Second World War Interview
By Mike Joyce
James R. Joyce
December 22, 1919 - December 18, 1997
James Richard Joyce is my Grandfather, but I prefer to call him "Grampy." He is 77 years old. He is a husband of 54 years, a father of six, a grandfather of eight and a great-grandfather of one. He worked for the City of Saint John Fire Department for over three decades. He was raised in Saint John, New Brunswick, where he later raised his family.
I am very proud of my Grandfather. He was (and still is) the kind of guy that did what he had to do for himself and more importantly for his family, I admire that about him. I have lived in a different part of Canada than him for my entire life. Last spring when I moved here, I got the chance to get to know him, it has made me respect him even more. He is a strong man that loves his family and after talking to him about the war, it is safe to say that he didn't fight for Canada and democracy, he fought to feed his wife and daughter at a time when jobs, money and food alike, were hard to come by. He is very obviously a practical man.
For me this was a great opportunity to hear my Grandfather's story. They say that understanding, is the key to a relationship, and after completing this interview I feel I understand him an awful lot better than I ever did before. I also learned a lot about the interview process, how to come up with questions, how to handle the person during the interview and so on. After finishing this I honestly wanted to take what he had told me and write another paper on it, making my own hypothesis on the information he gave. I found it a very interesting interview.
Where are you from?
Saint John, New Brunswick.
When were you born?
December 22, 1919.
Had your father fought in the First World War?
No, he was a coal merchant, he sold coal and wood.
And your Mother?
My Mother was an ordinary house wife.
What was your first job?
My first job was shovelling snow for the Canadian Pacific Railway.
What else did you do prior to the War?
I went to work for the Canadian Pacific freight handlers at the Winter Port in Saint John, New Brunswick. I also worked a horse and wagon for my father, the coal merchant. I hauled a lot of ashes, people burned a lot of coal and wood in those days so they had an awful lot of ashes.
What were your parents like? What was your relationship with them?
We had a good relationship, a good family, we were all well disciplined and taught the rights and wrongs of the world.
Did your parents think that your going to war was a good thing or a bad thing?
My parents never knew I was going to war. At the time, in the 1930s, there was a lot of talk about Europe, but Europe was so far away that myself, my parents and my friends never really took much interest in it. We never talked about it sitting around the supper table, or as a family, or even among my friends. It was just something going on in a far away place. The sense of preparation Germany was having prior to the war wasn't felt over here.
Prior to the War, were the newspapers and radio full of stories about Europe?
In my younger days, my early teens, even as old as 18 or 19 years old, my primary interest was sports. I paid a lot of attention to sports, although I did read the headlines and heard about what was happening over in Europe. As far as Europe was concerned, like I said before, it was a far away place and I wasn't very much interested in it.
What was you and your friends attitude toward the pending war?
Very much the same as usual, we didn't talk about it, all we talked about was sports and girls.
Tell me about what the styles were like before the war (hair and clothes).
The hair styles were "Greased style Hair Dos." The men always wore their hair greased back, mostly with olive oil. The suits were tapered pants, tapered as small as your ankle, with a wider backside. We called them Zute Suits. Soft hats were also a very big deal in those days. We would always wear our collars turned up.
What would you do for fun prior to the War?
The big thing was baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. We also liked to go to the movies, there were a couple of movie houses in town. The shows were always Cowboy and Indian tales. We also loved to go to dances. Almost every part of the city had a dance hall. The boys and girls would gather there, mostly on Saturday nights, which was always a big night in my day. Saturday night the dance would be on, and almost every hall would be owned by a group like the IODE or the YMCA. The music of the times was Jive, Waltzes and Fox Trots and things like that.
Were you proud of Canada?
I never really gave it much thought. In my day, I don't think anybody gave it much thought. In the 1930s when I grew up, it was during the Depression, and in the Depression years everybody was interested in surviving. A lot of people had no jobs, and their primary interest was getting a job and earning a few dollars to help out their families and feed themselves. As far as camaraderie, it had a lot to do with where we lived. A West-Sider was a West-Sider, and so on. There would always be rivalries among us in the city. We were more proud of where we were in the city than actually being just Canadian.
So, you volunteered for the Army before the war? How old were you?
I joined in August 1939, at the age of 19. Where I lived, there was an army drill shed across the street. It was a Platoon of the Royal Canadian Artillery. It had a Unit in there called The 4th Battery. They were going to camp in August, down in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at a place called Fort Sandwich. All my friends wanted to go, so we hung around the drill shed. We knew they were going to be hiring extra men to go to camp. We stayed there, and stayed there and stayed there until they finally gave us a uniform and signed us up to go to Halifax. They paid us one dollar a day, and gave us a place to stay. I looked at this like a job and a chance to take a trip, a summer holiday. It was nice.
Tell me about Fort Sandwich.
It was quite an experience, it was my first time away from home. I went down there with a few fellas I chummed around with and some people I didn't know. I got to know them all as good friends. I had a cousin who was a Sergeant. He helped me a lot in becoming an artillery man, in what I had to do and how to do it.
While we were in Halifax, the danger of War escalated, we were down there the last two weeks of August in 1939. The first week was a lot of fun, we got to know the area, especially Herring Cove and Purcell's Cove. We would get our night passes and take a walk down through those areas, naturally there were a few girls down there too.
The second week was when the real fun started. We woke up on the first Saturday in camp, Fort Sandwich being a large base had a lot of ammo in the storage sheds. They put us to work fusing the shells that went into the big guns on the Fort. We worked at that until the middle of the last week. Then the headquarter people in Halifax, wanted guns put up at two places on Halifax Harbour. One was at George's Island, and the other at McNab's Island. They picked two gun groups out of the men I was with and sent them to their stations. I was sent to George's Island with a 12 pound coastal gun. We mounted the gun and manned it for three days. Then I was sent back to Saint John and taught how to load, fire, and build a gun.
At that time, did you ever think that there was a chance that you would have to load and fire that gun to defend yourself?
That was the idea. They figured that Halifax, being a port and an important city at the time, would be a primary German target if they were to, in fact, attack the eastern seaboard. They thought that the Germans would attack with the submarines, because Halifax was a big naval base during the First World War and it had been kept up to date until my time there.
Tell me about how the tension of the War mounted. How did things change when you realized that there could possibly be a war in Europe?
In my position, I was always sure that there would be a war, because everyone was talking about Germany going into Poland and threatening, and we all were sure that there would be a war. I never saw myself going to Europe, in fact I didn't even think about it. I was more interested in learning the art of being a soldier, and I didn't think any more about it.
Tell me what happened when you went back to Saint John, New Brunswick.
We were marched down to the Saint John Armoury, and they then divided us up into different units. There were three Batteries, I was in the one called, the 4th Battery. There was a City Battery -The Fifteenth, and a Search Light Battery, other than us. We used the search lights as a safe guard in case there ever was a night battle. There I was an ordinary soldier, doing regular guard duty, manning the guns, learning to fire and load them. We kept the ammunition and the guns in shape so that they could be used in the event of hostility.
On the 2nd of September 1939, a Sunday morning, we were on guard duty, resting at our drill shed, we were sitting out front waiting for our turn to guard the shed. We then heard on the radio that Britain had declared war on Germany. The War had started.
Had you listened to the radio a lot?
Yes, I listened to it quite a bit, not so much news, but I liked to listen to the sports. I would listen to some news, I knew what was going on anyway. I was a soldier, and I wanted to know what we were going to do.
Did the outbreak of the War drum up any more emotion in you about what you were doing?
No, not really. It was still very much an occupation. People were coming from all over the province of New Brunswick to join the army to make some money so that they could feed their families. There was a Depression on and there was nowhere anyone could work.
What was your reaction to the outbreak of the War?
To tell the truth, I didn't have a massive big reaction. I just expected it and figured "Well, I am in it now and I better make the best of it."
How did your parents react?
Mom and Dad didn't like me being in the army. In fact, when I came back from Halifax, Nova Scotia, after getting off the boat, they expected me to come home. I think that they just thought I would just come home, take the uniform off and that would be it. They never ever told me they wanted me to quit, but I think they did.
Tell me about conscription.
In 1943 when the invasion was being planned, they weren't getting too many new recruits or volunteers. They had to get somebody to replace people like me who had been in the army and knew a little bit about it, so they put us on what was called Active Force. They put us in units that would fight the Germans. There was no such thing as conscription in those days.
Talk to me about the media (newspapers, radio, slogans).
The primary media sources were the newspaper and the radio, there were also posters and they even had slogans. "A slip of the lip will sink ships" or "Loose lips sink ships." Everything was supposed to be top secret, nobody was supposed to talk about ships leaving the harbour, entering the harbour, what was going on or when units were in. Everything was supposed to be "hush hush."
The Canadian Department of National Defence immediately, as the War started, put together a Public Relations Department and they had all the heroes of the First World War going back and forth across the country talking about what it was like to join the army and how nice the army life was and so on. They did that hoping they would get more troops, and they did.
Lets get back on the time line. When were you in the Saint John 4th Battery?
Well, it was Monday morning, September 3, 1939, the day after the War broke out. They put us on boats and hauled us out into the Saint John Harbor to a place called Partridge Island. There were three large buildings used as quarantine hospital buildings for immigrants coming into Canada and they housed us in these buildings. After we got situated, we got our rifles, uniforms and so forth, we began the process of learning how to use them. Maybe a week or so after that they landed two six inch guns and two search lights and we proceeded to build them, the 4th Battery (mine) manned one, and the 15th Battery (The City Battery) manned the other. The Search Light Battery manned the search lights of course.
After everything was built and in service, we proceeded to learn how to operate them and continue to do so. I spent the first year of the War on Partridge Island. After that we moved into the City to a place called Fort Dufferin, where there were two 4.7 inch field guns, my Battery manned them both. In 1940, there was a tremendous boost in recruiting in Saint John, all kinds of people were joining up. These new recruits manned the guns at Fort Dufferin, put ammunition in the magazines and proceed to learn how to operate them.
In the fall of 1940, we decided to build a bigger fort at a place called Fort Mispec. About 10 or 12 miles on the east side of the City of Saint John. We put 7.5 inch coastal guns out there, the contractors built great big gun emplacements out there. They took all the new recruits they got and enlarged the 4th Battery.
In May of 1941, I was sent to St. John's, Newfoundland. I joined 38 other people to form the 103rd Coastal Battery at Fort Amherst and Cape Spear, Newfoundland, the most Eastern part of Canada. I built a number of 2.47 inch guns and two 10 inch guns at Cape Spear, the enlarged 4th Battery manned these guns.
The navies (United States, Great Britain and Canada) used Newfoundland as the last stopping point before leaving for Europe, the war ships would pick up the convoys there.
I met my wife in St. John's, Newfoundland, I arrived in May 1941 and met her in August 1941. We dated while I was there. The people of St. John's were very hospitable, they used to invite us to their homes. One particular evening, a friend of mine and I were down to a dance at the YMCA and we met these two girls, we asked if we could take them home, like the boys and girls did back then. I asked her for a date the next night and I was invited to her home. I got to like her, and love her, and one day I asked her to marry me, she said yes. We were married on August 13th, 1942.
How did she feel about you being involved in the War Effort?
I think it was accepted as something that was happening, that would soon be over someday and they didn't give it much thought. So, she didn't give it much thought.
During the War, what information would the media convey?
Well, of course it would tell us of our victories and also of our losses and deaths. As in any other business, everything is either played down or played up. If the forces won, it was made to be a big deal on the radio and the newspapers. If there was a big defeat, we might not hear about it until a month had passed.
Everything was top secret. You see, what the Germans did was top secret, we never knew anything about what they were doing before it came to light by spies and other things, and the same thing happened in our Force. If something bad happened, the Allied countries would never hear about it until it was over.
Was life pretty normal in St. John's, Newfoundland?
No. St. John's was a Sea Port on the edge of North America, there were Blackouts, the same as there were in England. From the time I arrived in 1941 until the time I left, I never saw a light on in the city of St. John's. St. John's being the most eastern part of Canada, the ships had to stop there. Had any lights been on in the city, they would've silhouetted the ships and the submarines would have been able to hit them with torpedoes.
Blackouts - Everybody put shutters on their windows, kept their lighting that showed outside to a minimum, they even painted the car headlights with black paint (just enough so they could still see the road).
It was a state of war and the Port of St. John's could have been bombed at any time. I wasn't too worried about that though, I never really gave it all that much thought. One particular time we were manning the guns and there was a whaling ship coming in the mouth of the harbour, and two torpedoes hit, one on one side of the harbour and the other on the other side. The entrance to the harbour was a narrow passage into a basin style area. The torpedoes weren't all that scary though, we kinda expected something like that to happen. If the Germans could have blocked off that harbour by sinking a ship in the middle of the narrows, we would have had a hard time keeping the convoys protected from the Germans.
Back to the story, you went back to Saint John, New Brunswick, in November 1943, continue.
We were artillery men, coastal, and they had soldiers who already manned the coastal guns in Saint John. We were signed up for active service. They took us all and put us into the infantry. We were trained to handle infantry weapons and do all the things an infantry had to do. We then were sent to the New Brunswick headquarters, in Fredericton for Basic Training. We learned how to fire a rifle and to handle a grenade, how to do almost anything a soldier would do. Basic Training was something new, an experience we didn't know too much about, we took eight weeks for that. Then we went to Utopia, where we went through 4 weeks of Advanced Training. We learned how to use machine guns, how to spot and attack an enemy. It wasn't too tough, it was just a matter of learning a different trade.
By that time my friends and I were getting anxious to get overseas. We wanted to see what it was. We wanted to go and be in the war. We had no idea what it was really like over there.
Did you know anybody who went overseas before you did?
Yes, I knew many people who went over before I did. They were fighting before I did. A lot of the guys I knew who went before me, went to Italy in December of 1942, they were the first Canadians in battle in the Second World War.
I wanted to go over with them. When friends went over I was kinda mad at the army because I wanted to be with them, with my friends. I didn't want to be with strangers, I knew I was going to be in trouble and I wanted my friends with me. I was lucky enough to be with my friends the whole way through.
The Invasion happened in June of 1944, and before that June when the Invasion happened, we broke advanced training four weeks early. We were sent us by train to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then put on a boat to England. It was quite the experience, my first big boat ride. There was always the danger of being sunk. I was a little scared but I was all right. The soldiers were put down in the very bottom of the boat, it was a big hollow shell of a thing, made up into different compartments, each one was sealed off in the evening. We were all up on deck during the day but in the evening we were put below deck and we were sealed in these compartments. If the ship had been torpedoed, we would have been gone and we all knew it. The ship was made up of these compartments so that if one part got hit, it would fill with water and it wouldn't destroy the whole ship. It was fanatically claustrophobic! Every time I had to go down there I didn't want to go but I had to. It was just a good training for when I got into battle, I had to go some place where I knew I might get killed but I had to go. It was a very serious atmosphere, I slept an awful lot, said my prayers and hoped that I would come out of it.
Where did you land?
Scotland, Greenock. July 15, 1944.
Before we go on. How did your wife feel about all this?
She wasn't very happy. I had a daughter, Ruby, who was born on February 2, 1943. I didn't want to leave them, and they didn't want me to leave either. But, I had to go and do a job so away I went. Like all mothers and fathers and daughters and sons and wives and husbands, no one wanted to be apart. It was hard to watch loved ones go away, and hard to leave loved ones behind.
In Scotland, we got all new equipment, took a few marches and went over to Northern France on July 30, 1944. We had anti-gas battle dress, it was something we wore only when we thought there might be a gas attack, we needed something to cover our face and body. We had rifles and grenades, we were taught how to use them, keep them clean and so on. We were having heavy losses on the beaches in Normandy at that time.
We landed at the wharves that they had built us and we went up to a hill top just off the beach. That afternoon as we arrived, I just happened to look up and I saw two air planes flying around. At close observation I noticed that one was German and one was British, they dove around and they were having a "Dog Fight." Eventually the British plane shot him down, I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but after seeing so many movies and seeing stuff like that happen in a movie, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was amazing how easy it seemed, they were flying through the air, and all of a sudden there he went down with smoke trailing from the back of his plane. I was thrilled at being able to see it, the German was shot down.
The next morning we got together, were put on trucks and moved us to a city called Caen. It was bombed out, nothing but a bunch of rubble. We went through on both sides of the city, before you went to any unit there were two places you had to be, B Echelon and A Echelon. B Echelon was where you went and got your equipment, and the stuff that you needed to fight a war. A Echelon was where you were divided up into the units that needed the recruits, because soldiers were dying in every unit, and they needed more. They never sent one alone, there was always two soldiers sent to a unit. They always gave you a buddy.
I ended up in a field, the closest place to us was Orne, there I met and was talking to a fella who was born in Chipman, New Brunswick, he had moved there before the war started. We just asked him what was going on and we went on our way. We didn't have a lot of time, things were happening around us and we had to keep moving. If we stopped to long in any concentration at all, we would have been spotted by spies. They would see that we were soldiers and immediately call artillery fire on us. We never stayed still too long in one spot.
We spent the night in Orne. In the morning we took the march and went to a place called Falaise, where a battle had been going on but, by the time we got there it was all over.
The first time I got shot at, well, the minute you came into the sight of the Germans, they opened up on you with machine gun fire. The minute you heard the fire, you hit the dirt, you went to the ground. I was the kind of fella, as soon as I hit the ground, I dug myself a little indentation in the ground which would lower my body out of sight, if I could. That's what we did, we laid there until the officer waved his arm and then we would get up and run like the wind to the place he wanted us to go. When we got there, we would look for someone to fire at. Most of the time, when we got to where the officer told us to go, we could see some of the enemy walking or running across the field. I would try to shoot them if I could. That was what battle was all about. I had some reservations about shooting them, I didn't like to kill anybody, I didn't think about killing anybody, I thought often that if I went into a building or something like that, I would have to do it. I didn't like the idea of having to kill a human being.
During the course of the war we had to go in and clean out Villages and towns. The first thing we would do would be to sneak up on the farm building, which you knew had Germans in it, because you watched it and made sure that it was occupied. There were generally pockets of troops that were spotting for the Germans in these farm buildings. So, we knew that there would be a platoon in these houses. The first thing we would do is sneak up to a door or a window and throw a grenade in. As soon as the grenade went off, we would start spraying the area with machine gun and rifle fire. After that part of the building was clear, we went through the rest of the place in the same fashion. I never shot anybody in a building, because once I was in there, they gave up when I did those things. I would holler (inaudible) which means "Surrender" in German, nine times out of ten they would.
Cleaning the places was scary, I am not ashamed to say I was scared to death every time I did it. But, if I didn't do it I would have been branded a coward and that was something that nobody wanted to be branded, so I forced myself to go. That's why we were soldiers in the field of battle, we could force ourselves to go and no matter how dangerous it was we would go anyway, and trust in God that he would take care of us.
Okay, back in France
There were things called channel ports that the British needed to have liberated, so the Allies could get their troops and supplies onto the continent without having to be delivered across the beach. They needed a sea port to use as a field ground to deliver supplier and what not. So, we swung around and came back towards the coast, the first town we attached was a place called Calais, it was straight across from Dover in England. We attacked Calais in the afternoon and ran across the field under machine gun fire. We ran until we found a place we could hide behind and take up a firing position and fire back. So we kept doing this, leap frogging down the field. An infantry battalion is made up of three platoons, and we leap frogged. One outfit would say, "I am gonna take that corner" and the other would say, "I'll take the next" and so on, the first one would always be the last one, always two in reserve. Even the big companies and battalions, did exactly the same, only on a larger scale. When I was in a platoon in C Company, B Company was right beside us doing the exact same thing, always small steps. We had support from the artillery and air force, that helped us a lot, Typhoon air planes came in handy when we came upon a situation we couldn't get out of, they would rocket the Germans and drive them out, or make them so upset we would have a chance to strike.
We cleaned out these shallow ports that the Allies wanted, and we then moved up the coast. We would do battle here and there all the way up the coast of France and into Belgium, by now it was the fall of 1944. We stopped in a place called Ghent, Belgium, got our winter gear, heavy underwear, boots, coats and what not. We went on a march from there to a place called Leopold Canal, we arrived there a couple of days later. Then the word came down that they were going to ferry the outfit, that I belonged to, across this canal into Esteberry. They used flame throwers and paddle boats to do so, and we ferried across that day. We didn't follow the British any further, we stayed back on the other side of the canal, in case they needed to retreat. When the British got a firm foothold we followed them, it was a very muddy, wet and desolate place with a few farms here and there.
The most important installations were the coastal guns that were defending the port of Ostende. The idea was to open the port so we would have quicker access to supplying the troops that were already in Germany because we were supplying them from way back in France. We went in there and fought for a couple of weeks, a real humdinger of a battle, but the beauty of it was, it was so muddy that when the shells landed in the mud, there was nothing but mud flying, not much shrapnel. Most of the soldiers who got wounded were wounded by bullets.
That week I would get up from a ditch and come under fire, I would have to jump back into the ditch which was water up to my neck and stay there, creeping along until I got to whoever was shooting at me, get him to surrender or shot him. That went on for two weeks. We never slept in the trenches, we stayed in farm houses at night. We had a lot to do but not always as much as the other regiments in the army had to do. There was one big battle, The Battle of the Causeway, to get to one of the islands with all the fortifications, four gun implements that protect the port of Ostende.
The biggest part of the whole thing was to get the Germans troops out of these ports so the Allies could sweep the channel to the ports and bring the big ships in and unload them. The ports were always left in tact, it took two or three weeks to take these ports but, once we did we started getting supplies in and that's when the war started to go in our favour.
Now in the meantime, the American troops had sent paratroopers deep into Germany. They landed in a place called Arnhem, Germany, they fought there for quite a while. The object for them was to get the bridges and to keep the Germans busy so that the British troops could come up. The German general was a pretty smart guy, he knew what was going on and he slowed down the British Troops. The British couldn't make it in time, so the Germans took a tremendous amount of American prisoners. In the meantime, we caught up with the British Army and went as far as we could, we got as far as Arnhem and we took one of the bridges. We didn't get the other, the Germans were trying to blow it up and we were trying to stop them. It was the key to crossing the Rhine in major forces, we stayed there for a couple of weeks.
It was a time of going on guard duty and going to the shows that the British Entertainment Units brought in. We got new clothes, baths and whatnot. We only got a bath about every two or three weeks and new clothes every few months. We stayed and spent Christmas and New Years there. In February, we got organized again and went straight up to the Rhine River. The Germans didn't stop us. We spent another week on guard duty along the Rhine, it was a quiet week, the Rhine is a very wide river, it was guarded on the other side by some fortifications. One night, they decided to pull us back out, we took to a place called Kiev and kept on moving up to a place called Emmerick. That's where we stayed for quite some time, maybe two weeks.
Then they decided that we would cross the Rhine, so they pulled us out of Emmerick and sent us to a place called Essen. The British 52nd crossed the Rhine and we went with them. When we got across the 52nd was stalled, they couldn't get through the German Army. The second day we were there, the Brits decided to put us in and we rushed up and took a couple of farm houses. Finally the British 52nd broke through, this was a major key to a place called Hanover. From then on it was a piece of cake, we just had a couple of battles.
Many of these battles were like going into a big field, as big as a football field, going across without any protection at all and just going along in a straight line until we were stopped. The Germans waited until we were halfway across the field and then opened up with machine gun fire and stuff like that. We had to go down and we stayed there from 10:00 a.m until about 4:00 p.m., when the French regiment, on our left, finally came in and relieved us. We gathered and ate in a farm yard and spent the night there. Everything was burning all around us, it was just like daylight, everybody could see everybody else. The next day we got up and were marching, it seemed like we were forever marching. This was in April of 1945, we were heading for a place called Emden, it was a submarine base and they said that there were 25,000 German troops backed up in there with no way to get out. They figured that it would be a really tough battle to get them out of there. As the months wore on, we didn't fight too much more, because the Germans would fire at us then turn around and run, they would retreat.
If the Germans wanted to fight, they were magnificent fighters. We kept going until finally on the 3rd or 4th of May 1945. We were ordered not to shoot at any of them, not to stop them from blowing any bridges, not to stop them from doing anything. If the Germans want to destroy the bridges, let them do it, and don't fire back, we just chased them and that was the end of it. The war ended on May 4th for me, I was sent to Manchester on BLA for four weeks (bereavement, my father had passed away). When I came back, the war was all over, my regiment was guarding 40,000 German troops, but there was no worry because they weren't going anywhere anyway. I was one of the earliest ones to go home, I only had to wait a few weeks before I was sent home.
Tell me about your Officers
They were easy going guys, they never bothered us. They would get their orders from headquarters and they would carry them out. We would always do what they said and the officers would always lead the battle. They would be right in the midst of it, very much like a football quarterback.
Did you ever come across a situation where the officer gave an order that was disobeyed?
Yeah, once. There were 10 of us and we were told to go on guard duty one night, we had been on guard duty for many nights prior. We decided that we didn't have to, or need to go, because it wasn't our turn, we just refused to go. So, they called up the officer, told him and he put us all under arrest. The next morning, the Major came down, told us the story of what we had done and the consequences that were to come down. He told us that we had better think it over because we were in deep trouble. That afternoon they called a great big parade, at this parade, all the units of our division lined up in this big field. We were told a story about crossing the Rhine, we were told that before the crossing of the Rhine was over, the Canadian Government expected every one of us to be dead. We knew we would be in danger, so we tried to take it in stride, some of us were scared, I was a little afraid, but I was still very worried about the jail term I could have received for disobeying the order, but they let that one go. They probably thought I would die the next day anyway.
Did World War Two change the way you saw the world?
No, not a bit. It never changed my opinion of anything. I went over to do a job and whether I got killed or not was something to be seen, I was lucky enough to stay alive that was the way I looked at it. "I was lucky to be alive." There was so much going on there, anything could happen at any moment, and you could lose your life. It really didn't bother me that much.
Tell me about the German Army
We would take a bunch of prisoners, we would designate two or three soldiers to watch them and we sent them back at the end or the war. We had nothing against them as far as men were concerned, some of them were friendly, some of them wouldn't say a word. I bet that's because they had no idea what we were saying and we sure as heck had no idea what they were saying. I think that the Germans were great soldiers, I think their Commanders were fooled by the British Intelligence, leading them to believe that such and such was going to happen, when in fact it didn't. So, I believe that they were lead by the hand to their own defeat. As far as the man is concerned, he was just another man.
I never knew about the Holocaust. We never had any good newspapers, the only paper we got was a newspaper called The Stars and Stripes. It would have pieces about who was popular in the ranks, and so and so died. Nothing was ever in it about the Holocaust, that paper was the only source of information I had. That all happened in the South, we operated along the Northern area, we never saw it at all.
When we stayed at a farm house, we would take the people out and send them in back of the line, where it was safe. When we left, we let them come back and live a normal life.
We fought under the Union Jack. It was our flag at the time and we were part of the British Army. At least that's the way I felt. The British thought that we were as good as chocolate cake, although, we didn't hear this during the war, we heard it after. I thought that the Brits were all right and we all knew the Americans were full of hot air. The Brits were down to earth just like us.
I got back on September 15, 1945. I didn't miss anything about Europe. We were told to report to our headquarters in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and I did. We were put on leave and when the leave was over, myself and my friends were all discharged. I went right back to work for the Canadian Pacific freight handlers. It was no problem.
No major problems when I came back. Everything went pretty well. There was a lot of work. Anybody could get a job. In 1948 I got a job with the city of Saint John Fire Department and worked there all my life.
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