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Private (Ret’d) Armand Berthiaume

Armand Berthiaume was born in 1925 in Verdun, Quebec. He volunteered in 1944 at the age of 18 with aspirations of seeing the world. He served with Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal and participated in the Liberation of the Netherlands, among other conflicts.

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Armand Berthiaume

Like many other young Canadians who served overseas, Berthiaume left from Halifax on a very crowded ship to go overseas, thinking to himself that he may never see his parents again. He spent two weeks in England before going to Belgium. It was there that he met Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

“I wasn’t 19 yet, you know.”

“We went to Leopold’s barracks in Brussels. I met [Queen Wilhelmina], Queen of Holland, she was the mother, she was older,” Berthiaume remembered. “She said, ‘oh my God, you’re so young!’. I wasn’t 19 yet, you know.”

Berthiaume and his regiment then went to Antwerp, Nijmegen, Dordrecht, Groningen and Oldenburg. While in Groningen, he was involved in street fighting, and once came under fire from a woman sniper perched in a tower. He was running through the streets dodging bullets, hiding between stores when finally a Bren carrier demolished the building and its tower. Many German soldiers were captured and became prisoners of war. It’s a vivid experience that always remained with Berthiaume.

“I was taken prisoner for a brief moment.”

While serving in Europe, he risked his life to save 15 Canadian soldiers. These men were unaware that Allied planes were coming and that they could be mistaken for German troops. Berthiaume threw a smoke grenade to camouflage himself and jumped into the hole where the soldiers were located. He urged them to run and saw a man get shot in the leg. He couldn’t believe someone could run so fast on one leg. They made it to a barn just as the planes flew overhead. Berthiaume’s father was sent a letter notifying him of his son’s heroic act.

Berthiaume would later come face-to-face with the enemy and briefly be taken prisoner by German soldiers while walking in the woods near Groningen.  While doing surveillance with a friend in the woods near Groningen, two German soldiers put guns to their back and told them to walk.

“I had a rifle in my back, my friend had a rifle in his back,” he recalled. “He was 25 to 30 years old, an old man, he had a little girl. He said ‘Armand, when I say run, run!’ I said to myself: ‘why, is he going to run in the other direction?’ That’s not what he did. The rifle in his back, he puts his hand on it, and he took mine and put it in his back. He gave his life for me. I was a boy and he had a little girl.”

Berthiaume recalls another vivid memory from his service, the time he found a bottle of liquor in a basement and put it in his tunic. The Colonel later spotted it, grabbed the bottle and smashed it, stating that the enemy may have used a needle to put poison in it. Berthiaume got the message and never did that again.

While serving in the Netherlands, Berthiaume also saw food shortages. He recalls meeting a grandmother with her two grandchildren. Berthiaume offered them his hard tack, chocolate bars, and other goods – he did what he could to help.  

“Often, [there] when you put on your uniform, people say thank you very much, thank you, even young people,” he said.

Following the Liberation of the Netherlands, Berthiaume remembers how the Dutch would walk the streets beside the tanks and Bren gun carriers. They were so happy to see the Canadian soldiers. Some brought them water and bread. It was during this experience that Berthiaume truly felt the gratitude of the Dutch people. He found them to be so grateful during the war and even many years after when he returned to the Netherlands.

“Often, [there] when you put on your uniform, people say thank you very much, thank you, even young people,” he said.

Berthiaume was in Oldenburg, which had been deserted by the Germans, when he heard that the war was over.

 “Oh my God, I’m going home, see my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, with both of my legs and both of my arms.”

It was the best day of his life he said.

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day, Armand Berthiaume is featured as a Face of Freedom.

Sadly, Mr. Berthiaume passed away in 2018, but we are preserving his legacy.

You can also hear his story firsthand by listening to his episode of our Faces of Freedom podcast (in French only).

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