Willam "Boots" Bettridge at the monument to The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, Juno Beach, Normandy, France, 2007.William Bettridge
Sergeant William "Boots" Bettridge, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, circa 1944-45.William Bettridge
William "Boots" Bettridge.William Bettridge
German prisoners of war taken by The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, Juno Beach, June 6, 1944.William Bettridge
Veterans' Memorial Woodcarving, Gage Park, Brampton, Ontario. William "Boots" Bettridge served as the model for the woodcarver, Mr. Jim Menken of Orangeville, Ontario.William Bettridge
"We were told, don’t stop, even if your best friend’s got wounded, don’t stop or you’re going to be laying alongside of him, you just keep going."
We thought it was just going to be a real snap. We thought it was going to be like a tea party. I guess if we would have known what we were getting into, there would have been a few guys missing on D-Day [the Normandy Landing, June 6th, 1944].
I was so seasick, I didn’t care about anything. I was sick, sick as a dog. Everybody was. We were issued these little plastic bags to vomit in before we left. The sea was terribly rough. It was so rough that when you went down into the swells, you couldn’t see no boats. And when you come up to the crest of the swell, there was nothing but boats.
We were told, don’t stop, even if your best friend’s got wounded, don’t stop or you’re going to be laying alongside of him, you just keep going. I was fortunate enough that one of the sea shells must have knocked a big chunk off the wall on the seawall, and with the way the wind had blown the sand, it had sort of piled it up in that area. And you’ll see pictures of people going over the wall with a ladder. The way the sand drifted and built the sand up, I got over the wall quite easy. Just jumped right over it.
What we did the most good with was giving information of targets to our artillery. And in that case, I was up in this church, looking for targets to shoot at, the wheat’s getting up pretty high by this time of the year in south of France and in the background, over the two fields, it turned into bush and as I’m searching on the edge of the bush, I noticed one tree didn’t look just too right so I put my binoculars down, I’m leaning against a tree and I got my telescope on my knee and I see that the tree that I thought looked funny was the barrel of a Tiger tank [the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E., a German heavy tank] sticking out.
I radio the ranks, I give them the range, they fired the smoke bomb, I correct their aim, tell them to go north, east, south, west, and they give that to the whole thing and there’s Germans, there’s trucks, there’s tanks, there’s everything running all over the bush. And that’s only two days after D-Day. They were only six miles from putting us back into the water again.
Foothold in Normandy
We’d come under fire. A shell had gone through my binocular case and hit the linkage and my binocular case kind of half fell down, so I had to drop either the rifle or the shovel. So I had to leave the shovel and hold the [rifle], I was running towards the Germans because there’s some cover there and there’s no cover where I was except grass and that don’t stop bullets. I hear kabang, a mortar bomb, kabang, the sons of guns are going to drop one about every 10 feet down that hedgerow. And I look across the road towards the Germans and on the other side of the road, I see an old unused German trench. And so I jumped into that. It wasn’t until then that I was able to get my rifle up and start shooting at what was shooting at us.
A guy by the name of Buck Hawkins, one of the guys, you know, like a dad to everybody. He’s a little older than us and just one of the nicest guys, great big burly guy. And well, this Buck Hawkins had come down and he walked right behind, he didn’t know it, he walked right past me. If he had have noticed, he might still be living today because when I ran out of ammunition, there’s no use me staying around there anymore, so I had to go back to the road and I was crawling through up, run a bit, duck a bit and then I come across Buck Hawkins. He was turning white, I didn’t know what a guy looked like when he’s bleeding to death but he couldn’t open his eyes, he was so weak. And as soon as I touched him, he said, “Who’s that?”. I said, “Boots.” “Oh, good.”, he says, “Raise my head”. So I raised his head and put my tin hat under his head and he just took one big breath as if he was waiting for somebody that he knew. And he died in my arms right there, that day.
What’s the difference between luck and fate? In England, we cross each other’s path going to the mess hall, “How are you this morning, Buck?” “Oh, Boots, it don’t hurt to breathe, I must be feeling pretty good.” That’s the kind of a guy he was. And when I seen him that morning going into the attack, I said, “Hi Buck.” and he, “Hi Boots”. He, I think he thought something was going to happen to him and it did, he died that day.
Every man was given a street to build, we’d knock on doors politely and ask how many soldiers they could sleep. Most of them were empty. So we’d bang on the door, no answer, took the rifle butt and gave it a good bank. No answer. “Chris”, I said, “Chris, the door’s open. Oh, be careful, I’ll fling it open, you watch that side and I’ll watch this side.” He did that, we go in carefully and check in there, check in there, everything’s okay. Go into this bedroom. Now, we haven’t shaved, we looked like a bunch of desperados, I’ve got grenades hanging all over me, and I heard a little whimper. So I took my hat off, took all the weapons off, I walked around the bed and knelt down on the floor and there was a lady, in around my age group too. She was shaken.
So I knelt down and the German word for sleeping is Schlafen, I knew that. So I said, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. You can see I’ve got no weapons or anything.” I said, “It’s okay, it’s okay. And I said, “We just want to Schlafen, just, Chris, Schlafen, that’s all.” Well, she kind of eased off a bit and I said, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” And she stood up and she’s laying on top of a little girl about six or seven years old.
So they’re happy now and I had a half a chocolate bar, I give them half each of that, which they hadn’t had for years. And she made up a bed in the spare room. I said to Chris, “Look, white sheets, haven’t seen any of them since we left England.” So Frank and I were sitting on beds, kind of breathing in and getting ready to get into those nice white sheets and a knock come on the door. And it was this little girl with a big bouquet of flowers. She’d gone out in her backyard and cut these flowers and give them to us. I wish I had have been smart enough to take down their address because that little girl would be 14, 15 years younger than me, wouldn’t that have been a reunion if I had an address. I thought about it later.