"When they arrived directly behind us, we knew that the situation was bad. They yelled again, 'Franzose komme komme!' followed by 'Los! Aus!' We laid down our rifles and came out of our hole."
All of the ships were pressed up against each other. There were long wires with huge [barrage] balloons about 200-300 feet up in the air to protect us from the planes coming to shoot us. We [the soldiers of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal] slept on the deck of the ship and the night, was it ever beautiful, gosh! It was pleasant. The next morning, we started moving. We left for France. Once there, the ships were arriving and we heard explosions. We couldn’t see anything. The guys got out. We landed in water up to our waist. The first guy descended by ladder down the side of the ship. He took the cord and anchored it to the sand. The ship started backing up and the rest disembarked into the water. We grouped together and the commander put us in order so that we could advance. We advanced for about 2 hours before coming upon a makeshift airfield, for Spitfires.
We slept in Carpiquet. There was an airfield and it had been bombed all night long, we saw planes. Bombs shook us in our trenches. At the end of the runway there was a small, temporary airport. I don’t know who brought them along, but the next morning someone came with cases of beer, and each of us got a beer as we came out of confession, or at least those who wanted one did. We left the next day to advance even further.
The next day we left again. Planes passed over our heads all night long, we could hear them. They were bombing Caen. When we arrived in Caen, bulldozers had to clear the way for us. Everything was in the middle of the street. We came to the end of a road and found an empty bunker; the Germans had left. We stopped at a little farm that wasn’t far from there. The commander sent two men to escort the farmer’s daughter so that she could milk the cows safely. We found that strange, but it’s true that the area was dangerous. They didn’t want to take any chances with the civilians.
We advanced even further, not far from the Beauvoir farm. That’s where we slept for the night. But the Germans were on top of a hillock and we were below, in a grain field. We dug our trenches. They got drenched, gosh – there was water in the trench almost up to our knees. We spent the night there, and the next morning we heard a machine gun. They had surrounded us, our two sections – the officers were in the other one. The walkie-talkies we had didn’t even work anymore; the machine guns, our Brens, weren’t working either. Too much water, I guess. The Germans came up behind us and yelled, “Franzose komme komme!” [Frenchmen, come out, come out!] We didn’t move. When they arrived directly behind us, we knew that the situation was bad. They yelled again, “Franzose komme komme!”, followed by “Los! Aus!” [Get out! Out!] We laid down our rifles and came out of our hole. They searched us and took us with them.
Before this run, I’d never seen someone killed right in front of me. During this same run, a guy from New Brunswick took a bullet in the eye and it came out behind his ear. We put a small bandage that we had with us on his head and took him between two guys, with his arms around our necks. When he felt dizzy, he told us, “I’m getting heavier, I’m so dizzy.” We travelled almost 2 miles with him and finally the German Red Cross took him. We went off another way. We slept in a farm. The two German guards were about ten feet ahead with a machine gun. We had a slice of black bread to tide us over for the night.
[When we worked in the sugar factory], there was an old lady who had a beautiful white apron. When we went up to the third floor of the building to work, she gave us bread in secret, since they weren’t allowed to feed the prisoners.
We arrived at another camp, Stalag XII, I believe, or IX. We spent time in three different stalags. They lined us up and selected men to work on the farms, on the railroads laying track, or in the mines. I was chosen to work in the mines. When we checked-in at the tables, they made us empty our pockets to see what we had. I had a scapular with some medals, a piece of camphor, and a rosary. When it was my turn, I put all of my things on the table. One of the guards threw my rosary to the ground. I picked up both of my medals and my piece of camphor. Maybe 20 minutes later, I was standing with my hands behind my back, waiting, and a German came from behind to return my rosary, without anyone noticing. They weren’t all bad, the people who lived there.
There were huge pear trees, and one of the guards let us pick some. They were green and hard; we had to eat, though, so we ate them. We didn’t get sick, they went down. One day, a German car full of officers drove by. The guard was reprimanded, gosh! This meant that the next day, we weren’t allowed to pick any pears. But the day after that, he sent us back up into the trees to pick fruit to eat.
They brought us to a hospital in England. It took 15 days to begin to learn how to eat like normal people and for those who were sick to be taken care of. At the hospital you saw a lot of people who were missing an arm or a leg. You felt sorry for them.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. Sometimes, in the evenings, I go outside to smoke a cigar and I start off in England and relive the entire experience. It took me 33 years before I could start to talk about it. When we first got back, we were told that we had to see army representatives in Chicoutimi [Quebec], that they would interview us. We went to see the men, they were two older men. They had heard about the war, but they didn’t know what it was really about. They told us that they didn’t believe us.