William Berrow poses on his motorcycle after training to be a Dispatch Rider.William Berrow
William Berrow, 2010.Historica Canada
"It was red hot from one of these shells and it came and it melted right through the wing and fell between our beds and got the camouflage net on fire."
In 1939, when the war started, my older brother was 18. He said, I’m going to join the army. I was 15, so I said, well, I’m going to go with you. He said, you can’t go, you’re only 15. I said, no, I’m going to go, you tell them you’re 19, I’ll tell them I’m 18. So anyway, we did that and I’m going through my medical, and I’m on the scale; and the doctor looked at me and he said, you know, you only weigh 109 pounds. He said, we like to have them around 120. He said, if you wouldn’t mind, he said, I’m going to let you go and you go home and tell your mother to put some lead in your pockets, and come in and see us. So, of course, I tried seven times, army, navy and air force, in two years. So finally, in December 1941, I finally got in the army when I was 17. Then I went on to train and so on and so forth.
I went overseas in August 1942, after training in Canada for eight months, and joined an outfit called the 69th Tank Transport Company [Royal Canadian Army], with all tanks. We trained in England for a few months and then we got our vehicles and I was a dispatch rider. I rode convoy, they call it, for the boys, and we did that until the [Normandy] invasion. We turned our trucks in. There was two outfits called the 69th and the 65th, and we were the junior outfit. So they took our trucks away from us and they gave us 135 tonne MACK diesels. They were general transport trucks. They could haul 25 tonne right on their back, tandem truck.
So we landed those in France, loaded with ammunition and supplies; and the first night we landed on the beach, I have an army pal who lives in New Westminster, him and I stuck together pretty well all the time We were given orders, don’t move, bed down. It was pitch black and so we made our bed wherever we could. So him and I found a foxhole that the Germans had been using, and we fixed it up and put the camouflage net down, and make it nice and comfortable. We pulled a wing off of a German fighter plane and made a roof. So we’re down in there, we’re real comfortable, we were smoking and talking; and all of a sudden, these guns open fire and these planes went over and they were German fighters, of course, unknown to me. Well, I was so scared. I said to Alf, I said, you know what? I wish I was home with my mother. [laughs] I was supposed to be a soldier. I’m a brave soldier, but I cowered down pretty quick that night.
Anyway, we’re laying there talking and these guns are going and these guns, when they shoot up, they can, maybe three or four hundred feet, and they don’t have to hit anything, they explode on footage – a warhead that explodes on footage. Well, this stuff’s got to come down, if it goes up, it has to come down somewhere. Well, there’s a big thump on our roof. Oh, what was that? And pretty soon, here come this piece of metal. It was red hot from one of these shells and it came and it melted right through the wing and fell between our beds and got the camouflage net on fire. [laughs] So we were up there beating our fire out with our army shoes, and I said to him, I’m not staying in here anymore tonight. He said, where are you going? I said, I’m going to sleep under Blondie’s truck. He said, well, he’s got ten tonne of ammunition on there, what do you… he’s liable to get a piece of that metal. I said, right now, I don’t care.
So anyway, actually, we were too sober. We were supposed to have had two or three shots of rum on the boat going over the [English] Channel and I think the officers and the NCOs [non-commissioned officers] drank our rum. I think I had one drink. We were supposed to be happy when we landed. Anyway, that was a, that’s when we landed.
Well, we hauled ammunition to the artillery guns to Caen, the city of Caen, you might have heard about it. There was a river ran through there, I forget the name, Meuse River or something. We hauled right up to there and the guns were shooting across the river at the Germans, and so on and so forth; and every time the front line moved, we had to move and we had to haul ration dumps and ammunition dumps. Sometimes we worked for 36 hours without stopping. By that time, we were ready to go to sleep. So when we went back, behind the lines, we’d go back and it didn’t matter where we laid, we just laid down and went to sleep.
But the first billets we had was in Antwerp, Belgium. That’s the first time we were able to sleep in a building. We’d chased the German SS [Schutzstaffel: Nazi paramilitary organization] out of a big high school and then we took over, and used that to live in while we were there. It was coming wintertime now, in January. It was very cold and lots of snow. So we were pretty glad to get that.
Interview date: 19 October 2010