Canada at War
A century of global conflict
FROM THE VOLUNTEERS WHO fought for the British in the South African War 100 years ago to the peacekeepers on East Timor at the century's close, Canadians have always served. But no role had the impact at home and abroad of the two world wars. Those conflicts pushed Canada into maturity—at the expense of more than 100,000 young lives.
A prisoner at ground zero for the world’s last nuclear attack
On Aug. 9, 1945, Jack Ford, 26, was a prisoner of war in Nagasaki harbour, just four kilometres from the spot where the Americans dropped their second atomic bomb on Japan. Ford, who was born in Port-aux-Basques, Nfld., then a British colony, was a flight engineer in the Royal Air Force stationed in Java when the Dutch capitulated to the Japanese on March 8, 1942. He and 400 others were taken prisoner and arrived at Nagasaki’s Fukuoka No. 2 islandprison camp in December. A retired railway superintendent who lives in St. John’s, Ford,
now 80, recalls his life as a PoW and the historic nuclear explosion.
I LIVED TWO YEARS AND NINE MONTHS under the worst kinds of living conditions: no food other than a little rice three times a day. When I went to Japan my weight was about 170 lb., when I came out it was 93.
When you got up in the morning, the first thing you had to do was have a debugging because we had no washing facilities. After that was done, you’d pick up your breakfast as well as your lunch—two boxes of rice. You’d get a small ration for breakfast and a similar amount for lunch. I’ve seen people argue about one or two grains of rice.
After breakfast was served and the tables were all washed and the rice boxes were all returned to the cookhouse, you fell in on the parade ground and then they’d number you and parade you about two miles down to the dockyard. Then the civilians at the dockyard would take you to the various workplaces. If they saw any prisoners talking, whistling or smiling, they’d haul you out and give you a beating. Then about five o’clock, you’d fall in, they’d number you off again and they’d march you back to camp. And you’d have your little box of rice
`THEY MARCHED AS THOUGH THEY WERE GOIN
for your supper meal. How we survived on it... well, a lot of people didn’t. There was 40-per-cent fatalities in the prisoner of war camps in Japan and only one per cent in Germany and Italy.
We had all kinds of tropical diseases, ulcers as big as the palm of your hand. We’d get a bath once every two weeks and there would be about 40 or 50 men in together. Those who survived were so very, very lucky. We didn’t even have an Aspirin in the sick bay. People who went in there very seldom came out, because we had nothing to give them.
The day the bomb dropped was a beautiful clear day. I was working at the dockyard, and at two minutes after 11 it was my turn to go for a bucket of tea. It was only a few leaves and a bucket of water, really. Just as I took the bucket to take a step towards the big tank of hot water, BANG.
I looked towards Nagasaki and there was the mushroom cloud, an explosion. There were fires all over the place, people running and screaming in all directions. The heat was so intense, it was like a furnace. There were pieces of rock and asbestos flying. Our cranes had fallen down from overhead. There was glass everywhere. Transformers were all afire. We had no idea what it was: maybe a magazine, an ammunition dump or a warship had exploded. This big mushroom cloud blackened out the sun.
We had not known there was an aircraft in the vicinity. There was no air raid warning, there was nothing. The Japanese were in a turmoil. Later, they marched us back to the dockyard. We were tickled to death in our own way, because we knew it was the beginning of the end. If we had known, we wouldn’t have been pleased that 70,000 people would be killed in Nagasaki just like that and another 25,000 or 30,000 would die from radiation burns since then. But we were very pleased that the war was going to be over.
We went back to camp and worked at the dockyard for a week after that. The fires were still raging and the smoke burning. I saw many bodies, burned just like a piece of raw beef. I heard them screeching and bawling. It was out of this world.
Then they came to us one day and said, “All men yasume,” which meant “all men rest.” And finally, another day, somebody said: “There’s bully beef for supper tonight.” That was the start. One day, I guess it must have been the 16th or 17th of August, this plane came over, an American plane dipped his wings and dropped us an emergency food package, and in the package he had a note saying the Japanese surrendered unconditionally.
Eighteen months of trench horrors
In 1915, when he was just 16, Calgary’s Walter Loudon lied about his age and enlisted to fight overseas. During his year and a half in the trenches of northern France, Loudon survived the seemingly endless horror of the 1916 Battle of the Somme—which saw nearly 625,000 Allied soldiers, including more than 24,000 Canadians, killed— and the following year’s Vimy Ridge. Loudon recalled those days shortly before dying in fanuary, just weeks fom his 100th birthday.
I WAS INTHETRENCHESATTHE SOMMEwhen the man beside me asked for a smoke. I loaned him my pipe. The moment he lit it, a shell came in and blew him away. Not nice.
But it didn’t get me. We always knew pretty well that somebody was going to get hurt.
Then there was the gas. Me and my friends were far enough away that we did OK, but it was awful seeing the survivors of the first
Dr. Mary serves at the front
Dr. Mary Lee Edward graduated fom the University of Toronto medical school in 1908, the only female in a class of some 150. The Petrolia, Ont.born daughter of a chartered accountant fom Scotland and a Canadianborn mother went on to create an all-female medical team to serve on the font lines during the First World War—for which she won the French military award, the Croix de Guerre. Before her death in 1980, she wrote notes for her memoirs, including her recollections of the sexist challenges of her anatomy class and the horrors she witnessed on the font.
4 )N PARADE-and they knew they were going to their deaths'
clouds of smoke. They choked continually and writhed in pain. There was nothing we could do. They were ruined for the rest of their lives. Jumping into the foxhole was the worst thing you could do because the gas settled in there. The other trouble for both sides was that when you use gas, it sometimes blows the wrong way.
I was also at Cambrai when the Brits first used tanks. What I remember about them was that they were slow and loud. And they always broke down. It was an incredible new thing to see and it really scared the Germans. You could see them running away.
What people say about Vimy today is very different than what we did then. But we knew we did a good job. At Vimy, it was generals McNaughton and Currie who made sure we did a jolly good job. Better Canadian than British. So many had tried to get the ridge, but only we did. And those Germans never got it back.
Newfoundland's day of tragedy
July 1 brings mixed emotions in Newfoundland. There is joy among those who partake in the Canada Day festivities, but there is also an awful sadness among those who remember July 1 as the anniversary of the First World War slaughter at Beaumont-Hamel. At the time, Newfoundland was a British colony and the 1st Newfoundland Regiment was part ofthe 29th British Divisions Somme campaign. On that July 1 in 1916, some 100,000 British soldiers were ordered out of the trenches in broad daylight to face a heavily fortified German enemy. Some 57,500men were killed, wounded or went missing, the heaviest days loss ever suffered by a British army. Before the battle, the Newfoundland Regiment numbered 801; when the roll was taken the next day, 68 answered the call. Among them was 21-year-old 2nd Lieut. Ken Goodyear, a native of Ladle Cove, Notre Dame Bay Exactly 47years later, Goodyear, who died in 1977, recalled the bloodbath.
WE WENT OVER FOUR ABREAST, down through the gaps that were cut in the barbed wire and, you see the thing is, the
Germans had their machine-guns trained exactly on those gaps. Those gaps were marked with white tape and rock. We were just sitting ducks, nothing more or less, but the boys did not falter one iota. They just marched into this thing as though they were going on parade, and they knew they were going to their deaths, the vast majority of them. As they came through from our own trench and into no mans land, they were all knocked over, knocked off.
I had 60 men in my section. Among them were some of the finest men I ever knew. To give you an idea of just how devoted we were to each other, just prior to going over the top, Paddy O’Brien, who was my sergeant and one of the finest men that ever drew a breath of life, said to me, “Sir, you lead and well follow through hell and back.” Well, I took 60 men into hell. Three of us came out, Paddy O’Brien, Bern Forsey and myself.
EACH DAY, THEY ASSEMBLED 10 minutes before the lecture began and sat in their places. When I took my place, I was pelted with chalk, chalk
brushes and assailed with catcalls and a song, Hop Along Sister Mary. I had to enter from the [door at the] front of the amphitheatre, climb 30 or 40 steps and sit at the back. At the end of the six-year course, in the spring of 1908,1 won the George Brown Scholarship, the highest honour available in this course. It amounted to $330 and entitled one to a year’s research work.
From her notes on the war:
May 31, 1918: About 3 a.m., many more wounded arrived. One old lady was brought in with shrapnel in her head from a bomb and, by 8 a.m., 300 wounded had arrived. The whole sky was lit by a nearby village. Flames could be seen. Great numbers of wounded continued to arrive. Several teams were working. We worked from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. After 2 p.m., we went on our rounds and performed dressings. Then we slept for one hour—from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
All these cases were wounded by bullets, one with the
lower half of his face shot away. An American sculptress in Paris would send to the soldiers home for a photograph and from this she would make a sculpture of his face. A famous plastic surgeon in Paris would then build up his face.
One of the wounded, a captain of the Foreign Legion, a very handsome man, was dying with a bullet in the spine. He said: “Je suis très, très fatigué.” The dying always spoke gently, as if they reverenced death.
Bringing joy to the troops
The Dumbells were the most famous vaudeville troupe of the First World War. They were drawn from the ranks of the 3rd Division and entertained fellow troops on the front lines, often under fire. After the war, the group stayed together until 1929, performing in 12 cross-country tours and playing Broadway and Londons West End. Jack Ayre, the groups piano player, who died in 1977at age 82, recalled the war years in an interview two years before his death.
WE USED TO GET SUNDAY OFF, but we worked, and worked hard, the other six days of the week. We
didn’t mind that, though. We loved it, and another thing, we were out of the trenches. Everybody was sick of the war by that time. We were sick of disease, sick of all the death, and morale was really low when Capt. Plunkett organized the original eight of us and started entertaining the troops. No one can realize unless they were there how much that meant to the troops.
We always performed up in the forward area of the war. In fact, one of our shows had to be stopped when a shell came through the roof and went out the other side of the building. The idea was that we were up where we were needed. When the boys came out of the lines for a short breather, we had a show ready for them. We weren’t allowed to play in very big places because they didn’t want too many men congregated in one spot because of shellfire or a bomb.
We used to sleep on the stage after the show. We’d just take a blanket and lie down on the hard board stage. I used to sleep close to the piano so if anything came in, I’d have that extra protection. Anyway, it was better than a trench. I always figured that playing the piano saved my life because my battalion suffered great casualties after I joined the Dumbells. The company I had been in came out of one battle with 43 men—215 had gone in.
‘Everybody was going crazy'
At 100, Gladys Lomax’s lifetime encompasses the Wright brothers’ first flight and the exploration of space; the Boer War and Desert Storm. Ten years ago, she had to quit working as a hospital gift-shop volunteer in Toronto because, she chuckles, “I couldn’t see the cash register too well and I couldn’t hear what the customers wanted.”
But with the help of a friend, the widowed Lomax (husband Frank, a First World War veteran, died in 1982) still goes grocery shopping every Saturday, watches tennis on television in her two-bedroom lakeside condo and shares with visitors the memories of a century. Among the most vivid, Armistice Day, 1918, when she was 18.
THE ARMISTICE WAS SIGNED at the eleventh hour on Nov. 11, but that would probably have been only six o’clock in the morning in Toronto and I didn’t find out about it until I got to work. I was working for an insurance company on the first floor of an office building at the corner of Richmond and Yonge streets. In those days, we were called stenographers. Now, I’d probably be called a secretary. We stood at the window and watched the celebration outside.
There were crowds all over. Everybody was going crazy. Chaps were climbing onto the roofs of the streetcars. Men were going into Woolworth’s and buying powder and feather dusters, anything to throw or wave. There was an awful lot of noise, and everybody was kissing somebody. It wasn’t really safe to be around, and I went home as soon as I could.
In 1918, right after the war, there was that worldwide flu epidemic. I remember that and it was horrible. Everybody was quite scared. I was working for the manager of the insurance company and his wife died. We used to suck lozenges every time we went on the streetcar to try to prevent us catching the germs.
Â teenager goes to war for Spain
In 1936, the Spanish military, supported by Fascist Italy and Germany, rebelled against the country’s republican government, sparking a 21/2-year civil war that became I a test run for the world war just around the corner.
The Spanish Civil War fired the imaginations of young people around the world opposed to fascism, including 19-year-old Jules Paivio from Sudbury, Ont.
I ARRIVED IN FRANCE ON an American boat with help from the Communist party in Toronto. That was February, 1937. The trade unions
arranged a bus to the foothills, then we had to enter Spain by walking over the high Pyrenees, which was very difficult. Some professor from Seattle couldn’t breathe in that rarified atmosphere. So we had to pull him on a sleigh over the snow, then wait for a snowstorm to hide our crossing from the border guards. We were all volunteers, from all over the world.
Some of the Britishers from Western Canada had served in the First World War, so they’d had training. I’d hardly used a rifle, maybe a .22 to hunt partridge. As a young boy, I read a lot and I guess I was radicalized in the process.
It was an emotional feeling to go and help a people who were being attacked. And, of course, I didn’t see much future during the Depression in
IN THE SAILED DIEPPE RAID, 'there was no safe place, nowhere to hide'
Canada. I had wanted to go to university and just couldn’t afford it.
In all, I was there for two years and two months. I was just an ordinary soldier, a runner in some of the early campaigns. In April, 1938, I was captured by the Italians and put in a prisoner of war camp for one year and one week. Most international brigadiers were shot when they were captured, no questions asked. But I was lucky. They brought the firing squad out for us. I was so young. Quite a sadness came over me. So many things to do in life. But with strong comrades, you’ll accept it and you’ll die standing up and proudly. Fortunately, a general with fascist black plumes happened by and said, “No, we want to exchange the internationalists for Italian PoWs.”
As it turned out, I’ve lived a very interesting lifetime since then: I went on to be an architect and a teacher.
A bloody testing ground for D-Day
One April day in 1940, 22-year-old Jack Poolton ofKapuskasing, Ont., walked onto the Canadian Exhibition grounds in Toronto and signed up to serve in the Second World War.
A little more than two years later, Poolton embarkedfrom his English base for a raid on Dieppe, a French coastal town heavily fortified by the occupying Germans. The young private survived that day, his capture and more than 342years in a German PoWcamp. Now 81, he still vividly remembers the 24 hours of the failed Aug. 19, 1942, raid that paved the way for the successfulJune 6,1944, D-Day invasion.
THE COLONEL AND THE COMPANY commander gave us a lecture. They said, "We're not all comin' back." It's a helluva thing to hear, but you
have to be practical.
When it was time to leave the ship—it would have been between 1 and 2 in the morning—we went through in silence, single file, holding on to the bayonet scabbard of the man in front so you didn’t stumble. We got on the landing
craft, were lowered into the sea and bade farewell to the mother ship. It was like leaving home, leaving the safety of that mother ship.
We’re in the landing craft and there’s no lights, no radio communication; you’re stricdy on your own. After an hour or so, we heard this firing off to our left. There were searchlights flashing out towards the sea and an airplane overhead. It dropped these chandelier flares that held up in the air and lit everything up. We were under machine-gun fire from about 500 yards out; it sounded like hail on a tin roof. A bullet went through the shoulder of my tunic. The naval crew took the landing craft right in, in front of this one machinegun. By the time I got to the ramp, there were at least four bodies that I had to step over.
I dropped off the ramp into about eight feet of water and then staggered up to the beach. I had lost track of my pla-
toon. A machine-gun was kicking up the stones at my feet and I couldn’t believe he missed me. I turned to the right and ran over to a shallow abutment with two dead men giving me protection till I got my bearings.
Somebody—I don’t know who—shouted an order: “If you can get out, get out!” There was a mad rush for this landing craft, but I never made a move because I wasn’t wounded. Then the Germans sank that landing craft. I remember seeing all these guys hanging on the side and the Germans were machine-gunning all along their hands. Next, they dropped a
mortar right inside the landing craft and, just a mess, terrible. Guys were blown out into the water.
There was no safe place, nowhere to hide. Mortars were coming all up the beach, very close, within 25 or 30 feet. I could hear the bullets going into the two dead men. I couldn’t understand why none of them hit me. A sniper hit the rim of my helmet, but I had my chin strap on like you were supposed to. It tore a piece of the rim out of my helmet.
Eventually, three of us, we took off down the beach
Confronting the enemy, alone
In 1940, Ernest (Smokey) Smith was a 25-year-old construction worker in New Westminster, B.C., when he decided to enlist in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and join the war effort. Four years later, on the night of Oct. 21, Pte. Smith was ordered, along with six other men, to spearhead an attack against the Germans, just across the Savio River in northern Italy. In the ensuing fight, all of the other men were either wounded or killed, leaving Smith to face the Germans alone. For the bravery he showed in single-handedly fending off the enemy, Smith, now 85 and living in Vancouver, received the Victoria Cross, the highest Commonwealth decoration for military valour.
IT HAD BEEN RAINING HARD beforewe crossed the Savio. It had risen six feet, and when we went across, the water was up to our chins. We held every-
thing over our heads, especially our cigarettes. About a mile farther on, we got to our position and immediately were attacked by tanks. Most of my men were killed or wounded and it ended up there were only two of us. Another tank came and the man I was with, Jimmy Tennant from near Lethbridge, Alta., got hit in the arm. When
the Germans charged again, Jimmy, of course, couldn’t do anything. I knocked out the tank with my P.I.A.T. [projectile infantry antitank]. Then, a bunch of German infantrymen charged me. They were only about 30 feet away.
I killed four and the others fled. I got Jimmy out, then I went back to my position and stayed there. I was told later that I changed the whole picture of that front by knocking out those tanks.
Shortly after that, the war in Italy was fin-
ished. That was the last action I saw. They won’t let you fight any more after you win the Victoria Cross. They pull you out... if you’re alive. Most of the men who got the Victoria Cross were dead. We left the region on Dec. 12, and they flew me down to Naples and locked me up in the post office. They thought I’d go out on the town. They knew me well enough, I guess. Then, they flew me to England and the King [George VI] gave me the VC. I went to Buckingham Palace. It was a great thing for an ordinary Joe to meet a king. When I got home, there was a ticker-tape parade in New Westminster and so many “do’s” I lost count.
figuring we could get to where these other regiments were. Maybe they were having better luck. But we were cut off by a machine-gun. This guy opened up on us. We weren’t sure if he could see us, or whether he had just let a burst go, but we decided not to return the fire and bring his attention down on us. Since we couldn’t get through, we decided to go back and there were German soldiers down on the beach. That was pretty much the end of it.
I honestly believe that the Dieppe raid was meant to fail. What hurt the most is that our leaders had put us into such an impossible position. But the funny part of it was, the Germans believed it was the second front. So it proved its worth, as far as Stalin and Roosevelt and Churchill were concerned. They figured it was big enough to look like an invasion. The whole thing was madness.
A woman’s war on the home front
Annette Wolff’s efforts to find a job before the Second World War reflect some of the career limitations then faced by many Canadian women. Butin 1940, Wolff went to work in a munitions plant near Montreal. Despite being given substantial responsibility for hiring during the war, Wolff again faced career obstacles in the postwar era. All of a sudden, says Wolff, now 88 and still living in Montreal, it became important to have a university degree.
I HAD ALWAYS WANTED to be a beekeeper. I was fascinated by insects. It was 1928. I wanted to go to (McGill University's) Macdonald College, but
the dean wouldn’t have city girls. He said they would be a waste of time because city girls only wanted it for the lark, while country girls would go ahead with bee farms. But people at that time still had beehives in the city.
Our family dentist told my mother there was a new profession that had been set up—dental hygienist— and that the province of Quebec was going to pass a law to allow people with this training to practise. The training would have to be taken in the States. Off I went to Boston. The course was a 12-month course. I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I came home, I went to see this man who was the provincial health officer and I said: “Here’s what I’ve studied, and here are my marks.” He said: “Miss Wolff, put it away, were not going to pass the law, we’re not interested in dental hygiene. Don’t you know there has been a Depression? If we can keep our mental health all right, it will be something.” When I went to try and get work in the Depression years, I was told, “Oh, we only employ boys or men.” But during the war, I hired nearly 20,000 people. I was directly responsible to an army major. One day, after I had been doing this for over a year, he said to me: “You’re a bit
of a brat. This isn’t the kind of job for you. This is a man’s job.” He said: “I’ll bring somebody in for you to train.”
After the war, when I applied to be a personnel officer, it didn’t matter that I had all that experience. I couldn’t get a job in administration, in personnel work, because I had no university degree. That’s when I swung over to the steamship business as the personal assistant to the general manager of the Home Lines Steamship Company. After that, I did holiday replacement in different shipping company offices. They all knew me. I was known as the grey eminence.
Saving Britain from the Nazis
In June, 1940, waves of German bombers and Messerschmitts began an intense five-month attack on Britain—including bombing the city of London for 57 consecutive nights. The bombardment, along with the British aerial counter-attack, became known as the Battle of Britain and led to Winston Churchills famous declaration: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few. ”Among the few was RCAFpilot Hartland Molson, now 92, scion of the famous Montreal brewing and banking family.
I WAS A QUALIFIED CIVILIAN PILOT for some years before the war. So when the war started, I went to our fighter squadron here in Montreal and signed up.
We flew Hurricanes. The Spitfires came along a little later and were more sophisticated. But we were pretty pleased with the Hurricanes because they were terribly sturdy. A lot of our people got shot, but we were still able to come back and talk about it.
I shot a few Huns down, not a great many. You did a bit of shooting at people you didn’t like and you got shot back at. It was quite an exciting time. Long hours, great deal of pressure. It was not like the individual dogfights you read about in the First World War. These were much faster aircraft, much tougher aircraft. Our machines took quite a beating, but we didn’t do badly. We shot a couple down of course. But, as we used to laugh about afterwards, some of us forgot to look around and sometimes that caused us to get shot down ourselves. I was stupid enough once to get excited chasing a plane and not look around—and I got shot down over England.
It’s a phase in your life, it’s nothing like your regular life.
These were massive air raids coming over from Germany. It looked as though they could blow you out of existence. But our training stood us in good stead.
Nobody knew at that time which way the war was going to go. We knocked a helluva lot of them down, enough anyway to stop the talk about invasion. None of us felt we were such brilliant heroes that we saved the world. But in the end, considering we hadn’t done much in our lives practising for this, I guess the result was we got by. We felt we contributed our little bit. If you look back at the history books, that’s the way it reads. We got through, and Britain is still there. We passed the exam.
The spy who came in from the water
In 1942, Marguerite Annett Beebe, then 27, worked at the family’s hotel in New Carlisle on Quebec’s Gaspé coast when a mysterious guest arrived. He was Nazi spy Lieut. Werner Janowski, who had been put ashore by U-boat.
MY BROTHER EARLE WAS 18 at the time. He had had a bicycle accident when he was a little fellow and hurt his knee badly. He'd had it oper-
ated on in Montreal, but never could bend his leg properly, so he couldn’t go to war and he was in an awful state. So we joked with him and said: “Look, Earle, don’t bother, we’ll catch a spy,” just joking, never thinking that we were going to get a spy. From that day on, every stranger
THE HORRORS OF BELSEN overwhelmed Alex Colville
who came in, he was a spy, until we got the right fellow.
On Nov. 9, this guy arrived at the hotel on foot. He wanted a room, a meal and a place to eat. He spoke English with a strong accent. We had one room available downstairs, so Dad gave him that. But Dad noticed he had a funny diesel smell. He was the only one that noticed it, because when he was a young fellow sometimes his uncles, who were on boats, would take him with them. And this guy had told us he had walked in from somewhere or other. But Dad said, “Well, he never did, because that smell of the sea is here in this hotel today.”
He also had old out-of-circulation dollar bills. Anyway, he was going to take the train to Montreal. So Dad told the police he wanted this fella picked up, because he seemed to be a strange character. The police arrested him at the next station, Bonaventure, and they opened up his valise and found a radio transmitter, American dollar bills, a .25-calibre automatic, and maps of New Brunswick, Toronto, Quebec and Montreal, and a driver’s licence for someone in Toronto. He confessed, became a double agent and ended up in England.
‘There were at least 30,000 bodies’
Alex Colville enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1942, after receiving his fine arts degree from Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Two years later, he headed overseas as a member of Canada’s small group of war artists and spent the next year recording troop landings in the south ofFrance andfollowing Canadian infantry through Holland and into Germany. (Most of his 394 works from the war years are part of the Canadian War Museum art collection in Ottawa.) But Colville, now 79 and living in Wolfville, N.S., says his most searing wartime memories are of a concentration camp.
THE CANADIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER to Great Britain was Vincent Massey who was interested in art, and when Belsen in Germany was the first concentration camp to be overrun somewhere around mid-
April, 1945, he asked that a Canadian war artist be sent there. It was like an army camp with the standard huts, the whole place surrounded by barbed wire.
There were British medical troops there, although not enough of them. They weren’t prepared for this sort of thing. I don’t think anyone was prepared for it: there were five or six big open pits, 30 feet across and 100 feet long and 10
D-Day: parachuting behind enemy lines
In the darkened early hours of June 6, 1944-before D-Day’s dawn-the assault on Nazi-occupied Europe began with an advance guard of paratroopers, including the 600-strong 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. Among the first to land behind enemy lines was 20-year-old Jan de Vries, now of Pickering, Ont.
IN A SECTION OF 10 MEN, I was what you called the bomber. I carried most of the grenades and a Sten gun and extra magazines. I think I went in with about 80 lb. of ammunition, which made it tough to go into a roll to ease the force of the landing. It was our job to secure the drop zone, and take out a German headquarters, a signal station and strong points.
When the planes crossed the coast, the
anti-aircraft scared a few of the pilots and they started to take evasive action. The men standing up with all the weight of their equipment were thrown all over the place. So when the light came on to go out, they had to unscramble themselves and the result was that, instead of being grouped together on landing, we were tossed all over. This cost us about 80 men who were spread as much as 40 miles from one extreme to another. Many were picked up by the German patrols.
I finally hooked up with the main group just about daylight. Fortunately, of the 120 men, the 35 who landed where they were supposed to actually accomplished everything that was to be done.The fact that we were scattered all about had the Germans wondering exactly where the attack
was supposed to come from. Since they were coming across paratroops all over the place, they held back their armoured divisions long enough for the main attack to get a foothold on the beach. That was a benefit that was unexpected.
For the longest time afterwards, I could never sleep with my eyes closed.That was from all the nights that you spend worrying about who is sneaking up on you. Early on, I was told to go find the Germans, all by myself, and report back. In the first field, I ran across one of our own fellowsa sniper had got him right in the forehead.
I tell you, I then ran a lot faster and lower than before.
I enlisted because I felt it was my duty. All my classmates were going into the military. There was no way I was going to let them go without me. You can't let somebody else take your responsibility.
to 15 feet deep. There were at least 30,000 bodies. There were several hundred more dying of typhus each day.
I did several drawings of bodies lying outside the huts. When people died, they would be dragged out by other inmates. I did a watercolour of one of the pits—just a kind of panoramic view. When I was back in Ottawa, still in the army, I did a rather ineffectual oil painting based on some of the drawings of the corpses (.Bodies in a Grave, Belseri), which is in the War Museum. My artistic reaction was somewhat understated. One just isn’t prepared for this.
Voice of war-and peace
The voice of the CBC’s Matthew Halton resonated through Canadian living rooms during the Second World War, bringing home the horrors and victories ofthat conflagration. Halton lived and worked in Europe for nearly 25 years until his death from a stomach ulcer in 1956at age 52. Here is an excerpt from his Aug. 26, 1944, radio report, while accompanying Canadian and other Allied troops, on the liberation of Paris.
WE CAME IN from the south, along the Avenue d'Italie. For hours we had strained our eyes
for the first sight of Paris. And then, suddenly, there it was, the most beautiful city in the world, and the people surging into
the streets in millions. We crossed the river to the Ile de la Cité, the cradle of Paris history . . . and us there now . . . hand in hand with history. And past NotreDame, and then up the Avenue of the Opera, to the Scribe Hotel. Here, the crowds were just beginning to come into the streets, mad with happiness. My friends were shouting: “// est Canadien ... he’s a Canadian,” and I knew what it was to feel like a king.
Romancing the soldiers
Nancy Koemer, 73, was one of an estimated 48,000 European women who fell in love with and married Canadian soldiers during the Second World War—and who then immigrated to Canada after the war ended. When she was 16, Koemer met her future husband, Jim, a private with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, at a 1943 dance in Glasgow. They married two years later and in August,
1946, at the age of 19, she set sail along with several hundred other war brides from Southampton, England. Five days later, they docked in
Halifax, where most of the women boarded a train and began the long journey across Canada. After another five days, Koemer arrived in Edmonton, where she and her husband still reside.
ONTHE BOAT TRTP OVER, we had lovely food that we hadn't seen for so lông because of the rationing. We had
white bread, chocolate bars. It was wonderful.
After we boarded the train, it was totally unbelievable. It was such a huge country. We thought we were going to the end of the world.
There were women being dropped off in the middle of the Prairies, in the middle of the night. We watched to see if they got up. We didn’t know what we had gotten into.
We didn’t know a thing about Canada, came from the big city of Glasgow to was then a small town with walks. But I liked Edmonton. It was a pretty place and there was beautiful sunshine. It was a nice autumn when we arrived, so it allowed us to ease into the shock of winter. My sisterin-law took me to the Army & Navy store to buy a pair of winter boots. She said: “If you don’t get these, your feet will freeze.”
Shordy after I arrived, they started a war brides’ society. We were so happy to join because it was aH the girls from overseas, and we became lifetime friends. We needed that, because we had nobody, absolutely nobody. I wrote to my family all the time, but I couldn’t afford to call. We had two children, one after the other, and we barely made enough to pay the rent and buy groceries. It was 19 years before I was able to go back to see them. In the end, we were better off here. The country has been good to us.
Back to the trenches, this time in Korea
The Korean War broke out in the summer of1950 when the United Nations was in its infancy, Cold War tensions were on the rise and Canada was in the final stages ofdisbanding its Second World War army. Keeping communism at bay fell largely to career soldiers such as Warrant Officer Bmce Richardson. The Montrealer, then 31, arrived in Pusan in the spring of 1951 as part of the Canadian Army Special Force.
IN SOME WAYS, IT WAS ALMOST an experimental war. It was cold in the winter, but we were very lucky-we got the first Canadian-type of parka, which the troops are still wearing. (They're good to about 70-below.) I think
I took the first Canadian night patrol out, but we soon had to go back in: those nylon trousers, you’d hear them swish so loud they would wake people up.
Once I went up a hill with a bunch of men and we captured a lot of Chinese soldiers. They had radio sets with the red Maple Leaf on them that said “Made
IRE POSTWAR ERA brings a new role as global peacekeeper
in Canada.” That’s how they could listen to all our radio talk.
We lived in trenches for almost the entire 20 months we were there. We didn’t meet many ordinary Koreans—the villages were usually smashed up before we got there. We found an orphan once. Just a little guy. He was crying, running around—his mother was killed. We called him Willie Royal, after the Royal Canadian Regiment, and the regiment paid for his upkeep and his education in South Korea, right up until 1991, when he graduated from university as an engineer.
Defying the warlords
In a visit of just six hours to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on June 28, 1992, French president François Mitterrand managed to draw international attention to the plight of the city’s 300,000 mostly Muslim and Croat citizens. They had been under virtual siege by Serbian forces and without food or medical supplies during three months of civil war. After his visit, UN troops were dispatched to provide muchneeded humanitarian aid. MichelJones, then a 39-year-old lieutenant-colonel stationed at Daruvar, Croatia, led 750 Canadian peacekeepers on a 292-day, 300-km trek through the war-torn countryside to secure the Sarajevo airport for emergency supply shipments. Now 46, the Montreal native and 26-year veteran of the armed forces, remembers how he almost didn’t make it.
MY BATTLE GROUP left Daruvar for Sarajevo around 4 in the morning.
The reception of the villagers along the way was very cheerful and enthusiastic. You could see hope in their eyes. But when we got to Turbe, the
front line between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims, I met with a Serb warlord who had a political adviser who was putting pressure on him to stop us. He had approximately 2,000 troops in the area, with tank, artillery, mortars and anti-tank weapons. I tried to negotiate with him, but he was really drunk. After about two hours, I saw there was no way to reach an agreement. He had started to open fire upon the Muslims, and I was really concerned that the Muslims would respond with mortar fire, so I withdrew my troops.
Snake and alligator for dinner
As a 20-year-old army telecommunications specialist, Gerry O’Pray served on one of the earliest UN peacekeeping missions, in the Republic of the Congo in 1961. For the Amherst, N.S.-born O’Pray, it was the first of four peacekeeping tours in the African nation. Now 59, O’Pray is a gymnastics coach and active UN association volunteer in Toronto.
BEFORE I WENT ABROAD, ALL I KNEW about the Congo and Africa was Tarzan, i certainly didn’t know the history I would be making as a Canadian peacekeeping soldier. In the Congo, there was violence all around me. Tribal warfare, political parties fighting each other. Famine was everywhere.
Once every two weeks, a plane would come from Canada with fresh supplies, but we would run out quickly and be left with stuff like powdered eggs and powdered milk. Terrible food. I ended up eating from the local people. I didn’t know what I was eating-snake, alligator. I just asked for it to be cooked well-done. What I was doing was very dangerous because they still had the plague over there. I was really lucky that I never got sick.
As soon as I got back home, I volunteered for another tour of duty. I eventually did go to the Gaza Strip, but before I went, I worked in an underground bunker just outsideTruro, N.S.They were undergound military communications centres to be used in the event of a nuclear attack. And I saw the list of who could go in, in case of an attack. There were no women on that list. What sense does that make? You want all these guys to survive and no women? Great way to repopulate Canada in the event of war.
The next morning, a Serbian liaison officer came to see us. We explained what had happened with the warlord. He could not understand because everybody had received clear orders to let us go through. He went to see the warlord and came back about two hours later and told me that the warlord didn’t want to obey the orders of his core commander. I said: “It’s unfortunate,
but I’m going to push and go through this time.” We did try to move forward, but were stopped by a Serbian roadblock. After a few minutes, the warlord was called. I challenged him—I told him we were going to go through. Some of my troops were already deployed in case there was an exchange of fire. I had troops around the roadway and some snipers in the hills. He saw the determination we had at that time and, after about an hour of discussion, agreed to let me go through. This time, he was sober.