The Return

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Back to Thematic Clips
Medium: Video
Owner: Veterans Affairs Canada and Testaments of Honour
Duration: 10:20
Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Subjects – in order of appearance:

  • René Lanouette
  • Rufin Gionet
  • Jacques Raymond
  • Adolphe Williams
  • Hermel Pelletier
  • Normand Silver
  • Edgar Doiron
  • Rudolphe Blanchard
  • Roger Charbonneau
  • Guy Jobin
  • Emmanuel Gaudet

Transcript

We were not ready to come back, you know. It's funny to say so, but we weren't really ready. It's as if I wasn't made to come back. I should have stayed there. Seemed to me that my work wasn't done, you know. But they decided the war was over. That's all well and good, but you see, then you return to being a civilian. Do you want to be a civilian? You've been in the army for five years, you've been in the army for four years.

You're not free when you're in the Army. You get up when they tell you to get up, you march there, turn left, turn right, don't go here, don't go there. You feel like a prisoner. You can't make any decisions on your own. It's hard to return to civilian life, because you're so used to following orders. You're too used to being told to do this, do that. But when you leave the Army, they're not there anymore to tell you what to do. You're the one who decides what you do. It's quite a change…

When you join the army, your training evolves. But when you return to civilian life, it stops like that. The army cuts you off and then you're just like everyone else and you have to find a job. That's what's hard.

After a month, or a month and a half, I signed my honourable discharge and I returned to work, because Canadian law said that you had to go back to the work that you'd left.

On the ship, they told us all the fine things we were going to have, the work, it was… We had priority for work and there would be no trouble getting jobs, and things like that. But when we arrived, it wasn't entirely the same thing. There was no work.

I couldn't stay in the army. I didn't have the education. I would have had to take a university course. Maybe I would have stayed, made a career, maybe. I would have liked that, but I didn't have the education. I only had a Grade six; it wasn't much. We were good enough for cannon fodder, that's all. Those who stayed in Canada, they found jobs. When we returned with our medals, all the jobs were taken; there was nothing left. They told me they would give me a house: I'm still waiting for it. I'll never see it, I know I won't.

Soldiers weren't well-regarded. It seemed as if people tried to avoid us.

A lot of people used to tell us that we were good for nothing, bums. And for that we had enlisted! It wasn't too pleasant. We'd be refused entry into certain places. They'd tell us to go home, take off our uniform if we wanted to get in.

…it made me feel sad.

We were prepared, once the war was over. We had psychiatrists of some kind… today they have all kinds. After the war was over, they told us to have fun and to get some new ideas in our heads. They said some of us would have after-effects that would stay with us. For some they wouldn't be so bad. For others they would be worse. In my case, I was nervous. My mother said that I used to bang against the walls out of nervousness…

I came home, after the war, and took a year off to try and get back in shape. I'd lost a lot of weight…

I wasn't all right. First, I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't doing anything. They had bled me dry. I'd been through four countries on all fours. I was spent… mentally…and my body had taken a beating.

There was no treatment for us after the war, when we left the Army. We were sick when we left the service, so we'd go to the doctor's. I'm not the only one. We were all like that. We talked about it… The doctor would say, "There's nothing wrong with you. No, it's because you don't want to work. You're too lazy. Get to work." So then we stopped going to the doctor's. It was over. For five years, I hard a hard time getting up. I couldn't eat breakfast. I couldn't eat…

I was really dangerous. I said to Dad, I said, “Here, my revolver, my ammunition …German…my bayonet. Hide them for me, because, ” I said, “I don't know what I might do.”

However, I was in bad shape when I got home. Geez… I'd go out on Friday because I had to get it all out, d'ya understand. I'd go up to Ottawa House, on the corner of Eddy and Main, there's a government building there, and every Friday, I closed the place…

When I arrived at my home in Buckingham, I entered the kitchen, then the living room and I had to go outside after about half an hour. I wasn't used to being in a ten by ten or twelve by twelve house, y'know, big spaces. At some point, I was sitting in the dining room, I was talking with my brothers and sisters, father and mother, and I had to go outside. I felt squeezed in because I hadn't been in a room the size of a room like here. I would be sitting there and at a certain point I wouldn't feel right. I said to my father, "I'm gonna go outside a bit and get some air". The next day, I was OK…

I went to the theatre with a girl, she was smart, I was walking… We passed by a dry cleaner and they released some steam - pfft! - over my head. It was spring and there was slush in the street and I smacked my face in it in a hurry… That had stayed with me, the noise from a shell that was coming and you threw yourself on the ground to protect yourself. That had made the same sound.

It was about a year after I returned to Montréal, I was on Ste-Catherine Street, around… a plane went over Eaton's. There were two of us and we threw ourselves down in the middle of St. Catherine Street. We thought it was a raid you know. It happened just like that. The subconscious kicked in, bang, we threw ourselves on the ground.

One fine night - it's not a great story to tell - I went into my Dad's bedroom, and he'd never told me where he had hidden them, but I found them, without waking him up. We were pretty used to being quiet…I found the revolver and the bayonet and I left. So there was a school across the street, a school…an old school I had gone to. I started to …I'd been drinking. I broke all the windows in the school…broke the windows. I reported myself to the school trustee at the time. I said, “Don't call the police or nothing.” I said, “I'm goin' to pay. Get it fixed, and I'll pay for all I broke.”

To cure me, my father wrote to my uncle Moïse who had a farm. The next morning, my uncle Moïse was waiting for me with two saddle horses and a mare to carry our stuff and took me about 20 miles away from his place, right through the woods in the le parc de la Vérendrye. And I slept so well there, you understand, really peacefully. There was nothing to bug me there right in the middle of the woods, nothing, nothing at all, nothing to read, no television, no radio. I lived life like an Indian. I took the train home about a week after I had arrived. When my father and mother saw me, I was smiling and I no longer wanted to fight every Tom, Dick and Harry. Fighting meant nothing to me anymore. Why should I get in fights and hurt someone, right? And from that time forward, I never hit anyone ever again.

I have never touched a weapon myself, and I never will touch one because I know what my hands are going to do, you know. My brain kicks in suddenly and …I don't know. Because you use weapons to shoot. Ah yes, when I first worked on footwear, we were making women's shoes and they had a heel. I would attach the heel with the …eh! I pulled the trigger with the …on the shoe. Just like if it was a gun trigger, the hammer! (laughs) It was a heel on a shoe. For me, it was still, you know …my hands were still there! Ah yes, I would say it stays with you.

But it leaves you with some nervous problems. That's why you don't see many soldiers talking about the war. They don't like to talk about it. It reminds them…

But you have to be able to recount what happened. There are many who can't do it, there are many who cry, there are those who… I have some of my guys who come to the cenotaph every November 11th and they start crying the moment that they play the Last Call. There's no doubt that it left its mark on us.

You're proud to be back home, so much that you, you just don't know how to… How do I explain it? The next day… It takes time to realize that it's over. That's it, I think. It's not easy.

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