Heroes: the Canadian Army
Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade
of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division
Memories of a Long Ago War...
A116651 -- Pte.Stanley Scislowski
So Long to Civvy Street
It was the summer of 1942, a summer as hot as any summer I'd ever sweated through. Along with the stifling heat...the high humidity made things even more unbearable. Summers in Essex County, known as the sun-parlour of Canada, can get to be pretty damned hot at times. The summers of the dirty thirties, stretching even into the early forties were especially hot. The summer of '42 was one of the hotter ones. A scorcher, let me tell you. In the years between 1932 and 1942 we'd gone through some of the hottest summers on record for this part of the country. But we weren't alone in feeling the heat. The whole continent suffered through the long, drawn-out heat-waves that brought on drought so severe in the southern Midwest states that they were turned into vast acres of dust-bowls. The Oklahoma dust-bowl was an extreme example of what it was like in those days. Even our own prairies were hard hit by the long spell of blistering heat and almost no rain. Farmers in the prairie wheat-belt in Saskatchewan saw their precious top-soil dry up into dust and blown away by the winds swirling over the once verdant fields. Many of the farmers went belly-up as their wheat and oat crops drooped stunted and parched in the desiccated fields. They were hard and hot times indeed. The depression added to the misery everyone was suffering through.
What made it tough for all of us trying to put up with the heat-wave was the fact that we didn't have the luxury of air-conditioning, as we take for granted nowadays. This necessity was a good ten and more years yet in the future. Electric fans were about the only way anyone could ease their discomfort somewhat, and anyone who could afford one, laid down the money. Most, however, couldn't even afford the five dollars or thereabout needed to buy an electric fan. Just to prove how hot it was in the summer of '42, the Star had a picture on the front page of one of its editions showing a man frying eggs on the sidewalk in front of the Prince Edward Hotel. No one had to remind each other just how hot it really was; the sweat pouring down our faces after even the slightest physical effort told us so. But as unbearably uncomfortable as it was at home in that summer of '42 even with all the windows wide open, it was a lot tougher on the people at work in factories, especially the foundries at Walker Metal and Auto Specialties and those sweating it out at Dominion Forge. I don't know how these people ever got through the day without collapsing. As for myself, I know I couldn't have lasted an hour in that kind of hellfire heat and atmosphere. In fact there were times on the Chrysler loading dock where I'd recently gotten a job that I thought for sure I was going to keel over and 'kick the bucket'.
The Dirty Thirties
Before the big Wall Street crash in 1929, that economic upheaval that ushered in the depression, my father was working in the Ford foundry in what was then known as Ford City, later changed to East Windsor. It was as tough, dirty, hot, and stinking a job as any could be. Foundries in those days were a far cry from what they are today, what with no government environmental regu-lations and safety guide-lines to protect the health and welfare of the workers. In those days they were nothing less than hellholes of health-ruining smoke, soot, sand, and evil smelling, toxic gases. It was a miracle that workers lasted on the job as long as they did. Inside those incredibly grimy walls and polluted air, the labourers literally worked their asses off. Most foundry workers in those days were either Polish, Hungarians, or Ukrainians, along with a smattering of other ethnic breeds. But you never heard any of them complain about working conditions like they do nowadays. Today, even when the people work under the best of conditions they complain like hell, beg off sick, stay home with a mere cold as an excuse. In those days, if you didn't like your job and made too much noise about it and the boss got wind of it, you'd get your ass booted out of the place so fast it'd make your head swim. Management in the thirties took no guff from the workman, that's for sure. It's no wonder the unions came along. No one could afford to to lose their job, so no one made any noise that someone in the front might get to hear. Anybody who did, spent one hell of a long time looking for another, and it was more than likely he'd never find one anyway. And there was no Unemployment Insurance to carry people through till they did get a job -- which was unlikely anyway. In other words you and your family damn near starved.
To get on Relief or Welfare, as it's called today, was the only means of keeping a family from literally starving. Anyone who had a job was one of the luckier ones, and there was no way the lucky one was about to risk losing it by being an absentee or a 'shit-disturber'. He stuck with it no matter what. I heard that in some of the big plants, Fords especially, a foreman or a superintendent would approach some of their workers and demand a night in bed with their wives. If the poor guy refused -- good-bye job. Just like that! Now I don't know how true that was, but I heard of it often enough to give some credence to it. I guess, to the poor guy and his wife, a job was a job and if that's what they'd have to put up with to keep it, then that's the way it had to be. A dirty, rotten, lousy game! The pay cheque they brought home every Friday, however, was much too important to give up.
Day after day after day of labouring in the poisonous atmosphere of Ford foundry, it was only natural that men would sicken, and that in the end a lot of them would die from wasted and diseased lungs. So it was with my father. He came down with a lung problem, most likely silicosis, and had to go on sick leave. Our family was able to get by food-wise only through groceries benevolently provided by Ford Motor Company for its sick leave workers. Every second Friday my brother Joe and I (Joe was 10 and I was a little under 8) made the long trek from our home on Parent Avenue near Tecumseh Road to a Ford Motor Company warehouse at the foot of Drouillard Road at Riverside Drive, and later to what became St.Luke Road Barracks to pick up our allotment of food for that period. What we picked up was just enough to provide a family of seven kids and a mother with enough food to squeak by on until the next pickup some two weeks hence. It was an awfully long haul for a couple of little under-nourished boys like ourselves. As it so happened, on one occasion we ran out of the very last morsel of food, not even a bread-crumb to nibble on. We had to go without breakfast on the day Joe and I made the long trek to the food ware-house, a good three miles at least, something not easy to do on an empty stomach and a blistering, steamy day. We hurried along the streets with our home-made wagon our little stomachs growling from emptiness. By the time we got back late that afternoon we were faint from hunger and completely whipped from the long walk in the high heat of the summer's day. Ma quickly whipped up a batch of pancakes just so we could get something into our stomachs until she could prepare something more substantial. Yeah! Those sure were hard times. But we got through them in fair shape.
And then of course, after Pa died in mid-July of 1932, we had to go on Welfare or Relief, as it was more often called in those days. There was no other way around our situation. Seven kids in the family ranging from Teddy at two years old, to Annie at 18, we had to get by on the help that the City's Relief Agency could supply, which was supplemented in a small way by a dollar or two here and there that Pete, Mike and Joe were able to make caddying at the golf courses, and what Annie and Olga made house-cleaning for people who were lucky enough to have jobs. Although the take wasn't all that much, it at least gave us the little extras in food we otherwise wouldn't have gotten through the Welfare administrators. Ma had to be careful though how much she bought because a Relief inspector came around periodically to check on our larder to make sure we didn't have any more extras than was allowed. What a crime! They took the attitude that it was their job to barely keep people alive -- not one morsel more. The Inspector would probe into every corner of our kitchen cupboards recording in a little black book how much food we had on hand, even going so far as to marking down how much corn flakes there was in a box, and then lift the lid on the pot on the stove to see how much soup or stew Ma had cooking. There was nothing we could do about it. The Relief Inspector was lord and master and all my mother could do was stand nervously by hoping he was a decent and caring man and wouldn't be too hard on us.
As for clothing, we weren't treated too sparingly. But you sure could pick out the kids at school whose families were on Welfare. I don't remember what the girls wore, but the boys invariably wore brown corduroy trousers and grey long-sleeved muslin shirts. Sometimes at school, but not very often, some of the kids would tease us about our Welfare clothes. We took these occasional digs without getting too worked up about and eventually it got so that no one even took notice or cared anymore what we wore.
Our dependence on Relief lasted for only a couple of years because by that time Peter and Annie were able to get jobs. Not good-paying jobs, but they were jobs, and that's all that mattered. Annie worked as a full-time domestic for a nice lady named Mrs. McGready, and then later was hired on at Essex Wire, a company on McDougall that made wiring harnesses for automobiles, while Peter sold Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door. This latter job didn't bring in much money, and in fact some weeks no money, because in those days few were there who had the money to buy such luxuries as a vacuum cleaner. Pete's comm-ission, as a result was quite paltry and could hardly be depended on to make things easier. Then he sold rugs for Postian's. Not much better there either. And then my mother got a part-time job cleaning the offices of the Piggott Lumber Company a couple of nights a week. But then in 1936, Pigott Lumber moved to Hamilton, so Ma lost that source of money.The office building has been occupied by Unit 30 of the Army and Navy Veterans Club since just before the war. Better times were around the corner, however. War was declared in early September of 1939, and with factories slowly starting to gear up for war production, came the end of the depression. Things were beginning to look up for everyone all across the country. A degree of prosperity had finally come to most households.
"Happy Days Are Here Again"
And now let's move ahead to the summer of 1942. How could anybody feel anything else but good knowing this was a time of rising prosperity, even though it took a war to bring it about? I don't like to say it, but I have to admit that in this respect, war was a godsend,a real godsend, at least in the economic sense. By the third year of the war practically every factory in the city hummed on a three-shift basis churning out the goods of war. Few were there in 1942 that didn't have a job. Any able-bodied man who didn't have a job was just too damn lazy to get one. Even women were now working in factories, a domain that was, until then, populated strictly by men. Now, with their hair neatly protected by turban-like headwear they worked on production lines making everything from machine-guns to shells, to wiring harnesses for army vehicles. Some even became welders. About the only place where the women of Windsor weren't working was in the foundries or in other heavy industries like stamping plants and forges. Yeah, It was a great feeling for the breadwinners of the households to be finally bringing home pay envelopes or cheques every Friday. "The day the eagle shits" was the common expression one heard on Fridays in those days. Pay-day! Equally happy were the merchants around town whose cash registers were ringing to the delightful tune of money rolling in. It filled the tills as people went on spending sprees buying what they hadn't been able to buy ever since hard-times hit in '29. Although in those days we kids enjoyed our young years in a way kids of today could never hope to match, we didn't know or else pretended not to know that our mothers and fathers we're forever worrying about where the next dollar would come from to put food on the table, or to pay the rent, or to pay the taxes. Far too many lost their houses during the hungry thirties. And we weren't that far from it. In fact our father lost property he owned on the eastern side of the city for non-payment of taxes.
To say the war years made life once again worth living again, was only speaking the truth. No more sitting down to a plate of pork & beans for supper or a bowl of clear broth soup with a few small chunks of meat floating around in it. Now we sat down to steaks, pork chops, roasts, and chicken every Sunday. No more 'hand-me-down shirts', corduroy relief trousers and cheap running shoes. Now the heads of the household could plunk down money for good clothes and better running shoes and boots from Grey's on Ottawa or Wilkinson's downtown. The elite Smith's Department Store and every other store in the weeks before Christmas were finally doing a land-office business, and people were buying appliances, furniture, clothing, shoes and everything else they had coveted for so long but couldn't afford. Good times were back, and whether it was right to think this way or not, is not for me to say. All I know is that that there was a heck of a lot of people around who were supremely glad they were earning the kind of money that could bring them all the necessities and comforts that had been beyond reach before. Regardless there was a war on; they were indeed good times. It was a good excuse to sing that lively song, 'Happy days are here again,' I don't think there were all that many war workers who lost sleep or suffered guilt pangs over profiting from the avails of war. After all, the war was almost a half a world away, and as far as most Canadians were concerned, we hadn't really gone to war yet.
There was plenty to read about the war every night in the Windsor Daily Star, as was its official name in those days. The pages every day were full of the events happening on sea, on land, and in the air. In 1941. The only heartening news was the fact that the Luftwaffe's bombing campaign against London and other major English cities had been largely defeated. And then, things also looked good for awhile as the British 8th Army drove Mussolini's million bayonets back across the sandy wastes of the North African desert. That is, until General Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps came on the scene, and things started going the other way. Back and forth the battles in the bleak landscape went on between the British 8th Army and the Afrika Korps. And then came the monumental defeat of the British at Tobruk, by now a household name. Tobruk fell, and with it, a huge supply of equipment, guns, fuel and supplies became German property, while 15000 men went into captivity.
The situation suddenly became pretty grim, but then came a change in the command of the British 8th Army, a man by the name of Bernard Law Mont-gomery. Under his leadership, it wasn't long before the resurgent 8th Army began to roll up the Germans and Italians, pushing them back all the way across the face of North Africa and eventual defeat in Tunisia. All this made great reading later on. Up until the time the fortunes of war slowly turned in our favour in May of 1943, the Germans and the Japanese had everything going their way. Where Canadians overall should have been deeply concerned about the way things were going on the land battlefronts and at sea, this, outwardly at least didn't seem to show. You wouldn't know it if you stood by the gates of the city's factories at end-of-shift time and observed the smiles and the general feeling of well-being as the workers with lunch-boxes in hand were on their way home. "Another day, another few dollars earned" had to have been what was on the minds of these people, more so than the progress of the war itself.
As for the Canadian Services, only the Air Force and the Navy was taking the fight to the enemy. British Bomber Command had a lot of Canadian Air Force personnel manning the planes in the nightly raid over Occupied Europe. While on the high seas Canadian sailors were in almost daily contact with U-boats as they helped escort convoys on their way to England and Murmansk in the frozen wastes of norther Russia.
As for the Canadian Army based in the U.K. it was a well-known fact that it hadn't done much of anything except chase over half of England's picturesque landscape on endless schemes and exercises. It was nothing at all that made for great reading or that it could stir the country up into an outpouring of patriotism. In other words, war hysteria, at this stage or so it seemed, hadn't yet taken hold of the Canadian people by and large. Granted, we did lose a couple of infantry battalions in an outrageously stupid attempt to placate the British by bolstering the defences of Hong Kong. Most likely because the Regiments that were based at Hong Kong were from the prairies and Quebec, the grievous losses somehow didn't hit home with the people in Windsor and district with anywhere near the same depressing impact as it did in those sections of the country whose sons, brothers and fathers did the bleeding and the dying. For this reason at least, Hong Kong was soon forgotten hereabouts. A selfish feeling had taken over the minds and hearts of the people in Essex County, or so that's the way it looked to me. "If it doesn't affect me, why should I worry about it?" This sort of outlook was the heartless way a good many Windsorites were thinking about the war in general.
Except for the first year or so of the war, patriotism slackened its jingoistic grip on Windsorites by early 1942. Most of the so-called patriotic types, adventurers and sundry others had long since gone into the services, most with good intentions, others just to see what they could get out of it. The remainder of the service-age young men were either too busy making money to answer the country's call or were waiting for Ottawa to come calling. Patriotic fervour World War I style hadn't seized the imagination of Canadians overall quite as much as it did in that other war. The early rush to the Colours when war was declared in September 1939 was the result, at least it seemed to me, to be one of desperation on the part of men of military age to escape the dreariness of the depression. To take on a uniform would mean no more hand-out clothing, no more soup-kitchen food, no more hopelessness, with one dreary penniless day leading to the dreariness of another. It was these negatives of life that thousands upon thousands of young Canadians put behind them as they flocked to the Armouries in every town and city across the country to join up. Patriotism, for most was only part of the reason for their willingness to serve their country. Of course, this is only my interpretation of what prompted young Canadians to serve their country in war, I could very well be wrong in good part.
The young men waiting in long line-ups at the recruiting centres knew that from their first day in uniform whether it be Navy blue, Army khaki, or Air Force blue, they'd be well taken care of. They knew they'd be sitting down to three square meals a day, their clothing needs met, and there'd be a comfort-able bed to sleep on -- not quite as soft as most were accustomed to, but comfortable nonetheless. They could also be assured of their recreational needs. How could they go wrong? The services spelled security, and that's what really mattered most. The "die for your country outlook" the WW I generation had been hoodwinked into, was clear-y absent this time around. Modern youth was getting to be a little too smart to be taken in by flag waving politicians and other assorted jingoistic types. Giant posters urging them to serve their country and reminding them of their duty to fight for freedom didn't sway all that many into rushing to the enlistment centres. If personal security wasn't the whole reason for a lot of boys doffing their civilian clothes and replacing them with khaki, Navy or Air Force uniforms, then it had to be the simple lust for adventure to motivate them into joining up. What else? In whatever branch of the Services they chose adventure in plenty awaited them. Few, it seemed to me, gave much thought to the very real possibility that they might not come out of the war alive or in one piece.
At Work on the Loading-dock at Chrysler
I landed a job at Chrysler in early April 1942 and was assigned to the loading-dock on the midnight or graveyard shift. It was hell, pure unadulterated hell! I couldn't see myself lasting out a week, let alone the seven months I actually did labour on valiantly, though without a shred of enthusiasm. The work itself wasn't all that strenuous or demanding, just a matter of hammering nails into huge wooden crates in which disassembled trucks bound for the North African battlefront were closed in. It was the shift itself that was the toughest part of it all. My biological clock simply could not adjust or adapt to staying awake from midnight to eight in the morning. In that first week I thought for sure I was going to flake out, drop dead before sun-up. My job performance wasn't all that bad, at least up until 4:00 a.m.lunch-break. After that it went downhill at an accelerated rate. I could barely stay awake. By six I was little more than a zombie with a hammer in my hand, my eyes like two piss-holes in the snow. Out of every handful of nails I picked out of a keg I couldn't have driven a dozen into the wood. The rest were scattered all over the floor. It's a wonder I never got fired. After two weeks of suffering on the graveyard shift I wanted to quit so bad I could taste it. But I knew this wasn't the way to go, especially after having given up a job four months earler at the Walker Metal chemical laboratory as a fledgling chemist. I couldn't hack the suffocating foundry fumes. I was sick for the two and a half weeks I languished there. My mother, naturally, was deeply disappointed in me for having quit, and for this reason I didn't care to face her wrath should I give up on this job as well. I also didn't relish the stigma of being a 'quitter' sitting heavy on my mind. Since there was no way out of this one as I could see it, I just had to hang in there, come hell or high water. And hang in there I did.
For three months I stuck it out and then came the great day when I got switched to the afternoon shift. It was like coming back from the dead. I never could sleep properly in the daytime, not even to take a nap. The very few times I did, I'd invariably wake up nauseated. So, with having been switched to the afternoon shift my well-being returned to near normal. The only thing not-so-good about it was that I'd miss out playing ball after supper with the gang, and also miss the street-corner gatherings in front of Lee's Lunch, and when it got dark, hoping to make a date with the girls in Memorial Park. But other than that I was happy to get back to the norma swing of things.
In those first few weeks on the job, all the trucks coming down the line through the dock for partial disassembly and crating were sand-coloured for use in the North African desert war. For the first two months the crating procedure was such that two cabs went into one crate while the chassis and wheels went into another. This was fine and dandy until our people got the message from Ottawa that an imbalance of truck halves was accumulating at the ports of destination. There were either too many cabs and not enough chassis, or too many chassis and not enough cabs. This situation was brought about by U-boats sinking freighters carrying either one or the other half of the vehicles. It was a major problem which had to be quickly rectified. And it didn't take the designers in Ottawa long to come out with a new, more sensible method of crating. A simple answer -- crate the trucks complete. Eighth Army either got the trucks or they didn't.
Every so often, several trucks would come through painted in olive-drab, which broke the monotony of work to some degree. It's hard to explain, but the mere fact that because we were now crating vehicles with a different paint job acted as a stimulant. Day after day it was the same old colour coming down the line. And then this one morning, down the line came these olive-drab Dodge three-ton trucks. You could see and feel the subtle change in mood in every man on the line. It reawakened interest in their job, whether it was nailers like myself, the guys who stripped down the trucks, the checkers, the crane operators, the foremen and leaders, in fact everybody who worked in the dock. It might have seemed like nothing to get excited about, but it was indeed enough to make the day go a little easier. Strange -- but true. And when a vehicle other than an ordinary truck came through the dock, such as a fuel or water-tank truck or one of those great big workshop vans, you'd almost think the circus had come to town. A gala event, no less! The place swarmed with all kinds of important-looking people supervising the change in crating procedures, and watching over things in general. I always look-ed forward to such breaks in ther daily routine. I suppose everyone else working on the dock did too. Other than that, my job was not much different. I still hammered nail after countless nail into the green, highly scented pinewood panels.
What one couldn't help but notice every day was the departure of draft-age fellows on their way to join the Services. The war, as far as Canada was concerned hadn't reached that stage where great demands were being made on its youth to fill depleted ranks, although the draft age was gradually being lowered as the war heated up. The RCAF was the only arm of the Service losing men on a regular basis. Aside from the Corvettes and Destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy on escort duty in the North Atlantic, and our boys flying in bombers in the night skies over enemy-occupied Europe, Canada had not yet committed its young men to total war in comparison to other Commonwealth nations. But the powers-that-be had to have seen the demand coming and were prepared for it. In the summer of '42 the draft-age stood in the 20 year-old grouping. In July of that year the word making the 'rounds was that the draft age would very soon be lowered to '19'. For me that was tremendous news, and I was hoping the famous letter from Ottawa wouldn't be long in coming. I fair chafed at the bit, not only to get away from the humdrum routine of working on the dock, but mainly because I wanted so desperately to be in the army. I looked forward with unbounded anticipation to that great day when I'd find my call-up notice in the mail. I was 18, going on 19 in September, so I assumed I wouldn't have to wait all that long. I hoped it would be inside the next couple of months. I hated the thoughts of having to spend another year of hammering nails.
My Last Day On the Job
Leaving the employ of Chrysler's to answer the nation's call to military service was no simple matter like picking up your final pay-cheque, turning in your tools, and then walking out the gate. No, it was a little more than that. There were at least a half dozen forms or more that we had to fill out as we went from one office to another. And it was especially nice to know that if we were lucky enough to survive the war our jobs would be waiting for us. The only difference would be that instead of building and shipping army vehicles overseas we'd be turning out cars. Chrysler, as with all the other manufacturing industries promised the returning veterans their jobs would be waiting for them.
Every day I watched with envy as co-workers around me turned in their tools, went around the dock shaking hands with the guys they'd worked with. I must have heard at least fifty times the wise guys in the dock good-naturedly warning the departees on the perils of army life outside of battle, and that was the abomination known as 'short-arm inspection'. In such things I was completely naive, a real yokel, a dummy. All along I thought they were pulling that old stunt like sending a guy for a bucket of steam or a left-handed monkey wrench, things like that. It wasn't until my turn came a few months later that I found out exactly what a short arm inspection really was, but I'll get to that a little later on. I remember looking enviously at them and thinking; no more hammering nails for them -- no more sweating and straining their guts while the hot sun cooked their asses in this sweat-box of a loading-dock -- no more punching the time-clock. I could almost hear them saying to themselves, "Lord, I'm free again! Yeah, free again!" You bet they were free, but as they would soon learn, freedom only so far as the Army would allow them this freedom thing. Oh, how I wished I was one of them! In the back of my mind I knew my turn would come one day, perhaps not too far off down the line, and so I didn't feel all that bad. I had to believe that I'd have to put up with this mind-numbing job for only another couple of months at most, and then I'd be out of here doing what I yearned to be doing, and that was soldiering. I hated thoughts of having to spend another whole year on the dock. But then I had no way of knowing that liberation day for me was close at hand, the date brought on sooner than I expected by the disastrous and body-consuming Raid on Dieppe.
On the night of August 20th I got the surprise of my life when I arrived home 15 minutes after midnight and picked up the Windsor Star to read at the dining-room table while sipping a glass of America Dry before going to bed. The headline jumped right off the front page at me; SCOTTISH AT DIEPPE. I couldn't believe it. Excitement swept through me like a jolt of electricity. "This is it! This is it! It won't be long now!" I felt like hollering out for all I was worth. What a feeling! All kinds of thoughts rushed through my mind. "Boy oh boy oh boy! Hot diggety dog!" These words raced through my mind. I didn't crawl into bed for at least an hours after reading practically every line written about the landing. What made the reading even more interesting and exciting was the involvement of Windsor's very own Essex Scottish Regiment in the ambitious but ill-fated affair.
The name 'Dieppe' was unknown to me, as it must have been to everyone else. I hadn't come across it in National Geographic magazines or the Books of Knowledge so I couldn't place where in France the landing had gone in. But that night of August 20th and in the days following I learned quite a bit about Dieppe. The first dispatches, as I could make out made it look like our boys had won a resounding victory and established a beachhead in France. But after a few days and the release of more information it became more and more clear that it was not a victory at all, but a defeat in which a slaughter had taken place on the beaches of this peacetime coastal resort town on the English Channel. The stars in our eyes soon turned to the irritating dust of disappointment and discouragement. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division had been practically wiped out. The long casualty lists began coming out in the days and weeks following, pages upon pages of names of those killed in action, of those who'd been wounded, and those who were listed as 'missing', presumed to be prisoners of war. The scope of the failed venture was starkly clear to every Canadian reading about it. I sure didn't get much sleep that first night, tossing and turning in bed, all the while visualizing what it was like on that bloody beach, also deep in anticipation of what the days or weeks or months ahead would hold for me now that the Canadians had finally tasted the bitter gall of battle.
Although the landing at Dieppe, known as the Dieppe Raid, accomplished very little in respect to what had been expected of the operation, except perhaps cause the Germans some inconvenience and casualties, our 'top brass' and the media were hard at work trying to convince the Canadian people and the free world that the raid was actually a stunning success. A stunning success it most certainly was, but only for the Germans. According to the experts, as time went on, and in light of the astounding victory of D-Day, word began circulating in the media that the mistakes at Dieppe paved the way for the success of the invasion. "What a crock of crap!" Nobody'll convince me or most anyone else who had any commonsense and who lived through the war, that the lessons supposedly learned at Dieppe couldn't have been learned in some other less sacrificial way. As far as I'm concerned, all the smoke-screen cranked out was a stinky cover-up for what was nothing but a sinful and unbelievable mess of planning and high-level bungling. To me, plain and simple, Dieppe was a defeat of monumental prop-ortions, and no amount of alibiing or explanations will bring me around to seeing it in any other way.
In retrospect, let's face it; one hell of a lot of good men died, along with a hell of a lot of other good men having been maimed and taken prisoner and lost for future combat purposes, or for that matter any other purposes. In my way of thinking, that doesn't come close to spelling victory. About the only good that came out of the raid was that it showed how ill-prepared our troops were in making an opposed landing, especially on a beach so heavily defended. It wouldn't be the last time our higher echelon commanders were guilty of bungling in committing green troops to a major military undertaking. On a much smaller scale later on in Italy I found out just how true this axiom of war was. Schemes and Exercises are one thing. Battle is altogether another.
After Dieppe, our people up in Ottawa suddenly came to the realization that a lot of new faces were needed to bring the army up to the War Establishment to make up for those lost at Dieppe. About a week or so later came the momentous news I was waiting for, and very likely A lot of others in the 18 year-old bracket -- the announcement that the Department of National Defence would soon be lower-ing the draft age from 20 to 19. In another month I'd qualify for that group. Although I was excited over my prospects of joining up, I couldn't say the same for my mother. All I could see was the worry lines wreathing her face. She abhorred the thought having me go into the army. What mother does, especially when there's a war going on? She knew only too well what that could mean. Patriotism be damned! Plain and simple -- she didn't want to lose a son.
I turned 19 on September 14th. Now I was in the draft-age bracket and hoping the message to report would not be long delayed. Every day I waited with bated breath for the all-important letter from Ottawa, and every day I had to suffer the pangs of disappointment when no greeting card showed up in the mailbox. I didn't have to wait very long, however, for a little over two weeks later the call-up notice came, instructing me to visit my family doctor for a complete medical check-up. The doctor would then send his report to the Department of National Defence.
So, it was off to Doctor Windeler I went with a lightness of step I hadn't been gifted with ever since, reluctantly, I started lugging a lunch box to work. Although I felt confident I was in tip-top physical shape, I was beset with worry that the doctor might find some hidden flaw in my physical make-up, some undisclosed internal problem that would deny me entry into the army. My worry proved groundless, as I passed first muster, and a couple of weeks later received my second notice, this time directing me to report to a doctor in the Medical Arts Building on Ouellette Avenue to have my chest X-rayed. This required time off from work,and so,along with about a half dozen other guys from work with call-up notices, we piled into an army truck for the ride downtown. Again, the nagging bogeyman of doubt made himself known. Would the X-ray show something I didn't know I had? My heart and lungs were okay because two weeks later, in the mail came my third and final call-up notice, this one instructing me to report to St.Luke Barracks at 6:00 a.m. on November 14th for my final medical examination and formal acceptance into His Majesty's Canadian Army. I could hardly contain myself, and tried not to show to my mother how excited and glad I was. What took the edge off the excitement was the fact that I could see in the look on her face the unhappiness and concern about having to give up her son to the army. I knew just what she must have been thinkin, but I couldn't let it get to me or to sway me from what I so passionately wanted. I wanted to be a soldier, and serve in the infantry and end up being a hero. At this point I had only three days left to work at Chrysler's, and felt great knowing I wouldn't be sorry to see the last of the place.
With my days at Chrysler numbered to only three, I went to work with a whole new outlook. Life wasn't so bad after all. On my last day on the job I went through the procedures I'd watched with envy so many times before as other young fellows like myself went through the process of closing out their employ with the company. I went through the sprawling plant from one office to another, filling out this paper and that paper, and still more after that, and going through all the other paper-work adminstrators dream up for employees leaving for the Services. Once I was through the long, drawn-out process I hustled back to the loading dock to say "So Long!" to the guys I'd been working alongside of for the past seven months." I shook hands with Louis Masino, the line foreman -- with Joe Dowdell my 'straw boss', the smiling Irishman softball whiz -- with Tommy Brouillette the irrepressible comic and joke-teller, and a few others whose names escape me now. A half hour later I walked out the gate for the last time, practically bouncing with vitality and supreme joy to be on my way to the great adventure.
Original Story from messages received on 18 September 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 19 September 2002.
The story above, Memories of a Long Ago War, 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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