Herbert Britton with some local Dutch children, 1945.Herbert Britton
H. Britton and R. Barrett, in the Netherlands, January 1945.Herbert Britton
Herbert Britton on 'kitchen patrol', 1941.Herbert Britton
Herbert Britton's shoulder flashes for the Royal Canadian Army Sevice Corps.Herbert Britton
Herbert Britton in France, 1944.Herbert Britton
"one of the prisoners grabbed him and he shot the guy. So of course, the other guy just shot him right then and there, you know, there was, everything was crazy …"
To start out with, I was hoping to get to haul supplies and we were a supply company, which meant we were going to, you know, take the food up to the front lines and so on like that. But just before, about a few months before we were transferred to an infantry regiment, Lincoln and Welland Regiment, and we had Bedford troop carriers. So we had to get accustomed to these and then we joined the infantry outfit for everything except discipline. We had one officer looked after our discipline. And then we had 40 guys fully armed and we were in an armoured division and nobody walked, everybody rode, until they got near to the front, then they bailed out our boys and we usually turned around and went back. Because we were a big target and we weren’t, we had no protection. It was just tin, you know.
We didn’t go on D-Day, it was about two or three weeks later. And we all had to move down our troops and everybody to the south of England, around Southampton I think it was. Or no, it was London. We got into London. And we all pulled in there and at that time, the [V-1] flying bombs were coming and they were firing them from Germany to London, which we were boarding a ship in London. I sure didn’t like that, them flying bombs, they were coming roaring along and all of a sudden, the engine stops and look out, you don’t know where they were going to land. But when they came down, boom, just a great explosion.
Then we march onto, on towards the, get onboard our ship and all of a sudden, when we hear one overhead and the Sergeant Major called out, keep marching. But we didn’t listen to him. We all took a dive and laid flat down on the ground, you know. And it was a fairly close explosion. Then we were in that river for about, in the Thames there, for about three nights. And it was scary. Them damn things flying over and exploding all around there, them flying bombs. Oh, that was scary. You always knew there was nothing yet, nobody in them, you know and they’re flying along and I’d seen them before we got on the river in the south really, I see a Spitfire go after one. And it get behind and shoot it and it would just explode, and then sometimes that airplane would go bouncing around, just from the explosion. But they had a hard time to even catch them, they had to get them at an angle kind of thing. They flew so fast.
Well anyways, we got in the boat, we were on there I say a few nights and then away we went. But there was no place to sleep on the boat or anything, you kept your clothes, there was no beds there and not much toilets around there either. But away we went and you’d think it was going to take us, we thought it would take about a day to get there. It took us seven days to get there. You’d get out of the Thames, the estuary and then follow the coast along, heading south I suppose it was. And yeah, it was seven days and we got there to the shore and there was a big raft, oh, it was a huge thing. We’d seen it waiting for us and we stopped and that thing, they started two motors on either corner and they pushed that big raft against the, an old tramp steamer we were on. And then the cranes on the steamer come out and they started unloading our vehicles onto this great big raft. By the time we pushed our raft into the shore, we were practically, didn’t hardly have to run in water at all. So we were lucky.
Away we went and found our company, I was in ‘Charlie’ Company and we found our company and then we were ready to go then. And we loaded. But we didn’t move then. The, some outfit, they were pulling them out of the line and our boys, our infantry, the Lincoln and Welland, went in and boy, I guess they got a pounding the first night. And you know, they were green troops and the enemy seemed to know green troops. But they had to pull the outfit out again and put the other one back in. They came back and then we got out and they loaded up again and we took them up forward and some of the guys, that was the first day they were in and they were killed the first day. And then all that two or three years of training, this is the infantry guys, you know, it seemed to sad.
But anyways, we’d move up then and remember, we moved along and we, finally they got them in the line and they were in the line so we pulled back maybe a mile. And we ran into this farmhouse. We had our cook and he was cooking a meal and the only person in the farmhouse was an old lady. She must have been about 80. And she told us, some of our guys could speak French and she said, all the rest of the family ran away but I couldn’t run. You know, they got out of the way of the army. She says, I was just left here. So the, the cook, it was a big old farmhouse and a big table and we all were sitting around the table and we made a meal for that old lady. Oh, we just loaded a plate we had there. And you know, she ate the whole works. And that’s … Oh, and I remember going to bed that night, I had no place to sleep so I, I seen a shed. The next morning I woke up and it was just at the edge of a pigpen, there was a pig snuffing over me. It would have eaten me too if it had got a chance.
Then the big push was on, so then we all went up and we were going, that was really, I found all my four vehicles and we were getting quite a bit of shellfire. I hated them shells. They’d come over and they’d, they’d explode up in the air. And the shrapnel would come down on you. How they worked it, I don’t know, but that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But they were, they were bad to see.
By this time, after quite a lot of heavy fighting and losing a lot of our men, we got up, it was pretty well had the German army cornered. The Americans were coming on our right and we were on the left and we were, the place got to be known as the [Falaise] Gap. The boys would get it closed in the daytime but the Germans would break when night and they were trying to get back to Germany as it were, you know. And we were bound then and finally, they did close the gap up and oh boy, that was really a mess there.
I remember one particular, in this big battle, they told us, there was going to be 600 guns firing, as hard as they could into this valley at a certain, I think it was 1:00. They were firing for an hour into this valley; they were giving it a holy mackerel, what a roar. And then the enemy started coming out with white flags, coming from miles. The troops going, German soldiers with their hands up and … And they had them here in this area, the provost usually looked after the prisoners - the provost are the policemen of the army - and they had the men, thousands and thousands of prisoners, how are you going to control them, you know. But they made them all lay down. And anybody that stood up, a burst of machinegun fire over him would make him, you know, to keep him, you know, so damn many of them.
And that one night, I remember they were, a lot of guys were killed there and they were getting their prisoners to dig the graves. And anyways, one guy, he laid his Sten gun down to light a cigarette and one of the prisoners grabbed him and he shot the guy. So of course, the other guy just shot him right then and there, you know, there was, everything was crazy …