Oscar Costin D-Day
17TH Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars.
Although I meet Oscar at the monthly breakfast meetings, never did I think he was 85 years old. He would come into Picasso’s Restaurant as if he was ready for battle. I was informed that he was one of the 17th who invaded “Normandy” on D-Day along with Les Christie, and Jolm Dionne, but that was the extent of my notes. My chance to sit with this great Canadian came about on December 7, 2000 when I was invited to his home in St-Laurent. His wife Ruth greeted me at the door, and once at ease, I found out that they were celebrating their 48th. Wedding anniversary. Congratulation Ruth and Oscar. Oscar joined the army and was immediately sent to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, upon completion of training he asked to join the 17th Hussars, which was an armored corp. at the time. Then off to Dundem, Sask for additional training before sailing for England, landing on April 1, 1943. At Cacru, a proud Oscar Costin graduated as a “Wireless Operator”. A week of training took place on the Isle of White, the same spot where the Queens Yacht is stationed. Our group consisted of eight wireless operators, and we were about to face the most intensive training program yet. The instructor around camp, informed us that he was British, and tough as nails. How tough can he be on young soldiers carrying radios weighing 30 pounds? We found out quickly, as he flung us into the water, and back up onto land. Repeating his commands with decibels, so loud, evens the Germans were doing push-ups. The fact that I’m here telling you my story is a good indication of how well we were trained. Upon completion here, all eight of us we were sent up to Scotland for another week, and finally to a Naval Land Base for a month, HMS Turtle in Poole, Dorset. Once a week we would go on board a ship for combine operation training. On this day, I was in full gear, including the 30-pound radio on my back. The seas were rough. Extremely windy, and our objective was to prepare us for D-Day, as we approached land we were ordered to jump off the ship, and reach shore. Well, for the many who saw me jump, all they could see was a smallish Oscar sink to the bottom, with only the top of his thin hat showing. Scared out of my wits, I managed to pull myself together and began walking towards shore. As he began to see shore he thought, I should get a medal for this alone…
Oscar reached his regiment on August 1943 as a wireless operator. In his mind he thought he would join an officer, and begin his duties. But, as you will read, major changes took place. A much bigger group was being formed, called the “Contact Detachment”. In the 3rd Canadian Division, then, the 17th Hussars were to carry out this task. Long before D-day, the Detachments were sent to the Units they were to go into action with. Each Detachment was equipped with a jeep, a No. 22 crystal-controlled; wireless set, a No. 68R, crystal-controlled set, batteries and a chore-horse. One of these Detachments, consisting of an Officer, a Corporal and two operators, was attached to each of the Assaulting battalions, one to each of the reserve battalions, and one to each of the Brigade Headquarters and Divisional Headquarters. All of the “Stations” operated on the same frequency, and were therefore able to intercept all messages passed to Divisional Headquarters. As the Officers were only concerned with passing information, and not with fighting, it made the net a very valuable and closely tied-up organization. The detachments were dispersed throughout J-Force’s ships in the following manner:
Capt. G.V. Borlase, Lt. M. Telford, Sgt. K.T. Williams, Trp. A. Roach, and Trp. E. Rivers.
Lt. J.O. Borlase, Cpl. J. Raich, Trp. T.A. Poole, Trp. K. Saunders, Trp. F. Gordon, and Trp. R .Ryan.
Lt. H.R.Turley, Cpl. R. Marcoux, Trp. R. Squires and Trp. E. Johnson.
Lt. R.K. Smith, Cpl. D. Paul, Trp. J. Mackenzie, and Trp. M. Faille.
Lt. C.L. Lynch, Cpl. C.L. Jones, Trp. K. Boyd, Trp. R. Nairn, Trp. W. Morrow, and Trp. J. Wilkinson
Lt. W.V.O. LeBlanc, Cpl. G.L. Gilkinson, and Trp. R. Robinson
C.W. Doulton, Cpl. LT. Christie, Trp. F. Marsolux, and Trp R.Hilliard.
Lt. W.R. Mason, Cpl. J. Davies, Trp. J.W. Sinclair, and Trp. T. Pettibone.
Lt. W.G.H. Pavey, Cpl. H.H. Smith, Trp. R.H. Munikittrick, and Trp. A. Murphy.
Lt. V.W. Stannard, Cpl. J. Rosenfeld, Trp. O. Costin, and Trp. M. Siampis.
Lt. W. Grenwood, Cpl. D. Rothwell, Trp. S. Humby, and Trp. R. Taylor.
Lt. J.W. Thompson, Cpl. D.O. Baker, Trp. J. Dionne, and Trp. L. Nasser.
When we landed, some two hours after the assault troops, the LCT opened its gate, and with my hands tightly wrapped around the steering wheel of my jeep. Fear, sweat, and a million questions sent my brains into frenzy, and before I could count ten, my jeep hits the water. Good thing its waterproof, I thought, and even if the water is too high, I have a periscope to guide me, I thought. Were all scrambling for the beach, when my jeep is faced with a huge hole. The blessing of the beach group saved our butts, as they helped us skirt the hole to safety. What a relief! My eyes wondered like a baby in a candy shop as wounded soldiers and prisoners were being evacuated towards our ships. The beach was in a shambles, and I was bewildered. I parked my jeep and began de-waterproofing procedures.
From my position, I could see a soldier laying on the sand, he never moved, and each time I looked over it was the same, he still was face down. I then realized, the soldier with his face in the sand was dead, and that Oscar Costin was now a full fledge Canadian soldier in battle. After de-waterproofing, and calming down, my job was to help win a war, so off we went into the battle ground area, unaware what lies ahead. At that time I was with the Highland Light Infantry of Canada. From our vantage point we could see our comrades the North Nova’s talking a beating on June 7th, but they did not commit us to move on. Eventually we moved in, and three days after my first skirmish, I was able to perform the same duties with the Queen’s Own Rifles. I was one of the few wireless operators who played a role within each Detachment.
As we sat in the comfort of his home, on a cold December day, Oscar began to tell a story about a good friend. Corp. J. Rosenfelt, a partner in war, a chum to confide in, a buddy to share a laugh with, a comrade in the trenches and a person he could count on. We were somewhere near Falaise, it was a warm July Sunday, and the Salvation Army was putting on a movie. We had a choice to eat first or see a movie. I went to the early movie. About halfway through the movie, we were bombed. I was called up to the canteen, and found out that corporal Rosenfelt who was standing in line with Danny Paul both got hit, and died from their wounds. An emotional Oscar continued teary eyed, if I would have remained with him as we did on so many occasions, I would have been behind him. The officer and I wrapped him in a blanket, and took him to the cemetery. I was in good company as we crossed the Rhine into Germany. Herb Cowan was our driver, and Owen McKenna was our officer. Once we crossed the Rhine, our job was to act as the “Beach Group” directing traffic.
The sounds of war had a way of scaring the daylights out of you. Take an airplane for instance, you’re on the ground and you hear an airplane coming your way, it’s burning it’s twisting what do I do, in my case I ran here, there, and everywhere until I realized staying put was my best bet. Then a moanin minnie, is a noise so intolerable, yet deadly. We all scattered to safety. The buzz bomb, once you see the fire and smoke, you know it’s corning down, so you find cover. Storing a multitude of noises in your memory bank was part of the war, images to double the fear, ditto. We learned to live with our experiences, and when we consider a war of this magnitude, we just did not have the time to worry about these slight inconveniences. It was survival of the fittest… We were going from Belgium into Holland, across the Leopold Canal, and for the first time Oscar’s unit was going to be used as Infantry. Mainly because, Holland was flooded, and our heavy vehicles were stuck in a quagmire of mud. We were being shelled heavily, and our only protection was to dive into the ditches. Between barrages, we would continue along the road, keeping a keen ear to the ground, when we heard another screeching our way. On this his occasion I dove head first into a ditch, and got hit with a piece of shrapnel in my butt. I yelled back to the soldier behind me, I’m hit, I’m hit. Where, he chirped back, in the ass. Let me see, he said, when Oscar showed his butt, the soldier grab the piece and removed it, like you would a splinter. Thanks, was Oscar reply. We remained in our trenches as the bombardment continued. We were without blankets, and it was impossible to dig ourselves in for more protection due to so much water. Oscar began to feel soreness, his mind wondered, as he feared infection sitting in. He must take care of his wound. The officers in charge, screamed out to the men, were sending four men back for blankets. Without hesitating Oscar yelled I’m going back, I need medical attention, I will help with the blankets. Oscar managed to leave the boy’s at the depot, while he searched for the 17th. MO, and found Dr. Edward J.Tabah out in the field. What’s your problem, Dr. Tabah ask Oscar, I got hit with shrapnel a few days ago, and I’m hurting. Ok, drop your pants Tabah tells Oscar. What, here in the middle of nowhere. We have no choice, Oscar, it’s my only theater. Dr.Tabah, found an infected butt, and cleaned the wound. It was at this time that I received my wound stripe.
The facts stated are from interviews with the members concerned. The Royal Canadian Hussars (Montreal) Association disclaims any liability with respect to accuracy.
Montréal, Qc, H3H-1X2