"But we landed in France all right. The invasion had already started. And they said, 'Okay. You're officially now with the Regina Rifles."
Michael Nimigeon. Served in World War II with the Regina Rifle Regiment. I joined the Army in Kingston, Ontario. I was 18 years old at the time. Took my basic training in Ottawa. My first real posting was to Camp Borden. Took a bit of training with the Armoured Corps. I asked them if I could learn how to be a dispatch rider. I got the opportunity and they taught me how to ride motorcycles. So I got a brand new Harley-Davidson. Took me out in the fields and the bush for several days and it wasn't too long 'til I was escorting convoys. And then I had another stroke of luck, they asked me if I would go on convoy with an army show. We travelled all around. It was great.
And after that, I was trying to go overseas. In fact, I asked if I could go over because the invasion had just started in Europe and I knew I had to get over there quick or I wouldn't see anything. And that was a big mistake maybe. No longer a dispatch rider; infantry, that's what they put me in, it was... no choice. But I wanted to go so, real rigorous training. Tough, tough, tough life down there. The next thing I knew I was in France.
We got on some small boats. All loaded and packed right down with our gear and, one of the things I remember about it was, as we got on they give everybody a brown paper bag. And once we started out you'd look around to, say about 20 boats maybe. And then just a minute later, the wave would go down and you wouldn't see anything. All you'd see is a wall of water around you. Up she'd come again, you'd see all this flotilla of boats again. But we landed in France all right. The invasion had already started. And they said, "Okay. You're officially now with the Regina Rifles."
The first casualties I saw - the Canadian casualties - were coming back from the front. And each jeep had a couple of stretchers mounted on top. And they were all covered and strapped in with blankets. I knew then we were getting close so... I was considered reinforcement, but they were awful glad to get anybody. Like, things were tough. They'd lost a lot of men. At that time the Army was moving along pretty good. We had some real battles up the Schelde Estuary towards Antwerp. A lot of shelling and hand-to-hand fighting, a lot of cases. Like on the Leopold Canal. I got some memories there I'll never forget. I knew that this was it. And I could tell by the people that I encountered. Like our own guys. Dirty, muddy and through my own mind, I was thinking, "Well, I think it's going to be all right. Because we were moving ahead. The Army's moving ahead. We're..." Although we were bogged right down at the Leopold Canal, things were going good and I figured well, it's just a matter of time. But in my own mind, I knew I would survive. But I had surprises later on. (laughter) But...
The winter of 1944 and '45 we spent in Holland, in outpost. Christmas Day there was practically no shooting on the front we were at, by the Germans or by us. Everything went quiet. And what a nice feeling. They of course knew it was Christmas and I just thought that was great. On that winter offensive, we started out and things were going pretty good. Got right into Germany and the Germans were retreating pretty good so we thought, "Don't worry now. The Germans are on the run. There's no fight left in them." But, that's where I got the surprise.
We got into a daylight advance over field. The company on either side of us got held up. We didn't know that and first thing I knew we were being shot at from the back and both sides and front. We had a real pitch battle there for about two hours, I guess. Some of our guys were killed right there. A tank was coming up to support us and it got hit. All I could see, one guy get out and run as hard as he could. The other guy got up, just pushed himself up and you could just see the heat rise from the inside of the tank and he just sunk back in. Of course, I couldn't look too much because we were being shot at. I could get my head out of the trench, I had another chap in with me. The next thing you know, there was a guy right ahead of us. We could just see his elbow working a gun from behind a tree about, oh maybe, 20 feet away. The next thing I know, there was a grenade lobbed into our trench. I jumped out and so did the other fellow and it exploded just as I got on the bank. Next thing I know there was a couple of Germans standing right over top with a gun pointed right at my head. So I had two choices, right quick. One was to somehow resist. I didn't have my gun, it was still in the trench. And the other was, that's it. And I just stood up and I was a prisoner then.
Anyway, I'm very happy I had the opportunity to fight with the Regina Rifles. I'm proud of them. I've gone back to a lot of their reunions. I was really fortunate to be with such a fine fighting unit.