Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Once we got rolling again and cleared the city it didn't take me more than minutes to drop off to sleep again. But the intermittent squeal of that high-pitched train whistle and the clacking of the wheels kept dragging me back to that limbo between wakefulness and deep sleep. And then this loud, raucous voice impinged itself gratingly on my semi-consciousness. I was damned if I could make out what that irritating voice was hollering. I opened one eye and saw this guy with a funny, peaked cap going down the aisle shouting in gibberish. "Cha paxon! cha paxon! Mon, cha paxon!" At first I thought it was a red-cap (a porter}, but then I realized the man wore khaki, so I had to assume he was an MP. Actually he was what was known as a RTO(Route Transportation Officer) whose job it was to control bodies of troops in transit on the railway. Anyway, this loud character succeeded in waking everybody up with his raucous shouts of unintelligible orders. No one knew what the hell he was hollering about. After he'd passed through each coach and was on his way back, still shouting, it was only then that I suddenly caught on to the strange language issuing so loudly from his lips. He was letting us bleary-eyed pass-engers know it was time to get our packs on. although it most certainly didn't sound like it. If he'd been speaking Canadian it would have been, "Get your packs on! Get your packs on! Come on , get your packs on!" I turned to Cec Vanderbeck, " If that's the way people over here talk, Cec, we're going to have one hell of a time understanding them. They talk like they've got a mouthful of marbles." "You can whistle that again," Cec replied. And that's when everybody in the car started loudly mimicking the RTO's raucous shouts even before he'd gone on to the next car. The place was a bedlam of hilarious shouts and laughter&emdash; a good waker-upper.
It was darker than Toby's ass when we stepped down onto the platform in Aldershot Station. How the officers and NCOs managed to bring order out of chaos and form us up into column of route in the blacked-out rail yard remains a mystery to me. But they somehow did, and we marched off into the blacker than black streets like blind men. By the second block, night vision slowly came and now we could see enough so that we no longer walked up the backside or tread on the heels of the man ahead. Aldershot was like another ghost town. Not a soul walked the streets. I should have known, though, that with Aldershot being a barracks town, that its population would be abed with "Lights Out" at 10 p.m. Not a twinkle of light showed anywhere. It was almost midnight.
Along the way, unknown to us, the column was broken up into several segments as the various drafts from all across Canada veered off to their respective draft Reinforcement Depots in town. After a short march of several blocks our part of the column trooped into Salamanca Barracks just off the main intersection of town. On both sides of the road where we'd been brought to a halt loomed the silhouettes of the three-storied, wrought-iron balconied barracks blocks. Without further ado, we were broken off and told to find a bed anywhere on the two upper floors in the one to our left. The ground floor contained the kitchen and mess-hall and other staff offices. We needed no urging, and with a noisy clatter of boots on steel grating we hurried up the stairs to lay claim to a bed. As for the bunk-beds, they were a sight to behold. Built of two by fours and thin steel slats to support the mattress, they stood only about three feet high, with the bottom bunk a mere six inches off the floor. The mattresses came in three pieces called 'biscuits'. The guys who got the top bunk had it easy. Those of us who were a little slower on the draw had to settle for a bottom bunk. I was one of that number, and much to my dismay found that getting into the bottom bunk was easier said than done, In fact it took a certain acrobatic ability to do so, along with some considerable practice to master without slipping a disk or straining shoulders or back muscles.
There were two ways to overcome the problem of getting into the bottom bunk. The first was as follows: Facing the head of the bed you set the knee closest to the frame onto the mattress, and then with a quick flip, you rolled over onto your back. "Voila!" You were in! The second was a little more complicated and took some upper arm strength and a touch of the gymnastic to succeed. You took a firm grip of the upper frame with both hands, more or less chin yourself as you swung yourself inwardly and then let go. if your timing was right, you landed squarely onto the bed. If it was off a split second too soon, your back landed on the hardwood frame, giving you a jolt you'd feel from shoulder blade to the crack of your ass. It took several of these minor accidents before we got the 'hang' of it.
Having skipped breakfast aboard the Andes I was undeniably famished by the time we arrived at our destination, and would have eaten just about anything to quieten the growling in the stomach. Since it was midnight, no one expected to be fed until morning, but then a Corporal came around with the good news that pancakes and tea was being served downstairs in the mess. Hardly had he gotten the last words out of his mouth when I was out the door with my mess-tins and enamelled cup. Never had pancakes tasted so delicious as they had on the early minutes of a Sunday morning. The first two went down in a matter of several gulps. I was still hungry and thought that that was my ration for the night, but to my welcome surprise I found out I could go up for seconds and even thirds. And I did just that. Satisfaction supreme!
That first night in England, as I was dropping off to sleep about one in the morning, came the distant wail of the air-raid sirens in London. I sat up with a start. In my shorts I dashed out to the balcony along with about thirty other guys likewise in their shorts, to witness for the first time what we all thought would be another bombing raid on the great city that had taken so much punishment from the Luftwaffe in the blitz. Off to the northeast about 35 miles away, long pencils of searchlight beams flicked back and forth across the sky, seeking out the raiders. Meanwhile, the mournful and eerie moan of the sirens rose and fell in the cooling damp of the night. We waited with the excitement of children at a circus parade, but this was a different kind of waiting. We waited almost breathless for the drone of engines and bombs exploding. But after more than a quarter of an hour of waiting and fixing our gaze on the sky in the direction of London we were disappointed when the sirens shut down and the searchlights flicked off. A false alarm.
Sunday morning, May 21st was the beginning of our first full day in Merrie England, an England not so merrie any more. And what a lovely day it was, so unlike the blowzy rain-saturated day of our disembarkation and long train-ride south. The bugler hadn't even finished blowing reveille when I was dressed and ready to go exploring right after breakfast. With no parades on tap on Sunday, not even a church parade, we newcomers had all day to scout the town and environs to see what was what and what it had to offer.
Before I get further into my war memoirs, I'll include here a few historical bits of information about this garrison town to let the reader know something about this town that became associated throughout the war as a Canadian enclave. Let's go back to the year 1853 or thereabouts. The English Government at that time came to the realization that nowhere in the whole of England was there an adequate facility for the concentration and training of a large body of troops. Wherever battalions were garrisoned, it was usually in small forts and rundown castles. Some troops were even billeted in private homes. It was imm-ediately evident that discipline and control were sacrificed under these condit-ions. Training , especially suffered, as it had to be undertaken in many cases on private, cultivated acreage which also caused legal problems.
To alleviate the situation, it was none other than Queen Victoria herself, along with her husband, Prince Consort, Albert who made strong recommend-ations to the government that a permanent camp should be established in some suitable section of the country. After much reconnoitring of available, wide open tracts of heathland, Aldershot was deemed the best-suited, and so it was acquired, comprising some 10,000 acres. Although the whole area was ideal for the deployment and tactical movement of large bodies of troops, there were great stretches of nettle and gorse that broke the openness of low meadow grass. Fairly large patches of the stinging nettle were scattered about the district, causing much discomfort and even pain to the unfortunate soldiers who found them-selves thrashing through this abomination of growth. I know exactly what the generations of soldiers who'd trained in these parts were up against with the nettle plant. I ended up in one on a night scheme. By the time I worked my way out of it, it felt like I had been bitten by ten-thousand bloodthirsty mosquitoes. I scratched for a good part of the night.
In planning for the built-up portion of the camp, some wise soul stressed the fact that the barracks should be so built as to ensure the comfort and warmth of the troops even in the coldest of English winters. Though I hadn't spent a winter in the Aldershot Barracks, our 1st Infantry Division fellows that had spent the winters of '40 and '41, winters here, said to be two of the coldest on record, will swear up and down that whoever the architect or the builder was, he or they sure slipped up somewhere. The bitter cold seeped through what had to be millions of cracks and openings in the uninsulated buildings. A derelict barn on the Saskatchewan prairie in the dead of winter couldn't have been more drafty than these ancient works of civil engineering. As a result, it was only natural that morale of the troops barracked in Aldershot had sunk to a level only surpassed in the last few months of the war when infantry reinforcements were almost non-existent and men had to go into action undermanned, often as low as 1/3 of platoon strength. A platoon would usually be about 36 men.
Aldershot Military District, although small by comparison with the military districts in Canada, it had far more barracks facilities and parade-squares. The town itself, in both wars teemed with troops, mainly Canadians. Two large camps made up the military District; designated as the North Camp and the South Camp. The North Camp known as the Marlborough Lines began at the southern limits of Farnborough, with barracks blocks and parade-squares on both sides of Queens Avenue. All the barracks blocks in the Marlborough Lines were named after victories in Lord Marlborough's campaign against Louis XIV of France in the War of the Spanish Succession 1704 to 1709; Malpaquet, Oudenarde, Ramillies, Lille, Tournay and lastly, Blenheim, his greatest victory. The South Camp began at the southern border of the North Camp, extending from the Farnborough Road on the west, all the way up to the Basingstoke Canal north and east, and thence south to Wellington Avenue joining Aldershot High Street with the Farnborough Road. The camps went under the name of Wellington and Stanhope Lines, the barracks blocks therein were named after battles in the Napoleonic Peninsular Campaign; Albuhera, Badajoz, Barrosa, Corunna, Gibraltar, Maida, Mandora, Salamanca, Talavera, and Waterloo. Other barracks within the bounds included Buller, Clayton, and McGrigor (and by the way, this latter name is not misspelled). South of Wellington Avenue within the boundaries of Aldershot town itself were Beaumont, Willems, and Warburg Barracks. So, you can see, just by the number of the barracks buildings that Aldershot was one hell of a big military district compressed into a relatively small area. It was almost a world of its own.
Since Salamanca and Badajoz Barracks is where I spent my first two and a half months overseas and therefore the one I'm most familiar with, I'll describe them as best I can. All the others were built along the same lines, with minor variations in architecture here and there.
SALAMANCA & BADAJOS BARRACKS
As you enter the camp from Hospital Hill Road you pass a small building to your right which was the Church of England chapel. Another few paces and you're standing on the road between two long three-storey structures, facing each other, the upper two having wide iron balconies running almost the full length of the barracks block. They are known as the Salamanca Barracks. At the far end of this block long roadway abutting close up against the Farnborough Road are two similar buildings, one on each side of the road. They comprised the Badajoz Barracks part of the complex. In that block long stretch between Salamanca and Badajoz are other buildings, the one on the south side, a large house-like structure serving as the Officers Quarters and mess. while on the north was a smaller, one storey cottage-like building housing the NAAFI canteen, complete with writing, reading and games rooms where those not out on the town on a 'toot' could while away the hours playing pool or darts. The parade-square took up the remaining space bounded by the barracks blocks on the north, Hospital Hill Road on the east, Wellington Avenue on the south, and the Farnborough road on the west. An entire battalion could form up on parade here and there'd still be space left over.
Barracks are barracks, but the barracks in Aldershot were quite unlike any barracks we'd thus far been billeted in. Eight foot wide iron balconies stretched the full frontage of the two upper stories, with iron stairways at both ends. The ground floor was taken up in administrative offices, the mess hall and kitchen. The one on the north side had Q.M. stores, the Post Office, barber shop, shoemaker, and an armourer's workshop. The sleeping quarters were on the second and third floors, with ten rooms to a floor, each housing fifty men. On the south side barracks ground floor was the kitchen and mess.
When the buildings were first built they were connected by a massive framework of steel and glass extending from rooftop to rooftop, allowing the troops to do arms drill on the pavement beneath even in the foulest weather. As neat an idea as it seemed at the time, it had a serious drawback. A series of accidents occurred due to glass falling on the heads of men drilling below. It was soon found that glass panes had been loosened earlier by the weight of daredevil individuals crawling across in foolhardy attempts at impressing their mates. The huge canopies were taken down shortly thereafter.
Although the barracks had been built around the time of the Crimean War, they were sturdily constructed and much better for billeting troops than provided by the old and obsolete factories or warehouses at many military sites in Canada. They were surprisingly bearable in late spring, summer and early Fall, but in the colder and rainier remaining months, especially in the dead of winter they were something else again. They were downright punishingly cold places in which to sleep. I was lucky, along with thousands of others who managed to escape being stationed in Aldershot during these colder months.
Strange as it may seem, especially when the whole southeast of England suffered under the pummelling it took day and night from the Luftwaffe during the 'big blitz', and in hundreds of scattered 'tip and run' raids over the next couple of years, and then late in the war the V1 bombing and the launching of the V2s, it was nothing short of a miracle that Aldershot emerged largely unscathed. Although thousands of enemy bombers had winged their way over Aldershot before and after bombing London, only a single bomb fell within the town's environs. For some unfathomable reason, Goering and all the other high-ranking Luftwaffe Generals had overlooked Aldershot as a choice bombing target. Who knows what would have been the lot of the Canadian Army had the Luftwaffe bomber fleets went after the town? For sure, at least in regards to the Reinforcement units based there, we'd have been in a bad way. But it didn't happen, and lucky for all of us, we went about our training and our waiting to go on to a field unit in complete safety, and without fear.
Now that I've given a little of the early history and background of the Aldershot Military District, I'll get back to my day to day experiences, observ-ations, opinions, thoughts and whatnot as I progressed through training and my eventual experiences in an infantry Regiment in and out of action.
I'd been overseas only a little over a week or so when I got hit by that non-fatal or debilitating malady known as 'homesickness'. And I got it bad. But I'm sure I wasn't the only victim. Practically everybody else had to have been afflicted. Most hid their feelings behind a facade of ' business as usual' behaviour. Others it was unmistakable in the hang-dog expression on their faces, with that far-away look in their eyes. I must have fallen into the latter category at least for the first two weeks. All I could think of was my being so far from home, wondering what everybody back in Windsor was doing. There was no doubt about it I was flagellating myself through self-pity.
It came on quite suddenly. One day, everything was just fine, nothing out of the ordinary, and then on the 15th morning as I woke to the blare of the bugler's reveille, looked out the window and greeting me was another one of those rainy, blustery, no good, rotten miserable days like the day we rode down by train, and then it hit me. Days like that, even at home tend to sit heavy on a person's mind, but here, 5000 miles away from home, and suddenly I'm not feeling well at all&emdash; not physically ill, only depressed. Self-pity, one of the worst things that can happen to a soldier seized me, and for some two weeks off and on I thrashed in its suffocating grip. The only saving grace for me was that almost everyone else looked to be in a similar state of mind. Realizing I wasn't alone in my misery gave me a fighting chance to come out of my downward spiral of mental outlook. The bloom on my enthusiasm for army life had worn off and now I found myself yearning to be home with all that was dear to me. The aspirations I'd always had of returning to Windsor as a highly decorated and celebrated national war hero had come unravelled. Worst of all, I wasn't afraid to admit it, either to myself or to my buddies. What could have intensified the malaise I was going through was the fact that I'd gotten no letters from home even after we'd been here for three weeks. After every noon meal at mail-call time I hurried down the camp road to the Post office in hopes of pickling up some letters or maybe even a parcel or two my mother and sisters sent. No such luck! Others were already getting mail from home, but not me. And when the last letter had been handed out, with none for me, I'd walk back to my quarters feeling lower than low, my feet practically dragging. It was like I didn't have the strength to lift them. All this affected my attention at lectures and my attitude towards training. I finally arrived at that moment that I had not even remotely considered of ever doing, and that was to 'swing the lead', a common expression for getting out of some-thing unpopular. I'd never been one to fake illness to get out of duty. It wasn't in me to pull off such a despicable stunt. But now, since I fell into such a sorry state of mind, I was willing to go to almost any length in hopes of getting back home to Canada. What made it even worse; I was ready to do it even though I was deeply ashamed of myself. My self-esteem had evaporated. It was mental torment like I had never gone through before. Here I was, a good soldier in every respect, with all the makings (possibly) of a heroic figure, or so I assumed, and what do I do but yearn and pine to go back home to mama. What a poor excuse of a man!
Within a couple of days of the onset of this insidious bout of homesickness, I was in such dire straits, that in desperation I decided to go on sick parade using an old minor football injury to my ankle hoping that maybe it would be my ticket back to Canada. What a pathetic hope! The MO suspected right off I was swinging the lead, gave a cursory examination of the ankle, flexed it a few times, put my foot down, and, looking me straight in the eyes, said, "There's nothing wrong with your ankle, son." In other words, I knew exactly what he meant. "Quit this malarkey and get back to soldiering." And do you know what, with his condemning look and his sharp advice I felt a heavy weight fall off my shoulders. All I needed was that verbal 'kick in the ass' to straighten me out. Just like that(a snap of the fingers) and my mind was suddenly clear, and the mental torment had gone wherever bad ideas and thoughts go. I'd weathered the storm.
Being new to the sights, sounds, smells, and all other things English, it was only natural that I should make fun of and laugh at almost everything my eyes took in. First, there were the toy-like freight cars and the irritating high-pitched squeal of the train whistles. What we didn't make fun of, however, were the passenger trains that ran so much faster than our own. I was in awe of their speed and the efficiency with which the rail system ran in this country. At any station platform that I might be standing on I couldn't believe what my eyes were taking in. An express train would rush by going at least 80, then not more than a minute or two later another one would roar by on the same track going the other way. How they did it, I couldn't begin to say. But they did it.
It didn't take us long to accept the fact that the English did things a whole lot differently than the way we did things in Canada, some I considered good, others not so good. For one thing, their driving on the left was hard to get used to. And not only that it drove us to distraction trying to remember whenever stepping off the curb to cross the street that we look to our right first instead of our left. There had to be more than a few Canadians that didn't get to see the light of another day after they made the mistake of looking the wrong way for approaching traffic. I had a couple of fairly narrow squeaks myself in London when I forgot myself for a moment thinking I was back in Canada. If it hadn't been for my fancy footwork and speed of reaction I might have ended up in a hospital or had myself a plot in Brookwood Military Cemetery.
Though we came from a large, mainly English-speaking country, we found soon enough that in some ways the language as spoken in the country where it originated can be quite different from the way we spoke it. For instance: Take the crude expression we use in Canada for pregnancy, that, of course, outside genteel and professional circles; we say "She's knocked up." In England it means something altogether different. It's used in question form, like; "What time do you want me to knock you up in the morning?" And that means 'to wake someone up. And then, of course, there were the nouns like 'windscreen' in place of our 'windshield'; 'bonnet' for what we knew as the 'hood'; 'spanner' for 'wrench'; 'wireless' for 'radio'; and lastly, 'cinema' for 'movie theatre' or 'show'. These examples were just a few of the many differences in language we had to get used to if we expected to understand English as spoken in the land of its birth.
The monetary system of pounds, half-crowns, shillings, pennies and farthings was a distinct challenge to master. But only for a short while. Like everything else in this country, it didn't take us long to learn and work with. In those first few days, most of us, when we went to the canteen to buy a cup of tea, an apple tart or rock cakes or Mars bar, we'd invariably plunk a pound note down on the counter to make sure we had enough to cover the price, trusting the counter-maid to give us the right change back. Which they always did, or so we presumed. Where our difficulty came was when we tried to relate their money to our decimal monetary system. Not an easy thing to do. It was surprising how fast we learned once we forgot about our dollars, quarters, dimes and nickels, and went entirely British. Thrip'ny bits or thrupence (three pennies)&emdash;florins(about 20 cents&emdash; shilling(like our quarters)&emdash;half-crowns (close to our half-bucks)&emdash;ten shilling notes(equivalent or close to our two dollar bills&emdash;and then the pound note about equal to $4.00&emdash; we got use to them all in a very short time.
There were a few things about the mannerisms of the English that I didn't care very much about or looked on with mild disgust. But they were only a few. The one that irritated me more than any other was the smoking habit of the women. Nothing I hated worse in a woman than to see her with a cigarette dangling disgustingly from her mouth, especially when it stuck out straight from the very middle of her lips while she carried on a conversation from the corner of her mouth. I also couldn't help notice the peculiar habit of a lot of people, mostly men, who spoke through their teeth, with their jaw closed. It was hard enough to understand them when they spoke with enunciation, but when teeth are clamped together, it was next to impossible.
If there was anything that helped alleviate the pangs of homesickness all of us were plagued with in those first few weeks, it had to be the tricycle contriv-ances known as 'tea-wagons'. At every hourly 10 minute break in our training routine we could expect to see anywhere from one to a half-dozen of these little foot-propelled wagons materialize out of nowhere as their owners raced to converge on the platoons scattered about on the training grounds across the Farnborough Road. They did a roaring business selling cups of tea and apple tarts and other pastries. The tarts were my favourites. These 4" by 4" tarts were so delicious I practically gorged myself on them as long as I had the money. I have good reason to believe that it was the tarts and not the food the army served us that kept me going full throttle during the strenuous periods of our daily syllabus.
When I look back on those Aldershot days and think of all the pastries, Mars bars and the poor excuse of a lemonade that we called 'jungle-juice' I consumed daily, it had to be some kind of miracle I didn't put on an inch or two of lard around my middle. But when I recall how much energy I pumped out every day except Saturday and Sunday, I knew I had to be burning up calories as fast as I was taking them in. Actually, I did put weight on, but it wasn't in the form of lard or water. It had to be all lean&emdash;in other words, muscle. I weighed myself one day on a penny weigh-scale outside the Woolworth store in downtown Aldershot and the little card I got out of it said, 12 stone 8 oz. With a stone amounting to 14 pounds, that came to a little over 168 lbs, with not an ounce of flab around my middle or my keester. I ruminated on how I could have used that poundage when I played 'end' on the Tech football team a couple of years back. Hell, at 135 lbs I was a flyweight trying and doing a pretty good job of knocking guys down 50 lbs heavier.
Training, which began at a somewhat easy pace, picked up by the first of July. By this time we were going on weekly 20 mile route marches. Although 20 mile affairs like this were nothing new to us, we learned soon enough that they could be a little tougher than what we'd gone on in Canada where for the most part we walked on gravel which was a lot kinder on feet than asphalt, or Macadam, as it is known in England. Within Aldershot's environs we hardly ever did see a gravelled road. All our marching was done on asphalt, and in summer, especially when the temperature went up, it can get to be pretty hot to march on. By the time you reach the halfway point you're feet felt like they were on fire. As a result there were far more men drop out of the march for blistered feet than ever happened at Ipperwash.
THE ASSAULT COURSE
We'd been told how tough the assault course was supposed to be, but we were not to be daunted. "How could any assault course be tougher than the one we had gone through at Ipperwash?" Rumour had it that it was designed by a sadistic British RSM, a veteran of the trenches of WW I. What he must have had in mind was a Field Punishment course for guys who got in trouble. Like the Ipperwash course, it was meant to break ankles, tear ligaments and tendons, rupture discs and cause assorted other brutalities and indignities against the body, and as well, the human spirit. But when our time came to go through it, I found it a gross exaggeration&emdash; nowhere near as tough as the one at Ipperwash. We were confronted with the usual log barriers to climb over or run along like tightrope walkers, pits and trenches over which we leaped, and that's about all. Nothing much to it. Besides, there were no 2" mortar smoke bombs plopping out of the sky to scare hell out of us, and no machine-guns firing on fixed lines a couple of feet over our heads. In other words, it was a 'snap'&emdash;basic training stuff. The only feature that made this course tough was at its terminus where we had to ride a pulley/cable arrangement down a 45° incline&emdash;a drop of some 75 feet. Ten feet from where the cable was connected to a post at the bottom was a knot or 'stop', put there for obvious reason, and that was to halt one's forward motion, otherwise one would crash into the post with devastating effect. It looked easy enough, but if a guy didn't do exactly as the instructor advised, and let go a split second before he hit the knotted stop, he would end up flipping through the air with a sharp whip that could cause serious injuries, if not an early departure from this world.
Back when I was about 13 or 14 I remember this one Annual Fireman's Field Day at Windsor's Jackson Park, and the hair-raising stunt executed by a stuntman. His was one of the professional acts the organizers of the huge affair hired for the three-day show. I'll never forget it. There was this long, one inch thick rope, strung from the rooftop of the grandstand down to the stage. The performance was called, "The Slide For Life." Anyway, this supremely brave sonofagun slid down this rope or cable on his feet. How he did it, I'll never know. The reason I'm mentioning this 'aside' is because the Aldershot 'slide for life' was something similar, though not so hair-raising after you'd been down it once. But we all had to agree, it did make for some gut-splitting hilarious landings. Fortunately, no one in our company suffered anything worse than scrapes and bruises. Which brings me to describe what I witnessed here as three drunken Canadians decided to have some fun one sunny Sunday afternoon.
Like I said, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with nothing for me to do and very little money to spend downtown or at the canteen, so I decided to take a pen and a note pad and stroll out to the Wellington Monument across the Farnborough Road to do some letter-writing. I dashed off a paragraph or two and then was distracted by the sight of three inebriated Canadians horsing around the 'slide for life'. I put pen and pad down to watch them. The way they were going at it, each taking turns hanging from the pulley in the high-speed slide down the rope, I expected something interesting and even funny wouldn't be long in coming. And it came soon enough. The one fellow, obviously with a little more beer in his belly than his two buddies, clawed his way clumsily up the slope, and then, with a wild whoop took hold of the pulley and sped down at breakneck speed a-whooping up a storm. Instead of dropping off just before the pulley hit the 'stop' near the bottom, he hung on to the bitter end. Well sir, when that pulley hit, he went a-cart-wheeling through the air feet first, bounced off the anchoring pole and landed on his head with a sickening thud. "Holy Jeez!" I exclaimed. "The drunken idiot just killed himself!" He lay there on the ground stock still, with his buddies up at the top rolling around the ground laughing their heads off. I thought for sure he was dead&emdash;but they didn't think so. The possibility that their friend lying so still down below might very well be dead or dying never entered their minds. And then with a loud "Whoopee!" or whatever it was he hollered, up jumps the stricken one, shakes his head a couple of times to get the cobwebs out, and then scrambles up the slope to join his laughing hyena cohorts up top. You'd think the jolt would have sobered or smartened him up, but it didn't. He had another 'go', only this time he let go at the right time. But his wobbly legs couldn't stand the acceleration and he went through the air like the man on the flying trapeze and landed on his face in a pile of dust or sand at the bottom. They carried on like this for at least a half hour before they lost interest in the bone-cracking sport. Although going down that rope over and over again didn't do any damage to them, as I could see, it had to have cooled them down som ewhat, because the last I saw of them they were walking away from the site a lot steadier and quieter than when they first came on the scene.
Original Story from messages received on 18 October 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 22 October 2002.
The story above, in England, 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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