7th Reece regt. (17th DYRCH) 3rd Canadian Division
Our first “hair cut” in France took place in a small Normandy village. All the houses and out buildings were surrounded by walls of stone, which were from 3ft. to 6ft. in height and about 16 inches thick. When we parked our Armoured Cars (AC) against a wall it afforded some shelter from view and shell fire. We usually dug a slit trench near the wall and drove our AC over the top of the trench and this gave us very good protection from shell fire. We also draped our camouflage nets over our cars to try and hide us from view, however, nets made it difficult to get into the cars when in a hurry.
At this particular place we were in the forward positions of the division. Through the radio in the AC, a #19 set, we had a link with squadron H.Q. We had a field telephone line to some OP’s (Observation Posts) which were in a position to observe the enemy some few hundred yards away.
When the enemy shelled these positions several times a day, the shelling would sometimes break the telephone wires. When this happened, it was my duty, along with our D.R. (Dispatch Driver) George Mackenzie, to follow the line with some repair wire until we found the break and make the necessary repairs. On a couple of occasions, the enemy would shell while we were out making repairs.
On one of our repair trips we came through what was once a vegetable garden and found some small potatoes. We looked about the rubble for some kind of container, with the idea of scrounging some fresh potatoes which would be nice as we had been on AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) rations since we had arrived in France. George, the DR, spotted a German helmet some 30 ft. or so away and since they resembled a coal scuttle he thought it would make a good bucket to carry the potatoes in. He started through some ruins of a house when the shells started to drop nearby, he soon returned to me but without the helmet. When the shelling stopped I asked him why he didn’t get the helmet and his reply was to « get the damned thing myself if I wanted it. » Why, I asked? He said, « It’s still got a part of the German’s head in it”.
He wasn’t interested in eating now so we passed up the potatoes.
While in this position, George and I were away from the AC when we were under heavy shell fire that was very close. We had to crawl along the ground the last few yards to our slit trench and there got tangled up in the camouflage net. The shells were landing very close and remember it was the first time I ever felt panic. However, we made the slit trench without getting hit. A hole in the ground can be a wonderful place sometimes under certain conditions.
It was at this time that we all got a laugh at the expense of one of our Sgt., who jumped into a slit trench to seek shelter from shelling only to find that he had jumped into the trench we were using for a latrine.
Lieutenant B.E. Benitez was my crew commander at that time. One afternoon when all was quiet, we decided that we both needed a haircut. For tools we had Mr. Benitez’s pocket comb and the scissor from the first aid kit. We trimmed each other hair several times, each time making it worse. I didn’t have much hair left when we got finished. With so much hair gone, we could see our scalps and realized we had not had a good wash, let alone a bath, for some time.
Mr. Benitez and I were to share some experiences from then till I was injured in April, 1945. When I look back now after 40 years I realize how lucky I was to have had Lieutenant B.R Benitez for a troop officer mid crew commander. Whenever I think about the war and of him I feel good. He was never decorated, but he did his job with great courage and devotion.
He was twice wounded in action, once in France at the battle of Falaise and again in Holland in April, 1945
As written by J.F .McGowan
Montréal, Qc, H3H-1X2