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I saw a body floating by.

Heroes Remember

I saw a body floating by.

Well, then I was called up to go over as a reinforcement, to no particular space. I went south and I got on a ship that was manned by turbaned East Indians. The night was black and you could see the shots that were fired at aircraft. Every fifth shot was designed to light up so they could see whether they were getting close to their mark or not. I looked over the side of the ship and I saw a body going by, which was a little of a shock. When we landed in Normandy, we landed on a Mulberry Wharf, which was a floating wharf that they had built in England, floated over and beached so that you could just get on the wharf and walk ashore, which is quite a different thing from wading in treacherous waters. So we walked ashore and were directed to a field a few hundred yards from the shore, where we could lie down and sleep for the rest of the night. Of course, we had our blanket roll over our shoulder and we just laid out and sleep. Then in the morning, we were directed back to a park-like setting It was a park. I was there by myself, I was the only doctor, as far as I knew. There may have been others like me. But I wandered around, I had my, I had a sweet potato. Do you know what a sweet potato is? Interviewer: Yes sir. Yeah, I had a sweet potato. So I was playing my sweet potato, walking around, and they were beginning to wonder what the hell I was doing. I was there and nobody was calling for me. They kept asking me where was I supposed to be, and I said, “I haven’t… have… any idea. I’m here, and I’m the reinforcement.” So, eventually they said, “Well, you’re going to the 10th Field Ambulance, the 6th Brigade.” So I went up and the 10th Field Ambulance was just... had to go through Caen. It was a, it had been heavily bombed by the Allied forces because the Germans had occupied it, and it was just a terrible mess. It was flattened right down, so the main street was built over the rubble from the houses and the buildings, about ten feet higher than it normally had been. But there was a cathedral on the outskirts of Caen and the citizens had been taken in there and had been safe from a lot. I don’t know how many people were killed, but a lot of them survived because they were in the cathedral. So we went through there and we came to the 10th Field Ambulance, just on the outskirts.

Dr. Theal describes his D-Day arrival in France and joining his unit outside of Caen.

Dr. Gordon Irvine Theal

Dr. Theal was born in Grimsby, Ontario on April 2, 1916. His father, a farmer, operated a feed mill and later became a grocer, at which time Dr. Theal was old enough to help in the family business. At the insistence of some friends, he enrolled in Queens University’s medical school in Toronto. With the outbreak of war, he joined the Officer Training Corps. After graduating, Dr. Theal married and moved to British Columbia, where he went from camp to camp, encouraging enlistment in the regular forces. After shipping overseas and a couple postings in England, he was shipped to France during the D-Day invasion. His brigade accompanied the Allied advance from France to Holland. During this time, Dr. Theal and his team performed triage. This was the first contact the wounded had with a doctor and he would provide emergency medical treatment before the wounded moved back to the larger field hospitals. After completing his tour, Dr. Theal returned home to Ontario, to his wife and daughter, and took up private practice. He currently resides in Courtney, British Columbia.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Dr. Gordon Irvine Theal
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps

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