I am back from Mexico and have a story to share with you it is a 100% true, factual and verifiable account of my induction into the army at the young age of 15. I was told by The Legion Magazine that they weren’t interested in printing this story. I’d like to know what you think dear blog readers.
This story didn’t appear in my novel about my experiences in WWII Piper to the rear, which is a novel true in parts but many more stories about wartime are contained in Piper to the Rear, which you can purchase at amazon.com
I will be posting new stories on my blog and would love to hear any and all comments.
The Bad Boy of Kirkland Lake
This is a story based on a 15-year-old’s induction into the armed forces at the beginning of the Second World War. Everyone has a story to tell, some quiet, sedate and unadventurous, but wholesome. Then there are some full of misadventures, unpredictable and unique. This story is the latter and depicts my life as a young boy, a typical rebel and a pain in the ass. To the townspeople of Kirkland Lake I was the local bad boy. They were quite happy when I was sent to a reform school for my many misconducts.
On the completion of 10 months of harsh training, I was sent home at the beginning of WWII in 1939. Home was undesirable so I departed on an empty freight car and traveled across Canada as a hobo. I acquired food by begging door to door whenever I jumped off my free transport or was chased off by clubbed railway police, on numerous occasions painfully. Cold weather drove me back home.
At 14 I had joined the militia bugle band. To allow us to travel to a military summer camp, all our ages were listed as 18. When I decided to join the Armed Forces to go to war, the record showed a 15-year-old boy as 18. I was accepted for service but wound up in a company called the Number Two Employment Platoon – this should have told me something about what we would be doing.
We were transferred to Camp Borden, setting up tents for the many new recruits to live in. We received no actual military training and weren’t even issued firearms, only tent mallets to tie up tent ropes. After several weeks of labour it was rumoured that we were to be shipped overseas. We requested a leave of absence to say good-bye to our families. It was denied. Being denied permission to say good-bye to our loved ones was intolerable. Nineteen of us went AWOL.
When we returned a week later we found our company had moved on. Giving our names and regimental information identification numbers (mine was B97214) to the only Lance Corporal in our group, we were told to contact a Captain at the Toronto Exhibition Grounds. When we arrived, the Captain was being supported by two of his company as he was drunk. He was about to be shipped to Halifax. “Get aboard the troop train, boys,” he told us. “We’re all going the same way.” The Lance Corporal followed the Captain’s orders and hustled us on board, thus continuing a long series of misadventures.
On the train the following day the Captain denied ever having spoken to the Lance Corporal and dismissed him. For five days we shunted across Canada eating the same food supplied to the other troops. Arriving in Halifax, we had no option but to fall in line. We had no luggage, only what we were wearing, plus the list with our regulation numbers. We followed the other troops to the waiting ship. As we walked in line to a desk where a Sergeant was comparing names on a list, we were sure we would now be sent back home. We waited for our turn as the Sergeant assigned every soldier a hammock, berthing pass and food mess number.
When it was our time and the Lance Corporal presented the paper listing all of our names, we were shocked to see that the officer handing out passes was Kirkland Lake’s ex-Chief of Police. Before he left the force, apparently in some disrepute, he had occasion to get to know me and some of the other boys. When he was informed of our predicament, he told us not to worry and that all our paperwork would catch up to us. He then rushed us along so as not to hold up the line.
As we finally docked in England, we were quickly shuttled aboard a series of small English railway carriages, the shrill engine of the train so unlike the loud boom of our large diesel locomotives back home. We arrived at the military town of Aldershot. Once inside, we found that no one moved anywhere without a pass. We were landlocked. No one was responsible for the nineteen soldiers without proper identification, with only our dog tags to identify us.
As we landed at Aldershot our troops were being driven out of France. The Lance Corporal commandeered the building which previously was occupied by the Canadian 48th Highlanders, who were fighting and dying in France. Here at least we had housing. Not being assigned to an official mess hall, we ate at whichever mess hall was offering the most palatable food for each particular meal. No one questioned our presence as everyone was preoccupied with the buzz bombs, German bombers and the like.
Our Lance Corporal was definitely officer material as he organized our group into an efficient scavenging unit. Our party was resourceful. Part of our job was to seek out the most obvious smoking locations and rescue all discarded cigarette butts, concealing our spoils in an old tobacco can. Later on we secretly separated all the tobacco and rebuilt proper cigarettes. The mission bore ample success as our cigarette addiction was satisfied.
A further secret party was the razor blade patrol, salvaging all discarded razors from the bins in every washroom, discarding all those showing rust stains. We would then rub the razors on a glass cup in a circular motion until sharpened.
The elite members were to take numerous showers to borrow soap and accidentally forget to return it, and also together any particles of soap left behind in the soap dishes to later compress into multi-coloured bars. Our efforts were earning us the title of either the dirties or the cleanest soldiers in camp.
An intelligent officer learning of our living habits decided to take advantage of our lack of work by using us to keep the headquarters offices clean after they left for the day. We became unofficial labourers. At least it helped to cut down on our boredom and we were able to salvage a better quality of cigarette butts along with anything else we could liberate for a little cash to spend in the soldiers’ canteen. I made a good score, finding the place where the officers dropped their returnable containers. I only swiped a few each day so that I would be abler o visit a beautiful young girl who worked at the return depot.
A Sergeant who had money galore stole my heartthrob away from me. It didn’t matter to her that I was young and handsome, as he had trumped me with his money. When I could take no more of her ignoring me, I walked up to the Sergeant and slugged him. I was quickly subdued by many hands. It appeared that striking a Sergeant or any senior officer is a hanging offense. How the hell was I supposed to know? I had never had one minute of military training. All I had been taught was how to erect tents. I had just turned 16. Now here I was locked in an iron cage, due to be taken before the camp Commandant.
The next morning the Sergeant Major and two burly guards held me between them. “Prisoner and escort turn left quick march,” the Sergeant Major yelled as if we were across the parade grounds. He marched us into an office and yelled halt. He saluted the Major sitting at his desk. The Major said nothing at first. He just looked at me up and down, taking in my scruffy uniform which hadn’t been washed in two months, “What do we have here?” He said. “Sergeant Major, release the prisoner and dismiss the guards.”
The Sergeant Major did this in his booming voice and left. I was standing there so frightened I couldn’t keep back my tears. The Major then drew up a chair, ordered me to sit down and told me, “I want the truth from you, and if I catch you lying I will kick your ass clear across the drill yard.” He then asked, “How old are you, what the hell is going on and why do you look like a vagrant?”
I told him everything from Day One to the present, including the girl in the canteen. I swear I even detected a tear in the Major’s eye. He ordered a completely new uniform for all of us as well as three months of back pay and finally gave us badges for our shoulders, 2nd Division. He also gave us all fourteen-day holiday passes for anywhere in Britain we wanted to go. I chose Scotland and went with a Scottish friend, Waul Boyle.
Waul and I received a tremendous welcome on our arrival in Scotland. Apparently they hadn’t seen any Canadian soldiers as they all has been sent to fight in continental Europe and were now exiled to Dunkirk. People were asking us to sign our autographs on anything, such as their grocery bags, or even a cast one lady had on a broken leg.
We later retired to a military canteen for some free food where we met a very obliging minister who invited us to sleep in his air raid shelter with himself, his wife and their four children. We gracefully declined as we thought we would be acting like fraidy cats if we were to accept. The results were that I slept on the pool table in the canteen and my friend Waul slept on one of the benches.
We both ended up under the pool table due to a frightening night of enemy bombing. Fortunately our building was spared. Later on that morning we were informed that the minister, his wife and children as well as a dozen of his friends and neighbours seeking shelter had suffered a direct strike. Unfortunately for those poor souls, few such civilian shelters could absorb a direct hit. None of the people sheltered there had survived.
This incident was our first encounter with the violence and destruction of World War II. As we were soon to be deployed to the front lines, it would not be our last. Later on in the war I was also decorated with the Military Medal for Bravery, but that’s another story.
A NARROW ESCAPE
My daughter Lori is forever pushing me to recount one of the numerous life threatening events that befell me during my five and a half years of overseas military service in WWII. There is one particularly frightening incident I can never forget and would like to relate to you, dear blog reader.
I was a member of a three man crew operating as a reconnaissance scout ahead of our unit. We often found ourselves free for other duties when needed. In this incident (because I had a certificate to operate any water craft) I was conscripted to take over an inboard motor launch which was used to transport officers or casualties when needed to medical facilities.
I was working as a sapper engineer our company was involved in using large pontoon boats that were capable of moving tanks or large guns on their decks to ferry tanks across a river. The pontoon boats had four two hundred horsepower outboard motors on each corner to move the large pontoon bridge craft over any flooded areas. In this case the Germans broke the Rhine river walls to flood a very large area. During the whole operation we were constantly being shelled by tiger tanks firing 88mm shells from as far as five miles away.
We had to constantly change position as the Germans kept finding our location by sending spotter planes, every time we saw one we had to change locations as they would soon begin shelling that spot. We were already taking casualties during these moves and had to be constantly finding different places to load the tanks from.
I would follow behind in my launch transporting casualties if there were any. I was on my way to follow the company downriver when my launch suddenly stopped. I moved to the back of the boat to check the motor. When I lifted the motor hatch my problem became obvious. I had become tangled in concealed street telephone wires which had wrapped themselves around my propeller motor. I was traveling over a flooded civilian area but it never occurred to me that there would be submerged telephone poles.
Using my wire cutters I proceeded to cut the many yards of of wrapped cable and it was taking a considerable length of time. I was building up a large pile of cut wire in my launch. Even cutting the wire was time consuming I had to kneel down between the motor and the launch rail and drag it out before cutting it.
Then I heard the sound anyone in my position would dread, the shrill whistle of a landing shell. There was nowhere to hide all I could do was crouch down and hope the shell didn’t land too close. I remained kneeling down in the boat and the shell landed about ten or fifteen feet ahead and beside me.
My immediate thought was I was going to be blown to pieces, instead a large fountain of water, grass and dirt flew up into the air and tipped my launch completely sideways so I was looking downwards. I clutched the rail of my boat and rode this tremendous wave caused by the explosion. I looked straight down and I swear to you I as I was looking at the large displacement of water for just a split second I could see solid ground some thirty feet under me about the length of a telephone pole.
The water rushed back and the launch righted itself. What had happened was that normally a shell explodes on contact, in this case the shell dropped almost straight down and instead of exploding when it hit the water it exploded when it hit the river bottom and all the force of the blast was directed downward and shot the water straight up giving me the change to for a brief second see the ground under the water. I wasn’t hurt but frightened beyond description.
Finally after removing a large portion of wire my motor started and I immediately set off. I could not get away fast enough for my liking. A few miles downriver I found my company and a very angry officer who immediately threatened me with a court martial for hiding from the action. I pointed to the huge pile of wires still in the back of my boat and had amble evidence to explain myself.
Later on that same day we saw a very curious sight. A very sleek German plane flew low right over the trees. We could very plainly make out the faces of the pilots who were sitting side by side. The pilots stared straight at us but didn’t fire. This was the first time any of us had seen a jet powered plane used for spotting instead of a propeller one. Since the pilots didn’t fire on us we figured it was being used as a spotting plane. Of course we had been spotted so had to move on down the river bank but what a strange sight on that day.
I am wondering if you’ll have the patience to read all of this writing, thank-you!
If you’d like to read more about my experiences in WWII Please purchase my book Piper to the Rear from Amazon.
Here’s a pic and a link: