memory of the soldiers. I thought to myself, both of my friends have left, maybe I will get to leave as well. At the end of mass, they told us that the war was over. My god! We were happy. It was over. We returned all the equipment they had given us. We brought it to the chapel. They gave us our discharge, our service number. It ended there.
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