My father the solider
May 26, 2021
My father was one of the gentlest and kind persons I have ever known. It was in his nature to help people. He avoided confrontation. Yet, he became a soldier. He worked on the family farm till he was twenty-seven and at that age was accepted into the RCMP( Royal Canadian Mounted Police). He was put in charge of the horses for his unit due to his extensive work with them on the farm. He was an excellent rider--soaring over jumps with his arms crossed. During his training, he met my mother, and his life was changed forever. In those days, RCMP staff could not marry for seven years. The war had erupted at this point too, and he felt a duty to enlist. As a result, with two reasons to leave, he left the RCMP and joined the Canadian Army, marrying my mother weeks before leaving for England.
Once in England, he was in charge of training new recruits in hand to hand, rifles, and the use of their gas mask. He seldom spoke of the war, but he had told my mother a little, bit by bit. He had suffered terribly while training these young boys, often eighteen and nineteen. They would prepare for the use of gas masks in chambers, and when the gas would come into these chambers, some of the young men panicked and couldn't put on their masks. Dad would have to pull them out. They were so young and unprepared, and he felt personally responsible for sending them off to fight when he knew they were not ready mentally or physically. He was approached about training as a sniper as he was an excellent shot. My father declined. He said it just wasn't in him to shoot someone when they were unaware. He just couldn't. Hand to hand, yes, but a sniper, no.
D day loomed, and of course, nothing could be written home to inform my mother. He launched in one of the many Canadian boats heading to Normandy. He was six-two and fit, and he needed every advantage he had. In the tumultuous trip to the shores of France, many of the men were deathly seasick. Added to this, each man had a harness system loaded with tools, gas masks, mess kit, ammunition, compass, gas cape, waterproof groundsheet, toiletries, water bottle, and other items. Since then, it's been questioned why the soldiers were weighted down so much, especially in this situation! The men had to leave the boats a good piece from the shore with water crashing around. Of course, those who were seasick were weakened and struggled in the water in their weakened condition, weighed down with their heavy packs. My father, being tall, had an advantage, plus he had not become seasick. He managed to grab hold of two other soldiers and got himself and them onto the beach amidst a barrage of bullets. They were the lucky ones. The initial casualty rate was 50% on Juno Beach.
As the history books will tell you, these poor brave souls accomplished their goal. They captured more towns and territories than any other battalion in Operation Overlord. My father proceeded with his unit into France. He was on night patrol one night when a bomb dropped on an ammunition dump in his vicinity. He told me he felt nothing at first and began to run away when his foot crumpled, and he fell. He had extensive fragments from the explosion embedded in his right foot and lower leg. He was eventually taken to the beach to await a boat that was to pick up the injured. Tents had been erected to house these soldiers. He and two others were in his tent. He was in and out of consciousness and was left in the tent for over twenty-four hours. Somehow, his tent had been missed. The other two men with him died. My father was transported to England a couple of days after his injury, where he began a nine-month-long fight to keep his foot. Several times surgeons would advise him to have it amputated, but he would refuse. Penicillin was in its early days then. He was given massive doses, which no doubt was saved his foot. After nine months, he was sent back to Canada on crutches. He was a shadow of his former healthy self. Gaunt and unable to return to farm work, he began job hunting immediately despite my mother begging him to rest. He had a grade eight education due to being kept home to farm and care for his siblings after their mother died. Now he had to get an office job. Well, he did, and he took night classes for years, and he persevered, and he retired as a federal government financial manager. It sounds like he overcame everything, but he didn't. My mother said he was never the same. I know now he had PTSD but, in those days, there was no counseling. He jumped at loud noises. In his first job after the war, he and another fellow who had also been in the war were in my dad's office talking when a plane went over. They both dove under the desk. My mother said he'd often have nightmares but refused to discuss them. As a child, I remember shrapnel erupting from his foot, and he would have to go to the doctor to have it extracted. He had to wear a special boot. No, much was never the same for him.
Thank God for men and women like my father, who served their country despite hating every minute of it. My children, who know his story, will be forever grateful for our brave Father and Grandfather. Sadly, he passed at the early age of 68. There is not a day I don't think of him, and I grieve for all that dear, gentle soul endured for our sakes. May our vets and their stories never be forgotten!