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Memoirs of Gordie Bannerman

Belgium and Holland

Cattolica, Italy. February, 1945. It looked like our days in Italy were coming to a close. A special advance party was headed by Captain Charlie Brown, with WO2 Claire Kelley, WO2 Gordie Bannerman, along with another officer and drivers. We were told we were the advance party for Exercise Goldflake. All unit markings were painted out. Canada badges were taken down. We were on our way across the Apennines from one side of Italy to the other and ending up at Livorno [LEGHORN] and given a spot in a giant staging camp called Harrods. Now we knew we were leaving Italy, not another exercise to join up with the Fifth American Army, but a different area altogether which we still did not know.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was quite near, but we were on strict orders that we had to be ready at any moment to get on board LCT’s [Landing Craft Tank]. I did not get to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was February 16th that we boarded the LCT to sail where? As we were under way the destination was to be Marseilles, France. We would join up with the rest of the First Canadian Army in northwest Europe. As we sailed away from the shore of Italy it was with a sense of joy to leave on one hand, a feeling of sorrow on the other hand, as we were leaving old friends that would forever remain buried in Italy.

We were to miss out on completing the job of driving the Germans from Italy. Italy was home to us and had been since 1943. The Italian peasant had our respect and admiration. We were that ill equipped band of brothers that had beaten the best the enemy had put up against us. We thought of those we were leaving behind. Would we ever visit these shores again?

The LCT's were American crewed, white bread like cake, ice-cream, steaks and more goodies. Oh yes and Coca Cola, mashed real potatoes. We wished the voyage would last forever. It took about two days and we entered the harbor of Marseilles, threading our way through sunken ships and finally we were ordered pick up our gear, get in our trucks and start the drive up the Rhone Valley, destination still not known.

There were a lot of things and battles still to be fought and here we were on French soil back to where my Dad had been in WW1. Quite a circle of life! Here on French soil my oldest brother George and I were here only some 26 years after Dad had seen the end of WW1.

France, February 1945. We are off on a new adventure. We disembarked at Marseilles and started the long drive up the Rhone Valley. Along the route we were not suppose to throw out anything that would show we were Canadians. That was pretty hard to do as we were really proud to be Canadians. Also not to talk to civilians along the way, and if we did we were telling them we were English.

We were in France and there was a lot of pretty girls along the way, well dressed, and what stood out in my mind was the way they had dyed their hair, some purple, others green. The long drive from Marseilles, up through Lyon by passing Paris, and on into Belgium would have been 900 miles. I saw it all from the rear of a 1500 cwt truck. Not too inspiring a view, but I was gung-ho to see what I could see along the way.

25 pdrs being unloaded at Marseilles prior to the long haul through France to Belgium.

Some wreckage from previous battles of WW2 and then there were the cemeteries of WW1. The ones that we saw were generally German cemeteries and in a run down state. Their type of markers were either leaning or in some cases had fallen over. We saw old pill boxes from WW1. All along the road side before we reached Belgium were piles of WW1 old ammunition that farmers had plowed up in their fields. Some of these large concrete fortifications were now used for farm storage and pig pens.

Points of interest on this route were really never considered as we were in a very strict controlled convoy. Our stops were in staging areas and here vehicles were fuelled, we had our meals and a tent to sleep in. All this was in a restricted mode and you were not allowed to leave these areas. You were fed breakfast and given rations per man for your noon meal, and your evening meal would be in another staging tent camp.

We came upon young forests that were only 27 years old. These forest were being harvested once again to supply the war. Where this forest stood had been 27 years ago a waste land of mud torn up ground and not a living thing. Here, after this period, nature had sprung to life and a new forest grew in this terrible landscape of so few years before. Now to be cut down revealing more concrete pill boxes that had been covered with the new growth.

The regiment arrived in Wervik, Belgium on March 7, 1945, just over the border from France. Captain Brown went to see the town Mayor and Allied authorities to get locations of houses and schools. All places that troops could be billeted in. The lists that Charlie Brown received were lists where the Germans had soldiers billeted. After bedding down in a warehouse and after a good night’s sleep Capt, Charlie Brown laid out the details of what each of us was to do.

My project was to find enough houses that had extra rooms for taking in our troops. Here it was very difficult to hide the fact we were Canadians. But we did even though the civilians knew we were not British. Our sun tanned faces gave us away that we had not wintered in Holland or along the Rhine. Actually we received a terrific welcome from these good folk, a memory of their friendship to last all our lives.

This was a good time away from the war. By day we went door to door asking the occupants in our stilted Flemish, or if we knew some French we carried on with whatever language came handy, if they had a room for the soldiers. It was just a matter of days that all the civilians knew we were looking for rooms. So our job was made easy with the town folk looking us up to volunteer their house or rooms. In the evenings we toured the bars and drank the mild Belgium beer. We met some folk when going door to door that spoke English. One lady, about 40 years old, said Canadians had been staying in their house in WW1. She knew we were Canadians even though we insisted we were not.

Everyone was placed in a house with families, so before nightfall all were looked after. I had a good billet picked out with a lawyer and his family by the name of DeVoss. This family has been in the same home, and all solicitors for three or four generations. It was a terrific home and Chuck Savin and I shared a room. The DeVoss family were father, mother and three children, Therese, Monique, and a boy, Jean [John], plus a maid, Denise. The first thing that Chuck and I did on arriving at the DeVoss home was to toss a coin to see who was going to get into the monster tub in the bathroom and have a real bath. What luxury! A tub, after years in Italy, unlimited hot water and clean white towels. We were in heaven.

Chuck was an assistant gunnery instructor, a trained professional soldier in the fine art of gunnery and was assigned to our regiment. It seemed he had a great affinity to our battery so when I was on the advance party to Belgium, Chuck assumed the duty of troop sergeant major Fox Troop. Chuck was well liked in our battery and fitted in well with Orme Payne and Sid Robertson and also had good relationship with our officers. Chuck was always willing to lend a hand. He, with his curly hair, was quite a ladies man.

We were in Wervik before the regiment arrived. Charlie Brown drove out to Cambria to meet the regiment and guide them into Wervik. Now here is where it was really exciting to the troops taking them to these beautiful kept homes with clean sheeted beds. In fact, the ladies of the house, when going to go up their stairs removed their slippers and went up in sock feet or bare footed. What luxury! Capt Charlie Brown had thought the warehouse was a good spot for the officers to have their mess and living quarters. It was not to be. Capt Les Hand 76th Battery captain wished to look where the men were to be billeted. On seeing the luxury the men had he immediately gave Capt Brown a bit of a talking down to. The upshot was the civilians were streaming into the street capturing a soldier or two for their place. The officers were taken into the homes too. I guess the relationship that we as an advance party had built up certainly helped and if we had known we could have said to the civilians when the troops get out of the vehicles each of you capture one or more, that would have saved Kelley and I hours of checking houses. It was a pleasant interlude never to be forgotten.

The next day, March 8th, the word was out that ten day leaves were to be granted immediately to the United Kingdom. Anyone with family were given first choice. Those that had not taken a leave longer than a two day pass would qualify. I did not have a long leave since June of 1943, almost two years ago. So I was on the list, along with Sid Robertson who had never had a leave since coming overseas in 1941. Sid and I were off to Ostend and onboard a steamer landing in Dover, England. Disembarking there onto a train and arrived at Waterloo station not many hours later. We could hardly believe we were back on British soil as we strode off the train at Waterloo station.

I will always remember the hundreds of wives and mothers, girlfriends, dads and brothers of someone. How they looked into your face then turned to look at the next one wishing it would be that special person. When the train left and all of us had walked off the platform this forlorn group would melt away lost in their own thoughts. My dad had spoken of this in WW1 and I would think a lot of the men this group waited for, as they or groups like them, waited for fellows that never came back, buried over there. It was a sad gathering only brightened when all of a sudden someone in the crowd cried out, “there he is! You're home,” followed by the tears and hugs and hanging onto them as if they were going to disappear.

Sid and I had no one to meet us so we took a taxi to his cousin and her husband's place in east London. Here we spent a couple of days. As we slept in their house V1and V2 missiles rained down on London. The explosions, not too far off, caused a crack in the wall to widen. Sid and I said it is safer at the front, so we will leave for Scotland and visit my relations in the morning.

We had a brush with the law the night before we left for Aberdeen. Sid and I were out on the town having a drink at this or that pub somewhere in London's east end and wandered out on the street, which except for some very dim shaded lights at a street corner was dark. We had drank many a pint of mild and bitters, and probably a few whiskies too. Naturally our bladders were almost ready to burst as we walked along this deserted street. Turning up a small rise we decided to relieve ourselves at the top of the street at a lane entrance.

The next thing was a foot stepping into our puddles, and above this large foot was an equally large London Bobby [policeman] who approached us with flashlight shining in our innocent faces. “Now chaps,” he said, “that is not a nice thing to do and do not tell me you are not responsible for the two streams? What if your mother or sister had come around the corner and stepped in the river?” We really did not have an answer to that. He shone his light in our faces and said, “you boys did not get those tanned faces from a winter in England or Holland, but you fellows have really been abroad. So enjoy your leave, but use a urinal another time.”

Sid and I boarded the night train to Aberdeen, leaving London and the flying rockets behind. This train was crowded and even more so than when I last went to Scotland in 1943. Amongst all the crowd of airmen, sailors, and soldiers from all nations, it seemed there were the girls in uniform, mostly British ATS, WRENS and WAAFs. They, like us, were on leave.

Sid and I arrived in the early morning hour in Aberdeen, strode off the train into a city that I was familiar with, and crossed the street from Union Station and walked into the Criterion Bar owned and operated by Johnny Frost, a good friend of my uncle Jack's. Johnny Frost remembered me and bought us a drink to welcome us to Aberdeen. We said we were just off the train, but would go to the Neptune right away. So we boarded a #14 bus and along with fishwives and dockyard workers, made our way down to the foot of Dee and out at the stop with in a few feet of Uncle Jack's pub the Neptune.

Uncle Jack was more than pleased to see us and of course he and Sid hit it off. Jack thought we were still in Italy. Like he did in 1941 Uncle Jack said once again, “have you been to see your aunt Cis yet?” We said, “no came here first,” so like before he was going to take charge and with, “away you go see your aunt and I will see you later.” So Sid and I went to 15 Ashley Park N where uncle Jack, aunt Cis and family lived. Drew, the oldest, was home on leave from the Navy. What a welcome we received! Aunt Cis had the kettle on for a spot of tea and seeing it was lunch time made us lunch. After all night on the train we likely looked a bit shop worn. Aunt Cis said the towels are where they always were and the bath is ready for who wishes to get in first. Sid and I had each a bath and a good lunch and spent some time with aunt Cis, then the two of us went down to the Neptune bar.

The Neptune was right down almost on the water front with ship chandler, warehouses, and ship building yards all around. This was the area that the Germans bombed early in the war and off and on until nearly the end. While the Germans were bombing the ship yards a bomb landed across the street from the Neptune killing forty people in the bar and completely gutting the top story of the bar. This bomb cut the end of the tail from the bar cat who went around with a shortened tail for the rest of its days. Uncle Jack was going from one section of the bar to the other when the bomb struck the road outside. The blast threw him up against the wall, bruising him and cutting him in a number of places.

Sid, Drew, [cousin in the RN], and I were roaming around Aberdeen and Drew decided he would like a photo of the three of us. As we were about to enter the photographer's Drew caught hold of a couple of girls walking by and being a very good looking young sailor they could not refuse his charm. I have a picture of Sid, Drew and I plus two Aberdeen girls, identity unknown, and we never did know who they were.

Gordie and his Scottish cousins.

Soon we were to catch the train out of Aberdeen and journey south and check in at Camp Borden, the artillery holding unit in England. Arriving at the artillery holding unit we were immediately looked out for by Major RJ Wood who was second in command of the holding unit commanded by a Colonel Townsley. Also Lt Fred Schwab, hearing we were around joined us. Fred was a member of the 17th RCA before getting his commission and was on staff here at the holding unit. We spent a few hours with the two of them as they wanted to hear all that had happened to us, and in particular, who was still alive and how did the regiment do in action.

We were taken to the railway station by staff car and driver with Sid and I seated in the back seat and Fred and RJ Wood in the front seat. When arriving at the railway station Fred opened the door with a gracious gesture and a salute. Then both officers carried our kit bags to the train, and saluted us on board. All this to the absolute astonishment of some military police and other soldiers and officers standing around. I guess they could not help but wonder about a staff car, a Major, and a LT seeing a Sergeant and a Sergeant Major to the train. We boarded the train after all this fanfare and off to Brighton.

Sid and Gordie on leave March, 1945.

Sid and I arrived in Brighton and went back to the Brunswick square area where we were stationed in 1942. Sid had the addresses of Marty Allan's wife and I think a couple of girl friends of our fellows that had not arrived on leave. These ladies were anxious to know where were their husbands and boyfriends. Sid had messages for them that their men would likely arrive in the next day or so. Brighton and the Hove area was a place where there was retired theatre folk plus a great amount of retired Indian Army types. Soon our leave was over and back on the ferry to Ostend then to rejoin the regiment at Wervik.

On arriving home at Wervik, we had to find out what had gone on in our absence. General Montgomery [Monty] was to visit the division and a general smartening up, clean up was to take place. Airplane gas was brought in to wash uniforms and degrease equipment. The dirty gas was poured down an outside urinal which was up against a two seat pit toilet. Bobby Cochrane was seated doing his business and the other Bob Andrew came in, one of them lighted a cigarette and threw the match down the hole that was vacant. This resulted in a violent explosion throwing the two Bobs out of the toilet and onto the ground covered with burning shit. They were evacuated out by air for treatment for their burns.

I had a lot of what went on in my absence to catch up on. Stories of Monty's visit. When assembling the troops around his jeep, he welcomed all old comrades from the 8th Army and said, "We have lots of Germans here for you to kill.” Many Canadians died because the Germans knew that theme before we learned it.

Chuck Savin had looked after Fox Troop while I was away and did a great job. A couple of days after I returned from leave, I was invited for a formal luncheon by the head of the Belgium Red Cross and his wife, at their home. The Belgians knew that I had been on the advance party and they were going to honour us with a fine meal. This meal was something else! About seven or eight courses all served, it seemed, with a different wine or liquor.

Between every course, while their servants were taking away dishes and replacing them, the group would go out in the garden. Here the host would take movies of us. I think this luncheon lasted four hours, so after the last toast and cigar I made my way back to the battery area where I met Battery Sergeant Major Bill Lloyd coming out of the area just as he had dismissed all for the day. Bill took one look at me and said with a smile, "Sergeant Major it is time to turn that pass in.” In other words my holiday was over. The next day I was back into the old routine.

Our stay in Wervik was memorable, especially the hospitality of all the people. Everyone that stayed in their homes became part of their family. This was so different than rest areas in Italy where we were out of the line, but living in old shell and bombed out buildings with no heat. We knew it would not last forever so made the most of it.

You could meet any number of pretty girls at a local dance. At the small dance hall the restrooms were together. The men used a urinal up against a wall and immediately behind this urinal were three or four doors entering to flush toilets where the ladies used. To get to these toilets they had to brush past the men at the urinal. When the girls came out to enter the toilet they walked behind the men at the urinal. As we fellows crowded up to the urinal the ladies passing by our rears drove us with their bottoms almost through the wall. Then laughing their heads off and entered the doors behind. Oh yes some of it was fun, also sometimes embarrassing.

A couple that I had met when we first came to Wervik operated a small bar. On one occasion this chap, his wife and I carried salt in parcels in our pockets through the French border guards into France. I made one trip on this type of smuggling and was not asked again. Mind you the French Guards knew what was going on, but did not interfere.

Soon we left Wervik, travelled through Antwerp and into Holland near Hertogenbosch which was a far cry from the luxury of Wervik. In this area we experienced theV1 flying buzz bombs or doodle bombs roaring and stuttering across the sky to hit the port of Antwerp, or carry on into London. Then out of the sky would come a plane, all guns blazing, in a steep dive trying to shoot down the doodle bug. There was an American anti-aircraft battery of all blacks that had the best record of shooting down these buzz bombs.

Hertogenbosch, Holland, March 1945. This was our first glimpse of Holland and we found this area not nearly as prosperous as Wervik in Belgium. The flat landscape was broken with the spires of church steeples. Very large grand churches that seemed to spell wealth, but it was not evident in the surrounding populace, as the people seemed poor and their houses were nothing compared to the Belgian homes.

I decided, along with Orme Payne, to look up my brother George who was stationed at Grave. George was captain with the chemical warfare branch off HQ, mainly flame warfare. Orme and I, and Steve Gaylie our driver, drove up to Grave one evening only to find out George was out so we left a note saying where we were stationed and left. On the winding dark road back Steve appeared to fall asleep so we both woke him. He lost control of the jeep and within a few seconds we experienced a wild ride of over steering and near disaster. Jeeps were notorious for rolling over and killing the occupants, but Steve regained control much to our relief.

George, along with his crew, a staff sergeant, and a WO2, arrived to visit Orme and I and Johnny Wiebe a day or so after we tried to locate him. George and I were very glad to see each other. We had not been together since 1941 and I had never seen him as an officer. George was to give us good advice, saying the houses in Holland were not the stout shell resistant buildings like we had in Italy. The houses here are two ply brick and small arms fire would go in and out the other side while a mortar would knock a wall down on you.

We knew that it would not be too long before we were back in action. We did get some new equipment and also word came down from Army Head Quarters that all ranks were to be properly dressed at all times. In other words we were supposedly the new boys on the block. But I assure you we felt that the rest were the new boys and when we got into action our artillery and infantry would be as good or better.

On March 28th the regimental advance party preceded the guns to positions on the island which was situated between Nijmegen and Arnhem. On arriving in this position we were pleased that there was plenty of houses around for shelter and command post set-ups. There was running water and electricity and we were told that the power generating plant was in Arnhem and under German control. Never in our time in Italy had we experienced such a luxury. The guns moved in and a good deal of firing took place as our observation officers had a lot of targets on the Island and across the river to Arnhem. Ammunition seemed plentiful. At the beginning of April our brigade was given the task of completing the clearing of the Island. This was called Quick Anger, and was carried out by the 11th Brigade in good style.

There was a lot of exploring and checking out houses. Some had a good supply of canned fruit in sealers, cherries and berries that the Dutch folk had left in their haste. In one pig pen our fellows found a boar pig which immediately charged to get at our chaps. In the pen was the skeletal remains of a German soldier that the old pig had ate and likely did not have anything else for who knows how long. This pig was in such poor state that our chaps shot him. No we did not eat him. Bill Copithorn carved up an ornate leather chair into revolver holsters and I was the recipient of one of these holsters.

After the Island was cleared of German troops, a smoke screen was laid down along the river. Not only did the screen block the view from the other side, but it blocked our observation officers view of the far bank too. We did not experience any shell fire in this area, but did see a Canadian rocket battery fire their rockets into the area around Arnhem. This was quite a sight to see the mass of rockets leave their smoky trails as they arched toward the enemy. Our first look at this type of artillery other than the German type called Nebelwefer.

Elst, Holland April, 1945. We had moved the guns near the village of Elst. The reason was we would be in a better spot to support the attack on Arnhem by the 49th West Riding division which was a British division attached to the Canadian Army. The shoulder patch of the 49th was of all things a white polar bear. We thought that a bit odd. Near Elst, I found a back pack from a British airborne chap. This pack had landed with it's owner on Operation Market Garden the airborne assault on Arnhem the previous September. This assault turned out to be an absolute disaster.

On the 12th of April we fired a great amount of shells to an area around Arnhem to create a diversionary tactic as the main assault by the 49th went in almost without resistance at the opposite end of Arnhem. Orders were to move so we left Elst in the afternoon and travelled south east to Cleve. We crossed the Rhine and we were in Germany. Large signs greeted us - no fraternization. Soon we were driving through Emmerich, which was at one time a fairly large city. Now it was just rubble - bricks and concrete bulldozed about twenty feet high. We passed along the roadway flanked by this grim reminder that the war certainly had come home to Germany. This part of Germany looked like it had been a very prosperous farming and dairy producing spot. There were still some Holstein cattle in the fields and civilians around their homes, none waved or even looked at us as we passed.

As darkness came upon us we arrived at the Ijssel river south of Arnhem. We drove over a pontoon bridge. This was fairly tricky and we were limited to the number of vehicles on the bridge at one time. It was a dark night and some of the vehicles did not have any lights while the rest just had the smallest of hooded lights.

While on this floating bridge it gave one an eerie feeling with the river flowing beneath the pontoons and the whistle of a large shell passing overhead, as if it was searching for you and your regiment on the bridge. But these shells that passed over, struck the ground and exploded beyond the bridge much to our relief. Soon we were entering a city and I saw a sign saying Arnhem. I had to be really on the lookout as the Germans had removed all the manhole covers on the roadway. I suppose to use as weapon pits or to catch jeeps and motor cycles and trucks causing traffic jams and causalities. On the northern outskirts of Arnhem we set up our guns. Tractors and other vehicles were parked not too far away and things were real quiet and the troops posted their guards.

Canadian army engineers construct a Bailey bridge across the Rhine River near Emmerich in April 1945.

Those off duty found spots to go to sleep. I, along with a couple more, went to sleep in a small shed. We were awakened next morning about 5 a.m. with a great barrage of shells passing overhead and crashing down almost on our wagon lines. This was a barrage that the 49th Division were firing on and around Arnhem. It took a moment or two to get back to those friendly guns on Nijmegen Island to cease firing immediately. Someone had goofed and that barrage had been cancelled, but I guess one regiment had not adhered to orders. None of us were hit, but we had a great view of shells bursting along a wooded hillside just above our wagon lines.

We had a quick breakfast and it was on the move. Our whole division was off and charging after the retreating enemy. We set up another gun position, but did not fire anything and away again. This was April 15th and it looked like our tanks were really going strong.

We left the outskirts of Arnhem. The Mighty Maroon Machine, what the Fifth Canadian Armoured division liked to be called, struck out from Arnhem and roared out into the countryside. There was an area of sandy soil and sparse pine forest, not the mud of Italy, and the tanks were really going. Our advance party happened to fall in behind one of the tank columns. I, on my motor bike, could not get around the tank in front of me and when I did, I ended up in behind another. The exhaust and terrific dust fried my face and lips. The tanks stopped at a farm house and I did also. Living here looked it like a family of all girls who were hugging the tank men for liberating them. Naturally I did not want to be left out and was hugged by the girls too. One girl in particular went and brought back a basin of water and tried to wash the grime from tank exhaust and dust from my face and put some oil or something on my lips that were really chapped.

On April 16, 1945, the advance parties had been called to go forward once again. This time I did not go, as E troop and Fox Troop command posts were close together and I was left as the senior person. Reason for this was our gun position officer Art De Belle was on leave. An officer from each troop went with the advance party. The advance party had left the gun area for less than an hour when my brother George drove up with his crew, a WO2 and a staff Sgt.. They informed us that they had been at least 30 miles up the road and failed to catch up to the 5th Armoured Brigade tanks and that it looked like the mighty Maroon Machine was really on a roll.

Just then we had fire orders come in from the flying observation officer calling for fire on a given coordinate. George said, “looks like you will be busy,” and left. Bombardier Andrews from E troop and Gnr Don Bulloch from F troop were the chaps manning the artillery boards and plotting the air officers target. Bdr Bob Andrews said we cannot fire on that target as that is where our advance party gave as their destination. Bob would be correct backed by Don Bulloch. We reported to the air observer it was our advance party in that area. We were ordered to cancel the target.

Very shortly we had orders to cease firing and limber up as we were to move up. Soon Sgt. Major Shkwarek came back and Fox Troop followed Easy troop up the road to the Village of Otterloo. Here I was met on the side of the road by Lt Alex Ross who pointed out the field where he had positioned the flags for each gun site. I then directed Sgt. Darcy Spencer to the far site. Sgt. Roy Johnson next and then Sgt. Pop Barkwell, followed by the last gun in and that was Sgt. Nels Humble.

Lt Ross said that orders had come from the battery command post not to dig gun pits. Guns were unlimbered and positioned and placed on line by Lt Ross. While he was doing this I took all our gun tractors and extra vehicles back to an area along side the Otterloo cemetery. This particular gun position was in a way sort of front to back as normally our troop command post would be in the rear of the guns. But this was the only house on the position and it was within a few yards of a small wooded area to our front. It was not an ideal spot, but at the time with the reports we had coming in, it looked like it should be a quiet evening. Our Battery Headquarters was out in front of E troop gun position and in front of our guns to our right flank and across the road.

As we were getting settled into the position along came a couple of Dutch civilians who told us there was a couple of hundred Germans in a village not far away and they informed us all they had was revolvers. That seemed strange and as far as we knew our tanks were miles up the road. This group must have been bypassed. I thought I would take a ride up the road toward Hoenderloo on my motor bike. As I turned onto the road a sentry from the Irish Regiment attempted to flag me down. I ignored him and sped up the road. I came to a cross road and thought I would stop and see if I could hear or see anything.

I had that real scary, chilly feeling that I was being watched. I kicked the bike starter bringing the motor on with a roar and in my excitement and hurry to turn around and get out of there I STALLED the motor. I had to restart the motor which seemed to take more than the normal kicks on the starter. I turned around and roared back down the road coming to where the Irish sentry had tried to stop me. This time he stopped me with his rifle pointing at me, asking why in Hell and who did I think I was to go up that road when he had been told not to let anyone go up past his post. I lied and said I did not hear him the first time. “Well Sergeant Major, next time stop!!”

When I returned from my short jaunt up the Otterloo to Appeldoorn road I had an uneasy feeling that things were not really as calm as they might be. Lt Alex Ross agreed that even though gun pits were not being dug, slit trenches would be dug and right away. I went from gun crew to gun crew telling them to get slit trenches dug. At the last gun, along came three drivers from battery headquarters who had been in advance of our position and had been up the field to another house. A Sten gun started to fire so I hollered at McDonald, the chap with the Sten gun, to quit firing and smarten up. His reply was I cannot shut the Sten gun off. This Sten gun was on a sling hanging down his back and for no reason other than being a damn Sten gun it started to fire. All McDonald could do was stand with his legs apart and knees bowed while the Sten gun fired some 25 rounds into the dirt between his legs.

Back at the command post all were either digging slit trenches or had completed them. I dug one for myself not far from the command post and a few feet from an Irish Regiment truck that normally would have been pulling a six pounder anti-tank gun. With this truck was a Corporal and two other infantry men. I noted that they had not dug any slit trench and I kept at them until they dug a good slit trench on the far right hand corner of the house closest to the track and low trees.

It was getting dark about nine o'clock. No firing was being done and really no reports in from either of our headquarters. Most of the chaps had turned in for the night with the gunners out in the field with partial crew always on duty, and the same with the command post staff who bedded down in slit trenches outside the house. We put our fart sacks on the floor of the house and so to sleep Don Bulloch, Lt Alex Ross, and a signaller, I believe Fred Lockhart, were on duty in the small attached room at the far end of the house.

About eleven o'clock I was awakened by Lt Ross saying there were reports of German troops moving about in the bush north of the house. He had also heard from Lt Stone at Battery HQ that they were hearing troops coming down the road and it looked like we were to be under fire in a very short time. We got up in a hurry and pulled on trousers and went to the door of the house. This door faced to the guns, but on the rear of the house. Just then the Irish infantry men fired a few rounds from a tommy gun. Lt Ross said, “Sergeant Major get someone out to the corner of the house.” I did not make a move, so Lt Ross said Briant you cover that corner. I put my arms over Bill Briant and said, “stay here.” Just then a mortar bomb hit where Briant was to go. Then another mortar bomb whispered through overhead and exploded between us at the door and Sgt.. Humble's gun. Then through the air came a piece of the bomb making a fair bit of noise.

Sgt. Bill Copithorn said that it hit somebody and I said, “yes, me.” It hit with a good punch to the lower abdomen. I retreated into the house passing gunner Stubbington who was crawling out from under all the window glass. This glass was from the first bomb exploding. I lowered my pants and found just a trickle of blood on my stomach. It did not seem serious. I accompanied Lt Ross back around the corner of the house to our command post. Just as we went into that part of the house Sgt. Humble arrived with four or five Germans that he and his crew had captured. We had a communication system between guns and command post called Tannoy this we used on a two way basis.

Sgt. Humble left the prisoners with Don Bulloch and I. He said not to use the Tannoy system as the Germans approaching were alerted to the voices coming over the speakers. Lt Ross said for me to stay and look after the command post and he would go back into Otterloo for help. The start of a very violent night. Here in the cramped command post Don Bulloch and I had five or six prisoners, who on seeing our shoulder patches were excited and started talking to us in Italian and saying they had just came from Italy. We denied that we were in Italy, but our sun tanned faces gave that lie away.

In the next few minutes one of Sgt. Humbles crew came in with another prisoner. The prisoners we had were overjoyed to see this chap who was a German corporal. This corporal said he could talk French and so I said I could speak a little. I thought I could get this corporal to talk his fellows into surrendering. I had him grasped by the back of his collar and took him out the door and around into the other room of the house where a few of our fellows were. Just as we entered this room a German ran by and sprayed a magazine of small arms fire through the wall and some coming through the window. My mind went blank to anything in French. I was lying on the floor holding the corporal down and the thought was get out of this room and get him back into the room with Don Bulloch and the rest of the prisoners.

In an instant another splatter of small arms crashed over our heads and into the other room. I reached for the wires and shut off our battery operated light. Don and I had the prisoners lying on the floor with us on top of them. I shook my revolver at them and told them to lie still. Somewhere in this shooting Tom Coll and Ken Nicolson were both hit. Tom in the buttocks and Ken in the abdomen. Vic Bennet, a signaller and a very cool competent chap immediately took charge of seeing to the dressing of Tom and Ken's wounds.

Lt Ross had returned without any help at this time and had us move the prisoners from the house outside to a where my slit trench was. Lt Ross had Sgt. Humble and another chap guard them. Lt Ross told Don and I to gather up any codes from the command post which Don did. Lt Ross then went back into the village to demand some help in the way of at least a tank. Don joined the other fellows in the house so I remained outside watching for anyone approaching. While outside the house Ken Nicolson called out to me, “Sgt. Major can you get me out to an aid post.” My reply was, “hold on Ken, Lt Ross should be back with help soon and we will get you out.”

Time seemed to stand still with the battery command post going up in flames, small arm fire pretty well around to our right front and some to our rear. I spoke to I think Fred Lockhart in the room with the others and asked how Ken Nicolson was. His answer was, “Ken is dead.” Fred came out of the house to join me guarding that side of the house. We were crouched at the open door of the vacated command post room listening and watching when we heard the crunch of footsteps coming along side the house. We both whispered Tedeski to each other and out of the darkness came this German soldier. Fred and I leaped up and I shoved my revolver and Fred his rifle to his body. The German said, “Nix shuuten nix pistola camardie” or kamerad and the words Canadesi. I went through this prisoner's pockets while Fred watched him. All I found was some revolver ammunition which I threw to the ground and said, “Nix pistola??” We took this chap to join the others guarded by Sgt. Humble. Soon Lt Ross arrived with some tank troopers from GGHG"s who took our prisoners away back into Otterloo.

This was turning into a violent nightmare for all concerned and it was hard to really believe it was happening to all of us here on the out skirts of a small Dutch village. Houses were burning, vehicles were on fire, small arm firing was interspersed with some exploding mortar bombs. In all it was not exactly a quiet evening. After the GGHG troopers picked up our prisoners Lt Ross said he was going to go back into the village and see if he could this time get help. Lt Ross said that he thought he was going to get a tank on his previous hazardous trip into the village. Lt Ross said he would walk in front of a tank to lead it back to Fox Troop, area so a GGHG tank sergeant said he would start his tank and follow Ross. The GGHG officer said no that it was too dangerous for the tank and crew to go across the field to Fox Troop without a section of infantry out in front to deal with Panzerfaust toting Germans waiting to knock out the tank. Permission denied. Now Lt Ross said he was going to make another attempt and I remained at the house guarding the left side and thought the Irish corporal and his two men were on the right side with our chaps at the windows of our command house.

After the first two mortar bombs and Sgt. Humble capturing the first prisoners, Lt Ross contacted our Battery command post and reported the numbers of Germans he thought he could hear moving up. Battery command post was under a heavy attack of German infantry so they took Lt Ross's figures and their own and reported to Regimental Head quarters the growing numbers. Here is where things went awry. We had a new Major that was the new second in command, This chap had been senior to Major Brooks who had held the post up to a few months before and I’m not sure what battle experience he had. He divided by ten the figures submitted to him and so no concentrated effort or plan came forth to deal the attack.

I’m now by myself on the left side of the house and was startled as I heard someone coming from my rear. The someone turned out to be the Irish Regiment corporal who said, “Sgt. Major we are really in a tough spot. What are you and the rest of your fellows going to do to get out of here?” He then went on to tell me the Germans were advancing up the Apeldoorn, Otterloo road to his right and the track in front of our house he could hear Germans talking as they moved along it. I asked the corporal where were the two infantry men that were with him. He replied that they had left sometime ago to get back into the village so the corporal and I started to go towards Sgt. Humble's gun when both of us stopped and at the same instance saw that we were walking directly behind about eight or ten German soldiers pulling a Maxim heavy machine gun on wheels.

We immediately scurried back to my slit trench and in the trench I said, “will we take them on?” The corporal said, “not with just your revolver,” and he only had a half a magazine for his tommy gun. His next move was he was going for C company so with that he leaped to his feet and ran to the right of the Germans and disappeared into the night. As he took off running to the rear I could not see him. He raised a lighter dust with every step and I waited for the Germans to cut him down. I'm alone in the slit trench and they have not shot at the corporal. I cannot stay here so I jumped up ran up behind the Germans that towed the machine gun. I croaked a "Let them have it Nels! " and ran to the right up to Pop Barkwell's gun. I did not give a password just hollered it is Gordie, and piled in with Pop and his crew. I told him about the group advancing to Nels Humble's gun. I leap out from there and did the same at Smiler Johnson's gun and from there to the further gun Darcy Spencer's. This total distance was at least sixty yards.

Darcy immediately wanted to grab his Bren gun and go to help Nels and his crew. I vetoed this as we had not heard Nels and his crew open fire on the Germans and Darcy and his crew would likely be mistaken for the enemy. Why no firing from the corporals run? My hollering at each gun? I will never know except this group towing the machine gun had to have been confused what was going on or stopped to get their plan of attack on the guns mounted. Darcy, his crew, and I soon heard the password called out by some of our gun crews. This followed within seconds by rifle and machine gun fire and screams that echoed around and continued for a long while. The violent night only increased.

Just after midnight the night of April 16/17, 1945. Up to this moment there did not seem to be an end to the battle raging around to our right front and in the village to our rear. I am still in a slit trench with Sgt. Darcy Spencer’s gun crew. Darcy had used great common sense in digging all except one of their crews slit trenches in front of the gun. This was unusual, but was a good move as he had an unobstructed view of the whole area to his front. I had not been long with this crew when Lt Alex Ross scurried into our area asking if we needed more Sten gun magazines. I replied we did not. He then said, “you are here Sgt. Major, what about the signallers and the acks in the command post?” I said that they would be okay as Sgt. Copithorn was with them and he was experienced and would get them out.

Lt Alex Ross left us to deliver Sten gun ammunition to the other guns when out of the distance in the village I could make out the fire orders for mortars. I said to Sgt. Spencer, “that is our friend Tommy Fluck from the Irish and the range he was giving was to be right down on top of us.” We hunkered down. I did not have my helmet, but Darcy had a spare so I put it on. When we heard Sgt. Fluck holler fire we knew we were in for it. The mortars rained down around the other three guns in the troop. Lt Ross had just arrived at Sgt. Johnson's gun when the mortars landed. A strap binding a bed roll was cut by the flying shrapnel and the belt like a snake went around Lt Ross's neck.

Shortly after the mortaring, a machine gun to Sgt. Spencer's left rear opened up on us. Spencer grabbed the Bren gun and said, “I will knock that SOB out of that window.” I restrained him as it was either a Browning or a Vickers by the rate of fire and kept him from firing back. The machine gun probably fired at least two hundred rounds into Sgt. Spencer's gun and ammunition limber. The rounds chewed up the gun sights and ricocheted off the barrel into the slit trench that we were occupying. In the terrific fire from this machine gun we heard a hissing sound. Sgt. Spencer said, “the ammunition limber is going to blow and it is either you or I Gordie to put it out.” I said, “there is no smoke or flame wait until this storm of fire quits.” It did not go on fire and daylight showed that fifty bullets went into the fender and tire of the limber.

Sgt. Luzney, “Maple Leaf” artist, depicts the gruelling night that was Otterloo.

We still could hear moans from the far right which turned out to be wounded Germans at Sgt. Pop Barkwell's gun. The signallers and acks ran across our immediate front. Spencer and I called out to them did you all get out? The answer was yes and they proceeded towards the village. They had left the command post when the Germans came up and went to fire through the windows on them. The returning attempt to fire the rifle cartridge miss fired, so out the opposite window they went. Fred Lockhart was to tell me that when they all got out the window they had forgotten the Bren gun so Fred (a cool young man) went back into the house through the window and out again with the Bren gun and magazines and caught up with the rest as they left that area.

A couple of Germans lighted fire to the Irish truck at our command post. This lighted up the whole area accompanied with the exploding ammunition and fuel that it carried. A tremendous amount of firing and yelling was going on in the village. While down the Apeldoorn, Otterloo road to our right flank the Germans were marching along with some horse drawn wagons with fires lighting them up so we could see them quite clearly. A couple of these Tedeskies stopped and tried to light fire to an ammunition limber down near our command house, but failed. It was a pretty hairy night.

This long night wore on without any further German attacks on our guns. At Sergeant Spencer’s gun some of us dozed off to sleep for a moment or two. Gunner Straub awakened with a cry, “those SOBs are not going to get me,” and he immediately fired his rifle towards the bush to our front. It all happened so fast and it seemed he never really awakened as he was again in a sound sleep as if nothing occurred. Daylight came and we could see the wasp flamethrowers of the Irish Regiment clear the ditches of the Otterloo, Apeldoorn road of the German troops.

The blasts of flame sent the Germans running, hollering with uniforms on fire trying to get away as fast as they could. We learned later in that ditch with the Germans was Gunner Iverson. He had been captured and held by the Germans all night. His captors had taken his shoes and socks off and informed him if they were defeated he not be taken back with them. In other words, Shot! When the flame hit the ditch Iverson received third degree burns on his hands, but being a tough little fellow he grabbed a pistol from one of the Germans and informed a couple of Germans they were now his prisoners.

After the Wasp flame throwers left the road we were to see a Royal Engineer Churchill tank coming up behind our guns. It commenced firing all their machine guns into the bush to our front. The tank stopped near one of our guns and a tank crew member would load a large bomb into a projector on the tank. This was called a petard. After loading, the bomb was fired into the bush. We could see this giant bomb hurtling through the air where it hit and exploded near our command post house. Gunner Kahgee showed us a crease on his throat where a German sniper had fired and just broke or burnt the skin on his throat, a bit too close for comfort. Sgt. Spencer and I left our trench and went to check on the other gun crews. The first gun we came to was Sgt. Johnson’s with all crew safe and they had escaped being attacked. Along with Johnson’s crew was Lt Alex Ross who had spent the later part of the night with this crew. Lt Alex Ross had made three trips into the village to try and get infantry or tank help to no avail. The trips were extremely dangerous as Lt Alex Ross had to crawl through the Germans that were advancing on the village. Lt Ross did a brave thing.

From Johnson’s gun we went to Sgt. Barkwell’s gun and the sight that greeted us was dead and wounded Germans all around the slit trenches of the crew. What a story could be seen in Pop Barkwell’s face, grimy, tired, grey whiskers full of dirt, a scene from hell. Pop Barkwell was in his late thirties or could have been forty. We were to learn later in the day what a magnificent stand they had made last night. When the Germans attacked Pop Barkwells crew, Pop was up and into them knocking the Germans down with his fists. Pop and his crew fought the Germans to a standstill. L/Sgt.. Bill Velestuk and gunner McNeil each shot two attackers from about a foot range.

Pop’s crew had shallow slit trenches about a foot or so deep. Velestuk and McNeil were lying on their backs and the attackers were crawling up to them. At the sign of any movement or when the attackers were outlined, then Velestuk and Mc Neil would fire at point blank range resulting in four very dead Germans. Near this four dead were a few more a couple of feet further away. Next to them were a couple of wounded Germans who had been hit early in the night and were still alive, but not in the best of shape. The Churchill tank was still firing into the bush and out of the bush came a German waving a Red Cross flag. He was a medic. We let the German medic come up to us. He was pretty nervous so we gave him a drink of water and a cigarette. He then went to work on the wounded Germans trying to ease their suffering.

Our next stop was with Sgt. Humble’s crew. All were safe here. They too had a pretty wild night. They had made the initial capture of the enemy earlier in the night. At this point we had checked on the gun crews, but had not gone back to the wagon lines to check on our drivers and vehicles. We had good reason to be worried.

We knew we had lost Ken Nicolson who died in the command post house. Tom Coll was wounded there, but escaped to the rear and at the moment all the gun crews were miraculously safe with just Kahgee creased across the throat by a sniper. Darcy Spencer and I turned to the rear to walk hurriedly to the wagon lines. On arriving at the wagon lines we found no one. A few of the vehicles had been burnt, but no trace of any of Bdr Wells and all the drivers. It looked like a pretty good battle had raged around the vehicles, with spent cartridge casings, flat tires, scattered kit, and a dead German in a nearby ditch.

Darcy and I were feeling pretty low. Where were our comrades? Just then along came Gunners Clarence, Cawkwell, and Agnew. Both were showing the signs of a terrible night. Agnew was wearing only a pair of socks and a civilian top coat. Cawkwell had been slightly wounded, but not evacuated. Cawkwell and Agnew informed us that they had been checking the aid posts and could not find what happened to most of the drivers. Agnew with tears in his eyes said, “we could not find Jockie McMillan.”

Now we knew that most of the drivers had survived. Darcy and I continued on checking aid posts and found that seven of our drivers had been taken to hospitals. We then checked other causality clearing stations and found out that we were at the moment missing just one and he was Jockie McMillan. Darcy Spencer and I then went into Tac Headquarters where our Major Crown was located. We reported to him and he immediately gave us each a large shot of rum saying now tell me how Fox Troop came through the night. I answered that at the moment we had one killed and about fourteen wounded and we were missing Jockie McMillan. Major Crown said, “did you kill any of the Germans?” I said, “we took about ten prisoners and wounded and killed about ten more.” Major Crown's face changed in expression. “Sgt. major did you leave wounded Germans on the gun position?” I said, “yes sir.” “You should have killed them,” he replied. I drew myself up and said, “sir that would have been murder, as we did not know who was going to win last night and shooting prisoners was not in my book.”

He softened his attitude and Darcy and I left to look for Jockie at the next aid post. Seated on a bench was a small figure with a great swath of bandage across his nose. We had found Jockie all to our great relief. I walked over to him and hit him a great whallop on his shoulder and said, “is that the only place you could get hit?” Jockie 's face broke into a great smile. We shook hands and his words were, “I'm glad to see you Gordie,” and I replied, “I'm glad to see you Jockie. Get well and get back soon.” Jockie told us he was on his tummy behind a gun tractor tire and he glanced out at a large German advancing towards him with a submachine gun. Jockie said he drew back, but the German fired through the tire taking the tip off his nose.

All drivers accounted for we started back to Fox Troop to report to Lt Alex Ross. On the way we came upon a large group of the Irish Regiment and standing up in, I guess, a large armoured car was our divisional commander Major General Hoffmeister. He was speaking to the Irish group. The general told them what a terrific fight that the Irish had put up last night and how well all personnel had performed. He thanked them all for a job well done. An Irish major spoke up that it was not them who broke the German attack, it was those darn artillery men who did not know enough to run, but stayed. Darcy and I then led General Hoffmeister to the gunners.

Sgt. Spencer and I were perched on General Hoffmeister’s armoured car. We proceeded along the street in Otterloo to the Apeldoorn cross road. This was the site of our driver's gallant stand last night. Turning to the left we arrived at E troop gun position. General Hoffmeister stopped his vehicle and dismounted and a group from E troop came up to talk to him. Right away the General spotted a dead German officer and asked who shot him? Sgt. Studs McQueen said he did. The General then congratulated all the assembled group for their stand last night. I thought it was a good opportunity to enlighten him on the exemplary conduct and leadership our gun position officer Lt Alex Ross exhibited last night. General Hoffmeister wanted to meet Lt Ross. I went over to our command post house and found Lt Ross busy getting things back in order cleaning everything up and having Ken Nicolson’s body removed. I told Lt Ross the General was waiting on the side of the road to meet him. Alex Ross’s replied he had no time to talk to Generals this morning. I did not tell the General that Alex Ross did not have time to talk to him, but that Alex Ross was the only officer in the troop and could not come at the moment, and to thank the General for his concern and interest. This satisfied the General who said to extend his regards to Alex Ross for a job well done.

General Hoffmeister was a soldiers' general. He never sent troops into a major battle before the area to be fought over first being well and truly reconnoitred. All that served under General Hoffmeister’s command thought he truly was the best in the Canadian army. Too bad there were not more like him. Many lives would have been saved in the war if other commanders would have exercised the skill and knowledge that Hoffmeister had for the safety and concern for the real fighting men. Before leaving our area General Hoffmeister praised all battery personnel for the fighting stand last night. When the General left the area, Capt Les Hand drove up and said there were to be medals handed out, adding there not going to be many. At this time all the Fox Troop sergeants were gathered nearby. If medals were scarce we would give our support to Lt Alex Ross and recommend him for the Military Cross for his courageous act far beyond that of the gun position officer. Alex Ross did get the Military Cross and deservedly so.

Don Bulloch, Alex Ross, Gordie Bannerman and Fred Lockhart return to revisit Otterloo.

Not long after Otterloo Alex Ross and I were talking about the awards and we regretted neither Sgt.’s Humble or Barkwell or their crews were recipients of any medals. The crews of these two guns fought like supermen. Bombadier Curly Wells who along with all Fox Troop drivers that he was in charge of put up a terrific battle before having to retreat across the cemetery under covering machine gun fire by the Irish regiment. Curly and all his crew were wounded and he lead them through the hedge and on to the first aid posts. A fine example of leadership by a junior NCO. Hind sight again as none of us, including Alex Ross, were given any time to think of medals or awards. We were glad to have survived that terrible night. The regret and sadness over losing our fellow gunners was such that there was no room worrying over awards.

All personnel accounted for which included the news that Gunner Bill Bancescu had died of wounds that brought the total of twelve wounded and two killed. This included gunner Kahgee who was grazed and evacuated. The troop had 45 all ranks, so we took the most causalities in the regiment with our drivers bearing the brunt of the wounded.

I had no word how Orme had come through the night. Orme at this time was the 76th Battery signal sergeant. He would have been at the Battery command post last night. Very early in the battle that house went up in flames. This house was to our right front across the Otterloo, Apeldoorn road. I heard quite a lot of rifle and machine gun fire from that spot then quietness and just flames, and German soldiers moving long the road.

Here it is now morning and I have to see about Orme. I left Fox Troop area and started across the road and entered the field before the house that was no longer there. I had only gone a short distance when a figure approached me. It was Orme looking for me! We met saying my God I'm glad to see you. He had heard that I had been killed and had to find out for sure. I thought he had also been killed or wounded. Orme's next words, “would you like a drink of rum?” “Where in hell did you get the rum?” was my response.

Orme and I were very glad that we had survived last night's attack. Orme replied as the battle was getting pretty hot and the command house on fire they were ordered to retreat to E troop gun position. Just before Orme left the position he thought of the gallon of rum in that truck, so dashed out, rescued the rum and hurriedly buried it in a slit trench. He knew we would be back and someone would need a good belt of rum. Just as Orme buried the rum, out of the darkness came some Germans. He said he fired half a magazine from a Sten gun and retreated to E troop.

After having a few belts of the rum I went back to Fox Troop where we gathered up all the German weapons and kit lying about and buried them in a slit trench at Pop Barkwell's gun. The Germans had towed within five or six feet of Barkwell's gun all loaded with a belt of ammunition, but they were so close and Barkwell's crew such good shots they were unable to use it. Into the slit trench it went and was buried with the rest.

Sgt. Spencer's gun was toast so he and some of his crew limbered up and went to the light aid detachment and from there would be directed where to get another gun and limber. Other happenings during the battle was a British medium battery trying to lower their elevation low enough to give us some help inadvertently knocked the steeple off the church.

Sgt. Eddy Knight of 60th Battery was awarded the DCM for his effort this night. A very large German came upon Eddy and his crew and this big man singled Eddy out and tried to kill him. But Eddy, a stocky ex-coalminer, proceeded to strangle this big chap. The fight raged all around the gun position until Gunner Jim Cathcart placed his rifle under Eddy’s arm and shot the German.

During the war anyone having a workable watch had a great asset. A watch would be handed from sentry to sentry, and gunner to gunner. This way shifts were changed and the watch in the morning always came back to the owner. On the night of April 16/17 Clarence Cawkwell's watch was the only one in the drivers' section of Fox Troop. At the time of the attack on the drivers, Bill Bancescu was wearing Cawkwell's watch. Bill had awakened all drivers before the Germans hit the wagon lines. Seeing they were out numbered and out gunned, Bill took a gunner by the name of Feuillatre [sp] out of danger and down the road. A mortar bomb hit the ditch on Bill's side filling him with a tremendous amount of shrapnel. As Bill fell to the ground his last words were to Feuillatre was to see that Cawkwell gets his watch. Bill died at the aid station. Clarence Cawkwell still has that watch and it is worn every day.

Bill Lloyd, the 76th Battery Sergeant major, was following the road toward regimental HQ when he and a young gunner with him heard the cocking of a rifle and some German words spoken to them. The gunner with Bill Lloyd was going to run, but Bill held him with one hand and in the other he had his revolver. Bill advanced on the German in the weapons pit. He now was almost upon the German and Bill kicked the German’s rifle to one side and reached down and plucked the German infantry man out by the scruff of his neck. The chap that was travelling with Bill told me that no one will ever tell him that Sgt. Major Bill Lloyd does not have “GUTS" or would you say nerves of steel!

When Sgt. Darcy Spencer and I were locating the aid posts and their records for our wounded, we passed by the compound where they were holding the prisoners of last night. A couple of the prisoners that Don Bulloch and I were watching in the command post looked out of the wire and gave me the sign that they remembered me from early last night. What they were meaning to convey in the sign who knows? Maybe it was thanks you did not beat us or kill us. The Germans had some dogs with them and Toby Colpitts of 60 Battery adopted one of these dogs, a large Doberman who would not let a civilian pet him or have anything to do with it. Toby had this dog cleared to bring to Canada, but some Dutch civilian stole the dog days before Toby left for Canada.

Bill Strickland from E troop was behind Gunner Vogt and when Vogt went past the corner of the building a German machine gunner caught Vogt in a stream of fire killing him instantly. Strickland jumped over Vogt's body and through a hail of bullets placed his Bren gun on the hood of a vehicle. Bystanders say that the German machine gunner was firing at Strickland and the tracers were going past Strickland's head. Strickland returned fire and held on until he killed the German gunner.

E troop cooks spent the night in a dugout under a manure pile, unseen by the Germans that walked and ran all over them. Daylight came and the cooks came out and fired up the burners and soon breakfast was on.

The terrible sights that Darcy Spencer and I came upon on our way to locate our wounded. The main street in Otterloo was littered with German dead, and some not a pretty sight. At the time we were pretty hardened to death and likely thought no more about it than an animal lying on the street.

Bob Anderson, the tank driver for Capt Don Pyper, was at a cross road on the outskirts of Otterloo. A GGHG tank officer directed Capt Pyper to cover a certain area as there was supposedly Tiger tanks approaching. Capt Pyper informed this officer that he was not going to knock out a Tiger tank with a wooden gun as this was an observation tank. I had picked up a beautiful Beretta sub machine gun in Italy on the Hitler Line. This gun did not have a magazine, but Bob soon filed a Schmeisser magazine to fit. On this night he had handed his Beretta to Mike Propopenko for Mike's revolver as the Beretta was too cumbersome for the tank driver. In the light of burning buildings Mike saw a figure run past and get under a truck. Mike said he gave the password, but no reply. He let fly a few rounds with the Beretta. Unfortunately he hit Gunner Bob Bates in the legs. Hospital for Bates and the Beretta apparently thrown into the bushes never to be used or kept as a souvenir. Too bad. It was a beautiful automatic.

Otterloo Cemetery, 1984.

The war still went on. The other two batteries moved forward, but the 76th Battery needed some more transport or something, so we did not move until the 18th. When we did move Orme, and I were part of the advance party and at the new gun position.

I had a chance to talk to Orme and show him my prowess with the revolver that Capt David Armour had loaned me. This was a 9mm Espano automatic which resembled the Colt revolver. We set up a target and I said, “watch this,” and I fired a shot and it went where it was supposed to go. But here is where Orme said my face fell as it would fire one shot, jam and one shot, jam. To think that I had suggested to the Irish corporal a couple of nights ago that we would take on a section of German troops that were towing the Maxim gun. I was fortunate not to have taken them on. This revolver needed some maintenance. I have attached some pictures taken in 1984 of the Otterloo surroundings.

Those that were in Fox Troop and were my fellow gunners. To list those that lost their lives and those that were wounded from Fox Troop.

Died of Wounds:
L35313 Gnr Bill Bancescu
H9398 Gnr Ken Nicolson

L35333 Gnr Clarence Cawkwell
K46811 Gnr Tom Coll
G19819 Gnr Art Hamilton
B98175 Gnr H Kahgee
L35172 Gnr Jockie Mcmillan
D57905 Gnr P Bourdon
B161844 Gnr E Jones
H101862 Gnr JA Rose
M103359 Gnr Sawyshn N J
L35139 Bdr [Curly] JD Wells

The advance to the Ijsselmeer, Holland April 18th onwards. After Otterloo, we continued our advance towards the Ijsslemeer either bypassing or going through towns on our way. Barneveld was one of the towns, but we did not get in on any of the liberation celebrations as we were on the move. The retreating Germans were trying to keep ahead of our armour. We spent a night at Ermelo and had our guns set up in fields nearby.

After the posting of machine gun posts and being sure we had our rifles and other small arms handy, those not on duty went to bed. Shortly after getting our heads down a few volleys of machine gun fire broke the night air. Everyone started to get ready to have another Otterloo, but it was a pocket of German troops that had stumbled on us in the darkness and were only too glad to keep running toward western Holland.

I was in a small shed with two other chaps, one being E troop Sgt. Major Paul Shkwarek. This is the way we had laid down to sleep. Paul and the other chap with their heads toward the door. I had my fart sack between them and my feet towards the door. Shortly after the machine gun fire, we were awakened with footsteps coming toward our small shed. Paul said, “Gordie you are closest to the door,” [I have never figured that one out] “so you take the person or persons coming across the gravel yard.”

I could, in the darkness, tell by the footsteps and visualize the hand reaching to open the door. The hand went on the door knob and I in one motion was sticking my revolver into the stomach of a very frightened Dutch farm worker as the door opened. I did not fire and saw that he was a mentally handicapped person who saw us go into the shed before dark. I hollered at him and a Dutch farmer came and took the young man away.

Our troop observation tank. The Gunners seated on the tank are Parker, Wade and Booth.

The rest of the night went well, and the news that our forward troops had entered Harderwijk was related to us. This was our division’s point to stop and consolidate as the area east of us was not cleared, but would be soon. On April 21st we moved to Leeuwarden in a holding role along the coast. This area was called Friesland.

The regiment was strung out all along a large frontage with our guns pointing seaward. We did not do any firing the few days that we were here, so all was extremely quiet. I remember that the days spent here we experienced a lot of fog. It rolled in creating quietness, with any sound of vehicle or a person talking being amplified by the fog. The residents were quite aloof to our presence.

About this time we hoped the war was not to last much longer, but on the April 25th, the regiment moved into the Wagenborgen area. Fox Troop was set up right in the town. Wagenborgen is not far from the Ems Estuary separating Holland from Germany. This section of the northeast side of Holland held a large number of German troops plus a lot of very heavy artillery, especially the massive gun implacement at Termunterzijl. The Harbour of Delfzil was an important port to capture, hopefully intact. While in Wagenborgen we lived in the houses vacated by the Dutch. We learned that sometime before the Canadian Scottish had a platoon blown up while in a house on our street, also they retaliated and did the same to a German platoon.

The Irish regiment advancing along a dyke came upon a fine looking jeep. Now any jeep just standing around was fair game. Well this jeep sort of did not seem right so a rope was gingerly placed around the back bumper then a couple of fellows from a safe distance pulled the rope. With the first movement the jeep exploded, well and truly booby trapped. Capt Pyper was awarded the MC and Gunner Fehr the MM for their bravery and carrying on above and beyond normal duty.

We did a lot of shelling in support of the Westminsters and our 11th Brigade. During some heavy shelling our observation officers reported that a couple of horses in a field would, as soon as the heavy shells fell, run and jump or walk into large bomb craters in the field saving themselves.

There was quite a bit of German rifles and other discarded equipment around so we took the bomb off a Panzerfaust and tied it to a post then pulled the trigger. A real blast of flame and noise came from this infantry type bazooka. There is one thing I never condoned was horse play, as usually someone was hurt, or a lot of bad feelings arose from it. One morning Sgt. Humble and Gunner Charleston started to box around the gun as it was a cool morning. They started throwing a few punches and soon the punches were being delivered with a, I will knock your block off type of hit. I had come to the backdoor of the house near where this was going on and thought this is too damn serious. So I hollered, “cut that damn foolishness out!” To put emphasis to my holler a shell came crashing in and exploded very close to the combatants. Result no one hurt, boxing finished and all back to normal. That was the final and only enemy shell to land any where near Fox Troop in this position and final for the war.

Wagenborgen, Holland May 1, 1945. The war was certainly winding down, but our observation officers and crews plus the infantry were not to think that. Our 11th Infantry Brigade and units like the Westminster regiment continued to take a lot of causalities. Major Floyd Brooks often spoke of the waste of young lives up to the very end. In particular the loss of 18 young Cape Breton Highlanders on an attack that was a disaster. It was only by the quick use of smoke ordered fired by Major Brooks that the surviving Cape Bretons were able to escape a fate like what happened to part of their company. This attack was on very fortified bunkers on the way towards Delfzil. We had a 24 hour truce with the Garrison at Delfzil on the 2nd of May. The truce was to evacuate all the German garrison that had been captured.

Our troops found the dockyard and all the facilities were in good condition and our engineers were able to disable the explosives that the Germans had placed. Back a day or so, here Capt Walt Tennant was able to call for fire on boats leaving Delfzil crossing to Embden.

After we at the guns were notified that Delfzil had fallen and a 24 hour truce was in effect, I jumped on my motor bike and rode up the road from Wagenborgen to Delfzil. As I arrived in the town, the Irish Regiment was loading a long line of German prisoners into trucks. These prisoners were counted off about thirty to a truck load. All the prisoners were sent in a single file past the provost sergeant of the Irish. The Sgt. had in his hand a cat o' nine tails that he had taken from a German SS officer. This cat o' nine tails was a short polished wooden handle having at least nine or more leather laces attached to it. The laces were about 18 inches long. The Irish Sgt. had the laces shortened up in his hand and as the prisoners went by he took a whack at their ears. The prisoner naturally tried to duck out of the way. As they ducked they, with all the kit they were carrying, would tangle on a motor bike handle bars that stood there, so they had a few more whacks.

I spoke to the Irish Sgt. about whacking them on the ears. He replied they had killed his best friend, the Irish scout Sgt. last night, and then all gave up today. So he was getting a little revenge. I wandered further along where the loading of the trucks was happening and as I neared this spot I heard a German prisoner coming toward me speaking with a New York accent [he had received a few good ear whacks]. I asked the prisoner if he was from Thoity Thoid street. He answered that he lived on the other side of the Bronx, forty fort street. I asked what he was doing here. He replied his father, being good German residing in New York, decided that he should learn a trade when he turned twenty, so in 1941 he was sent back to Germany and here he was.

After this exchange he reached into a pocket and gave me a very nice blue leather bill fold. When he gave me the billfold he said he would like me to have this as it will likely be taken from him anyway.

The very next day we received orders to move out of the line. The 60th Battery and the 76th Battery moved out, destination Winschoten, Holland south of Groningen. The 37th Battery moved into Germany and took up position not far from Embden, but did not do any firing.

Winschoten, Holland May 3,1945. Our entrance into this Dutch town was without great fanfare, but there were the civilian population out to greet us. The 60th Battery had a small dog that may have been brought from Italy. The convoy of Regimental Headquarters, followed by the 60th Battery and the 76th Battery pulled into the town of Winschoten. Here was to be a rest area. The convoy stopped and the gun tractor door of one of 60th Battery guns opened to let the little dog out. The dog had been in action for a long while. He hit the street running, but this little fellow charged up to the civilian crowd on the street and immediately found a female dog. No introductions were necessary. He mounted this Dutch dog and in front of all carried on. The Dutch fathers and husbands that were on the street could be seen nudging each other. That was our grand entrance into Winschoten.

Wallet from German POW

That evening after all personnel were billeted in schools and some in private homes, Sgt. Major Savin, myself, and Quarter Sgt. Terry thought we would go out and scrounge a drink. Terry had a lot of trading material namely cigarettes. We had not gone far when out of a shadowy door way a Dutch civilian wanted to know if we would buy 3/4 litre of gin. We said yes and Terry gave him a couple of packs of cigarettes. Deal done! Savin then drank the first 1/3 of the bottle, Terry the next 1/3, and I drained the last third all while standing in this doorway. This seemed the correct thing to do. We then went to the Quarter Master Terry's store truck and here we were into the issue rum so a mug in our hands, we had a few good pulls of the rum.

Out on the street we went. The first people we saw were Capt David Armour and the Adjutant Lucky Fair. I remember going up to Capt Armour and giving him a bear hug and saying "What do you know. It is wee Davey Armour." Lights go out and I awake next morning having missed the first parade in my army career. Having a skinned elbow and a skinned nose. How did I get back to the house the sergeants and WO's were billeted in? After greeting Davey Armour in the un-soldier like manner, as I never called him anything except Capt Armour, the three of us were then going to see if we could visit with Colonel Rankin. The two officers thought we had better not and they confiscated the second in command's car to get us back to our house. They had quite a time. They would put me in the car and I would promptly go out the other side. Then Lucky Fair kept me in the car and Dave Armour corralled the other two colts and back to our house.

The pretty Dutch town of Winschoten where the regiment remained from VE day to repat in December.

They dumped us on the street and told some of our buddies to get us off the street and into bed. They thought they would just drag me up stairs to my bed and that is how the nose and elbow were skinned. A lost night and to miss parade was something I was not proud of. I was a bit ticked with a couple of sergeants who I had covered for a few times that did not make a move to wake me. I had a terrible head and was suffering from alcohol poisoning. We never saw the seller of gin again. After this quite a few Canadians died from deliberate poisoning of gin by either Germans or German sympathizers. I was lucky and probably what saved my life was the quantity.

The War is Over
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