The last thing said was that we were left sleeping in the rifle range on arrival at camp Petawawa very early in the morning. Sometime later, maybe about seven or eight in the morning a sergeant came in and woke us up to go to breakfast and told us to leave all our equipment there. This first breakfast was very good. There was bacon, sausage, cereal, toast, jam and coffee. Afterwards we went to get our equipment and were called and placed into groups. Each group was a battery (the name used in the artillery for a platoon) . A sergeant and a corporal (here called a Bombardier) introduced themselves and stated that they would be looking after us and took us to our hut. There were beds, top and bottom, for about one hundred and twenty soldiers (here called Gunners and not Privates) and we were told to select any one and put our equipment on the bed chosen, and showed us how to place the equipment on the rear wall and how to make our beds with the wool blankets that were on the beds. (No Sheets). We did not start any training on that day and in small groups we were assigned to do some small work around the camp. My group was sent to the officers' quarters for general cleaning, sweeping, bathroom cleaning. That day we took our meals at the officers' quarters. I suppose the first evening we were free I must have written the first letter home telling them where I was and to give them my mailing address.
Then the basic training started. We were assigned a rifle which had a number (18L1930 designated as Lee-Enfield, short, magazine, .303 semi-automatic). The basic training lasted three months. It consisted of much marching, physical exercises, running, long marches, night time maneuvers, handling and firing the rifle, training and servicing the cannon and work around the camp. We corresponded regularly, I believe I wrote at least one letter a week and that did not seem to be enough. In the replies from home the message was always "Please make sure that you do not sign for overseas service" and I kept repeating that I would not, but that message was in every letter. The basic training was completed on the 17th of November 1944 and we were given leave of absence to go home for one week. I might add that my home leaves never coincided with those of Litio and we did not see each other until we were discharged. On the weekends Saturday or Sunday afternoon or evening we would go to Pembroke, which was the closest good sized town, and would go to restaurant to eat a T-bone steak with all the trimmings, soup, salad, desert and coffee. The price was one dollar and we took our time eating and enjoyed it very much. In town there were places for the soldiers to congregate and play games, write letters home or just talk. These places were run by associations such as The Salvation Army, the YMCA the Canadian Legion, and other local groups. In the camp these groups also had welcome rooms and some had movie halls. One of the big drill halls had large movie screens, as regular theaters, showing the current movies at a cost of fifteen cents. This hall also had dances on Saturday nights and ladies from the neighboring towns were welcome and were accompanied by older people who would take them in and utof the camp. Also, radio artists or theater people would entertain us. One entertainer that I remember and was very popular at that time was Alys Robbi. Their participation was much appreciated by the soldiers.
It was either at the first leave or the following one at Christmas that mom and dad had decided to buy a house on Drolet street and made an appointment with a notary and I was to go with them to sign the papers. The house was at 7370 Drolet street and was occupied by the Bramucci family. The owner was an elderly lady who could not look after it any longer. She did not occupy any of the two flats and the second floor was rented to a couple whom I met only once when I went over to repair a front window. I have been repairing things ever since. The price of the house was $4,500. And dad had to get a mortgage and he asked my uncle Cesare Iadeluca if he would lend him $3000. for three years. We went to the notary signed the papers for the purchase of the house and for the mortgage. Coming home on the taxi dad was very concerned how we would manage to earn the money to pay for the mortgage. The amount was small but so were the salaries. I had bought some war savings bonds while working and gave these as part of the initial payment. I also told dad that I had purchased some war bonds in the army and would give them to him towards the payment of the mortgage. I was also sending home ten dollars monthly from my army pay. I did not smoke and never drank much beer, and this left me enough pocket money for the odd magazine or movie.
On return from leave we went into intensive canon handling training and driving. The cannon (the word cannon never takes an "s" even when used in the plural) were designated as twenty-five pound field cannon, highly mobile and good accuracy. The twenty-five pound weight is the weight of the projectile not including the propellant cartridge and had a range of up to six miles. The cannon bore (hole) was about three and one half inches. Bigger cannon were considered mountain artillery. The cannon preceded by a caisson (a box on wheels that contained the projectiles and cartridges) were pulled by a tractor in which the gun crew would ride to what ever destination was specified. The driving training took much time to be able to handle these three pieces hooked together. Also this was the winter months of 1944-1945. Most of the driving was done at an airport that was part of the camp and also we would go on the roads outside of the camp. This continued well into the spring of 1945.
The winter of 1944 and 1945 was very severe with much snow and many below zero temperatures. Some days we would do our activities mostly in the barracks or the very large drill halls instead of the parade grounds or in the bush. Learning to drive the tractors while pulling the caisson and cannon was not easy and I did not have prior driving experience and found learning to drive was very difficult for me. The tractors did not have automatic transmissions. The motors were centrally located with one seat on each side. The driver was on the left side with the steering wheel and on the floor there were three pedals, the brake, the gas or accelerator pedal and a clutch pedal as was very common on most vehicles of those days. The clutch pedal was used when changing the driving gears. With our big army boots and winter overshoes I could not get my two feet in the space to reach the pedals. A good driver would use only his right foot, but not me. These tractors were cold had there was no heating system for the cab and when pulling the caisson and cannon there were six people, the standard crew for this cannon. To get heat we would remove the cover from the motor which was more inside the cab than outside and the in coming air would be heated by the motor. When driving the fact that I could not get my two feet in the space I would remove my overshoes thereby allowing me a little more freedom. One time during some exercises we were out of the tractors for a little break and were told to get on board to return to camp. Our corporal said that he would drive back and for me to sit in the right hand front seat. So I got out of the driving position and I walked around the front of the tractor and opened the door to get in the vehicle. I did not have my overshoes on and as I opened the door my feet slipped on the icy road and the vehicle started moving, I was hanging on to the door frame with my feet slipping on the ice and I felt being dragged along before I had a chance to get in. I started yelling at this corporal and called him everything under sun that came to mind, words I would not have used at normal times. He finally stopped and said he knew I was hanging on and I should not have been afraid. I replied "You almost killed me and you do not have enough judgment to lead men." He did not pursue the argument. He was short French-Canadian, he spoke English and had a strong thunderous voice and thought that his voice could scare anyone. In this particular incident even the other soldiers in the tractor said that I got away with a lot speaking to him the way I did, but at some point we all reach a limit to react.
In general the army life up to that point was good. It kept us in very good shape physically and mentally. We got to bed early and arose early, shower, shave and have breakfast and be out of the barracks by seven thirty in the morning for our military activities. Training with all sorts of armament such as machine guns, throwing grenades, simulate fighting with bayonets on or off, pretending to shoot at something with the cannon and a lot of marching. The actual training did not seem to me to be intensive enough to actually face an enemy and be able to shoot anyone. We were often told that twenty percent of the soldiers in actual combat never shoot a rifle and we were also told "if you do not shoot, that does not stop the enemy from shooting you." I am just glad that I never had to face that situation. We had regular breaks, we stopped and everyone took out a cigarette to smoke. Once in a while I would accept a cigarette but I would say that I did not smoke. I would buy an odd package, this lasted about one month, and one day one of the boys said to me "For a guy that does not smoke you always have cigarette in your hand." It made me realize what I was doing. I took the package and gave it to him and said "You will not see me smoking any more." I never did after that, neither in the army nor in civilian life. When I went in the army I was five foot eleven tall and weighed one hundred and twenty seven pounds, I was one of the skinniest in the bunch. I never put on any weight, actually I thought I was the weakest in the group and that some day I would collapse under some arduous physical exercise and the I would be rejected. This never happened and I stayed on till the end of the war.
By this time the war in Europe was advancing very fast. North Africa has been completely liberated, from Morocco to Egypt, Italy had been invaded from Sicily and the toe of the boot, Mussolini had been deposed, ran into hiding, was captured by the Italian communists, liberated by the Germans, recaptured by the Italian communists, shot to death with his mistress Clara Petacci and their bodies hanged naked and upside down in Milan.
Before laying Hitler to rest I want to mention General Erwin Rommel again. After being chased out of North Africa he was made commander of all the German Forces in Europe. About a year before the end of the war a group of German Generals could see that the war was lost. Hitler had taken over all command of all forces and was making things even worst. They plotted to blow-up Hitler at one of the meetings with his Generals. Rommel was not part of this conspiracy but part of the plan was that if the plan succeeded, thereafter they would ask Rommel take over full command and ask the allies for an end to the war. The plan was put in effect, the bomb blew up in the room they were having the meeting, but about half a minute before the explosion Hitler moved away from the prearranged position and he suffered only minor injuries. The investigation following the coup revealed the names of all the generals and they were hanged. The name of Rommel also appeared in some papers and he was therefore considered one of the proponents. The story goes that he would be hanged like all the others in shame, or he would be killed and reported as being killed by British planes during strafing operations at the front and would then be buried with full military honors, including his military pension. Rommel had a wife and a son and he chose the latter course of action, took poison and died. The Germans announced his death at the front and even released a news reel showing a jeep type vehicle being strafed by a British plane and claimed that this was Rommel's death. It is hard to believe that a photographer just at the right moment and the right place would be present at the proper instant to back-up the propaganda news.
The allies coming from the west towards Berlin and the Russians from the east at a fast pace, it was evident that the end was near. The allies and the Russians agreed to enter Berlin at a specific date and the time. On the last day Hitler, his mistress and some of his most trusted attendants were hiding in the underground bunker prepared for this purpose and on that day he married Eva Braun and told his attendants to burn their bodies after death and they both took poison. The bodies, or the remains, of Eva and Adolf Hitler were never found even after much search by both the allies and Russians.
As agreed when the armies reached Berlin the Germans capitulated. The victory in Europe was achieved on May 8, 1945 and that date was proclaimed V E DAY (victory in Europe). Because of the time differential between Europe and Canada, or because the army wanted some security, we did not learn of the termination of the war until the following day. The following day when we got up and went to breakfast. On return to our barracks we were told not to take any equipment with us but to get ready to leave in half and hour and we would go for an outing for the entire day in the country. We all got into the trucks, there must have been thirty or forty of them enough to empty all the RCA part of the camp and we were driven out thirty or forty miles from camp. We still did not know what was going on. We reached a large clearing in the woods we were assembled in large groups, not regular army discipline, and we were told that the war in Europe was finished, Germany had capitulated unconditionally and the fighting had stopped completely. When we heard this, it took a few seconds to react, but we soon started to yell and jump and shake each others hand. A great relief was expressed by all and many had tears in their eyes as we talked and joked and asked questions about which armies were where, what happened to Hitler, and many others that no one could answer on the spot but found out latter. Following the trucks with the soldiers were many other trucks and soon were discharging cases of beer, food, pastries, coffee, juices, soft drinks and all were placed on tables at our disposal. The run on the beer was fast but there was enough to last the whole day and the same for all the food. At noon other canteen trucks arrived with warm food and we all sat down on the grass and ate as at a picnic. The day was a warm sunny day and as we started calming down we just sat on the grass and talked or had a snooze until the late afternoon we returned to our quarters to rest or keep on talking especially about returning home soon and seeing our loved ones. But the war in Japan was not finished and maybe we were too hasty in our celebration. On returning to our quarters we were cautioned to be very careful as to how we acted amongst ourselves and also the army equipment. It seems the army had already had reports of wild conduct in other places were damage had been done to barracks and even injuries to some personnel. At supper time we went to the regular mess and had a good dinner and were told that the canteens were all open at no charge. A few went for more beer, I never liked it enough to be able to drink more than two bottles for an afternoon. At our camp things kept very orderly and there were no problems.
Though the war in Europe had come to an end it was still necessary to send soldiers because a lot of the land that had been occupied by the Germans and under German control now had to take over and establish their own governments. There was a transition period for allied soldiers to be present to prevent problems between the different factions until proper governments were established. Many Canadian soldiers were sent over as occupation troops. One of the soldiers was a good friend of mine as we had been in the same battery for many months was Pascal Tucci who after the war married Celeste Dambrosio, the sister of Carmine that I have mentioned before. He went overseas for eight or nine months. On his return I met him after he was married and he said that is trip to Germany had been a very good one and allowed him to do a lot of visiting in Europe, the German people were very accommodating, generous and they also had suffered many bombings.
Without knowing it I was scheduled to be trained as a motor mechanic and I was sent to the Canadian Army Trade School at Hamilton, Ontario. This was now the spring and summer and the school was located within the city limits so that we could go out after class anywhere in the city every day. There were many places open to welcome soldiers for evening entertainment such as the Salvation Army, The Canadian Legion, the YMCA and many parish halls. My stay in Hamilton was an enjoyable one giving me an opportunity to see and live in another city as otherwise I had never been out of Montreal and this was now and English province and an entirely new experience.
One weekend two other soldiers Guy Bombardier, a corporal, and Jean Larochelle, a gunner like me, hitch hiked all the way to Buffalo, New York. We made it in pretty good time. We left on a Saturday morning and reached Buffalo in the early afternoon. All the buildings had black banners and streamers. This was the weekend that U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died and mourning was continued for the whole week until the funeral. President Roosevelt died April 12, 1945. We walked around the city which we found to be dirty, the streets were not cleaned and there were newspaper sheets everywhere. We went in to restaurants for our meals and were told that someone in the restaurant had paid for our meals. We told the waiter to thank those persons for their generosity and we appreciated their welcome very much. To sleep that night there was an army hostel, it was just a large hall with cots on the floor with a chair next to each cot. We signed in, there was a Colonel in charge and military police on guard. The hall could accommodate about five hundred cots. We were told to keep our money on us at all times. The next day, the Sunday we started hiking back passing by Fort Erie and Niagara Falls for some sight seeing and we arrived at our quarters at ten in the evening. We were in Hamilton for about three months. I was summer, warm, lots of activities and good fun. This had really been a vacation for me, the first one I had ever had. The mechanical courses were very good too. To this day I remember many useful things but automobiles have changed so much since then. I shall always remember Hamilton as a warm and friendly city. I did not know then that I would visit it again many times for business reasons. The last time I saw the school building was in 1984. It was then a factory of some type and the army camp that surrounded it was gone. On completion of this training we were sent back to Petawawa.
At Petawawa we resumed regular training for a little more than one week and one day we were summoned and told that we would all go on furlough (fifteen days leave ) and that on return we would go on the east coast nearer for the embarkation point for Europe. In view of the end of the war in Europe things might chance but this was the present situation. We went on leave but I did not tell anyone what might happen afterwards. Many did not return to camp afterwards and I know that my parents would press me not to return. At camp we found that about ten percent had not returned after the furlough leave and were now considered deserters. Our pay books were stamped "Embarkation Leave Granted" and soon after we were sent to Debert, Nova Scotia. The last camp before being sent to Halifax for embarkation. The train trip to Debert passed through Montreal and we had a four wait for the connecting train. We went to lunch and to a movie. During the movie many soldiers presumable went to the toilettes from which they never returned. They were mostly residents of Montreal or the surrounding regions. I did not even call home because I knew I would be put under the same pressure to stay behind. On arrival at Debert there were at least forty missing out of our group of one hundred and twenty. We were assigned to our barracks and continued regular army training and exercises. Many times were taken out to the bay of Fundy at its very tip were the two sides join. There were nice sandy beaches and we could observe when the tide came in or recede. The tide at this bay is forty feet, one of the highest in the world. On weekends there was the city of Truro, a large railway center for CN. The local population would come to the railway station to meet the trains coming either from Halifax or Montreal. It was a local activity especially on Saturdays or Sundays. Another quaint custom was that we would buy fish and chips from local vendors on street corners and we would go sit in a park to eat them. The food was placed in a cone made by rolling a newspaper sheet.
One of the first things in which I participated was to be a guard of honor for General Crerar the Commander or the Canadian Forces in Europe. A group of some five hundred soldier was formed and trained a whole week parading, marching, and rifle handling. One morning we left the camp at about five o'clock to go to Halifax where the General was arriving. We arrived at a parade ground and took our position for inspection and waited an hour or more for his arrival. There were three marching bands, one at each end of the column of soldiers and one in the centre. The General came by marching quite fast, looked us over, it took about one hour and left. We got back in the trucks an returned to camp. It took all day. The soldiers were satisfied saying "If he came back then we will not be needed in Europe."
One morning after having our breakfast we saw groups of soldiers gathering around the office building and a sergeant was talking to them. We approached and asked what was going on. Someone said the US dropped and atomic bomb on Japan and I remarked that an atom could not be split and the sergeant said "Well somebody did and the entire city of Hiroshima has been destroyed and leveled to the ground." Also the US told Japan that they would bomb another city every third day until they surrendered unconditionally. I read later that Japan thought it impossible that there was more than one bomb in existence. Three day later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The next day, August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered. Later more information was released. The bomb on Hiroshima was called Little Boy and was made with Uranium U-235 and the bomb on Nagasaki was from Uranium U-238, now called Plutonium. Much of the Uranium had come from Canada supplied by Eldorado Mining. Natural Uranium is U-235 though radioactive it is not explosive. I was much involved in my later career in the shipment and handling of these materials. The US had many bombs available if the need had been there.
My military life changed at this point. Fighting soldiers were not in much demand. Because of the training I had in Hamilton, I was assigned to the RCEME, that is Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. This corps looked after the maintenance and repairs of all motorized army vehicles on land. There was a huge garage and all around outside maybe two or three hundred vehicles, automobiles, jeeps, small trucks, big trucks, tractors and other types of army vehicles. All were out of order, not damaged by war action but simply mechanical defects. Our job was to repair them. The vehicle was brought into the garage and had to find the trouble and repair it using parts from the other unserviceable vehicles stored out side. Most of the problems were missing parts such as generators, starters, radiators and other parts . If we did not find the parts we would put the vehicle back outside and find another one to repair.
An order came out on the bulletin board that any soldier who could produce a letter or proof that he would have job if released from the army could apply for a temporary release and be discharged at a later date. I was going on leave the following week. I took the notice from the board and at the next leave I went to Canadair, dressed in my army uniform and when I got to the gate I explained to the guard that I wanted to see my last supervisor. He made a phone call and told me that he was now working in an office on the second floor and told me how to get there. I went up found the office and the person I wanted to see, Mr Archie Monroe. He was glad to see me and after a little talk he asked if I was going back to work. I explained the situation, showed him notice and said that all I needed was letter from him and I could be back to work very soon on a special industrial leave. I got the letter on Company paper showing that there was a job for me as soon as released.
When I came to Montreal on this leave the family had moved to the house purchased, previously mentioned, and they were occupying the second floor at civic number 7372 Drolet street. I was not there to help them move because I was not told the date that they would move. Under this condition the army generally gave a week of leave to help in the moving. I was happy to see the family in this bigger house and with only Demetria and Elsie at home they had much more space for everyone.
On returning to Debert I went to the army office and presented my letter showing that I had employment as soon as released. They took the letter and about three weeks later one morning while working in the garage, a message came over the loud speakers saying to stop all work and not to make any noise because names would be called and to report to the office immediately, and to make sure that when your name is called to report immediately as you would not be called a second time. That was the message and everything got very quite. As we say in Christmas Carols "not a creature was stirring not even a mouse". They started calling names without any explanation but my thoughts went directly to the application for industrial leave. When I was called and went to the office a sergeant-major was sitting at a desk and said to me that my request for industrial leave had been approved he gave me the papers to cover the leave and said that I could leave anytime that I was able to arrange for the train transportation. I stopped working and went the barrack and started packing my stuff, turned in the rifle and went to the CNR office to check for available space on the train from Truro to Montreal, bought the ticket and sent a telegram to my parents to tell them the date I would be arriving.
The train left late in the after noon, followed the east cost shoreline through Campbelton, New Brunswick, and along the south shore of the St Lawrence river. This time I was enjoying the trip, it was a beautifully sunny day, going through nice and clean small towns close to the river and as the river narrowed in approaching Quebec city we could see l'Ile d'Orleans and the city across the river with cap Diamant prominently advancing in the river. It brought to mind the many battles that had been fought at this spot between the French and the English until the final battle between Wolf and Montcalm, where both were mortally wounded, Montcalm dying the same day and Wolf the next day, in a short battle on September 13, 1759 on the plains of Abraham, and the Treaty of Paris in 1763 when finally the French seceded, but the verbal battles are still going on, ad in eternam. The train trip was about twenty-two hours and arrived at Montreal about the late afternoon. I took a taxi to get home and arrived before dad and the two sisters came home from work. As expected mother started crying but this time it was for joy and not for sorrow and we hugged an kissed until I also had tears of joy. When the others arrived the scenario was repeated. I told them that this was not a complete discharge but as both war actions were over it was just a formality that I would be recalled to get the final papers.
I was recalled to report to Montreal South, (Longueil) and received my final discharge papers on April 5, 1946. This ends my formal military activities.