Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Dog Company Resurrected
Dog Company reorganisation began the next morning after we got back from 'Snaffle'. A major part of the strength of the new company came from personnel who'd come to the Regiment over the past two months, including our own draft. The balance came from the original members in the three rifle companies. The general feeling at first amongst the originals who were moved over into a new company full of draftees fresh out of Aldershot was one of bitterness and disappointment. In fact I experienced much of the same feeling when I failed to find my place in the ranks of the Essex Scottish. There's not a damn thing you could do about it. I guess they had good reason to feel that way, but then, when the army decides to do something with an individual, it does so without that man's feelings in mind. And rightly so. The army's not a place for 'pick and choose'.
For some unwarranted reason these '39ers or men who joined the Regiment between mobilization and 1942, looked upon us 'Johnnies come lately' as though we were Zombies. It didn't take them long, however, to get to know and accept us as their equals. And from that time on we were like one big, happy family, and as infantrymen, ready to take on the enemy in battle wherever that might be.
Now, I'll go into the Command structure of the company on its reformation. Taking over command was an inordinately young(21)newly-promoted Captain, William (Sammy) Ridge of Millbrook, Ontario. No one seemed to refer to him as William except in official situations. To all and sundry he was 'Sammy'. Why Sammy? Well, according to the man himself, Sammy had acquired a bit of fame around his hometown for being some-thing of a long ball hitter on the baseball team he played on, and pretty soon someone hung the monicker 'Samson' on him, the name of the legendary strongman of Biblical times. Gradually it became 'Sammy', and the name stuck and was carried on when he went into the army.
Capt. Ridge was Dog Company Commander from that time on, right to the end of the war. He led us with distinction and with a firm, but fair hold. He could be tough when he had to be to those who tried to take advantage of his easy-going ways. Sammy wasn't the kind of 'hell bent for election' type of leaders who would squander the lives of the men under him in some foolhardy attack just to satisfy some deep-seated desire to be a hero. No sir, he wasn't the kind of man to waste lives for a medal on his chest. He did what had to be done, and likewise we did what he wanted us to do, plain and simple. And it didn't take long, once we got into action, for Dog Company to gain the respect of our senior sister companies. This could not have been achieved if Sammy was not the kind of leader that he was, and we weren't the kind of men he commanded.
Lieutenant Frank Switzer of Wallaceburg took over command of 16 Platoon. Bill Hider out of the tiny backwoods hamlet of Drumbo off #2 Highway near Woodstock was in charge of 17 Platoon. Laurent Menard from up around Ottawa was in command of 18 Platoon(my platoon). Menard was with us for only about three weeks, when he was whisked away on course. Lt. Don Handford took over from him shortly after we arrived in Italy.
Dog Company Sergeant-Major was Don Habkirk of Teeswater, Ont., while Platoon Sergeants, in numerical order were, Ab Scammel, Don McIlwain, and Pete McRorie. Since I didn't have anything to do with the first two, I can't very well say anything about them. As for McRorie, I'd have to say he was an 'all right' guy in the short time he was my Platoon Sergeant. Pete was a big, solid-boned, muscular ex-OHL hockey star who was good enough to be a strong NHL prospect until he joined the army. Pete came from Chesley up in Bruce County. Although Pete was with us for only about a month I developed respect for the man, feeling in my bones that he'd be the kind of leader I could depend on when battle-action time came. I hated to see him taken away from us, but things weren't so bad when we got another good man in the person of Sgt. Jack Leghorn.
Now, my first impression of the newcomer wasn't all that favourable. After all, Jack lacked the stature of McRorie, and was not an ex-athlete. In fact there was little about Jack that would suggest he'd be a good man to go into action with. His long, sallow features, so pale you couldn't help but conclude the man was anaemic. And besides, he didn't have that voice of authority on the square or anywhere else that was so necessary in motivating men. He never raised his voice beyond that needed to give orders on parade. In fact he was almost fatherly in the way he went about putting a point of training across to us. Jack's IQ, I'd venture to say, was higher than most of the officers. I felt at that time when he first came to us that the Army would have done better had they put Jack behind a desk up in CMHQ rather than thrust him into the infantry. Jack, however, fooled everybody.
And now let's get down to the lowest echelons of Regimental Command&emdash;the Corporals and Lance Corporals, better known as Section leaders, the men who really determine how a battle or specific action will go. Without good section leaders no platoon will perform effectively in battle. They're the central nervous system of a platoon, sometimes worth more to the men than a Sergeant or an officer. Flaws in my memory, however, do not allow me to name all of them in the company, only those in 18 Platoon, and even here I might be a shade out. Handsome, 'Clark Gable' type Cpl. Bob Adair took over 7 Section. Bob was from Windsor and originally with the Essex Scottish Regiment, but transferred to the Perths after a big, rough-tough ex-boxer from Detroit in his own regiment damn near killed him in a pub brawl.
Cpl. Reg. Gore was in charge of 8 Section. Reg. was the epitome of what a parade-ground soldier should look like. Tall, well-built, good-looking and always neat as a pin on parade, a perfect model for a recruiting poster. Reg.would have made splendid material for a Guards Regiment.
9 Section (my section) was headed by Cpl. George Haines, a Stratford original. I never really got to know Haines well enough because he was with us for not much more than a couple of weeks. Unfortunately I can't recall who took his place.
Now, we're down to the last link in the chain of command, the Lance-Corporals, but as to which Section each served in I can't be sure. There was Bill Johnson, a butcher's apprentice from Loblaw, the grocery chain in London. Bill was a bantam rooster type of guy, one of two we had in 18 platoon. He was an intelligent guy and seemed to know the army manual inside out. My first impression of him was not too kind, but as I got to know him better, he was okay by my books. Harman (Chic) Cawley came from the big city, Toronto, and like most guys from Hogtown, had that irritating tendency to believe they were a few notches above us guys who came from any place other than Toronto. 'Chic' wasn't a bad sort, though he some-times could get under my skin when he went into that superiority act of his. Then, of course, there was Bob Grant, a classic case of a man who talked like he was going to be some kind of special soldier, but proved to be a hell of a lot less than what he thought he was going to be. I first ran into Bob at basic training in Stratford where he was a Lance Jack instructor. I couldn't qualify him in this regards since I never had him for any lecture. The only contact I had with him was the occasional time when he marched through the city alongside my platoon calling out cadence if the steps were beginning to be a little ragged.
As for his rank, I suppose he had every bit of right to wear it, but there was something about him that wasn't just right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. All I knew then was, that the way he talked, he was really going to be somebody in this man's army, and I couldn't help but believe he had what it took to move up the ladder. One year later, I'd have expected him to have sewn the second stripe on his tunic sleeve. Instead, he still wore the one. Could the Army have known something that we didn't? More about him later on in this narrative.
No body of troops remains constant. Not even in training is it made up of the same men. They come and go for various reasons. Some get sick and spend time in hospital. Others are sent on courses for extended periods or are transferred to other companies, or end up with some other regiment or Corps. A few spend time 'in the 'digger'(detention barracks) or civilian jail, depending on whether the offence was a military or a civil one. Chronic troublemakers, or those who can't or won't adjust to regimental discipline, or show little or no enthusiasm for training are usually shipped out to reinforcement units for reassignment to some non-combat Corps. New people come in to take their places. Later on when the Regiment is committed to battle or simply holding down static positions the changes come much more frequently, and often in significant numbers depending on the casualty rate. Mainly, however, the Regimental character on the whole becomes set shortly after mobilization and initial shaking down. Enough of the old boys always remain to maintain the intangible something that characterizes and sets the value on the Regiment's performance overall.
It's impossible for me to remember and give a character description of every man that made up the original 18 Platoon as formed up in Hunstanton. For some reason, some people stand out in my memory more so than others. These are the ones I'll try to describe. Some I've looked on with varying degrees of admiration. A few I've tried to win over as friends, but somehow didn't, not because of extenuating reasons, simply only because things didn't work out that way. Some were quite amusing characters, while there were others I thought well of because I always felt relaxed in their presence. They never said the wrong word, never put themselves above me in any way. Only one man had a decidedly negative impact on my memory, which I will go into detail on later in this narrative
The first of the original 18 Platoon that comes to mind is a blocky, heavy-shouldered Frenchman from up Ottawa way, Edgar(Call me H'angel) Desjardins. When I first laid eyes on him he instantly reminded me of the famous professional wrestler of those days, Maurice Tillet whose wrestling monicker was 'The French Angel". And I guess I wasn't the only one to see the likeness, because everybody called him 'Angel'. Though Angel didn't appear to be blest with average intellect, he certainly was no dummy when it came to soldiering. And besides, his stamina and strength were almost legendary. If there was anything Angel loved more outside his family, girls and beer, was his Bren gun. He pampered it like it was a new car, forever wiping it down with oil till the black-metalled parts gleamed like polished ebony. The Bren weighed 26 lbs, which doesn't seem like a heck of a lot, but when you heft it on a twenty mile route march or more, it can get to feel like ten times that, especially when you have to break into a run. It wore you down in a hell of a hurry. It was no problem for Angel. He handled it like a B.B. gun. He was a born Bren gunner.
Then there was Jimmy Hanagan with his pencil-thin moustache and his Hollywood good looks. The first time I saw Jimmy I didn't know what to make of him. I was leery. I had a strong feeling he was a 'queer' because of his hand moves, body gestures and facial expressions had a trace of feminism to them. Even after I got to know him better I wasn't sure of his preferences when it came to sex, so I kept a wary eye on him. It took me a long time before I finally concluded that Jim was 'straight'. I never saw anything or heard anything that would suggest he was other than straight. I was glad because I liked the guy&emdash;quiet and unassuming.*
Bill Robotham came from the cheese country around Ingersoll. He was a character of sorts, something along the classical 'country hick' type. Bill's biggest problem or concern was not the parade-square and bellowing Sergeants. It was his feet. They were always cold. He was forever moaning about his feet being cold. To look at him you would hardly guess that he wasthe lover-boy type. Gaunt of face, though not really all that bad looking, hewas skinny and most certainly not athletic. It was hard to imagine him beingthe type the girls would chase after. Bill wasn't the slouch in this respect,however, that we all thought him to be. He had himself a regular shack-upwith a schoolmarm in Cheam whenever he could get away from camp on a weekend.I envied the guy when he described in intimate detail how things went with him on these love escapades.
As for Harold being a parade-square soldier, he just didn't have it. He lacked the crispness of movement in arms and close order drill, suggesting he'd do a better job behind a plough or pitching hay. But this lack of smartness on the square didn't make him any less of a soldier than the rest of us. Where some of the sharpest guys on the square didn't pan out all that well in battle, Bill was as steady as the proverbial rock. In my book, Bill Robotham was one of the better people I've known.
Mel Brown, one of several Toronto boys in the platoon, was close to six feet tall, with a beam that looked to be about the same measurement. Actually, I'm exaggerating. Let's just say he had a build that made him look out of place in the infantry. I thought he should have been sitting in BHQ picking away at a typewriter than toting a rifle on the run over hill, dale and country road. Mel was partial to popular music, especially jazz. Whenever the conversation got around to the personalities famous in the world of the Hit Parade, people like Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, et al, Mel's eyes would light up and soon he'd dominate the discussion with his vast knowledge of the subject. A walking encyclopaedia on popular music, that's what he was. I remember Mel getting parcels and mail from home and there'd always be several of the latest issues of Downbeat Magazine along with them. Mel would scan through these even before he'd read the letters or go through the parcel. He had a good singing voice, to boot, especially when it came to harmonizing. Mel, Chic Cawley, Reg. Gore and Bill Johnson got together as a barbershop quartet, and many were the evenings at Camp Barton Stacey that this fine group of harmonizers entertained us in the hut with their renditions of the old favourites, sung to the musical accompaniment of a harmonica played by Art Gallant. The one I liked best was the Stephen Foster melody, "In the Evening By the Moonlight." I never failed to get all choked up listening to it.
Tony Wanner, a good-looking lad from Estevan, Saskatchewan, was a quiet unassuming fellow. There was nothing about him that you couldn't like. In a military way you could call him a 'fashion plate'. . .neat as a pin, with trouser creases sharp as razors and not even a hint of a wrinkle anywhere on his wearing-out uniform. No matter how much time and effort I spent on pressing my uniform I never seemed to come close to matching the preciseness of dress as what Tony displayed on parade or in walking out. In the army its pretty damn easy to run into someone you can't stand and say nasty things about him, but I never heard Tony run anyone down. He was absolutely unflappable. If you didn't know him you would be 'hard put' to believe that underneath that immaculate uniform beat a fighting heart. Tony was just one of a number of guys who fooled me one way or the other on how they would react under fire. He took it with the best of them, and on my list he was up there at the top.
Cec Vanderbeck was one of the four guys from Windsor and Essex County in 18 Platoon. He, Jim Renaud and I had been together since St.Luke Barracks where we were sworn in. Cec and I chummed around in those early days at Stratford where we spent quite a few evenings downtown taking in shows, swimming at the 'Y', cruising the streets(on our feet, of course) in hopes of latching onto a couple of accommodating babes, which never happened, and then finishing off the evening with either a sundae or a hamburg at Diana's Sweet Shoppe. Cec and I were compatible in almost every way except when it came to marching. I hated to march behind him. He had that peculiar hesitation in his step that threw me off cadence every time. Since we didn't have to stand in the same place in the platoon ranks, I always tried to fall into place alongside one of the better marchers.
Old Jim Renaud came from Amherstburg, downriver about eight miles from Windsor. He had to be about fifteen years older than me, at least, but that didn't mean a thing once I got to know him. He was always good company... genial. . .loved to crack corny jokes, and best of all, loved to tell stories about when he used to rough it in the bush country of Northern Ontario, hunting, fishing and trapping. Jim was a classic outdoorsman. I loved listening to him tell stories of his days in the bush. I also enjoyed his company on excursions to nearby Andover and Winchester when we were stationed at Barton Stacey. Although he hadn't had much schooling, Jim was far from being a dummy. He might be weak in academics, but he was no fool when it came to bush 'smarts'.
Ken Topping was a solidly-built fellow, whose home base was Lambeth, next door neighbour to London. Ken had all the physical essentials to be a bruising fullback, but I never did find out whether he played the game. He was tough, but he did have one weakness, and that was his passionate love for the girl he left behind in London. Ken wrote to his sweetheart more letters than collectively any six guys did to their dearly beloved ones. He received also more letters from her in a week than I did from my family of six, three teachers, and a half dozen guys from the gang sent me in a month. The guy was a writing machine. It was hard for me to believe anyone could have so much to write about. As it turned out, when Ken returned home after the war, his prolific writing sweetheart had found herself another love. It must have devastated Ken.
Gord Forbes, out of St.Thomas, was a big, handsome broth of a lad, actually underage when he joined the army. His size and mature good looks fooled the people in the induction centre at Wolsley Barracks in London. Gord didn't have a mean bone in his body. But you never took this for granted. This young lad could really throw people around when he had to. I saw him do it to Topping, his sidekick, though I could see it was in fun not anger. Gord was my kind of guy, though I never really did get to know him enough until that bitter and frightful day in the Riccio Valley in our first battle. I'll get to that and another incident in the appropriate chapter.
As for George Simeays of Kingsville, Ontario, the fourth member of the Essex County group in the platoon, I'd have to say he was in a class all of his own. How he ever made it past the medical board with an A-1 category was beyond my comprehension. Internally, I guess he had to be okay. He also wore no glasses. His hearing was excellent. His mental condition was above reproach. The only thing not complimentary about George was the state of his architecture. It was a wonder his skeleton didn't fall apart under the demanding conditions of training for the infantry. About a good way to describe his build, if not exactly accurate, was to say he was held together by chewing-gum, string and safety-pins. In fact, that's how he got his nickname, 'safety-pins." He was as skinny as a two by four, hardly no chest development, and his posture defied all the laws of comfort. His appearance on parade was enough to make even the hardest RSM break out into tears. George looked like he was in a perpetual slouch, whether standing at ease, at attention, or easy. I had to hand it to him, though, he had nerves that never seemed to get frazzled. He amazed me no end. Nothing ever flustered him. The Sergeant's face might go crimson with frustration waiting for him to get on parade, but George had only two speeds. . .SLOW and SLOWER. He reminded me of that slow, dim-witted negro character I used to love in the movies, Steppin Fetchit. And I also have to admit, there were times when I admired and envied his coolness under pressure, refusing to hurry up when the Sergeant kept hollering, "Hurry up, Simeays, speed it up. . .nip, nip, nip!" Shake him up? Not on your life. He seemed to drag himself into the ranks, much to the amusement of all of us.
Like Topping, Simeays was hopelessly in love. He had his Mary in Detroit to write to and to pine about. And also like Topping he wrote and received stacks of mail from his sweetheart across the sea and halfway across a continent.
Walter Thomas, or as we called him, 'Tum-oh"(with the accent on the second syllable), looked more like a kid in the first year of high school than a soldier. But then I suppose I looked like that too, along with most of the rest of the guys in the company. Thomas came from Verdun, Province de Quebec. Although of French birth, he didn't have a trace of the familiar Quebec accent. There was something about him I didn't like at first sight andit didn't take me long to know what it was. I found this out on one of ourfirst mess queues as a new company. He was a pushy little sonofabitch. alwaystrying to get in front of someone. I thought to myself, "Here's a guy I'mgoing to have a 'run in' with some day, I can see it coming." But then notlong after when they shuffled the sections around and I ended up in 8 Sectionwith him, I got to know him better, and pretty soon we both recog-nized wehad a lot of things in common. Neither of us were what you'd call drinkers,though we did have the odd drink of beer in England and then vino in Italy.We also didn't smoke. And, what's more, "Tum-oh" like myself, hadn'tdeveloped the extremely bad habit of expressing himself in profane languagelike almost everybody else did. From the first day at St.Luke Barracks whenall I heard every second word was 'fuckin' this, fuckin' that, going on allaround me all day long and every day, I was determined to refrain from usingit. And I never did use it. In fact my non-use of this four letter wordcovering almost every law of grammar, got me into a couple of fights. Theguys called me a sissy, so I had to deck 'em to sharpen them up, that I wasno easy pushover just because I didn't use that word. Yep, we were both acouple of 'clean-cut' Canadian lads that happened to make it as infantrymen.Hard to believe there was anybody in an infantry Regiment that acted the way we did.
I got hooked up with Bob Wheatley, a burly broth of a boy, and another Hogtowner. I was his #2 man on the Bren. Bob was an OK kind of guy, but not the kind I could really develop a buddy-buddy relationship with, though we did get along very well as a team. I was right beside Bob on Hill 204 in the Gothic Line when grenades landed amongst us. Five of us were wounded, but Bob succumbed to his wounds the following day in the hospital at Ancona. He'd just come back to us after a lengthy stay in hospital and a period as an RP(Regimental Police) at Avellino.
John Trickey was a native of Ville LaSalle, a suburb of Montreal. For a guy who prided himself, and letting us know more than a few times that he had served in the ranks of the peacetime Royal Canadian Hussars when they still rode horses, he sure didn't look the part. Try as we did, we still couldn't picture Trickey sitting tall in the saddle dressed to the nines in the ceremonial trappings of a Hussar. In my mind's eye, all I saw was a Don Quixote astride his bony, sway-backed nag Rosinante. Trickey had that gaunt, sharp-featured face of John Carradine, the actor whose role was always that of some dark and sinister bad man in western movies. Our boy Trickey always looked like he was badly in need of a shave. If he wore black trousers, a black coat that ran almost to the ground, and a tall, black stovepipe hat he could easily be mistaken for Abraham Lincoln. But as a gallant and dashingly handsome Hussar with plumed, spiked helmet it was impossible to imagine. No matter how he fussed over the care of his uniform he always looked somewhat frowzy on parade or when walking out. But for all of Trickey's physical shortcomings, I found him to be an agreeable fellow comrade.
Then, of course, there was Al Demasson who somehow, along with Tony Wanner, ended up in the Perths, finding his way out of a village smack in themiddle of nowhere of the Saskatchewan prairie. Hazel Dell, as pretty a name as anyone could conjure up for this habitation in the heart of the wheat belt. Al was quite a bit older than most of us in the platoon, the kind all young fellows like myself tend to call 'Pop', even though he might not have been all that many years past thirty. Al was a quiet, soft-spoken man whom we all respected in a father/confessor sort of way. Unfortunately I never got to know Al as much as I should have. I'm sure I could have learned a few things about life from him. Al was another one who didn't fit into the mould of what a fighting man should look like. He might not have been a rough, tough, mean fighting soldier but he stayed with us all the way anyway when things got a little hairy. I never saw him get rattled when the 88s cracked the air above our heads and the bullets flew like sleet. He might not have been spectacular, but just watching what he was doing and how he was behaving under fire was enough to quieten my own nerves.
Bill Rainey was the fourth Toronto boy, but you wouldn't guess it by the low profile he maintained. Sometimes he was so quiet you didn't even know he was around. He was about as far away from the loud and brash hogtowners were as a guy could be and still call himself a Torontonian. Bill was one of the most knowledgeable guys in the platoon. I had always thought I knew more about Ancient History of Europe and the British isles than anyone in the company, but Bill caught me in a few errors that soon told me I had met my match and probably my superior. Whenever we two got together to discuss the writings of famous authors, I realized here was a man that was a fount of knowledge. And what I liked about Rainey was that at no time did he ever try to make me look foolish even when he corrected me on some piece of history I might be expounding on at the moment. With anyone else I might have been ready to argue. Not so with Bill Rainey, because I knew he was probably right.
We had three Maritimers in 18 Platoon, Joe and Art Gallant, and Gerry Curran. Joe and Art were not related, except maybe several generations removed. Joe was a Prince Edward Islander, while Art came from Fredericton, New Brunswick. If memory serves me correctly, Joe was the oldest in the Platoon, though I couldn't hazard a guess as to how old. To me, at that time, he looked to be nudging forty. For a man his age to be hacking it with guys almost half that, was a testament to the man's determination to prove he was a s good as the rest of us and take whatever the army and the Jerries could dish out.
Joe was not a friendly guy, leastwise not to me, so I didn't have much to do with him except march in the same platoon. I had a bit of a physical showdown with him in Altamura in Italy when he kept needling me about my lack of ability in a game of volleyball. I had never played volleyball before, and though I picked it up eventually and got to be somewhat of a star at it, in the beginning the balls were getting away from me or they'd glance off my palms and go shooting to the right or left instead of to a team-mate. We were on the same side. So after a third miss in a row, Joe swore at me," God Damn it, you play like an old lady!" That stung me, so I went up to him and laid one right on his jaw, knocking him flat on his ass. He jumped up to lay one on me but I stepped inside the punch and cuffed one just under his chin, just missing his Adam's apple. Down he went again. He never bothered me after that, and spoke to me when he had to with what I felt was a little more respect. I was one of the last men to try to cheer Joe up in the moments just before we went into battle for the first time. I'll get to that later.
Art Gallant was a short, sawed-off Frenchman, all 5 feet two inches of him. Like Johnson, he was something of a bantam rooster, always yakking and sounding like he was ready to take on all comers two at a time. And I actually thought for awhile that he just might be able to do it too. He sure talked tough. I didn't much care for him and his antics and his cutting way of talking to anyone, me included. Since he gave me the impression he could do a job on me, I wasn't about to go at him unless I really had to. I wanted all my teeth in place. It took a couple of months in close contact with him to realize he was more wind than substance, and not really such a bad guy after all. It was just his way. Art went through our battle baptism in commendable manner, but somewhere in the course of our static front duty between Orsogna and Crecchio Art took on the job of company shoemaker. Like the rest of us, Art had found, shockingly enough, that battle was even more horrific than he thought it'd be, that it was no longer a glorious endeavour. His nerves got to him and when the opening for a shoemaker came along, Art gladly took it. Now he'd be working back at BHQ where he'd have a much better chance of getting through the war than as a rifleman. I was glad for Art, because I knew that if I'd had the skill of repairing boots I'd have taken it too.
Gerry Curran, the jut-jawed Nova Scotian from Dartmouth was a chronic complainer, a bitcher of the first water. It took some getting used to, listening to him bitch about this and cry about that. Nothing ever went right for him. He was like a small, sharp stone inside my boot&emdash;irritating as all hell. It took most of the campaign in Italy before I finally came to understand a little, just a little, of what made this guy tick. He just liked to hear himself talk, that's all. Maybe it was his way of combating nerves. We were thrown together as a PIAT team, with me on the weapon and he as my #2 man, the bomb toter.
In my estimation, Jimmy Eves, without a doubt, was one of the best guys anybody could want to be associated with, in or out of battle. I liked him from the first moment I laid eyes on him. He was a big, easy-going kid with a slight slouch to his stature, which probably came from walking behind a plough ever since he was old enough to handle one. Jim came from Stella, a tiny cluster of homes on Amherst Island off Kingston. I remember this one night in Hunstanton Jimmy had spent the evening at the wet canteen slopping up beers and when it was time to head back to the billets, he was pretty well sloshed. I was doing sentry duty in front of BHQ when Jimmy came staggering down the road. I saw him pitch forward flat on his face a couple of times, get to his knees, crawl a few feet then manage to get to his feet again. He stood there teetering for a few moments, recovered his balance, then as though leaning into a full-blown gale, headed off down the street. I couldn't leave my post to help him, and thought that maybe he'd get to his quarters somehow, which he did, without injuring himself.
I can only imagine what happened next. All I know is, that as he stumbled noisily between the row of bunk beds trying to locate his own, he suddenly felt the pressing need to empty his distended bladder. "But where in bloody hell's the 'john'?" you could almost hear him say. Without further hesitation he found himself between a couple of bunks (neither his own) and commenced to relieve himself against the wall. He then went looking for his bed, waking up half the platoon before he managed to find it by feeling the bed to see if it was occupied or not. It was at the far end of the hut. After a struggle to undress, Jimmy finally fell back on the pillow and went out like a light.
In the morning as the last notes of the bugle quavered on the cool morning air, old Tom Flanagan jumped sprightly out of bed, pulled on his trousers, hurried off on tip-toe to the john, did his thing, and was back to put his socks and boots on. Everything was okay up to that point. But then, as he slid his left foot into a boot he let out a howl like he'd been bitten by a snake. Why? Because he'd put his foot into a boot full of piss. He knew it was piss because he could smell it. Tom was in a towering rage, swearing to beat all 'get out' that he'd kill the bastard who did it. Meanwhile, four bunks over, Jimmy Eves was still snoring. When someone woke him up, he couldn't figure what all the fuss was about as he heard Flanagan kicking up a storm over something or other. Then, when his head cleared and he began to remember vaguely what happened the evening before, he realized he was the dirty bastard that pissed in Flanagan's boot. For peace and quiet and his own safety, Jimmy thought it wouldn't be wise to let Tom know he was the culprit.
Harvey E. Harvey grew up in the northern bush country up around Novar, Ont., not far from the larger community of Huntsville. With initials like his, it was no wonder we sometimes called him 'High-explosive' Harvey. This man was a highly nervous individual the minute we got into range of Jerry artillery. He was so high-strung I hated to stand watch with him. His imagination was always running away with him. By the time our two-hour shift in the slit-trench was up I was close to a nervous wreck myself. Everything out front was moving. Fence posts moved, bushes moved, trees moved, and even the hydro poles formed threes and moved off. It was inevitable that his nerves would crack altogether and it did in the Liri Valley when he was carried out with a self-inflicted wound. Harvey came back to the Regiment right after we came out for what proved to be the last time in the line in Italy. And who should he be assigned to, but 8 Section, which happened to be my own. Oh, no, not again!" was my reaction when he walked through the door of the house we were billeted in. "Jeez, I hope I don't have to spend time with him in any slit-trench, he'll drive me batty!" I mumbled to myself.
Billy Gilbert was a tow-headed stocky man who looked to me to be in his late twenties or in his early thirties. His home town was Petrolia practically under the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia. Though it was hardly ever that I saw Gilbert smile, his deadpan face belied the sense of humour simmering just under the surface, ready to show itself when the time called for it. His was a wry humour, not in the way of joke-telling or horseplay, but merely in the way he spoke, the answers he gave, the opinions he came out with. He had a way of taking the edge off things when the going got a little bit touchy up front. Bill liked to tie one on every so often, but I'd never see him in what you'd call 'falling down drunk'. He was never hard to handle even when he'd had a few pulls at the vino bottle too much, not like some others, who, if they weren't ready to throw a punch at you, they resisted your efforts to help by letting themselves go dead-weight.
And finally, there was Tom Flanagan, the character whose boots Jimmy Eves pissed in. Tom was one of the what we called 'old boys'. Although he might have been in his late thirties, he looked to be as old as Joe Gallant. Like Curran, but a little more pronounced, Tom had a jut-jaw. He also had a 'wino' look about him. And true to his looks, flushed, sallow face and baggy eyes, Tom loved getting into the vino every chance he got, and that was often enough in the land where vino, along with olive oil are the greatest exports in peacetime. I had very little to do with Tom either on or off parade, so there's just about nothing I can enlarge on with him. He was not one of the more memorable ones of my years in the service. No slur intended.
Others who made up the latest and final original 18 Platoon members were: Vern Dunseith, the St.Marys flash, Eugene Charron who claimed he was from Detroit, A.E. Smith, S.A. Corbett, Russell Lang, J. Martin. The other half dozen names or so have long since slipped from memory.
Original Story from messages received on 10 March 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 12 March 2002.
The story above, Dog Company Resurrected, was written and contributed by Mr. Stan Scislowski, who served with the Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. The moving story is a part of his published work entitled: Not All of Us Were Brave which was published by Dundurn Press.
Would you care to read more tales of World War II written by Mr. Stan Scislowski? His work is featured on a website devoted to the Perth Regiment of Canada. Check out this very interesting website and while you are there look at Stan's Corner .
We at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words wish to offer our profound "Thanks" for the excellent material contributed by Mr. Stan Scislowski.
September 5, 2002.
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