Veteran Stories:
John Garden Burchill

Air Force

  • John Burchill, Miramichi, New Brunswick, November 25, 2009.

    Historica Canada
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"So the Germans wanted to put us into camps, and it meant that we had to walk, guided by a German guard."


It just happened that I was involved in flying a Spitfire during the war and unfortunately, just towards the very end of the war, we had the responsibility of supporting the Canadian Army after they crossed the Rhine. And our job was to shoot up any transport we saw on the ground, German tanks and that kind of thing. And so we did see some, we attacked a tank and the tank shot back. And the result was that I had to get out of there in a hurry, and so I bailed out. So when I landed, then of course I landed in Germany and within a day, I was taken to an interrogation centre, you might say, where I met another flyer whose name was Sluga. He was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. And he’d been shot down the day before. So the Germans wanted to put us into camps, and it meant that we had to walk, guided by a German guard. We walked together for a matter of four or five days and we got to know each other pretty well. And luckily, for me, not so much for him, circumstances were such that I was able to evade and got back to the American lines and eventually to England. Sluga, who was my friend, Colonel Sluga, he wasn’t so lucky. The Germans hung onto him, and he ended up in a prisoner of war camp. That was in April 1945 and the war was just winding down. I actually was freed from the Germans by an American patrol. And I was taken back in a jeep, back to their headquarters, which was about 75 miles east of, or west of where I was picked up. The fellow that drove the jeep was a colonel in the U.S. Army. It was a tank corps, 9thTank Corps I think. So it was a four or five hour drive, and then he and I got to know each other pretty well during that time. And he said, “When we get there,” he said, “I’m going to introduce you to our general.” I’d never met a general before in my life, you know. So we land at the base, which is in a big field, all kinds of tanks around. And then they had drawn up some, some trailers, big trailers. And he picks out a trailer and we go to the trailer. We have to walk up a few steps to the door and he knocks on the door. And the corporal comes out. And he says, “Is General [Richard E.] Nugent there?” And the corporal says, “Yes.” He said, “I’d like to speak to him.” Now, this man I’m with is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, he had a little influence, you know. So the general comes out and the colonel introduces me to the American general. And the general says to me, he said, “Come in,” he said, “come in.” So we go into his trailer and it’s all fitted up as a living room might be, and he’s got three or four other generals and lieutenant generals sitting around having a talk. This is about 4:00 in the afternoon. So he sits me down. I haven’t had anything to eat now for about 10 days or not anything substantial, so I’m hungry. He offers me a drink of scotch, which I don’t like to refuse from a general. So I take a little bit of scotch in the glass. And he says, “Where are you from?” And I said, “I’m from New Brunswick.” He said, “New Brunswick,” he said, “What part of New Brunswick?” I said, “I live on the Miramichi.” He said, “The Miramichi?” He said, “I fish there,” he said, “every year.” He said, “I have a cabin in Black Fall.” (laughs) Now, if you can imagine a British soldier being introduced to a British general or a Canadian soldier being introduced, it just didn’t happen. And here’s an American. So he says, “I’m not an army man by profession,” he said, “I’m an insurance man, I’m from Hartford, Connecticut.” He said, “I come up there and fish every year. And when this is over,” he said, “I’m going back to selling insurance.”
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