In 1939, I was anxious to do my part in helping to defeat Hitler. I enrolled in the COTC at the University of Toronto, and starting in September I would go down there two nights a week, and we'd practice our basic knowledge of Army activity. We spent part of the evening on the campus marching around until we got the hang of it, and the second half of the evening we took a lecture in the Physics building. That was new to us. Here we were, taking notes like a lot of others at the University, although we were all different ages. And that went on until Christmas, and then we started in on our specialties. My specialty was the Vickers machine gun. We would go down to the COTC armories, and practice the drill on the Vickers, taking it apart, and reassembling it, until we were familiar with the weapon. In the spring, in the months of April and May, we realized that things were going badly for the Allies in Europe. Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and now France had fallen before the hammer-fist of the Wehrmacht under Hitler.
We went to Niagara-on-the-Lake; we COTC set up a tented camp there and practiced our activities, or our specialty, in that spring on the ground around the Niagara camp. That went on until the end of June. By that time, I had received my qualification and was now a lieutenant. I went down to enlist in the regiment connected with the Vickers gun, the Toronto Scottish, but to my surprise, they said, "No, we don't need anybody else". I said, "Don't you know there's a war on?" And they said, "Yes, but we don't need any more officers". I went back to Windsor, and I found that the 2nd Battalion of the Essex Scottish was being organized and the 1 st Battalion had already gone overseas, and were now in England. Well, I went to see the Colonel, Colonel Griesinger and I said, "Sir, would you like another officer?" He said, "Are you qualified?" I said, "Yes, just got it." He said, "That's fine, I haven't got any other qualified officers. I've got 19 subalterns and nobody else. So I said, "Well, I'll do what I can."
So, he put me on the list and I started that fall with the training in the Annories in Windsor. I didn't know very much yet, but I learned as I was going on. He put me in charge of the machine gun platoon. They had an old-fashioned weapon from the First World War. But we'd go marching around the streets of Windsor in the early part of the evening, and work on our dated weapon.
Well, along about the first week of December, the Colonel called in all the young officers and said, "Gentlemen, I have just received a request for six young officers to join the Essex Scottish overseas. Is there anybody who'd like to put their name down?" I said, "Are you looking at me, sir?" He said, "I'm not looking at anybody." I said, "Will you put my name down on the list please." A moment later, another volunteer spoke up; he was Fred Tilston, saying he would have to consult his manager first. And we were the first members from our 2nd Battalion to go active with the 1 st Battalion.
And this is a funny little thing that happened - about two weeks later a telephone call came to the school where I was still teaching, and the principal answered the phone and he said, "Yes, Ball here." And Colonel Griesinger thought he said "Bull". The Colonel said, "I want you to go to London tomorrow to be attested. He said, "What do you mean? I'm running a school." He said, "Now look here, I'm the Colonel and I say you've got to go to London. And Mr. Ball said, "Don't you tell me what you want; I'm going to be running my school." And he said, "Oh, just a minute, aren't you Mr. Bull?" And he said, "No, my name is Ball." He said, "Put Mr. Bull on." So Mr. Ball came up to my room and said, "There's a man on the phone named Colonel something or other and he wants to talk to you. So I went down on the phone and Griesinger said, "Yes, Bull, I. want you to go to London, you and Fred Tilston and sign your papers." I said "When?" "Now, tomorrow." "Alright." I said to Mr. Ball, "I'll be away from the school for one day."
So, the day I came back from London, I went to see Mr. Ball, and said, "Sir, I've got news for you. I'm leaving." He replied, "What do you mean leaving?" I said, "I'm now an Officer in the Canadian Army." He said, "Oh, that's too bad." He didn't want anybody to leave the school and serve in the Army. Anyway, he said, "Well, I'll call an assembly." So he did, and the whole school, there were about 1 000 pupils, came into the auditorium that day. And Mr. Ball announced, "Mr. Bull is leaving us. He's going to serve his country. Here's Mr. Bull." And they all cheered, and I made a little speech. And I said, "I'll see you when I come back. Goodbye." And when I went out, there were cheers ringing in my ears.
The next day, Fred Tilston and I, of the original group, got on the train and we went down to London, where we got the message to go to Camp Borden. So, we did and we got to Camp Borden late one winter night. It was terribly cold, and we were just in ordinary clothes. The orderly officer took us to our quarters, which were in a hut, a newly built hut made of wood and canvas on the outside, and he said, "This is your room." Well, the room was about 10 X 6 and there were two iron beds in it, and a table and a bench, and a light bulb hanging on a cord from the ceiling. And that was our accommodation. Well, there was a blanket on the bed, so we got into bed and slept that night. And in the morning the same officer ordered, "When the bugle calls reveille, you'll get up and get dressed, and get washed and go and have your breakfast in the mess hall. So we did.
The reveille was a sharp, clear call by the bugle, which sounded every day at six 0' clock, so we had to get out of bed. And we went into the ablution room which consisted of a long room, with a metal table under taps, and they were cold taps, and that was our washroom. So, we washed up and went and had our breakfast, which was all right. Then we gathered together, there were six of us, and we were a motley crowd. One was a Seminarian from Assumption College, one was a manager of The Bayer Aspirin company, that's Fred, and one was a Jewish lawyer; he was a long drink of water, kind of solemn and mournful-like, and one was a young chap from Detroit who had just come over on his own without telling his parents, and had joined the Essex Scottish. He was a bright young fellow. And one was an insurance salesman. This is what we were - a mixed bag.
So we gathered together outside the mess hall, and were ordered to march over to the QM Stores. And we said, "Where is that?" And they said, "Over there, see that building?" So we went over there, and were outfitted with our clothing. Now, the clothing for the Canadian soldiers was a crude sort of affair. It was called Battle Dress. It consisted of a jacket, and a pair of pants, both coarse woolen cloth, a dark brown, and the top fastened on to the bottom with buttons. We didn't have any zippers in those days, and down below our knees were anklets made of webbing. Now what's this webbing for? Well those are anklets, and you'll wear those the rest of the time you're in the army. And on our feet we had boots, which rather looked like policemen's boots. They were large and lumpy and they fit, but they were heavy. And we went back to our quarters and dressed ourselves in these things, and it was raspy sort of wool, and the top part of it fastened up here with two small hooks, and woe betide to anybody who came on parade without his hooks done up. They rubbed on your neck so they scraped your soft skin unused to wool. Anyway, we got dressed and we came out on parade in our heavy woolen uniforms. We looked like chickens ready to be plucked, and we were on parade and they lined us up. We had two sergeants in charge of our group, and they announced "Steady up, steady, steady. Now you know something about "attention", but you don't know much about marching. So let's go." And they marched us round and round. And then they said, "We're going to give you lectures on what life is like at Camp Borden." "You'll have a regular drill every day, and if you need to go to the hospital or to the Regimental Aide Post, you can, but give us some warning". And he said, "Now stand steady, and we'll march you around the camp and show you everything."
So, we marched around the camp and it was cold and bleak and wintry. There was snow everywhere. Anyway, we clomped around and that afternoon the sergeants said, "Now we're going to issue rifles to everybody. Have any of you ever had a rifle?" Some of us knew something about shooting partridge and pheasants, but we didn't know much about army rifles. So they showed us the rifle which weighed 9-1/2 pounds; it fired a 303 ammunition solid ball and we got used to handling it. "Now take it home and study it tonight, and clean it up, and we'll show you how to clean it." So that night we were all busy cleaning our rifles in the camp. And the next day we started on our regular training and we marched and marched back and forth getting used to the feel of the uniform and the boots and all the other things, and carrying our rifles.
We did that for about two weeks, and then I got a call one day. They came for the group and said, "Lieutenant Bull?" And I said, "Yes, sir?" And he said, "I've got a message for you here." "Yes, sir?" "You're to go to Barryfield." And I asked, "What for sir? What's Barryfield?" "That's the Signal Training Center, and you've been chosen to go for that." So, all right, I got my gear together, put it in
So, we marched around the camp and it was cold and bleak and wintry. There was snow everywhere. Anyway, we clomped around and that afternoon the sergeants said, "Now we're going to issue rifles to everybody. Have any of you ever had a rifle?" Some of us knew something about shooting partridge and pheasants, but we didn't know much about army rifles. So they showed us the rifle which weighed 9-1/2 pounds; it fired a 303 ammunition solid ball and we got used to handling it. "Now take it home and study it tonight, and clean it up, and we'll show you how to clean it." So that night we were all busy cleaning our rifles in the camp. And the next day we started on our regular training and we marched and marched back and forth getting used to the feel of the uniform and the boots and all the other things, and carrying our rifles.
We did that for about two weeks, and then I got a call one day. They came for the group and said, "Lieutenant Bull?" And I said, "Yes, sir?" And he said, "I've got a message for you here." "Yes, sir?" "You're to go to Barryfield." And I asked, "What for sir? What's Barryfield?" "That's the Signal Training Center, and you've been chosen to go for that." So, all right, I got my gear together, put it in the suitcase, and went down to the railway station, which was right in the camp. We got on the train where there were some other officers and other troups. I sat next to a fellow, named Watson Evans, who was from the 48th Highlanders. So we tootled off to Kingston, and we got a truck and drove out to Camp Barryfield. Well, Barryfield was just as new and raw as Camp Borden. We were bunked in a room just about the same size as the one back at Camp Borden. And they said, "Now you're going to be studying signalling, so get ready for it. You're not infantry anymore; you're signallers."
We parked our rifles and we went to the special hut where the lecture was. It was just like Camp Borden, and there wasn't anything more inviting about it at all. But we learned what we had to learn. And what we learned right away was Morse code, which means the letters of the alphabet are listed in a book, and the letters have the same designation, always the same. " A" was "di dah". "B" was "dah di di dit" and "C" was "dah di dah dit", and so on. And we each used a key, and we learned how to tap these things out, little by little. Well it took us some time, because we had never done this before in our lives. And after about three weeks we had got onto it; by the end of the training period I had gotten up to about 22 wpm on the key. Now, this stuff that we trained with was obviously left over from WWI. We had the key, which was attached to a buzzer, and we went from that to the line, or wire, like a telephone wire, which went out to the receiving station. One thing, we had to make sure that that line was loose. If it was tight, it was going to break. Well, one of the fella's who was with me, who came from Alberta, I think, was looking at the cord one day and he said, "Jeez, this line is tight. As tight as a bull's ass in fly time." Well, I thought that was a cute way of telling what the line was like. So, I got onto to it, and we had other things beside the line. We had a little light, which was about the size of your two fists, on a tripod; you pressed a buzzer, and a light would go on. And you could send a message to the guy at the other end by sending a light signal.
Well, that light signal was very much out of date; the lights had gone out by this war, but they wanted us to learn it anyway. Then, in came "wireless". Oh, my! This was new. It was a kind of set up like a radio, and you had to tap the same as Morse code, but you could send it either with Morse, or with voice, just like modem radio. But there was only one of these old machines in the camp, although there were hundreds of people taking wireless. But we had to learn how to do it there. So, that was the wireless, and at the end of the time that I was at the camp they said, "Well, now you've learned basic wireless, and it's up to you to follow it up. When you get back to Camp Borden you can practice."
Well, now that I was back at Camp Borden, I was called the Camp Signals Officer, and I was supposed to run a Signals School from my experience at Barryfield. So I had a little hut, and they sent me men from different camps, and I attempted to run a Signals School, and then I thought what we needed was a camp exercise. So we put out to the camps that we were going to be sending signals and heliographs and wireless and everything else. And that lasted one week and then they said, "That's enough of that. We're going to close the Camp Signals School." And so, I was out of a job. And so, back to infantry training. Now, there were two or three things that I hadn't been taught before, about the various weapons that were being used by the infantry. One was, as I mentioned, the Bren gun. The Bren gun weighed 28 pounds, a very, very fine weapon. It was very accurate, and it was handy. It could be carried by one man. He had to carry a lot of ammunition, and the other soldiers in the section had to carry ammunition in their pouches besides the other gear on their webbing, for him. The Bren gun was used all through the war. Now, another one was the 2" mortar, which looked like a piece of plumbing pipe. It was about 2" in diameter, and about a yard long. You put your bomb in it from the mouth end and let it slide down in, and you held it at the right angle, almost perpendicular, and you pressed the button, and out would shoot the bomb way up, and then come crashing down on the enemy position. Now, there was a 3" mortar, but that was for a bigger position in the army. Another weapon that we had was the hand grenade. It was like a baseball, more like a softball. It was heavy; it was metal and it was thrown, but you don't throw it like a baseball; you lobbed it like a cricket ball. You would throw it up in the air in a big arc and it would fall down on the enemy position, blowing it up. And there was a horrible weapon called the Boyes anti-tank rifle, which was a gigantic rifle, long and heavy, with a large bore, but it was not very efficient; it was just damn tiresome, because only one man was strong enough in the platoon to carry it - forty-five pounds. So, we got rid of that thing.
I've already spoken about the weapons of the infantry, and there were other weapons that were used by the infantry, or by the artillery, but I'll talk about those later. One thing that we were aware of was that the Germans were using tanks, and pretty efficient tanks. Well, we didn't have any tanks at all. We were able to scoff some ancient, armored fighting vehicles from the French army, from WWI, which were brought over to Canada. They looked very funny; they were small but high. They looked rather like antiquated ketchup bottles, rolling around the streets of Camp Borden at two miles per hour. They weren't really any good for fighting, but they were good for teaching people mechanics. Well, the next thing we saw was a Valentine tank, which was a great, big slow-moving vehicle, rather like some kind of farm machinery. It was low to the ground, and it was on tracks, but it was obviously useful in WWI for crushing down barbed wire entanglements. But we didn't have many barbed wire entanglements in this war, and the thing was so slow with antiquated armour and gunnery. It had a two-pounder, which was not very much bigger than a 2" mortar, and we didn't think much of the Valentine. Well, then another one came along from Britain called the "Matilda" which was not so flat and built up higher, and carried a six-pounder, which was more efficient, but it didn't have very thick armour, so if anybody with a big gun could attack it, they would do a lot of damage. There was a Canadian tank that was invented by somebody. It was scoffed at by everybody as being inefficient. So, we had these tanks, and it wasn't until much later, when the Americans came into the war, that they provided us with the Sherman tank. About this time, at the end of the summer, I got another call for something new, and that was to go to the Bren gun carrier platoon. The Bren gun carrier was a vehicle that looked like a large box. It was steel plated, but it didn't have any roof like a tank. But it had tracks, in other words, not wheels, but tracks. And it was fairly efficient; it could travel 30 mph. But we didn't know what to do with it; we thought maybe we'd use it in some kind of tank battle. But it was never used very efficiently.
I was sent to the Bren gun carrier platoon to learn about it, so I got into the seat and drove it around and learned how it worked, both up and down hills, and carrying things, but somebody got the bright idea that it could be used for recruiting. So, I was in charge of a carrier platoon of six vehicles, going out into small towns in Western Ontario. We'd go out there and spend the day rolling around in the streets and letting off a lot of smoke and fireworks, and make a lot of noise and shoot some weapons, and try to persuade the local gentry to sign up for the duration. But I don't know that we were very effective. I did that for about four weeks and then I thought, "I've got an idea". The Bren gun carriers were being made in Canada, with the Ford motor engine, in the Windsor factory. So I thought I'd go down and see them and see how my idea would be accepted. I went to Windsor on my weekend and I went to the Ford Motor Company, and made my way in to see the manager of the Bren gun carrier section where they were making these things. And of course, the guys who were making them never got to use them; they didn't know what they were for.
Anyway, I said to Mr. Wales, who was the manager, "I have three suggestions, if you don't mind. One is that this vehicle, this little carrier, is not equipped with a very strong braking system." I said, "I've been on a road in Camp Borden and I was coming around a curve where there was a deep valley below, and I suddenly jammed on the brakes and they didn't work. Nothing worked. And I went over the edge and a man who was sitting in the back, went shooting out of the carrier; it had no top, like a skyrocket. He wasn't injured, and I wasn't injured either, but I got an awful shock.." And I said, "You need better brakes." In the second place, the wheels are governed by the tracks on the front and the rear, and the wheels in between are run on bogey wheels, and the bogey wheels hold the track in position. But these wheels are brittle and are breaking, and every now and then, we'd be going out in the country and suddenly we'd find that our wheels are busted, and we'd have to get out and put in new ones. So we'd need a different kind of bogey wheel. Thirdly the taillight was exposed and could be easily knocked off by anybody on a bicycle or a wheeled vehicle, and I thought that was dangerous because they could be vulnerable. And I said, "There's got to be a better taillight." Well Wales wrote all this down and I said goodbye and went back to Camp Borden. About two weeks later I got a call from the Colonel of my unit, the Number 10 Training center. .. and he said, "I want to see you." I went in and said, "Sir, you wanted to see me?" He roared out, "Who do you think you are?" I said, "What do you mean sir?" He said, "You made some suggestions to the Ford Motor Company, and they took it up with the Defense Department in Ottawa and made a terrible fuss about this. What you should have done was to speak to your company commander and say, 'I'd like to make some suggestions about changes to the Bren gun carrier.' And he then would have come to me and said, 'I've got an idea of some changes that need to be made.' And I would take it to the main office in Ottawa, and they would take it to the headquarters of the Defense Department, and they would then consult the different people who were using the carriers and they would then come to the Ford Motor Company, and then any changes that need to be made would be made. Who do you think you are, trying to run the show by yourself?" I said, "I thought I was trying to help to win the war." He said, "You were just being a bloody nuisance. Now go back to your regiment and forget about trying to make suggestions to the army." So that was the end of my suggestion-making.
One other mechanical trouble about the Bren gun carriers, it was very cold in that winter and I had carriers sitting out in the open every winter night, and the mechanical parts in the vehicles would be frozen in the morning. I went to a Colonel Bums who was running a big indoor vehicle garage for his tanks. He had some tanks there. I said, "Could I borrow some space in your garage?" And he said, "No, we're too busy, we haven't got time for your things." Obviously he didn't want to be bothered. So I went back and tried to carry on without any shelter.
I must tell you an incident, which is connected with all this, and that is, I was required to go to a course that was being held in Toronto by the International Harvester Company at their headquarters and their repair garage, on the comer of King and Bathurst. Well, I didn't know what they wanted, but they wanted me to take the course, so, since I was working on a vehicle which had wheels, or tracks, I went down to Toronto, and I said to somebody, "I've got to stay somewhere in Toronto while I'm taking this course. Can you suggest a boarding house?" They said, "Why don't you try the Military Institute?" I asked, "What's that?" "Well, that's the club for retired officers from WWI, mostly old boys, and besides, it's handy." So I went down to the Military Institute and walked in and I said, "Have you got any accommodations for a young officer who's going to be here for about six weeks?" And the steward said, "Yes sir, come and see." And he took me upstairs and showed me a small bedroom, which seemed all right. It wasn't too expensive. So I settled in there, and each morning I would get my breakfast and then I would put on my battle dress and get on a streetcar, and go on down to Bathurst, and put on coveralls, and work on the engines of the Ford or the Chrysler or General Motors. And I learned how to put those three different engines together. I hadn't done anything like that before, but that was good training. I was there for a week when Sunday morning came and there was a knock on the door. And I said, "Yes?" And he said "Sir, we don't serve breakfast in the dining room on Sundays." "Oh," I said, "I'll get up and get my breakfast." And he said, "Never mind, stay where you are, here's the menu." So, I got the menu and looked it over and said "Wow, that's great. I'll have all that." And in about half an hour he came in with a great big tray with silver covers on it, you know, the round sort of things. One contained bacon, and one had toast, a pot of coffee, and orange juice and so on. And I sat there and said, "Oh this is wonderful. Do I get this every Sunday?" And he said, "Yes." The thing is that the fellows in Camp Borden, the other officers, had to get up in the cold morning, in their BVD's and go over to the drill hall and take physical jerks and exercises, and here I was, sitting like some Grand Poobah, living it up in this RCMI, and that lasted for six weeks. Well, at the end of six weeks I was back at Camp Borden, doing the exercises like everybody else. And that was the end of that.
I must tell you that there was one duty that all of us had to do, all of us young officers; it was called the orderly officer duties. The Orderly Officer was a man who was expected to inspect all aspects of camp life: the beds, the ablution rooms, the meals, and the cleanliness of the camp. This job was rotated so that each of us had a turn at it. It was a 24-hour duty, so we had daytime and night time both. One of the duties at nighttime was to check the guards and make sure they were awake and doing their jobs, and checking that the stoves were not being overheated. There was one piece of protocol each day, a responsibility of the Orderly Officer, which was the inspection and posting of the guard, the 27-man guard. Companies took it in turn, and at about 6:00 the bugle would sound, and they'd march the guard on in a space that was set for them, and the Orderly Officer had to inspect the guard and make sure it was perfect. And if there was one man who was not perfect, we'd say, "Number three of the guard, fall out." And we had a waiting man to take his place. And then the band would play and they'd march off to their various duties and to the places where they were to be guarding, like the ammunition dump and so on. That was a job that each of us did not relish, but we got it over with, and had to. So that's the Orderly Officer.
The actual training that we did with the recruits was called Advanced Training. They had already been in some camp where they had Basic Training, and they'd come to Borden to have the Advanced Training. It was more on weapons, and on the range, and a lot of marching. And so, by the end of the second batch of training, they were ready to go overseas and to get into the battle. I had responsibility for a section of the company, and I didn't mind that because I knew the drill, but it was rather boring and I was looking forward to something more active overseas. I saw the adjutant on the pavement just about this time and I said, "Sir, when are you going to put me on the draft to go overseas? I'm getting tired of this sort of routine work. I don't want to be here until I'm an old man with a long, white beard." And he said, "Oh, that won't be necessary." I think it was because of my request that I was on the next draft on the warning to go overseas.
The warning to get ready for a draft was welcome to me. I got on the phone to my mother and told her we were about to leave Canada. She was unhappy, but she was glad too, because this is what we had been waiting for. I had originally shown my intention to go to Europe and get involved in the battle against Hitler and here was the beginning of my chance.
The train came into Borden and we took it down to Toronto, and then on the long run to Halifax, which took us about two days. The transportation of the thousands of soldiers was not apriority. We were given the oldest colonist cars, which were wooden, with no Pullmans or anything like that. And we sat up or lay down somewhere, and we waited and waited until we finally got there. And then the train pulled in to Halifax harbour, and in the harbour was our ship. It was one of the rolling "duchesses". They were called that because they didn't have any stabilizers. It was not a new ship; it had been used for crossing the Atlantic for many, many years. But this one was supposed to hold 1,600 people. We had 6,400 people on board and it was pretty crowded. We stood on deck most of the time, looking at the sea and talking to each other. There was no shuffleboard or any of those peacetime pleasantries. And down below, when we came to sleep at night, it was pretty awful. The most fortunate ones were able to sleep in hammocks, and the less fortunate slept on the mess tables underneath the hammocks. And the least fortunate slept on the floor underneath the second lot. As far as our officers were concerned, we went into what was supposed to be a small cabin, with two bunks, one above the other. Well they had put in two more, on the other side of the little cabin, so there was one above the other on the other side and there were five of us, so the fifth man had to sleep on the floor between the bunks. We got along because we knew we had to get along, and I got sick half way across with the flu. I didn't do too well in that crowded, stuffy little cabin. The doctor came in and looked at me and said, "Oh, we've to get you out of here, and take you to the sick bay." So they took me out to the sick bay of the hospital, and I slept better there.
We were in a convoy, which consisted of half a dozen ships. The biggest ship was in the middle. That was an American battleship, and on either side, flanking it, were four merchant ships, one of them ours, the Duchess of York. Farther out, four ancient destroyers, which had been borrowed from the American navy were supposed to be guarding us. Well, we didn't know whether we were going to be attacked by the German V-boats anytime of the day or night. And after we had been going along for a little while, we heard a terrible shudder; it was a depth charge which one of the destroyers had let out to shoot off the V-boats. We didn't actually get attacked by the V-boats, which was very unnatural, because this was one of the worst months of the year, of the whole war, in which V-boats were sinking unarmed merchant ships. However, we never got attacked and we were all glad to see the tip of Ireland, and then on to the Mersey River where Liverpool was. We got off the ship after nine days, and we were a pretty scruffy looking lot. We had not bathed, we had not eaten very nice food, mostly fish and potatoes, and we hadn't had much sleep. Well, we started to march through the streets, looking rather shabby, and there was a gentleman standing on the curb with his bowler hat and briefcase, and he looked at this mob of Canadians coming along, and he said, "Who are these?" And I said, "These are Canadians, come to help Britain win the war against Germany." He said, "Oh, my god." He didn't sound very impressed.
However, we got on the train. It was one of those little English trains with compartments for four; we had five of us in one. And we started south through all the different counties of England, all the way down to Surrey, in the south. I was fascinated by the beauty of the countryside - the trees and the farms and the cows, and the old inns and big stately homes, and all that. My companions didn't care about that at all; all they wanted to do was play cards. They played cards for hours while we were traveling through this beautiful scenery. We got to Whitley, which was in Surrey, and we got off the train, and a lively young Canadian officer was there to greet us, and he packed us into some trucks in a rush, and we tore away through the night. He was very energetic, and we thought, "Boy, this is MacNaughton's army, they must be cracker-jack troups." Anyway, it was dark, there were no lights on in England at all, and we were unable to see where we were going. We traveled through Surrey, and then into Sussex and then to Middleton-on-Sea which is where the Essex Scottish had been camped for some time, and then we were able to get out.
We were a little bewildered about this camp and what we were to be doing. The first thing they suggested was we have a little look around at the defenses that had been laid out when Britain thought that they were going to be attacked, and there were barbed wire entanglements and road blocks and all sorts of things. It was sad to see the beautiful little villages and roads with the high banks and flowers on them being readied for war. However, the Germans had never arrived, so we didn't have to face that. But the next thing that we had to face was battle drill. We new officers were lined up and told we would be going to Rowland's Castle. We didn't know what that was. It actually was an estate, owned by the Earl of Bessborough who had been the Governor General of Canada, and he had very kindly lent his estate, which consisted of several thousand acres, to the Canadian government to use for a training area. And so we went to the gate to get in. We went in, and there were a couple of officers sitting there at a table who checked us off, and said, "This is the headquarters for Rowland's Castle, for the battle drill. Over there behind that table you'll see a lot of blankets and other equipment, go and help yourselves, and take them over to the tents up on the side of the hill." We walked over to the table where these blankets were and they said, "Double, on the double!" We looked around and said, "What did you say?" "On the double, on the double!" So we had to run for the next four weeks, and we never stopped running. We got our blankets and we ran up the hill to our little tent and we got in; there were four of us to a tent, and we made up our beds and they said this was it.
Battle drill was equivalent to foot drill on the square; that is, you knew exactly what it was you had to do, and you had done it many times before. When you're in the open and there are enemy around, you're apt to be attacked, or you're attacking them. But instead of trying to figure out what you were going to do, you fell into a routine, a battle drill that you had to learn. It could be right-flanking, left-flanking, pincer attack, frontal attack, and that sort of thing. We had done it several times in the first week until we got used to the pattern, and then when we got into a simulated situation, and the enemy were there, or not there, or somewhere behind us, we would have a pattern to follow. Well, we did this for the first half of the camp, and we got onto it; in fact, I got so keen about the battle drill that they nicknamed me "Battle drill Bull". The second half of that camp was horrific. It was an obstacle course and we had to do it several times. We would go onto the pattern of the course which would perhaps be swimming a river, climbing a wall, maybe a makeshift wall or a real wall, with no equipment but your rifle, and you had to get over that wall somehow. And then we came to a ditch, and it was full of mucky stuff from the cows, and then we would come to a kind of valley where there was nothing to get across with except a couple of ropes which were strung across the ditch. We had to use our knees and legs to get across that ditch. And then we would come to a scrambling net which was hung between two trees way high up and hanging down, and you had to climb up that wall and get over the top and climb down the other side, and it sagged all the time. And finally you had to go through a hut which was full of smoke and tear gas, and we didn't have any gas masks and we had to get through that building as fast as we could, and we found that there was no door to get into it, and you had to climb through the wall or through a window, and then you got inside and you didn't know where you were, you couldn't see anything, you were choking and the instructors would bang on the sides and you would struggle towards the banging, and finally pull yourself out, exhausted and panting and suffocating. And that was the end of the battle drill course. It was a rugged sort of beginning to our life in Britain.
I went back to Middleton-on-Sea Headquarters where our regiment was, and suddenly it seemed that all the troops were disappearing, and they said, "We're going to attack the French." I said, "Attack the French? You're supposed to be fighting Germans." But the soldiers thought they were going to be attacking the French on the French shore on the other side of the Channel. Well, we weren't included in this operation because it had been decided months before. But what they had found for troops to do this raid was to take three battalions, who were defending the English coast. We were the central one, at Middleton-on-Sea and one was on the one side of Bognor Regis, and one was on the other side. They were all withdrawn from those defensive positions to go to the landing craft, which were going to take them across the Channel. Well I thought this is silly business, to strip the coast of our defences; however, they didn't think it was necessary. All these fellows went down and got on the landing craft and started to cross the Channel. Well, the landing craft were simply what looked like barges with a ramp that you could lower and run off to get to the shore. Unfortunately that system didn't work. We didn't know it at the time, but it was a colossal disaster. A lot of those boats were sunk with all the men aboard. Those that got to the shore and got onto the beach were trapped there. In the Essex Scottish, landing craft, they got up partly on the beach, but there was a low wall, and they crouched down behind that and got ready to make the final assault. But the enemy had the wall covered with machine guns, and if anybody tried to poke his head up he got shot. My young friend at Camp Borden who came from the States took a chance and he said, "I didn't come here to hide behind a wall, I came to fight." And he gathered up as many men as would follow him and said, "Follow me!" And he rushed up the beach, and he was killed, and so were all the men with him. Most of the men at Dieppe were taken prisoner, a lot of them were shot, or killed, or wounded. Many spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp. It went wrong, the whole scheme was wrong, and we discovered that later, but we didn't know at the time what had happened. Why hadn't our men come back? Well, I was at Witley, and we didn't see any returning troops, and then the signal came that, "You have to get down to your defensive positions on the coast as quickly as possible. Gather up what men you can." Well, I gathered up eleven men, I didn't see anyone else, and we got a truck and we started down and had a map reference so we went through the fields of Surrey, and then to Sussex, and then to the Middleton-on-Sea. (See note below.*)
I found my way to the army headquarters, which was in a house. I found my way in, but there was an officer there whom I didn't recognize. He didn't wear our uniform. And I said, "Is this the headquarters for the Essex Scottish?" And he said, "Yes." "Well, I'm Bull and I've got eleven men." He said, "That's good." "Where do I go?" And he said, "Well here's the map reference, you go there." "Well, whom do I report to?" He said, "You're it." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "You are the company officer." I said, "But I've only got eleven men." He said, "I'm sorry, but that's all that we have." As company commander, I should have had a second-in- command, six platoon commanders, a sergeant-major, half a dozen sergeants, and a hundred and twenty men.
Well, I was a little alarmed to think that I was the only person to fight off the Germans, but I said, "Where is the headquarters for the Essex Scottish?" "Headquarters Company, that's down the road." So I walked down the road to a village and I came to a few stores, they were all empty, one was an old bank. And I looked in there and I saw an Essex Scottish outfit, so I went in. It was the Quarter-Master Sergeant, and one store man, and that's all there seemed to be. I said, "Where is everybody?" They said, "They never came back, sir." And I was horrified. Anyway, I started to look around and I said, "Where are the billets for the rest of the company?" He said, "Those buildings there are the billets." So I went in and I found a batman, and a store man, and a driver, and nothing else. And these few guys had gotten left behind. I said, "What's that building down there?" It was a big, high building. And they said, "That's the indoor tennis court for the people of Middleton." And I said, "What is it now?" And they said, "That's our garage for our transport." So I said, "I better get down and look at it." So, I went down, and I went in, and this great, big barn of a place was filled with trucks and motorcycles, and all kinds of vehicles, but no people. "Oh, my god, these are supposed to be the Essex Scottish transports." I found a little office where there was a man sitting at a desk, a Corporal, who had been on duty when they went across to France, and they had left him behind, and he was all by himself. He looked deadbeat, and I said, "You go home and get some sleep, I'll take over." So I took over his phone and immediately it began to ring, and people were calling up saying, "I need a 1500 weight, or I need a jeep", or something. "I haven't got any drivers" I said. "There's nobody here, and no mechanics, they've all gone." People came in who had been absent without leave and so on, but we got them to work, and I looked in the mirror and I said, "My god, I should have lines in my face, I'm so exhausted." A few days later the order came to have everybody left in the company, sergeants, and corporals, and officers to go to one of the bowling alleys that belonged to the people of Middleton. And I said, "What's going on?" And he said, "I'm Captain Kennedy, in charge of our company, and
I've got news for us." Well, Captain Kennedy was a young man and he was feeling his oats because he had just been promoted to Captain. And he said, "Well, you ought to know that Mr. Ralston, the Minister of Defence, is coming to England to address the regiments that were in Dieppe. He wants to congratulate them." And I said, "Well, he hasn't got many people to congratulate, because they're all gone." But he said, "He's coming and he'll be here tomorrow, at Arundel Castle, which is the home of the Duke of Norfolk, and it's nine miles away and will take us three hours to march there. So, we better be there at 1500 hours and we'll be leaving at 0900 hours, and the battalion parade is at 0800 hours, and the platoon parade is at 0700 hours, and breakfast is at 0600 hours, and reveille at 0500 hours." He kept on like this, and I thought, "This guy is nuts." But he said, "We're going to have to march there so we'll need haversack lunches. 'Quarters' - haversack lunches for 120 men." And this little Quartermaster sergeant, who looked like a pumpkin, said, "We can't do it sir." And he said, "What do you mean you can't do it?" "Well you had route marches for two weeks, two this week, and I've had haversack lunches called for, for two route marches." And you know what a haversack lunch is, it's two slices of bread with Spam in between. And he said, "I can't do it." And he said, "Yes, you can, I want 120 haversack lunches." He said, "Sir, I have two tins of herring, and I have four loaves of bread, but I am not Jesus Christ!" And there was dead silence. And Captain Kennedy said, "Ok, have it your own way, but we do have to have a hot meal." And I thought that was a most perfect answer to the situation.
Well, despite the handicap of inadequate numbers of servicemen for defence, we carried on, and fortunately, the Germans never thought of attacking our feeble defence, although they wouldn't have had much trouble crashing through. I went on to Middleton, and helped get things in shape. We had platoons and companies and more and more came, and gradually we were up to strength.
During this time I made the acquaintance of two well-known entertainers. One was Charlie Kunz, the famous English pop pianist who was living in Middleton-on-Sea and I got to know him and we became good friends. He was a very elegant man; he looked rather like Fred Astaire. He was always wearing full dress and he had long slim fingers. He'd sit down at the piano and he'd begin to play things like "I'll get by", and "I'll be seeing you" and all the different pop tunes of the 1940's. He was delightful, and most people in England just worshipped him. And he did something for me that no one else has ever done. He taught me how to lawn-bowl. The Middleton sports club had a big piece of lawn that was good for bowling, and that's where I learned to bowl. I've never become an expert in it since, but it was nice to have that man as in instructor.
The other person was John Gielgud, the famous Shakespearean actor. During that time in January, I had a day off, and I went up to London, and I went to see a play, "Love for Love" and the thing that struck me about Gielgud, (I had never seen him before), was his marvelous voice, a rich, mellow, English voice. The play was well done, and I was so enthralled, that when I got back to my billet in Middleton I wrote him a letter, and thanked him for that performance. And do you know, he wrote me a letter back, in his own handwriting, which was rather nice of him. He didn't know me; I was just a Canadian soldier, but he was pleased to be written to.
So, then we got a challenge to go off to Shillinglee which was a great big estate out in the country, in Surrey. I didn't know what it was for, and I didn't know what we were going to do there, but they said this was a headquarters for a camp for Canadian soldiers and officers. When I got there I found that we were billeted inside the big house, which was very elegant and grand. Most of their beautiful paintings and other works of art had been stored in the front two rooms and locked in. We lived in the rest of the rooms in the house, whereas the men who were there too, came and lived in Nissan huts outside. When we got ensconced, there was a fire drill, and we went around learning where all the escape routes were in case there was a fire. There had never been a fire in two or three hundred years, but that night, it was in about the second week of January, and very cold, I was sleeping in a bed which was just opposite the window in the big room that we were in up on the third floor, and we heard a noise. One of the fellows, who slept near the door, opened the door, "Oh" he shouted and slammed it shut. "Fire, fire!" It was roaring along the wooden panelled wall, and there was no way out from there, but there was a way out from my window. There was a rope ladder. So I got all the people organized and they got through and climbed down. There were seven of us in there, and I waited until the end. In the meantime I was putting on my great coat, and my slippers, and my glasses. And I got out and began to climb down the rope ladder, which was not very easy. I got out, right down to the second floor, and then there was a rope ladder from there down to the first floor, and then down to the ground floor. And I went around to the back of the house and by god, the house was one big blaze - a great massive blaze, sweeping up from the ground. Some fool of a fireman, or at least a guy who was in charge of the stoves, had fallen asleep and the place had caught fire.
Well, I walked all the way around the front and saw that there were some areas that hadn't been touched by the fire yet, but there were other fellows who got in and they were beginning to hand out things and I got in the line and we began to carry out pictures and objects of art of every kind, books, manuscripts and all sorts of things. We piled them out on the meadow in front. When that was done, I went around the side and discovered that the fire hadn't gotten into the front of the house yet. I was standing outside, looking up at this terrible blaze. Then I became aware of a woman standing near me. She was a tall woman with gray hair. I realized this must be the lady of the manor, Lady Winderton. Her husband, Lord Winderton had been supervising the removal of everything, and she was standing there looking disconsolate; I said, "Ma'am, it's a terrible shame that all your beautiful furniture, and household things, and grand manuscripts from the old days, are all gone up in flames." And she answered, "Well, we would have gotten more out if one of your officers had not had a bomb in his suitcase." And I said, "Now why in the world would he do that?" She said, "I don't know" "Did you lose everything?" I said, "Everything I own Ma' am. I only have my great coat and my slippers." She said, "Oh, you'll be frozen, follow me." And she led me around to the back of the house to the stables, an old set of buildings where they had built an apartment for themselves, and she said, "Follow me up here". She climbed the steps and I went up with her and she took me into a beautiful little living room, and said, "Come over here." She pulled out a dressing table drawer, and said, "Here, here's a sweater, put this on." And I did; it was comforting. And she said, "Have you got any socks? Here, put these on, they're my husband's." So I put them on, and I said, "Thank you so much. Here you are, your ancestral home is burning to the ground and you're thinking of a young Canadian soldier, with some clothes for him." And I thanked her profusely and climbed down the ladder. In a little while the trucks came around and took us down to Aldershot, which was only about 10 miles away where we got new battledress.
Well, that was my farewell to Shillinglee, and Lady Winderton. I heard about Lord Winderton later, he was a member of the House of Parliament. They were old English-style people.
I went back to Middleton and picked up from where I left off, and we carried on for a number of simulated exercises of general attack and defence and we had sometimes real weapons, and sometimes mock weapons, but it was a simulated exercise, the last one, was called Spartan, which started down on the south coast, where the enemy had attacked and landed and were running through England like hot oil, and we were supposed to stop them. It went on for about two weeks; we ended up somewhere in middle England in a meadow, and they finally decided to cancel the rest of the exercise, but I heard later that was the swan song for General McNaughton, who had been our Commander-in-Chief. He was a very good artillery officer, but he was a product of WWI and he didn't understand the best way to use our modern troops. Anyway, that was the end of the spring term, and the next we heard was that we were moving out of Middleton, a lovely little village, and going into a tented camp on the grounds of the Duke of Richmond, in what was called Halnaker Woods which was near his ancestral home at Richmond Park. Our whole regiment was out in these tents, and we had gotten rid of all the "rubbidubs" who had been unsatisfactory and we now had a pretty fair regiment ready to go as soon as possible. We found when we got into Halnaker camp that one of the other Canadian Divisions, the 1st division had gone to Italy to fight in Mussolini's country, and they landed in Sicily and fought their way up through Italy. We had nothing to do with Italy, but we did try some exercises in Halnaker woods, and it was interesting to do it in country, where we learned to fight in a woods. Right next to Halnaker was Goodwood, the famous racecourse, and we did some of our training right on the racecourse itself. In the lower part of the Halnaker woods was a little church called Boxgrove Priory. It had been built by the Normans way back in the time of the Norman Conquest. I made my way into it and I found the Rector very friendly and he offered me a good, hot bath. I said, "Oh, that's wonderful." He introduced me to the writings of C.S. Lewis whom I'd never heard of. Since then, I've become a devoted fan of C.S. Lewis, especially the Screwtape Letters.
Well, we went on through the summer and I went to the Second-in-Command of the regiment, Major Mingay, and I said, "We've got this regiment in shape now, and we're to go to France, but there's one area that's weak." And he said, "What's that?" And I said, "The Corporals, the junior NCO's." And he said, "I agree with you, they're pretty weak." And I said, "I think we should have some sort of school for them." And he said, "I agree, we'll have it, and you'll run it!" And I said, "Alright sir, whatever you say." And so we set up the school for about 25 junior NCO's, and we did battle drill according to my ideas of it, up and down hills in the Sussex Downs, and it went very well. I went back to Halnaker camp and I found everybody gone I inquired as to where they had gone, and they had gone to a place in Sussex known as Slinfold. So, I followed them there. When I came into the Colonel's office I said, "Here I am sir, our school is over and it went very well, and I hope that you will agree." And he said, "I have something for you. You are now being promoted to Captain." I had only been a Lieutenant. He said, "You will be in Second-in-Command of "A" company, starting today." "Thank you sir."
The next stage of my education was when the whole battalion went to Scotland. Since the regiment was "Scottish", the authorities thought it would be a good thing to acclimatize them to the mild air and dampness of the Scottish hills. So we landed in Scotland at Stornaway, which I had seen before and I knew what it was like. There are a lot of long lochs in Scotland and we wanted to practice combined ops training, which is the landing of troops from boats and the landing on shore in an enemy country. So we tried this up and down, landing on the shore, and finally we were told, "Our final task will be a battle simulation where we will climb the hills of Scotland." Well, I was in one of these landing craft with my company, and we were coming along up the loch, and I could see where we were supposed to land; it was on the shoreline, and the hills behind it were rather intimidating. But I could also see that there were two figures standing on the shore to watch us do this. The figures were the General, General Bums and his ADC. "Well, we'll show them how it's done. We'll give them a grand-style attack." And as our boat came rushing into the shoreline, just as we got to the edge, I had seen what looked like solid rocks on the shore, but it was not firm, it was loose shingle. I was leading the way, and I said, "All right, follow me fellas!" And I pushed down the ramp and I galloped to shore, and I went flat on my face! It wasn't very glorious, and here was the General standing there about two feet from me. I got up and shouted, "Come on, come on!" And I got them to run up after me and we climbed up the side of that hill and we took off like a lot of scared rabbits, and the General could see what we were doing. We climbed that hill, and by God, it took us about two hours getting up and it was all wet and soggy and there had been a lot of rain, and we were wet to the knees, but we got up to the top of the hill eventually. And I thought, "Well, I hope we don't have anything like that in France". So that was Scotland for us, and at nightfall we could hear the pipes blowing "Last Post", or "My home" on the top of the misty hills, and it seemed so appropriate with the pipes.
The next stage in my career was a course for Company Commanders. I was now a 2 IC of a company and was slated to take over a company. The course was routine stuff, and I thought it was all right. It was in a place called Alton, and when I came back to the unit, the Colonel called me in and said, "I've got a job for you, I want you to be a liaison officer." "Oh, what does that mean?" "Well, you'll represent the regiment at Brigade Headquarters and keep us in contact with the Brigadier and the regiment." And so I said, "Well, sir, I'd rather not, but that's what it is, so I'll have to do it." And so, I went off to be a liaison officer, an L.O. and fortunately, the Brigadier, who was a very fine man, whom I enjoyed meeting, made me his personal L.O.; that is, the person who carries his messages and keeps in touch. So, that is where we were when the word came to go to France.
The word came then, very shortly, that we were to go to France. That meant crossing the Channel to Normandy, which had been taken by the D-day troops of the 3rd Division. They had gotten a foot-hold in France, and we were to be the follow-up troops to go on from there. We went to Tilbury Docks and boarded a Liberty ship, and I was in charge on the ship while it was crossing, and we picked up the troops that were to go on our side and we landed at a place called Courcelles- sur-mer in Normandy, and I landed with the others in my little jeep. I didn't have to be going through the water; we simply went dry-shod, and were taken up into a farm, and that's where we camped, my company, for the next couple of weeks.
Something happened on the way in, I was promoted to the rank of Major, and I was also given command of a company in the regiment. We arrived not far from Caen, which was a stronghold for the Germans, and decided to camp near there. My company was in an orchard down near the channel. We were settled in pretty well on the first night when I got a call from a runner who came up and said, "Sir, Mr. Cropp wants you." I said, "Why?" He said, "He's got a casualty, will you come please?" So I went down through the orchard trees. It was heavy bombing with German shells and I had to be careful. I got down there, and I said, "What's the trouble, Paul?" And he said, "I've lost a man, he's had his head blown ofÂ£" And I said, "Well, did you get his dog tag?" And he said, "I tried, but I can't. Will you try?" I said, "Alright." So I knelt down and put my hand in, and it was rather awful, because of the severed head. I tried to feel around, but I couldn't find that dog tag. So I got up and wiped off my hands on the grass, and said, "Make a record of everything that happened and take it to the RAP, and tell them what happened to his dog tag." So that was my first introduction to war, in the physical sense, and it was pretty bloody. Well, that night the RAF bombed Caen. It was very close to where we were, but they were accurate. They spent a lot of bombs, and demolished the whole city, which had a long history. The next day, the Germans probably decided that this new young Canadian regiment should be taught a lesson. They brought in their most terrible instrument, a huge Tiger tank. They attacked us and did a lot of damage. They killed a lot of people, and took some prisoners. George Ponsford, our anti-tank officer, tried to fight them off, but his guns weren't big enough, and he was killed. The next person that suffered was Jack Chandler, who was over 6 feet tall. He was digging a slit trench, and the German gunners from the tank killed him. After that, Captain Dan the next person who suffered was the 2nd in command from the "C" company. He saw something that made him angry. One of his corporals had become isolated from the rest of the regiment. He had about 10 men with him in a kind of a foxhole, and he saw that they were surrounded and were going to be killed, or taken prisoner. So, he tied his handkerchief to the top of his gun and lifted it up, and Captain Dan saw him do that. And he said, "What the hell? They're not going to surrender are they? I'll fix that." So he seized his rifle, and stood up to shoot him, and he himself was killed. Well, there was another officer gone. In the meantime, Colonel MacDonald, who was our commanding officer, was cut off from the Brigade Headquarters. The line had been cut, and he had to get some artillery help, so he went back to the brigade quarters, which was about a mile away. The brigadier, who was new, because my brigadier had been wounded, this brigadier didn't know anybody by his facial features, or his name, or anything else. He said, "Who is that man running around?" And he was told, "Well, that's Colonel MacDonald of the Essex Scottish." He said, "He's deserted his regiment, he's a coward! Put him under close arrest." And so they did. And so Colonel MacDonald was out of the battle. And Colonel Jones had to take over. In the meantime, Currie Wilson, our intelligence officer, who was with Colonel MacDonald, was surrounded and then cut off by that same tank, and was taken prisoner, and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. Well, this was a sorry show for our first battle, but Colonel Jones pulled us all back into dense woods behind the ruins of Caen, and he said, "Let's reorganize the regiment. "A" company, Major Bull; "B" company Major McIntyre; "C" company, Major Steel" and so on. And so, we lay low for a while and tried to recover our morale. That was our first battle, and it was not very successful.
A few days after that, the sign went up that the Germans held a high point looking out over our ground, and they needed to be eliminated. Well, the job was given to the "C" company, and they did a fairly good job. They had a lot of help from the artillery and our mortars, and they eliminated that German outpost. The man who was responsible mostly for that was the company Sergeant Major of "C" company, Les Dixon, who was a regular firebrand. He went around fox-holes with grenades in both hands, and he threatened the Germans, who were holed up, with elimination if they didn't surrender, and he took a lot of prisoners. So, that was his show. Now, I felt that I hadn't done anything particularly, and maybe I should. So, about two days after the success of Cy Steel's "C" company, I organized a raid on my own. It was not as big and extensive as Cy Steel's. I sent out about 20 men, under Sergeant Ryan, the platoon sergeant, with two Bren gunners. I said, "Let's make a hole in this and take some reprisals for this other mess. And so we started on it. We didn't do too well. Our fellows were green and not too confident. I was right behind them, holding my pistol. They made some ground, but they backed up too soon. I was mortified that we were giving way, so I followed them out as far as I could. To my surprise, I got up close to where the German lines were and I saw two German soldiers running away. They had been terrified by our mortars, which had been pounding their fox-holes. I saw them running away, and I shot at them with my pistol, but they were too far away. I don't think I did any damage, but I withdrew the men that were left, and I thought that we'd have to do this a little better in the future.
Something else happened about a week later. I was getting a lot of casualties from my own NCO's. A sergeant here, and a corporal there. These were valuable men. There was a German sniper that was picking them off, and I thought, "I've got to get hold of that." So I called battalion headquarters and I said, "Send me Phillips and Anderson." So they sent me Phillips and Anderson, who were snipers themselves. They came down in a few minutes, carrying sniper rifles. I said, "There's a son-of-a-bitch out there who's picking off my NCO's. I want you to get him." "Yes sir." I said, "Find him and shoot him, get him out of there. Â£ 10 to the man who gets him." So, they went out, they were out about an hour, crawling through the wheat field. And I couldn't tell whether they had reached the German lines, but in about an hour, a hand came up out of the wheat. It was Anderson's hand, with one finger up. That meant that he had achieved his objective. And they came crawling back to my point and I said, "What did you do?" Anderson said, "We got him. He was on a bridge and he was cleaning his rifle, and I nailed him." "Good for you, there's Â£10. How would you like to have another go? Â£5 this time." So they said, "Yes sir". And they went out again. And they were out all afternoon. But they came back later on and they said, "We got another one." And I said, "That's Â£15 to the winner. Who was it? Anderson ?" And he said, "Yes, sir." I said, "We'll settle later ." That was that, and we didn't have any more trouble from snipers.
Postscript: two months later when I was in the hospital, I received a letter. It read: Dear Major Bull, I am getting married next week and I need the money. Please send it to me at the above address. Thank you. Anderson. So I did!
While I was posting my platoons from the company in three or four different places on the edge of the woods, I began to wonder how old my soldiers were. Because a lot of them were new, they had come in from reinforcements and they weren't the original Essex Scottish, so I didn't know much about them. But one of them had been appointed my batman and he was busy digging my slit trench. I came upon him, and I said, "Well, Bachkofsky, how are you doing?" He said, "All right sir." And I said, "What's new?" And he said, "This is my second anniversary." I said, "Two years in the army, eh?" And he said, "No, sir. Two months." "Two months?" Two months before he had been walking down the street in Winnipeg, and he turned into the recruiting office and they had taken his name, and signed him up, and given him a month of basic training. After that he had been sent with others to Halifax for the trip across the ocean. He crossed the Atlantic, landed in England, found his way to the Essex Scottish headquarters, and was sent across the channel on the next boat. And he had arrived about two days before in Normandy. He was a very cheerful little guy with red hair. So I said, "Well, well, well. How old are you?" He said, "I'm eighteen sir." I said, "Eighteen?" Here was
a boy who was not out of his teens, who was being shoved in against a tough and experienced enemy. And I said, "Well, we'll see about that." A little while after that, I wondered if there were others who were like Bachkovsky, who were just as naive, and just as new to all this. So I made it a point to go to a platoon each day, and spend about twenty minutes, or half an hour with the boys in their slit trenches. And they would be laughing and chatting, but I found out they were also scared. They were apprehensive. They had some concerns about their families at home, and whether they were going to come out of this in one piece. So I tried to cheer them up and tell a couple of jokes and. funny stories. I found that they had some means of being cheerful. One had a mouth organ, and he played that. And he was very popular. His favorite tune was Stardust. I said, "Has anybody got any mail?" And they said yes, they had written to their girlfriends or their mothers. And I said, "Give them to me and I'll give them to the postmaster. So I collected them all and told them I'd be back tomorrow. I did that for each of the platoons, collected quite a bit of mail I, and took it back to the regimental postmaster, whose name was Percy Such.
Well, I'd like to say something about the man who brought our rations and food. That was Captain Joe Cottrell. In peacetime he was a banker in Windsor. He was a short likeable fellow with chubby cheeks, not very military looking, but he was as brave as a lion. And each night when it was dark, he would arrive in a bren gun carrier with a driver, with our boxes of rations. They were cardboard boxes, one for each platoon. Those boxes contained a lot of wonderful food and fresh water supplies. Bully beef was the main article, and other things that were dried and concocted for mixing with water. There was one little tin, which was very valuable, it was called a cooker. Canned heat. We'd light it and it was like a little stove. We'd put that in the bottom of the slit trench and make a stew, or make bully beef, or something else. We didn't have bread but we had biscuits, and one very valuable and very much liked item was chocolate - big bars of condensed chocolate. Well, you dine on that for a week, or two weeks, and it gets pretty monotonous. But we managed and we kept alive. I noticed that whenever we over-ran a German foxhole or slit trench we found that they were given black bread as their staple. Well, we didn't care for that. Some was left over, but we didn't eat it. And then, that was Joe Cottrell, coming back night after night after night, in his bren gun carrier. That was one thing those carriers were good for because they could travel over rough ground. Our boys were fond of him. Well, then, Joe gave us the idea that we might have to change, and I inquired if there was some chance to have a bath. "Well, yes," he said, "We're having a mobile laundry outfit coming in here next week, and I told the boys in the trenches that we were going to have a bath. Well, that was great, because they hadn't had their clothes off for nearly three weeks, and they were pretty grubby and pretty tired of all this. Though they couldn't go walking around because bombs were falling everywhere, and I was dodging them from one place to another, but I told them that we were going to be relieved by a new regiment, the FMR's, Fusilliers de Montreal. It was a dark night. The FMR's arrived and I showed them where the sentry points were, and where the enemy happened to be. I said, "Follow me, men." And so I trailed off with nearly a hundred men following me. We marched back two miles to the battalion headquarters, and there, oh blessed "there", was an overhead shower. We all got undressed and got a good shower and got cleaned off. We had lots of soap and we got a clean feeling. Some of us had some clothes - clean underwear and socks, and got them on. We then went back to our original position. But that was a bonus for the day.
We hadn't had any real fighting for the last couple of weeks, just snipers and mortar bombs. There was one thing that surprised me, and it was very moving. My sergeant major was named Case. He was not a very old sergeant major, he was only 25, but he was the second oldest in the regiment. I was the oldest at 28. And he said to me one day, "Major Bull, we lost your pistol when we were out in no- man's land, and we'd like to recover it." And I said, "Well, all right, if you take it easy." And he said, "Cousineau and I will do it." Cousineau was an old friend of his who was a corporal. So, they went out. They were out a long time. And I thought, there was something odd. In this wheat field you didn't stand up, you crawled or laid low, and we saw something moving. I went over cautiously, and found it was Case with Cousineau. Cousineau had been wounded and was unconscious, and Case had taken his two wrists and tied them together, and made a loop out of them and put them over his own head. And he started crawling, and he crawled and crawled and crawled back bringing Cousineau with him until they got back to safety. That was pretty heroic I thought.
Well, about this time I felt we needed some encouragement to give us a lift. I was talking to the padre, our chaplain. His name was Joe Cardy, and Joe said, "Do you think any of your boys would like to have communion?" And I said, "Well, I don't know. But I know I would." And he said, "Well, we don't have a church here, but we have something else. On the edge of Caen, there is a cave. It was originally used for mining salt. If you follow this fence, as far down as it goes, into the town of Caen, you'll find that it stops at this salt mine." He said, "I'll be there." And I said, "Alright." I started to walk down along the fence. I wondered if anybody was following me, because I had announced that this was on. I turned around, and do you know that I had nearly a hundred men following me, single file. They had left the sentries on in the trenches, but they were coming for communion. We walked up to the line, which ended at the salt cave. I went in and there were a lot of people in there. They had come in there for safety from the bombs and the shells, and they were crowded around the walls, but Joe had a little altar fixed up in one corner. And we all came in and knelt on the stone floor, and took communion. When they were finished we walked back to our trenches, and we had that to keep us going. Do you know, that quite a number of those boys never returned from the war?
Well we got back into our positions, and then I was told by Colonel Jones what the idea was for us to get out of this mess. He said, "We have now been holding this part of Normandy for a month, and we're going to break the hold. We're going to break out." And I said, "What method are we using?" He said, "Well, if you've got a picture in your mind of a big wheat field here, and trees and orchards and farms beyond that, we're going to cut through that in one big slice. One narrow strip." And I said, "How are we going to cut through that, the Germans are pretty thick aren't they?" And he said, "Yes, but we're going to do it. The first stage will be giving us a thin strip, about a hundred yards wide, and it will go down through two miles into the German lines. "Who will lead the way?" He said, "Half- tracks." We borrowed them from the Americans. Ahead of them will be a squadron of Canadian tanks. There will be a company in each row, and your company will be first. It will be A, B, C, and D." And I said, "That means I'll be in the front." And he said, "That's right. We'll get through about two miles into the German lines, and then we'll stop and we'll attack up a slope, sort of a hill, where there's a German village, or rather a French village held by the Germans, and we'll attack that. You'll be the attacking force." And I said, "Ok." So I told the boys this, and I said, "I know it's going to be tough but we'll make it. I'll be in front and leading the way." The attack was going to be made at night. Two nights later at 11 :00 p.m. we started. We were going to be moving slowly, about 4 miles an hour, but we'd keep going and keep going until we reached a point called a Start line. And then we'll stop there and we'll debus and fix bayonets and go up the hill. The gunners will be on the flanks, and by the way, on the other side of the line will be the Canadian Air Force. The RCAF will be bombing the Germans. So I said, "Well, all right, we'll go and come on fellas, let's go." We got lined up, so many men in each half- track; I was in the front one. I had one companion, the mortar sergeant, named Woody Woodiwiss, and I thought, well, that's company. At 11 :00 p.m. the signal went and we started to roll. We kept going, and kept going, there was mortar bombing and shell fire. The light in the sky was like the 4th of July; there was all kinds of enemy fire, and our own fire. We didn't pay any attention; we just kept going on our track. And we suddenly stopped, and I said, "What have we stopped for?" We had a section of our own tanks just ahead of us. And I banged on the side of a tank and asked, "Have we reached the Start line?" And they said, "Yes." I said, "That's it then." So I came back to our half-tracks, and I began to call out to the fellas, "Come on, dismount, and let's go. I'll be on the right, and Sergeant Ryan on the left." And just as I did that, a bomb hit me. It was a terrific force; it felt like a sledgehammer. I realized that I had been hit in the right eye, and was blinded. I called out to Woody, "Callout to Mr. Phoenix, he's the 1st platoon commander, and he's to take over." The 2 IC (second in command) of the company, Captain Alf Hodges, was back farther at the battalion headquarters line, in case of something like this happening. I shouted out, "Mr. Phoenix, take over. Line them up and take out the village, which is up at the top of the hill. "In the meantime, my face was covered with blood from my wound and I took out my shell dressing to try and clean it off, but there wasn't enough. So I got out my haversack and pulled a towel out and wrapped it around my head. Just then the colonel, Colonel Jones, opened my door and said, "What's happened? What are you doing? Where are you?" And I said, "I don't know sir, I'm blind. I can't see. I've gotten Mr. Phoenix to take over. "And he said, "Well, I need your vehicle." So he grabbed hold of my shoulders and he pulled me out onto the ground, and he laid me there and he said, "Take care, I'll send somebody for you as soon as possible. "And he got in the vehicle and drove away. I don't know what he did; I don't know where he went. But I later learned something unfortunate happened. The tanks that were leading our column had got into a tangle and were being decimated by a German 88mm and a tank gun, which was devastating, and it ruined some tanks. In some of the tanks, the drivers were frightened and they drove back through our lines. I later met some people who had been run over by the tanks and they had been crushed in the mud. However, they were still alive. But I couldn't do anything; I was lying on the ground. It was quiet, as if the battle had departed from me. So I called, "Stretcher-bearers, stretcher-bearers!" And a voice from somebody said, "It's alright sir, they're coming." He was obviously the soldier that Colonel Jones had left behind to guide the stretcher-bearers, and I passed out. The next thing I knew I was in an open area behind the lines, not in the column of vehicles. There were two people talking to me, they were the padres, the chaplains. One was Father Dalton, and one was Joe Cardy. And Father Dalton leaned over me and spoke into my ear, "Good soldier, Stew. Good soldier, Stew!" I've never forgotten that. And in a second Joe Cardy was there, and he had something in his hand, and he said, "Take this, I found it in a ruined farmhouse." Nobody owned it. It was a little crucifix. And he put it in my hand and said, "Hang onto it." I passed out again. The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital tent. This was the first Canadian hospital in the field, which had been set up just after we'd captured Caen. And somebody, I couldn't see anything of course, somebody said to me, "Do you know Dr. Brian of Windsor?" I said, "Yes." And he said, "He wants to talk to you." Now he was a major and he came over and he said, "Well, Stew Bull, you've had a rough go. You've lost your right eye, and there are some other things that are wrong, but I've patched you up all I could, and I'm sending you back to England. We'll take you to Bramshott, or Basingstoke hospital where they can do a better job. So the next thing I knew, I was on a plane; the other passenger was another invalid, a General Keller who had been damaged by an American bomber. He was out of commission. And we flew back to England, and then a long road, bouncing along in an army ambulance. They brought me to a hospital; it was a French Canadian hospital that had just arrived from Canada. I didn't like that very much because I couldn't understand what they were saying. But in a couple of days I was moved to Basingstoke which was a Canadian English-speaking hospital, and there I was taken into a ward where there was a wonderful lot of doctors and nurses.
That was my war. I didn't recover enough to go back into it. Dr. Hoyle Campbell came and looked at me. He was a plastic surgeon. I said, "How do I look?" I couldn't see anything of course, and he said, "Oh, I think we can do something with this." And I said, "What are you going to do?" And he said, "I'll tell you later." The next day he came to see me again, and by the way, that night I had had penicillin, which was the first time I had ever heard of this wonder drug. But anyway, when he came the next day, I said, "What did you do?" And he said, "I've cut a piece out of your cheek, and swung it over to the right side of your nose. Your nose was gone. Now you have half a nose and half a cheek. They'll heal up. Take it easy. And I'm going to send you back to Canada."
Well, I was in Basingstoke Hospital for three months until I was more or less sealed up, and then I was taken to Liverpool to go home on the Ile de France, a fast liner, with no danger of submarines. And in a week or so, I was back in Halifax, a walking wounded, and I got on a train and went back to Windsor and met my mother. That was the end of my war.
This concludes the main narrative of my story, but there are a number of other things that were pertinent that seem likely to amuse or please my listeners. For instance, there was a newspaper published for the troops at that time. It was the brainchild of a friend of mine who had been in the original Essex Scottish. His name was Doug McFarlane. He had been a reporter for the Windsor paper. I had lost track of him but he had bobbed up two or three years later, running a newspaper for the troops which he called the Maple Leaf. I don't know how he managed this, but it was very valuable. The boys loved it. They liked to hear about their exploits, where they were, and what they were doing. And the most popular aspect of that paper was the cartoon. It was about a sadsack Private named Herbie, and he was the most unmilitary, diffident, bashful, ignorant character, and they all felt better than he was. So he was a great charmer. And we used to read his paper to each other in the slit trenches. Well, that was Doug McFarlane's contribution to the war. Later on, he became the editor of the Toronto Telegram.
Something else that might be interesting, and that is that the boys who had been called up to serve their country were not very keen and they didn't know very much about international affairs. They didn't realize the worst possible enemy that they could have was Hitler and his Nazis. They had not heard about Buchenwald, and Dachau, and Belsen, those terrible camps that were filled with Jews, and other people, who were corralled into coming into these camps. And then discovered, to their horror, that what they were was fodder for the gas ovens. And that was why we were there, to fight Hitler and the Nazis. We weren't there to fight the German people, we were fighting the Nazis. And so, we got that straight.
A few other things that might interest you are the details of life in the hospital, Basingstoke. Basingstoke had been the private family home of the owner of The Telegraph, the newspaper. It had been converted to a hospital. We were not crowded when I came in, but we became more and more crowded as the war progressed, and the men who came in were in very bad shape. Some were missing arms, or faces, or noses, or legs; in other words, the hospital was not like ordinary civilian hospitals for heart or cancer patients. These guys had been damaged by the war. And the doctors who looked after them, plastic surgeons mostly, were wonderful. They converted wrecks of bodies into a recoverable state. The nurses were terrific. They were girls who had volunteered to serve their country and they were marvelous. I had a bad spell about two weeks after I got into hospital where I had a case of erysipelas, and they thought that was dangerous for the rest of the crowd, so I was put in a single room by myself, and I stayed there for a week. I think I thought I was going to die, but I gradually got better with the help of penicillin. A week later, I came out, and one of the fellows whose jaw was badly damaged called out, "Look, Bull is not dead after all!"
One of the chaps had a battery radio, and it was hooked up to the Allied Expeditionary Forces Program, which of course had been concocted for the use of the soldiers, and navy and air force, and it was hooked up to the National Broadcasting, and Columbia Broadcasting and Mutual Broadcasting systems in the U.S. so we were able to hear some very good music and comedy. It was the time of the Big Band era and we heard a lot of very fine music from the Dorsey Brothers, or Artie Shaw, or Bennie Goodman, and others.
One person who was troublesome to the rest of us was Con Smythe who had been wounded, he had been a battery commander. But he was an awful pill, he was shouting all the time, and swearing and cursing, and yelling "Where are the nurses?", and why wasn't he being looked after, and so on. We were glad when they moved him out of there.
One sad event, which meant a lot to many of the chaps, was the death of Glen Miller. He had been recording in England with his band, and he flew from London to Paris, but his plane crashed in the English Channel and he was killed. We were, of course, very much upset, but we couldn't do anything about it. There were a lot of people being killed at that time, but it was a sad thing, and it's rather remarkable that his tunes, the songs that he wrote and arranged and made popular, have remained popular to this day. Glen Miller is still remembered by millions of people.
A rather remarkable meeting of two men occurred just about then at the foot of my bed. One was a small man, neat and tidy, and impeccable in his manner and that was Vincent Massey, the Governor General of Canada, whose son was a patient in the ward. The other man was Colonel George Drew, the Prime Minister of Ontario. They knew each other, but they couldn't be more different. George Drew was tall and forceful in his manner; he had a big, booming voice. They chatted a bit with the patients, and George Drew told us that he had set up a lounge near Trafalgar Square, Ontario House, and it was a place where soldiers or airmen or naval people could relax and read and write letters. They could get food if they wanted it. And it was a nice place to meet. At the door there was a big barrel full of apples, Ontario apples, and everyone could help themselves.
One rather amusing item, the Ontario House had set up a food line, with people serving food to anybody who wanted it, and the fellas lined up with their plates ready. On one occasion, now a "walking wounded", I was in the line, and just ahead of me, there was a young soldier, and he looked up at the pail of food on the counter, and he said to the young lady, who was a volunteer worker, "What's that?" And she said, "That's tripe. Tripe and onions." He said, "Tripe? Oh, God, not for me." And he moved on. And I said to her, "Don't call it tripe, call it lamb stew." It looked like lamb stew, so the fella next to me said, "What's that?" And she said, "Lamb stew." And he said, "Ok, I'll have some." And he moved on, and I said, "I'll have some too. Let me have it." So, she passed it on to me, and I liked it very much. So, that's the story of the lamb stew at Ontario House.
One thing I should have told you earlier was a recording of an idea that somebody had just before we went to Normandy. They said, "Bull, you've got to go to a course on street fighting." I said, "What do you mean?" And they said, "You're going to be doing a lot of that in Germany, or in France, and you've got to learn how to do it." So, I went off to the place where they were assembled for training, and I found out a few vital points. First of all, if you're going to be in a town that you've never been to before, with enemy all around you, you'd better be prepared. You'd better know something about the town, you'd better make sure that you have somebody with you to cover you if you are attacked, because the both of you don't want to get hurt at the same time. A third thing was that we had been inured to fighting in the cowboy movies, where people hid behind the counter slot machine or something. That's not the way it was. We were in a town where there were bullets, and the bullets were powerful. The guns that the Germans had were just as strong as ours, and I found out, they demonstrated, that an ordinary bullet fired from a .303 rifle could pass through 9 inches of brickwork or concrete. Hiding behind a concrete wall wasn't good enough; the bullet would still get you. And also, when you were fighting somebody else, the best thing to do would be to have a handful of grenades in your haversack, and you creep up on the room where you think the enemy is. You fling a grenade in there and duck down on the floor. The grenade goes off, and the blast kills off anybody that's in the room, but the moment that the sound is finished and the smoke is beginning to swell, you jump up and rush into the room, and take prisoner anybody who's alive. There were several other things about the street fighting, you might have to go from one high elevation, like a third floor, to the next house, which might also be on the third floor, and you find some kind of plank and shove it along across the opening from this side to the other side, and then run across that plank, which was a little bit nerve racking if there are three floors with nothing below you. Another thing was that you should have a rope, and you'd be provided with ropes. Roping was handy for those who know how to climb and shimmy up and down ropes. But if you didn't, the man who did do that would get down the rope as fast as he could, and take the bottom end and tie it to a stable post, like a hydrant, until it was tight, and then the other guy who was up at the top, takes his sling from his rifle, ties it around the rope, and hanging on, slides down the rope at high speed, and you could get a whole dozen people gathered around at the bottom, to make an attack, where before you couldn't manage. Well that's the kind of thing that we had to do in street fighting. We often had to climb through the sewers, and you'd find out after you climbed down the wall from the manhole cover, then you'd crawl along in the sewer until you come to next manhole, then you'd climb the stairway there and you'd hope there's somebody at the top to pull off the manhole cover. We didn't do that very often, but it was a tough game. So, those were some of the things I had to teach the rest of the regiment shortly before we got into action in Normandy.
I'll record one event which was quite spectacular. That was the fire at Shillingley Park, when the grand old house was enveloped in flames. I had been able to get myself down by a rope ladder from my
bedroom, but across the hall was another room, which was the housing place for about eight officers, and there was one source of light in that, and that was a big round window in front. When the men heard the fire was roaring behind they shouted, "What do we do? How do we get out?" One of the men had been an officer in the fire brigade in the west, and he said, "Grab that bench, three of you on each side, and begin to swing it together, forward and back, forward and back, and smash that round window with your bench. So they went smash! And he said, "Now climb up and get out on to that sill outside that window, and follow it along in your bare feet, until you get to the edge of the roof. Climb up over the roof and reach Major Bull's window, and there will be a rope ladder descent for you. So they all did that, and by Jove, every one of those men was saved by that technique. And they sat around by the fire in one of those Nissan huts, chatting and laughing saying, "We made it, we made it!"
I would like to close this series with a rather pleasant memory. When the Ile de France was coming into Halifax, I was standing at the rail, looking down from the enormous height of the big ship to the dock. Down on the dock, there was an opening for big vans to come onto the ship. And in that opening, I saw somebody I knew. It was an old boyhood friend of mine, Bonnie Bonham, who had come from Windsor, and she had enlisted, she was in a uniform, I think she was in the Red Cross. She didn't see me, but I saw her, and as fast as I could, I came down the long, slanting ladder, and I ran over to her, and I said, "Bonnie! Bonnie!" She threw her arms around me and hugged me. She didn't even know that I was on the boat, but she was glad to see me, she was a welcoming friend. And that was the end of my excursion into the war.
One last detail of this saga is the effect that the war had on me physically. Today I bear three evidences of the war. One is, of course, that I have no right eye. I have an artificial eye, which is replaced annually. (The other eye was fairly good, but it has now fallen victim to macular degeneration and I am almost blind.) The second thing is that I have no sense of smell. Ever since my time in the hospital, I've felt that I could not tell what food was before me. I have no sense of smell of beautiful flowers, or soap, or perfume, or anything else, and that affects my taste. My taste for food is very unsatisfactory. I know a lot of people say, "Wasn't that nice wine?" And I say, "I don't know, I can't tell." So that's the main effect of that. The third thing is that in my face, from my nose across to my cheekbone, and down to my jaw line, and over to my lips and mouth, there's no feeling. There has never been any feeling for the last 60 years. If I have a needle press into my face, for surgical purposes, I don't know about it. So, it may be good, and it may be bad. But, I don't have any feeling. If I kiss a girl, I can't tell where she is. If I drink out of a pop bottle, I can't tell where the bottle is. But that's not a serious thing.
And those are the only effects that I can still tell today of my adventure in WW II.