The Horror

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Back to Thematic Clips
Medium: Video
Owner: Veterans Affairs Canada and Testaments of Honour
Duration: 9:02
Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

Subjects – in order of appearance:

  • Herman Croteau
  • Rufin Gionet
  • Léonard Gionet
  • Roger Charbonneau
  • Benoît Roy
  • Edgar Doiron
  • Roch Daoust
  • Jacques Raymond
  • Simon Savoie

Transcript

And I started asking a lot of questions and saying to myself, "About how many bombs did I put on an airplane, and how many innocent people were killed in Germany by that." That… That bothered [me]. Y'know, you don't bomb a country and, like what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, eh? It's not just that soldiers died there, there were complete families, children, a terrible business.

I remember when we got near Caen, they sent aircraft and dropped slips of paper, telling the French to get out of Caen, everyone get out of Caen, because it was going to be bombed. Well, there were some who didn't see the flyers or didn't want to leave, and when they bombed Caen, they killed 16,000 French people.

For me, the hardest part was the children. It was terrible. Whole families were killed in the house. The children especially, they watched for the Canadians, to try and get food. We always ate outside. When they came they were searching for something to eat, eating out of the garbage cans. There were 15, 20, 25 kids who came with little pots in the morning, looking for something to eat in the garbage cans. They rummaged around in the garbage. Not very pleasant to see. There were families wandering around, whose houses had been destroyed. Parents had been killed and kids left on their own.

We saw these little kids coming out of cellars, little kids this tall with their hands in the air, and a white piece of paper meaning, "we surrender!" …

You enter a village of perhaps 300, 400 people. There are old people, young people and little kids. The Germans took the beautiful women and sent them to a camp as a treat for the soldiers. And the old people, if they were too sick, they just killed them. And the kids were sent to concentration camps.

It was at concentration camp Stalag 12A. There was a trench there, about 30 feet long, I'd say, maybe 50 feet and 12 feet deep. There was a bulldozer and in the morning it made a tour of the huts. They put the ones who were dead in the box, in the box of the bulldozer. Then they dumped it in the trench. Men, women… That will always remain etched on… I still see it… sometimes at night, I see it.

The time I visited Auschwitz, I saw how they went and got the mayor, the local priest and the community leaders and told them to come to the camp to bury the victims. They hauled them out by the feet and by the hands and threw them… I saw a mother crying and crying. "Get to work!" The guy kicked her and told her to get going!

I had to bury the dead. The first time, we asked where we were going. "Just get in the truck, hop in the back," they said. There were several of us, but there were four in our group. We were going to bury the dead. They'd been there four or five days, out in the sun. We were ordered to remove everything. We collected their medals, wrote their name on something. The intention was to give these things to the soldier's parents or to his wife if he was married. His name for the file. And everything he had on him had to be removed-rings, watches, everything. Sometimes the ring wouldn't come off though, and all four of us were trying. Gauguin [Goguen?] that I told you about, he threw up. We had to cut off this guy's finger. And even though you're a soldier, you tell the Red Cross that you can't remove it, and they tell you to cut it off and to hurry up because the bulldozer is on its way to bury him. So, they told us we had to cut the finger and we kept it until we could remove the ring later on. Cut the…

I'll always remember that. When a torpedo hits a boat, if there was someone standing on the upper deck, his boots would stay there and he'd fly up. His laces would go pfftt, fit… So we'd pick up guys and the captain was on top and he'd say, "Eh, split the main bridge." We'd get them out of the water… and the water is cold like you wouldn't believe, and we'd wrap them up in blankets. I like picking blueberries a lot better than picking men out of the water, you understand. I didn't like that at all. No one liked it.

The worst thing that could happen was to see one of your buddies get wounded… when you saw a guy on the ground and you were next to him and he was bleeding and he was dying but you couldn't help him… that was one of those situations that wasn't easy. He could be next to you. I saw some die. You'd be right there but you couldn't do anything because the Germans were dug in. We were, too, and weren't in any hurry to advance. There were times when guys would get hit by shells or a shell fragment. I saw a guy at Zutfen, I will always remember it. It left its mark on me. The fragment went into his neck. He had a fragment that was burning, it was iron or steel and he was dying. With each heartbeat, blood poured out.

We found other Canadians from Le Régiment de la Chaudière. We found 11 of them, just outside Caen. Their hands were tied behind them, and they were just buried there. A tank drove over them, and then turned. When it turned, it uncovered some khaki. There was 11 of them, hands tied behind their backs… feet… They had been shot in the back of the head.

What we saw there forced us to become a bit more warlike. A dozen of our guys from La Chaudière had been taken prisoner and hanged. They were found hanging from trees. That's war; they call it cruel and it's not exactly what you usually see in books… but we retaliated in much the same way. Those are things that you really don't see often in books. But when they did things like that, we did the same thing. They say, "That's war."

At night, there were no lights, not a single light in the city of London. It was a total black-out. When the bombs fell, sometimes there'd be four in one night. One evening I saw a woman on the other side of the street, and she had a child in her arms. There was my buddy and me, the two of us, I was a corporal at the time. We were in the street. Then she started to run with the child and the truck ran her over right in front of us. The child had one leg cut right off. When we picked him up, he didn't have a leg at all. She was bringing us her child, so we could pick him up, but the truck never saw her, it ran right over her back. I was a real eye-opener, believe me! You remember that, you remember that for a long time.

There are some things I'll never forget, things I'll never forget…

Interviewer - Such as what?

Ah! The atrocities, the bodies, the injuries.

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