Veteran Stories:
Peter John Ell


  • Peter Ell, 1942.

  • Peter Ell's company, 1942.

  • Peter Ell's medals.

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"The priest asked me if I’d know what to do if something happened. I said, no Father, I says, I was born on a farm but I never had to do any of that stuff."


So I had been serving mass for our major priest in the division at one time about a month before that, and he asked me if I wanted to look after a priest - driver, be a batman [officer’s orderly]. Well, I says, I don’t like to wash clothes. He says, what if I get you a priest that’ll wash his own clothes? I might think about it then. So anyway, sure enough, I called him up when my officer said I couldn’t leave, I called him up and inside of an hour and a half, they had me in the tank corps and my black toque [beret] on or whatever we called them and I was in, had a Jeep assigned to me and I was in the 4th [Canadian Armoured] Division, got tasked with the 4th Division to drive a priest. So from there on in, I stayed with the priest and we went over into France and in Belgium. And there, our first job, the first Canadian that fell was going to be buried in a coffin, which was unreal. We had blankets; that was our burial thing. And they charged us $2.98 for that blanket. Do you see what they come back with now? Nice coffins. Anyway, the civilians asked if we could get the first fellow that got killed in Belgium and the priest says, yeah, as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine. And it was called an unmarked grave but I guess they took all the stats from it to send to the parents before they buried him. So there is was one private buried in Belgium with a wooden coffin, made the way they make them, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. And this one lad there, we have buried in a coffin anyway, of the Second World War. And that was the only one. Whether you were an officer or not, you didn’t get a coffin. After Belgium, we got word one night at ten o’clock that Father Mooney got killed in the infantry and we went up to take his place then. We left there about nine o’clock I guess in the evening and I had parked. So the guy behind me was coming to take my place and our priest was going up to the infantry. And up we went. And I also had a cousin of mine that was in the 4th Div. also and he drove a tank for the infantry; whenever the infantry had a little problems, they would get these self-propelled tanks and he was one of them. So I think they had five in the section and he was number two. And they never said what section he was but we got called one day, the priest got a call, they got trouble up there and they wanted the priest, so up we went. And they said it was number two but they made a mistake on it and I got there and my cousin got his tank and he looks at me and they got pale in the face and I thought he was going to fall over. It was trouble. You’re dead! Because when he heard the padre’s driver got killed up in so and so, he thought it was me. He didn’t realize there was this couple of hours’ difference in between. And so he smartened up a little after a while. I think the priest did his job, so we stayed with the infantry. And when the infantry goes in, I couldn’t take my vehicle up there, so here I am without a truck. What do I do? I’ve got to kill my time too. So they tried stretcher bearers, they’re always needing help, I says, I’m going to go with you. So another guy come to the, there was two and two, two stayed on and the other two were supposed to help. They got tired; we had quite a ways to go. And they were civilians, mind you. So anyway, this one woman, the guy, his wife wanted to go along and she was wounded too, we could see she was dripping blood on the side of one leg there. I’m not staying here, she says. And so I said to the other guy, well, let’s see how far. We made our hands like this and made a seat for her. Well, we’ll try and follow them. So when we did get there, by golly, we could hardly get our hands apart. Anyway, about the same week, another woman was having a baby. And the hospital was back in Belgium and we were then already in Holland. So anyway, we took her back and we had a bed in the back where the priest slept on, behind the front seats. And we had her in there. Mind you, just the two of us. And we were going back to the hospital dressing station and the priest asked me if I’d know what to do if something happened. I said, no Father, I says, I was born on a farm but I never had to do any of that stuff. Anyway, so we got back alright. I guess she had her baby and we understood that everything went fine.
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