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Private (Ret’d) John Preece

John Stewart Preece was born on 19 October 1926 in Toronto, Ontario. He enlisted in July 1944 and joined the Royal Regiment of Canada. He served during the Rhineland Campaign, 2nd Canadian Division. He retired with the rank of Private in 1945 after having served in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

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John Preece

Preece arrived in England in 1944 and trained near Aldershot. After joining the Royal Regiment of Canada he was dropped off around the Hochwald Forest and Groesbeek in the Netherlands. The Regiment moved through the Reichswald Forest and eventually continued over the Rhine.

“I thought I had been hit with a two by four!”

On 2 April 1945, Preece, under attack, found himself running across a road and jumping in formerly held German trenches. He set up his Bren gun and started firing at German soldiers in a nearby field. Preece was hit by a sniper and wounded. “I thought I had been hit with a two by four! And I fell back, of course, and it scared the hell out of everybody else around me because everybody wondered where the hell did it come from? They didn’t know where I got hit because all they could see was blood coming through the many layers of clothing, including a gas cape.”

Preece was hospitalized in Bruges and then flown to England due to gangrene complications in his arm. One thing he will forever remember is after waking up, some of the individuals hospitalized with him were enemy soldiers. “God when I woke up the next morning, the ward was full of soldiers but you know what, half of them were Germans. German soldiers beside me, one on each side. Can you imagine? I first thought maybe I was a prisoner but then I saw we had Dutch soldiers on guard.”

A month later, while in the Canadian military hospital in Leavesden, he learned of the end of the Second World War. Prior to the announcement, patients were not allowed to leave the hospital but after the war ended, he noticed an easing of the rules and regulations and that some patients chose to leave.

Preece learned of an upcoming celebratory parade being organized through the streets of London and was excited to participate. To prepare, the volunteers were asked to do more training and marching. Preece has great memories of this parade which included representatives from various regiments.

For his service, he was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, the France and German Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, the War Medal 1939-1945, and the Norwegian Merchant Marine Medal. Following the conclusion of the Second World War, Preece settled in Toronto and studied at the University of Toronto, where he was involved in the Canadian Officers' Training Corps Program. He graduated as an Engineer and a Lieutenant in the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and served for a short time in the Reserves. He is a member of the Royal Regiment of Canada Association.

“Although our boys are buried there, it’s a loving situation. These are loving grounds.”

Preece has returned several times to the battlefields of Europe, visiting the Groesbeek Cemetery where some of his comrades are buried. “Although our boys are buried there, it’s a loving situation. These are loving grounds. The Dutch care. They still give them flowers, they look after their graves… this is no joke with them. We don’t know what it feels like to have the Germans or any group occupying you and treating you badly.”

Preece is pictured holding a photo from a ceremony in the Netherlands from the 70th anniversary commemorations. The photo captures Preece interacting with Dutch locals, while receiving a batch of tulips in commemoration of his service.

He is still haunted from witnessing the death of friends and so many young men. His thoughts often turn to the mothers, wives and family members who saw these young men and women departing for overseas knowing that they would be engaged in killing others or being killed themselves. “The world must find a way to solve political problems other than by war.”

After his retirement from the military, he worked as Professional Engineer for National Masonry, Allied Chemical and Domtar. He also worked for the Central Toronto Youth Services and did some consulting. Preece is married to Bonnie and has two children and seven grandchildren. He currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day, Private (Ret’d) John Preece is this week’s Face of Freedom.

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