Veteran Stories:
Harry Hettema


  • Harry Hettema in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, June 5, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"Well, we had so many German army guys come in to the barn and tell them the war was over and they said, well, we can’t go back because we’ll get killed, our officers will kill us."


Well, when the war broke out I was living on a farm in Manitoba. My dad was not home; my dad was already in the army. And he’d been in a couple years by then. And then we moved to Regina, I had an uncle who lived in Regina and that and he offered me a job in Regina at the same company he was with. So I moved up there and then finally, I, they told me, oh, you’re going to be called up anyway, Harry, so you’d better, may as well join up –be a Zombie as they used to call it and a lot of people that didn’t volunteer even when they got called up; they had a different number. So I said, oh, I’ll join up, I’m not going to be that way. My dad was in the second - First World War, he was in the Second World War as an interpreter; he knew five different languages. He was from Holland original; my mother wasn’t but my dad was. He was there in the time when I was in the army, the forces, he was stationed at Medicine Hat [Alberta] and I used to take the odd leave to go down and stay with my dad, which I thought was pretty nice. And I’d stay there with him for a few days and then I went to go, afterwards, I was in Calgary for about two months I guess and I went down to Debert, Nova Scotia, from there, I went overseas on a boat to Halifax. We went to Halifax, we had to help unload prisoners of war; most of them were in pretty bad shape, the prisoners. There were some who were badly wounded. And barbed wire on the decks, all of them were barbed-wired off. And we had to roll the wire back up so they could, we could get... It was quite an experience, to get on a boat and we’d got on a boat on, I guess the day before Christmas and we ended up in England on New Year’s Day. And we stayed in Aldershot for about three weeks, maybe, maybe four, well, three weeks anyway. Then we went from there over to Gent, Belgium. And from Gent, there, I went to front lines. Yeah. And we’d stay on the front lines for two weeks at a time and then we’d go back out and get showered, clean clothes. The Winnipeg Rifles used to relieve us. And then we’d go for at least two weeks, if we needed recruits, we’d get more men maybe. We’d always get clean clothes and that, yeah. And then we would go back in and relieve the Winnipeg Rifles. And I had a friend in the Winnipeg Rifles at the same time and we used to meet to see if each other were still alive. Yeah. Because he’d got into the Winnipeg Rifles and we both went in the army together. So we’d kind of watch out for each other. We both come home. When the war was over, we were sitting in Germany, in a big barn at night. And they told us the war was over. Well, we had so many German army guys come in to the barn and tell them the war was over and they said, well, we can’t go back because we’ll get killed, our officers will kill us. I said, well, just throw your guns here and you’re to stay there in that other barn until daylight and then they left and we left. That was the end of, they didn’t have really bullets, their bullets were wood towards the end. I mean, they didn’t have any lead left. Germany was in pretty bad shape and that, when we … I never talk about anything that happened. There’s things that I really tried to forget. Lots of times we went in, you know, and it was not nice. You’re focused on your living. If you, best you can, you know. As a platoon runner, you had to go between different platoons to find out how they were, see if everybody was okay. Nobody getting too badly hurt. At the time, it didn’t seem to bother you. It’s when you got out, things started to run in your mind, well, geez, we were damn lucky. It could have been worse. And then you’d maybe talk to some of your friends, who would say well, Harry, you’re lucky you come back, eh. And I said, oh yeah, no problem. But it was a problem but it was no problem at the time.
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