Chapter Four
On to victory

The drive through Antwerp was very interesting.  We passed via a tunnel that had been built under the Scheldt River.  It was about a mile long and was finished with white tiles on the walls and ceiling.  It had a different type of lighting, sort of an amber colour.  The effect was almost like a movie set.  However we were not long going through and were back to the darkness again.
Once past Antwerp, the convoy had an hour stop, to check if all was going okay, and to give us all a chance to get out and stretch ourselves.  Around midnight we arrived at a small town called “'s-Herto­gen­bosch” and had another stop for a quick check of the trucks and carriers.  Some of the trucks were starting to overheat because of the slow pace of travel and some carriers threw their tracks and this meant more delays.  At 0400 hours, it was decided to stop for an hour's nap, as we were all pretty sleepy and tired.

Missing soldier

An hour later the order was given to proceed, but one of our crew was missing.  It was our despatch rider and when we found him, he looked as if he had been drinking and had passed out.  We threw him in the carrier and put him in my seat.  I took over his motorcycle for him.  Ten minutes later, someone noticed that only part of the convoy was following us.  I was sent back to see what the trouble was and I found that they were still asleep.  I had a hell of a time waking them up.  I roared up and down the road to wake them.
Finally we got underway again and it was pretty scary for me as I had never driven at night, let alone without lights.  I couldn't see a damn thing.  I tried pulling in the clutch and revving up the engine to get some light on the road, since the battery seemed to be almost discharged.  All the light did was give a little flicker.  I thought that the rest of the convoy would keep going, but all at once a truck loomed up ahead, stopped on the road thirty feet away.
I jammed on the brakes but being so close the bike slid at an angle to the truck and I hit the back of the 60 hundred­weight truck.  The handlebar touched the left side of the truck and snapped back catching me in the breast bone.  This probably saved my life as I missed the full impact of hitting the tail­gate.  I took a dive onto the road and landed head first and the crash helmet broke into two pieces.  It was a good thing that I didn't have the chin strap fastened or it might have broken my neck.  I was lying on the road trying to catch my breath.  The Jeeps and trucks following almost ran over me.  When I recovered enough to stand up, I discovered that my belt buckle had been bent in a U shape and I had lost the heel off my right boot.  My gloves were worn down to my skin, from sliding down the road.  The front wheel of the bike was alongside the rear one making it a write-off.  The driver of the truck was amazed that I had survived.  So was I!  He helped me get in and the convoy got underway.
At daybreak we came to a first aid station and the officer in charge told me to stay there and get checked out.  I was black and blue all down my right side and I hurt all over.  I had two dandy black eyes, from the helmet hitting me.  The officer said that he was recommending that I go to a hospital for X-rays.  I told him that I didn't want to go anywhere except to find my unit.  I knew that if I went to the hospital, it would mean going to a holding unit afterwards and then to another battalion.  I certainly didn't want to change at this stage of the war.  We had quite an argument and he finally gave in and put me in an ambulance and told the driver to dump me off at Nijmegen.
The driver was of the opinion that I wasn't in any shape to go wandering by myself.  We drove to Nijmegen and the place was packed with troops.  Its seemed that the whole Canadian army was there.  We spent the next three hours looking for the Queen's Own Rifles mortar platoon and around four in the afternoon we finally found them.  They were set up in a forward position at a small town called “Berg en Dal” which straddled the border between Holland and Germany.  The ambulance driver had to stay the night since it was dark and he wasn't sure of finding his way back.
Captain Dunkelman took one look at me and said “What in hell happened to you?”.  When I gave him the details, he said to take it easy for awhile.  I was pretty sore for a few days but being young I soon recovered.  Two weeks later I thought that I should try riding a bike again.  When the new one arrived, I got on and all of a sudden I got the shakes.  I felt foolish, so I gunned the engine and tore off down the road and everything was okay again.


We were staying in some houses that had been damaged when the American 82nd Air Borne Division had landed and seized Nijmegen.  They were a hundred yards from the German border, so we crawled over and jumped over the fence, so that we could brag about having been in Germany.  When we got back, we were greeted by a few mortar shells coming in.  I guess we had been spotted and got out just in time.  For us, it was a time of watching and waiting.  We were about a mile back of the front with no clearly defined forward line.  It was a no-man's land with patrols coming and going.
One day the captain called me in and showed me a map on which he had marked out a couple of roads.  He wanted me to take the bike and check them out.  After driving a mile or so I seemed to be in a big empty space.  The whole area was empty and eerie.  When I drove down the dirt road, I came to a spot where a big German tank had taken a direct hit.  Parts of the tank were all over the field and the only piece left was the bottom of the tank that had been forced down in the dirt, level with the road.  I had a strange feeling that I was being watched as I kept going.  The road ended at the edge of a large woods called the “Reichs­wald Forest”.
When I reported back, the captain had a Jeep waiting.  He said to jump in and we would go and take another look.  When we drove across that open space again I still had the feeling that we were being watched.  We pulled up at the edge of the woods and crawled forward.  I had no idea what we were looking for.  As we came to the far edge of the woods, there was an open field and in the field were about twenty gliders.  These had been part of the 82nd Airborne Division.  Some of the gliders had crashed on landing and many were still intact with some of the American soldiers still in them.  When we stood up for a better look, we were spotted and bullets started coming in over our heads.  The captain yelled “Let's get the hell out of here”.  I think he set a new record for the 100 yard dash with me right behind him!
I remember looking back that we had seen a bunch of Germans at the far edge of the field but I guess we just got a little careless.  This was another story for Captain Dunkelman at the officers' mess.
Some stories came out about the relief of the American 82nd Airborne Division.  Our companies were at about half strength with only six or seven men to a section.  At one spot a section of four soldiers of the Queen's Own Rifles were sent out to relieve a platoon of Yanks consisting of thirty soldiers.  The Americans seemed insulted and one said that he had heard that the Canadians were good but he didn't think that we were that good.  One of our privates told him that we were not as noisy.  The Americans had been making so much noise that they could be heard a hundred yards away.  They were in a large house playing cards and shooting craps.  They were a good bunch though and started trading badges and pistols and they left in good spirits.  Some of them had also lost a lot of friends during their parachute jump.
There was no doubt in my mind that the Yanks were better equipped and their food was excellent.  They had canned turkey, chicken, beef, spaghetti, and lots of it along with sweets.  They seem to have an endless supply of cigarettes on hand.

Holding pattern

It was about this time that Captain Dunkelman was promoted to major and posted to D Company as the new company commander.  He had done a great job with the mortar platoon and there was no doubt that he would carry on as usual.  We were all sorry to see him leave us.  There was a shortage of officers with the battle experience that he had.  He was one of the few who had survived since D-Day.
His replacement was a Lieutenant Dean, who had been in the rifle companies and had been wounded.  He seemed to be an odd duck, never really getting close to the men in the mortar platoon.  He was hardly ever around which suited us just fine, as we didn't need parade-​ground discipline in a forward zone.
The next three months were spent in a holding pattern.  Our supply lines had been stretched to the limit and we had to wait for supplies and reinforcements.  A lot of patrols were sent out, trying to find out exactly where the Germans were.  They seemed to know where we were; every time we moved around some mortar bombs would come crashing down on us.
The Queen's Own Rifles were in reserve at this time but we had to be ready in case a counter­attack came in.  Living conditions weren't too bad in this location.  We had some houses to stay in, and the cooks had a decent place to prepare the meals.  We even had time to watch a couple of movies in an empty schoolhouse.
A lot of reinforcements started arriving and they had to attend some training courses, probably so they would be able to duck at the right time.  It was quite a shock to some of the recruits, since they had been anti-​aircraft gunners and service corps personnel, to find themselves in a front line roll.
Near the end of November, we had to move out of our plush quarters to a spot, about four or five miles east of Nijmegen, near a big bend in the Waal River.  The Germans had blown some of the dykes and there was a lot of flooding in the lower areas.  Because of the high water, we had to carry in most of our food and ammunition supplies.  It was especially hard on the night patrols; they were soaked by the time they got back.
A new element was added to the war arsenal shortly after our arrival in Holland.  The Germans started firing V-2 rockets towards England.  We could see the smoke trails that they left behind as they went almost straight up and then headed north.  They traveled at such a high speed that there was no defense against them.

Combat again

Later we moved further east and north to a new position.  It wasn't long before the patrols ran into a German strong point, and all hell let loose.  One of the D-Day company sergeant-majors showed his battle experience and managed to bring the platoon out of a dangerous situation.  He called back for help and had the Typhoons drop some bombs on several buildings, where the enemy were holding out.  For his part in this action Company Sergeant-major Charles Martin was awarded the military medal.  There was no doubt that he saved a lot of the boys that day.
In December, with the water still rising, the Queen's Own Rifles moved out and the North Shore Regiment took over.  We moved up closer to the river where there was a number of German troops.  One of our patrols got surprised and all hell let loose again, with machine gun fire and mortar bombs coming in.  Since it was considered a static front, the mortar platoon was used as a rear­guard back-up.
During the second week of December we went to the rear and got cleaned up again.  Some of us even had a chance to go into Nijmegen to see a show.  It were part of the army's troop entertainment section.  I had never seen this type of show before and found some of the skits silly, but it did amuse us for the time being.
In mid-December we moved again and were in an area south­east of Nijmegen.  The Germans had taken one of the outposts and once again the Queen's Own Rifles had to go in and knock it out.  There was a lot of shooting going on and at one point we thought that we would be overrun.  Tran and I got on top of a haystack to get a better look at what was going on when suddenly a hail of bullets hit the stack and some just missed us.  We slid off the stack and got behind a stone wall in case the Germans got through.  Luckily for us the artillery fire that had been called in knocked out some of the German positions.  The lieutenant in charge was wounded but hung on until he was relieved.  He was later posted to the mortar platoon.  He received the military cross for his part in this action.
During this period when we were back in reserve and sitting around cleaning up our equipment, we noticed a small spotter plane circling overhead around fifteen hundred feet up.  Nobody paid much attention to it, until one of the guys took a look at it with his field glasses.  He yelled out that it was a German spotter plane.  One of the men from the carrier section ran over to his carrier and loaded up the 50 calibre machine gun and started firing bursts at the plane.  Suddenly the engine started smoking and the plane went into a long glide path back towards the German lines.  This type of plane was used by the artillery for spotting their targets.

Digging in

In mid-December, the Germans broke through the American lines at the Ardennes Forest.  Immediately bulldozers were brought into the Nijmegen area and started digging out trenches for the tanks and self-​propelled guns to take cover in.  This would be our first line of defense in case of an attack in our sector.  Another thing that was done was to gas up all the vehicles and have everything ready for a pull back, if it became necessary.
The Queen's Own Rifles went back to the area by the flats, next to the river.  We were in a holding area again.
Just after dark we started hearing a clip-​clop sound on a road not too far over the river.  We thought that it might be someone taking the evening meals out to the Germans.  After a couple of nights of listening the lieutenant thought it would be good practice for the mortars to see if they could deprive the enemy of their meal.  One mortar was set up, lined up and a couple of bombs fired, with no results.  The guy driving the horse kept whistling the Blue Danube waltz.  The next night a couple of more bombs were dropped and still they missed.  By this time the officer was getting frustrated and suddenly the light came on.  He said, that since the German was so close, it meant that the mortars were firing almost straight up.  The flight path must be getting diverted by the winds higher up.
He got on the phone to the air force command centre and explained the problem.  They confirmed that at five thousand feet up there was a strong wind blowing from the east.  At that distance our bombs would be right in the high wind area.  We could hardly wait for the next night's delivery.  This time the mortars were aimed away to the right and only one bomb was dropped.  When the whistling continued another bomb was dropped and there was no more clip-​clopping on the road.  I bet the Germans must have been pretty mad because they shelled our location several times, but didn't hit anyone.
Another chap and I were looking after bringing in our rations, since the area was almost all under water.  I noticed a half gallon of rum in the ration box.  Someone had decided that we should have three quarters of an ounce per day, to keep out the chill.  The gang all decided that we should save it for a party when we got back to Nijmegen and so we did.
Just after Christmas we went back and stayed in some houses that had been evacuated.  One chap had been in town and returned with three bottles of gin.  On New Year's eve, the gin and a gallon and a half of rum was all mixed together in a big pot and the drinking began.  Then it started to rain and it was freezing, but that didn't bother us.  At midnight we set up a mortar and let one go to celebrate the new year.  Almost immediately the other side sent back a couple of rounds, but they were off target and no one was hurt.  None of us were feeling any pain by this time.

Missing carrier

Around eight o'clock in the evening, one of the drivers came in and said that a carrier was missing.  We looked around and one of our chaps was missing also.  Just then a call came in from British headquarters to the effect that one of our vehicles had slid down the road and had smashed a guardhouse, almost killing the soldier on guard.  Jim Tran, our driver, and I along with another chap got dressed and went out in the pouring rain.  We followed Jack Martin who was in a carrier just ahead of us.  The road was covered with ice and it was tricky driving.  Just outside of Nijmegen, we found the carrier and it had thrown a track.  To make matters worse the track was on the inside of the sprockets.  The boys had to take it apart in three sections and reassemble it back on.  By this time we were soaked and almost sobered up.
I talked Tran into letting me drive his carrier back.  He agreed; maybe he couldn't see the road either.  Boy that was an experience!  I had never driven one before and had to remember that the steering wheel actually applies a braking action to the inner track allowing the outer track to push the carrier around.  I don't know how I did it but I managed to drive back to our billets without anything happening, except for turning around in a circle a couple of times.  Tran said that he thought that I had done a good job.
Around this time the sergeants' mess was planning their Christmas dinner, but they were short of Dutch money for buying their liquor.  I remembered that my ammunition pouches were full of Dutch money that I had gathered up during our trip to clear up the Scheldt.  Since I had no place to spend it, I gave some of the money to the sergeant in exchange for a bottle.  I thought that it was a good trade.
On one of our excursions to Nijmegen, I noticed a lot of activity going on in the city square.  There were a few signs posted that said that “IT” was coming to town.  No one seemed to have any idea what “IT” was all about.  Finally it was announced that a free hamburger joint was going to open up.  On opening day, there were several thousand soldiers lined up waiting to get a hamburger, when our movie star, Field Marshall Montgomery, went by in an open vehicle, waving to one and all.  I guess that must have been the reason for the free burgers.
It got pretty cold in January and the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada network seemed to be working pretty well as we started receiving boxes of scarves, socks, and gloves, that had been sent over by some kind ladies who were connected to the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.  I never did find out who they were, but we sure appreciated the items.  We usually wore our socks for a week or two at a time and when we moved to Nijmegen, some other organization starting sending socks over by the hundreds, all hand knitted.  From then on I changed every week and left the dirty ones where some civilian could find them.  I was too lazy to wash them.  At least they wouldn't be wasted.

Pass to Brussels

In mid-​January, a bunch of us were given four-​day passes to Brussels.  The trip there was quite an ordeal, since we all rode in the back of a 60 hundred­weight truck, with no heating and with the exhaust fumes coming in under the truck flaps.  It's a wonder that we survived.
When we arrived, we were all billeted at a large hotel and even had private rooms.  What a luxury!  I headed for a liquor store called “Simone Simon”.  That's, a strange name but it was the name of the owner.  I asked him if he had some good Cognac and he started opening some bottles.  When I asked him what he was doing,he replied that one should always sample a bottle of wine before buying.  I bought five bottles of the best.
That night I went out to see the town and ended up at a large dance hall, with a full size orchestra playing.  As was usual in that part of the world, they played fast and loud, almost like a marching band.  They drank a couple of my bottles of Cognac and played Strauss waltzes for me all night.
The next morning I was awakened by a loud pounding on the door.  It was the maid coming to make up the beds, another surprise.  I had been warned to leave a tip or else the maids would likely steal something.  I left a twenty franc note, and when I returned that night everything was okay.  Some of the boys had some equipment missing.
That night we went to a cafe for a drink and the first thing I knew the female in charge came over with ten lovely looking gals and for a price we could take our pick.  I picked out a pretty dark haired gal who was a little nervous.  I guess she was just an apprentice.  It was a waste of money.  I went back to the dance hall to listen to the music.
The last night saw us back at the dance hall again and I had my last bottle to finish.  Two ladies came in and sat at my table.  It was a mother and her twenty year old daughter.  After they drank half of the bottle of Cognac, they started to get friendly.  They couldn't speak English and I didn't speak French too well, but we got along okay.  I told the old gal that I wanted to have a go with her daughter and she laughed and with her hands made a motion to mean that her girl would get pregnant.  I threw some condoms on the table and after a while she said that it would be alright.  So I was invited to spend the night with them.  It was a lot of fun.  The daughter must have been practicing because it was quite a session.  The next morning, her mother brought us breakfast in bed.
Since all good things have to come to an end, I got dressed and made ready to leave when the doorbell rang.  It was the girl's boy friend, an English soldier, coming to visit his girl.  What a laugh!  The mother explained that I was a friend who had just dropped in to say hello and was leaving.  I couldn't get out of there fast enough.  It was a long trip back and I had a hangover.

A small village

Near the end of January, we moved to a small village called “Nebo”.  Here we stayed in houses.  This was a welcome change from sleeping outside or in barns.  Some of the boys went out, discovered some empty houses, and returned with a pile of mattresses.  The next item that was borrowed was a piano and it was pushed down the main road and set up in one of our billets.  One of the guys could play very well and thus we had a little entertainment.
A week later we moved again, this time closer to the city.  The billets were a lot better.  Some of the civilians let us use the basements for cooking and even let us use their dining areas for taking our meals.
Being closer to the city meant that we could go out and look around the place.  Nijmegen was a nice place with some damage from the shelling and bombing when the airborne troops had landed.  The place was full of soldiers and we knew that this time out wouldn't last long.
A lot of 5.5 inch guns were being brought in and placed at about one hundred yard intervals.  All were aimed to the east.  There was one just outside our house and the gun crew stayed in the basement.  Outside there were huge piles of ammunition for the guns.  We knew that something big was going to take place very soon.
More recruits started arriving again and the whole battalion started battle drill courses.  This was necessary to give then some ideas of what was coming up.  What a time for this exercise, with the snow coming down and the whole place like a mud hole.  It was a case of grin and bear it.  The only good part was that we were still able to stay in some of the houses.  One of the guys disconnected the gas line to the kitchen stove, turned on the gas, and lit it.  The flame shot out three feet and warmed us up.  It was a wonder that the place didn't burn down.
Since we were using some of the house facilities such as toilets, washing, and heating; it was decided to keep track of the water, gas, and electricity used.  I had the job of going around the dozen houses and checking all the meters.  At one place I met the prettiest girl that I had ever seen and she took me down to the cellar to show me where the meters were.  She could speak a little English and I guess we must have taken too much time because her father came down and gave her hell in Dutch.  I couldn't make out what he said but he looked kind of mad.  One of the boys used to write to her after the war, but I don't know if anything ever came of it.
We had a great time for a week or so, playing cards at night and drinking some of the good Dutch gin.  Everything was in short supply so we gave them whatever we could do without.  The people sure appreciated it and when we finally had to pull out, it was almost like leaving home.
After nearly three months stay in Nijmegen, it was rumored that there were five hundred girls pregnant.  I wondered who the lucky guys were.  I think that some of the citizens were glad to see us move out.
During this period of rest and overhauling of the equipment, I was sent to Raven­stein, along with six other soldiers, to take a course on operating the new radio sets.  Raven­stein is twelve miles from Nijmegen and is a pretty little village.  The first thing I noticed was that the citizens swept off the sidewalk and road in front of their houses and places of business.
We had three days of instructions in operating the sets and then we strung a wire about four blocks to our billets.  I had the headset hung on a nail by my bunk and, in the morning, I could hear music coming out from the earphones.  It seems that the long wire acted as an aerial, so we put the earphones in a tin dish and you could hear the music all over the barracks.
One day while walking around the village, I met a pretty young lady and was invited up to her home for a meal.  What a surprise; she had nine sisters.  Her father was the local high school principal.  I don't know how her mother managed it, but she put on a great meal.  Afterwards the girls took turns playing the piano in duets and also three at the same time.  The father taught music at the school and that was how the girls got their love of music.
The village people were so nice to all of us.  They thought we were heroes or something.  I asked the officer in charge if we could have a small celebration before we left and he was a little curious as to what I had in mind.  I suggested that we could invite the town folks and have some music and coffee and doughnuts.  He said to arrange it with the cooks.  When I told the cooks what we were planning, they said they didn't have any supplies.  I had seen them taking food out to the black market at night to sell and make some money for themselves.  When I told the cooks about this they were mad at me but in the end agreed to supply the coffee and food.  Everyone had a good time and the people really went for the food.  I still have pleasant memories of that village and I have a photo showing all ten girls lying on the river bank.  All too soon it was back to Nijmegen and the big push into Germany.
Ten sisters lying along the banks of the Waal River
Sylvie, Josephine, Prudence, Philo, Agnes, Florentine, Amy, Rieta, Angela, Yvonne

Push into Germany

The battle plan was to be carried out in two parts.  Part one was to clear out the enemy in the northeast sector along the Rhine River and the second phase was to clear them out of the Siegfried Line and the Hochwald forest area, to the southeast.  The Siegfried Line consisted of a great number of concrete piers that were intended to keep out the tanks.
Someone had hung up some signs advertising that this was the famous Siegfried Line.  Some clothes and rags were hung up on a line with a sign stating that this was the washing hanging on the Siegfried Line.  At the time there was a popular song out called “Oh, we'll hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line.  · · ·” et cetera.
On the morning of 8th February, I was awakened by the noise of the big guns that were outside our billets.  It was around 0330 hours.  I watched them for awhile and then went back to sleep.  I woke up again around 0700 hours when a loud bang shook the house.  One of the 5.5 inch shells had exploded in the breech of the gun and parts of the barrel were peeled back the way you would peel a banana.  The sergeant in charge lost his leg and two others were injured, but no one was killed.  There were 1200 guns of all sizes firing for eight hours, along with the 3 inch and 4.2 inch mortars.
Also, for the first time, “Monty's moonlight” was used.  Large searchlights were turned on and aimed towards the enemy sites.  The beams were deflected off the clouds.  This lit up the area for the attackers and partially blinded the enemy.  It was still scary for the infantry to go forward.  The Germans had flooded a large part of this area.  This also meant that they were stranded on isolated bits of ground, and these pockets were blasted by the artillery and bombers.  Some of the smaller towns were wiped out completely.
By the 11th of February the water was so high that most of the troops were taken out by the Buffaloes or by the American DUKWs.  The DUKW was a truck and boat combination that worked well on the water.
The next phase was started with almost the same type of bombardment and the attack was started on the morning of the 26th of February.  Monty's moonlight was used again.  It did prove effective and may have helped some.  We could see some of the action and it was tough going for the infantry.
The new mortar platoon commander wanted to spot the mortar fire by himself, which was okay by me, so I stayed with the battalion headquarters group.  We kept going towards the front as the forward line moved up.  There were shells flying all around us and it was a wonder we weren't hit.  The sniper fire was the worse.  When you heard the whine of the bullet, it was too late to duck.  It had already gone by.
We were a mile or so back of the front.  We could see and hear the artillery fire accompanied by the attacking Typhoons.  There were a few small towns being defended by some of the toughest German troops.  I guess that this was to be their last stand before the Rhine River.  Some of the buildings changed hands several times due to the fact that the platoons were down to less than half strength, and could not hold on when counter­attacked.  One particular group of houses was in Major Dunkel­man's sector.  The enemy had just re-taken some houses from them and they were in danger of being overrun.  I heard later that Sergeant Aubrey Cosens went kind of wild and talked a British tank driver into attacking several buildings.  The sergeant, aided by some riflemen, managed to clear out the area and save the day.  Later while he was going around checking on his men, he was killed by sniper fire.  Sergeant Cosens was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.  I heard one officer say that he thought this action was the worst since D-Day.
On March 3rd the attack was started through the woods called the “Balberger Wald”.  It was a mess with tanks running over land mines, that had been planted all over the area.  When the infantry stepped off the roads, they would step on small anti-​personnel mines that could blow your foot off.
The carriers were left behind and a sergeant from the mortars and I were going through the woods when the shells started dropping all around us.  I dove in one of the tracks left by the tanks and the sergeant fell on top of me just as an air burst occurred overhead.  Some of the shrapnel bounced off his back pack.  I think that he saved my hide that day.  It was pretty bad just following along behind the infantry and I wondered how the chaps ahead of us were surviving.
Some of the tanks were stuck in the mud and one threw a track just as the enemy started a counter­attack.  They were, however, beaten back and the rest of the tanks went forward clearing out several buildings.
The colonel came up in his carrier with two men from the platoons and he told me to jump in.  The battalion was moving up to consolidate the ground covered by the tanks.  The two men were dropped off at two points to await the arrival of their platoons.  The colonel and I went up a short distance, got out, and started walking up to a section of high ground.  Just as we got near the T section in the road, we heard the moaning minnies coming in, and the colonel yelled “Hit the ditch”.  The mortar bombs fell all around us but the blast went over our heads.  Then I was told to go up the road to a small group of buildings and the colonel went the other way.
I felt uneasy going up the road alone with just my Sten gun for company.  When I reached the first house, a German soldier came around the corner and, just as I was about to shoot, I noticed a Red Cross arm band on him.  There was a bunch of German civilians beside the house who were in the process of burying four people who had been killed by an incoming shell.
The shell had gone in the cellar window and killed the four and wounded nine others.  I went down to have a look and it was not a pretty sight.  I knew that I was not very welcome there, but explained that some first aid people would soon be there to help them out.  The German soldier was very cordial.  The war was over for him.
When our mortar section arrived, I showed the lieutenant to a house that I thought would do for the night.  It wasn't good enough for him, so he looked around and picked out another one.  He might have been a hero in the rifle company, but he didn't have too much personality.
When we were separated from the unit, during these phases of battle, we were pretty much on our own in preparing meals.  The lieutenant didn't like the way we looked after our ration boxes and thought that they should be under someone's watchful eyes.  I got the job.  When I mentioned to the gang what he had said, Dunkel­man's former batman pulled out a 45 calibre auto­matic and pointed it at my stomach.  He said those boxes are staying right here.  I looked him in the eye and said that if it bothered him that much, he could leave the fucking things there.  I turned on my heels and walked out, fully expecting to have him shoot at me.  He was an oddball and I don't think he had too much upstairs either which made him a dangerous foe.  I heard later that he was supposed to be the son of some Huron chief.  I had never trusted him from the first time that I had met him in France, so I steered clear of him from then on.

Leave in London

This operation had cleared the enemy out of the west side of the Rhine River from Nijmegen to Wesel and the Americans were crossing the river south of our positions.  It was time for the battalion to regroup and some trucks arrived to take us back to the Reichs­wald Forest for a rest.
Everybody started looking around for old boards and pieces of tin, so they could build some temporary shelters to keep dry.  It looked like a shack city but it was better than sleeping on the wet ground.
Since we would be out of action for a while, some leaves were granted and I was lucky to be given a seven day pass plus two days travel­ling time.  There were about twenty of us and we were taken to Nijmegen and put on a train for Calais, France.  As usual the cars were full up and, since it was an overnight trip, we had to sleep wherever we could.  I crawled up on the overhead baggage racks and had some sleep.  We were a great looking sight when we got on the ferry to Dover, England.
On the way across our pay sergeant mentioned that he was going to London to get married and wanted to know if any of us would be going there also.  It seems that he wanted a Queen's Own to be his best man at the wedding.  Since I wasn't going anywhere in particular, I mentioned that I would be available.
His future in-laws lived in a lovely place in the west end of London and they gave me a nice welcome.  I had not had a haircut for six months and I looked scruffy so I asked his future father-​in-​law if there was a barber around.  There were all closed so we went to a friend of his who had a barber shop.  He gave me a nice trim, since it was for a special occasion.
The wedding was held in an old church and it was a very nice ceremony.  The strange part was that, after the wedding, we all boarded the train at Victoria Station and went to Brighton on the south coast for the reception.  It was a really fancy dinner and dance and the first such party that I had ever attended.  Someone had decided that I should be paired off with one of the bridesmaids but, stupid me, I had an eye out for another one.  I found out later that she was already engaged.  I think that I had a few too many drinks that night.  A couple of times I wandered the halls looking for the young lady's room and the lady of the house kept steering me back to my room.  The next day she told the others that I was sleep­walking.  She was a fine lady!
After we got back to London, I headed for Aldershot to look for my brother.  He had been wounded in Italy and had been shipped back to England for repatriation back to Canada.  When I found him I had another surprise; my brother-​in-​law had just arrived with a batch of reinforce­ments from Canada.  Being married and working in an industry that was making tank parts, he had been exempted.  I guess that the shortage of cannon fodder meant that all who could be spared were being shipped over.
After a few beers I caught the train for Brighton and then a bus for Henfield to spend a few days with the Green­fields.  I had “picked up” a small accordion in Germany and I gave it to their son.  I found out later that he learned to play it and also had a small band.  I must have been a nervous wreck because I think that I slept twelve hours a day.  I know that I felt better when I left them.
I spent a couple of days in London with brother Joe and Fred.  While we were walking around Trafalgar Square, two of the V-2s came down about two miles from there and we could feel the shock of the blast.  There was no air raid warning and no sound except the big explosion.  At the end of my leave, Joe and Fred came down to Dover to see me off on the ferry boat.
The trip back was a repeat of the trip down and I got back all tired out.  There was a lot of activity going on and the rumours were that we would be crossing the Rhine River for the final push.

The final push

A lot of cleaning up had gone on while I was away.  The troops had bath parades and were given some new clothes so they looked like soldiers again.  Trucks were checked over and some training started for the new replacements that had arrived.  They even had route marches.  I think that the object of route marches was to keep us all occupied.
Near the end of March, we heard that the British had crossed the Rhine near a small town called “Rees” and that a floating bridge had been placed across just east of there.  On the 28th of March the Queen's Own Rifles crossed over on the new bridge, aptly named the “Lambeth Bridge”.  It was quite an experience driving on the floating span.  The current was very fast and we kept thinking that the bridge would fall apart.  After watching a tank go over we were reassured that it was safe.  After crossing, the unit swung west towards Emmerich, Germany and took over a sector from another battalion.
On the 31st of March, just north of Emmerich, the enemy were holding out in a wooded area, and the mortars were brought up along with the artillery to shell the woods.  While this was going on the lieutenant came over and told me that we had to go back across the river for more mortar bombs.  I grabbed a 1500 hundred­weight truck and after two hours we finally found the ammunition depot.  On the way back, after crossing the bridge again we got turned around and, after cutting across some fields, we found the road again and discovered that we were lost.  We ended up in Rees which had been taken by the British commandos but they had gone on through.  The town was nearly deserted; the only person there was an officer in a scout car talking on his wireless.  He yelled over and wanted to know what in hell we doing there.  The lieutenant jumped out and went over with his maps to find out where we where.  Just then I spied a German flag hanging on a fireplace mantel in a hotel lobby.  The front of the place had been blown out and I thought that it would be a good trophy to take home.  I tore into the hotel lobby and looked for some wire to attach to the flag in case it had been bobby trapped.  The lieutenant started yelling to come on out and get going.  I grabbed the flag and ran back to the truck.  I think the lieutenant wanted it, but I kept it and still have it.
That night the mortar section stayed in a basement of an old stone house.  We were lucky that we had it.  Later that night the enemy counter­attacked and all hell let loose, with incoming shells and mortar bombs.
Around 2000 hours, the lieutenant decided that he should go and find out what was going on.  He had been in the rifle companies and I supposed he was looking for new orders.  He looked around the room and told me to get dressed and go with him.  I had just suited up and grabbed the Sten gun when he said that he would go alone.  Lucky for me that I stayed behind.  The lieutenant was only a hundred yards down the road when a shell exploded behind him and flipped him into the ditch.  He was pretty shook up but was unhurt.  That was one episode that I'm glad I missed.
The shelling lasted for several hours and we were on alert all night.  It must have been serious for even I had to stand guard for two hours that night.  When daylight was returning, I could see a dead German soldier about fifty yards away in the field.  He might have been killed by his own artillery.  We were happy to see daylight again.  Night attacks were always a little hard on the nerves.
By noon the next day, there were no enemy around the area.  From then on it seemed that the Germans were using delaying tactics.  It made for slow progress and the battalion was broken up into separate fighting units to search and destroy the enemy.

Back to Holland

Soon we were sent back to Holland to complete the liberation of the north of that country.  The main delaying tactics employed there by the retreating Germans were blowing up the bridges over the many canals and rivers that we were now encountering.  This meant waiting for pontoon bridges to be brought up and strung across.  At one small town, instead of waiting, Major Dunkelman and his company simply waded across under heavy fire.  The big problem was that their weapons were all caked with mud and dirt.  They had a lot of casualties clearing out the town.
After two days of fighting the place was cleared and we all rolled into the city of Zutphen.  The place went wild, with all the good town folks running out and hugging anyone they could get a hold of.  After four years, they were sure glad to be free of the enemy.
As we continued up the main road, one of the platoons captured a bridge and a short time later was counter­attacked.  Some of the men of the Queen's Own Rifles were taken prisoner.
The next large town cleared was called “Deventer”.  The welcome was tremendous and a real festive mood was starting to take hold.  It gave us a chance to get washed up and clean our dirty uniforms.  Everyone had a clean place to sleep that night.  I'm not sure where all the booze came from but we sure had a wild time and a lot of headaches the next morning.  To cap off the day we learned that our anti-​tank platoon had knocked off a German tank.  That was quite a feat.
We moved from town to town and it was strange that as soon as we took a place, the flags would pop up all over the place.  The small towns were spotless and one could not help but wonder how the people had managed to keep their places so neat.
We were making our way north­east, through Holland and it soon became apparent that the conditions were getting worse for the people.  The retreating Germans took everything that they could carry with them and the people were going hungry.  In the city of Leeu­warden, the situation was so bad that truck­loads of food were brought in.  I remember handing out compo ration to the citizens and, as hungry as they were, they were very polite and very happy to see us.  The land was empty of any produce or farm animals.  It had a sobering effect on us all.
The battalion was still scattered all around the countryside, clearing out small pockets of Germans, who didn't seem to realize that it was over for them.  A good many were cut off at the Zuider Zee area.  The north­east section of Holland was cleared out and we stopped at Groningen, for a day and then headed on into Germany.

Germany again

Not too far inside Germany we came upon a prisoner of war camp.  There were many French, Russian, and Polish prisoners there.  When we opened the gates they came out in a swarm and were grabbing and kissing anyone that they could get a hold of.  A couple of them grabbed Sergeant Corrigan and he stepped back embarrassed, and said that he would bop the next one that tried to kiss him.  The poor people were so glad to be free and we gave them some rations to help them out until trucks could arrive to transport them away.
We were now starting to move up towards Aurich, and it was slow going.  In some places the Germans had tied charges to the trunks of the trees along the road.  The trees were made to drop across the road and in some places there would be ten or twenty of them to be cleared before we could go on.  Another tactic that they used was to explode a 500 pound bomb every few hundred yards or so along the highway.  This meant waiting for a bulldozer to come up and fill in the giant crater.  In several places it was necessary to put portable Bailey bridges across to save time.
I think it was on the first of May when we pulled into a small town.  The resistance had been fairly light, mostly mortar and sniper fire.  We were in the east part of town and I was looking out a doorway at some buildings that were on fire in the distance.  I heard something hit the door jamb.  It was a bullet from a sniper's rifle.  It missed me by about a foot.  I guess that the sniper had forgotten to allow for the wind.  I dropped down to the floor and got the hell out of there in a hurry.  I was a little shook up that night.
Since we were now on German territory, we had to pay more attention to all the places that we came to.  The people stared at us wondering what would happen now that the Allies had arrived.  Whenever we stopped for the night, we would carry out a search, of all the buildings.  The houses and farm buildings were all in one unit so you stepped from the kitchen or shed into the cow barn proper.  I was in one such barn looking around in case some soldiers were hiding out when I spotted what looked like a storage area over the cows.  I had one of the kids bring me a ladder so that I could have a look.  The only thing that I saw were a bunch of chickens and a lot of eggs.  I gestured to the old farmer for his cane, so that I could reach the eggs.  I filled up my helmet with them.  I sure got a lot of dirty looks from all those watching.  I don't know why I left them the chickens.  We had a good meal that night with fresh eggs for a change, instead of powdered ones.
Once, as we drove up a farm lane, there were several buildings that we had blasted with artillery.  In the yard, were the remains of a German soldier.  He must have gotten a direct hit because the pieces were all over and some parts were stuck to the tree branches.  It was a gruesome sight!
Several small towns were taken in the next couple of days without much opposition, since the Germans didn't want their places blown up.  The end was getting near and the last battle was at a cross­roads just outside a place called “Ostersander”.
During the afternoon of May 4th, a Lieutenant-​Colonel Haurumz and the burgo­master (mayor) of Aurich came in under a flag of truce.  They surrendered the town of Aurich and all the area around there.  One of the sergeants had a camera and wanted to get the colonel's picture, but we had been warned about taking photographs.  Since it was raining a little, I had my gas cape on to keep dry.  The sergeant gave me the camera.  I stuck it out an opening in the cape and shot two photos of the colonel, one with his flag and one of him on the motorcycle going back.  We were then told not to fire unless someone fired at us.
The official cease fire came through at 0800 hours on May 5th, 1945.  It was a shock to us and we all stood around looking at each other, thinking that somehow we had survived.  No one said anything, that I can remember.  I guess we all had our own thoughts on what we had gone through and seen.
The battalion held a church parade at some small town.  I am unable to remember the name.  I'm sure that all who could, attended.
The battalion was going to be dispersed around some of the small towns as an occupation force.  It was decided to send some of us up to look for suitable billets, since we would be staying with the civilians.  Our Sergeant Corrigan and I were chosen from the mortar platoon and we rode in the platoon commander's carrier, driven by Jim Tran.  Someone handed me a sword with a piece of table cloth on it and we started our small convoy up to the German lines.  As we drove along the road we could see the soldiers still lying in their slit trenches with their machine guns handy.  They neither smiled nor waved as we passed by and they looked weary, dirty, and hungry and were probably happy that it was soon to be over.
When we arrived at the village, we dispersed and went looking for suitable houses.  The sergeant and I went in one house and opened doors to the various rooms to see what was available.  I opened one door and did a double take.  There were two girls in bed around sixteen and eighteen years old.  When I opened the door they sat up in bed and they were naked.  They had beautiful breasts, at least that's what I thought at the time.  I called to the sergeant to come and have a look.  All the while I was eyeing the gals.  Just as the sergeant got there, the girls' mother came running up and gave us hell in German and slammed the door shut.  She couldn't figure out what we were doing there, since the German soldiers were right outside.  Needless to say, we didn't get to stay there.
The war was officially declared over two days later, on May 8th,1945.  With the war over, letters of congratulations, came in from the King, Winston Churchill, and the generals in charge telling us that the Canadians had done a good job.
We spent a week, billeted in houses, and this gave us a chance to get cleaned up.  With boots all shined up, with trousers ironed, and with haircuts we started looking like parade ground soldiers again.  We were not allowed to fraternize with the civilians and they kept their distance, probably wondering what was in store for them.  It was good to be able to sleep between clean sheets again.
I did a lot of walking around the city of Aurich, taking in the sights.  It is an old city with a lot of old buildings, but in good shape.  They had missed the bombing.
A week later, we had a visit from the brigadier who handed out some medals to some of our surviving heroes.  A lot of good men were missing from the ranks.  He also announced that the Queen's Own Rifles would be stationed in Holland while waiting to go home.
Early on the morning of May 15th, we started for Holland.  We stopped for the night at a place called “Barneveld”.  The next day saw us arriving at Amers­foort, where we took over the barracks from an English Regiment that was heading back to the United Kingdom.
Photo of mortar platoon taken at Amersfoort,
Holland in June of 1945
Portrait of the mortar platoon taken in Amersfoort in June of 1945
Back row: Ross, Mitchell, Massey, Campbell, Gareau, Osborne, Chalmers, Derenzo, King, Hanes, Warner, Marin
Middle row: Corrigan, Gray, Weatherstone, Pinkney, Eckert, Tran, Yule, Campbell, Scott, Wilson, Smith
Front row: Wallis, Bridge, Dowds, Martin, Guiton, Deans, Coullrer, Catlow, Berry, Himmen