A Canadian camp guard in stands watch with a Bren light machine gun, Wilhelmshaven, Germany 1945.Robert Yule
Robert Yule in occupied Germany, 1945.Robert Yule
Robert Yule is pictured here on the left with a friend in occupied Germany.Robert Yule
Liberated concentration camp for political prisoners in Wilhelmshaven, Germany 1945.Robert Yule
Robert Yule, 2010.Historica Canada
"We started, at first, we were not allowed to associate with the German folks but after a bit, they lifted the fraternization bar and we would have dance parties"
Yes, I was at university at Queen’s University in Kingston from 1942, after leaving high school. And I became friends with a couple of other students. And as the war progressed, we did do some army training, UNT training at the University. We felt that we should be doing more for the war effort. Although I had two older brothers in the air force, my parents weren’t too keen on me joining the army. However, in October of 1944, my good friend, Art Smith and Jack Mandal and I were known as the three musketeers by our drafting professor, who had been in World War I, and he endorsed our leaving university and joining the army. Lo and behold in April of 1945, we did embark on the [RMS] Aquitania, 10,000 Canadian troops. And the [RMS] Aquitania took off from Halifax and went due south to Bermuda and then due north to Iceland and we were I think seven days getting into Clydebank in Scotland, where we embarked. And from there, we got into troop trains and were moved south to Haywards Heath, south of London, for more training.
And it was there the war ended in May of 1945 and we were then designated as occupational forces and we were moved over to, we flew over to Brussels; that was my first flight and Art’s first flight. And we left Jack in England, where he joined the Postal Corps. But Art and I flew in a Lancaster or similar bomber and I was in the tail gunner’s position. And landed at the airport in Brussels, which showed, was our first sight of where bombs had damaged the airport. And we went into Brussels for a couple of days and then we moved right straight through to where we went to a camp in Holland and then from there, eventually we ended up at a concentration camp in, near Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
The concentration camp held about 2,000 prisoners. There wasn’t any gas chambers there but there was certainly evidence of malnutrition and discomfort. These prisoners were mainly Polish political prisoners. And our job was to keep law and order with the concentration camp and we would take the prisoners for work details, cutting wood and doing things like that and for that, they would earn another 1,000 calories of food a day. Everything was based on calories. I think their basic ration was 1,000 calories, which is not very much but it’s enough to sustain yourself.
And we had absolutely no problems with the prisoners. And eventually, we were assigned to the British forces of occupation, and they were the commanding, ran the command and the Cameron Highlanders [of Ottawa]3rd Div occupational forces did the routine military camp duties.
We started, at first, we were not allowed to associate with the German folks but after a bit, they lifted the fraternization bar and we would have dance parties in Wilhelmshaven at recreational centres that they set up. We fraternized with the German girls and the German farmers and we traded cigarettes for eggs and had massive egg feeds every now and again in the barracks.
And while there, we went to leave in Paris for, this would be the spring of 1946 I guess. And when we arrived there, they had about a foot and a half of snow and they moved all the snow with twig brooms, moved the snow into the sewers, so that the vehicles and cars and buses could traverse. But we had a wonderful ten days in Paris.
And I might say, it was interesting in the troop train that we took to go to Paris, we shared a boxcar with Polish soldiers, who were going on leave somewhere, and I got the impression that the Polish soldiers feared the Russian occupation of the country more than anything. I remember that as quite pronounced by the Polish folks.
Then eventually, we had the opportunity to sign either for the occupation of Europe or come home and be trained for the war zone in Japan. We chose to stay in Europe because we thought that was the easiest way to finish our duty and get back to university. And finally in May of 1946, the occupation forces were being reduced and we came back to England and subsequently, were scheduled to come on the [SS] Ile de France home in May of 1945 [sic: 1946] but the [SS] Ile de France took a list to port and couldn’t sail, so it had to go into Le Havre, France, for repairs. And eventually, it showed up and we returned to Canada in May of 1946. And I was discharged in London, Ontario, in June and my friend, Art and Jack and I returned to Queen’s University for summer education and reentered for full classes in September of 1946.