The night I stepped on an anti-personnel land mine, Sept 15, 1944
After being in Normandy France for three months in the front lines with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry at Verrières, where we lost 54 killed and many wounded, our first casualty was Switzer who lost a leg from shrapnel.
We were the spearhead for the breakthrough at the Falaise Gap. My Sergeant was killed there. We captured a German there with a peg leg. He looked 55 years old. We also had the Hitler youth 14 - 18 year olds, real fanatics.
After the breakthrough we went way up the coast to Elbeuf where we had another battle. I had another Sergeant killed there plus some wounded. We crossed the Seine River there on a pontoon bridge.
This was the first ride we had. We walked halfway across France and back. We went on up through Rouen where we met many civilians for the first time. They were very happy to see us.
We went on up to Dieppe where my regiment was at in August 1942. I wasn’t with them long there. Thank God for that. We stayed there for 5 days. That was our first break in 2 months. We paraded through town six men abreast. I didn't think we had that many men left after all our casualties.
General Montgomery wasn’t going to let us go to Dieppe. But our General Crerar said you are going whether you like it or not, even if you court-marshal me. Crerar got his way. After Dieppe we piled onto anything we could ride on and went right on up to Ostend and Bruges, Belgium.
After a day there we got orders to go back to a place named Bergues, France near Dieppe. There is also a place called Bray-Dunes near there. I almost got killed in my namesake town. Bergues had a stone wall built around the town. We were to blow a hole through the wall then go in and take the town. I met the officer in our last trip overseas, the one who took the stone out and placed the explosives, but no one gave him orders to blow it. They never did take the town. This was Sept 15, 1944. This town and Dunkirk were never taken till the war was over. They just by passed it and kept them locked in, to the end of the war.
On the way up to take the town, across a field at 3 o’clock in the very dark morning they had 14 guys ahead of me in single file. We all stopped. There I’m standing on an anti-personnel land mine with my heel. 14 guys ahead of me never touched it. In a few seconds bang. It lifted me off the ground and knocked the guy down behind me. What a coincidence, that was my number as we would say in the army. It was time for Stew to get out of there. The odds of survival were getting small. There were only six of the originals left out of 28 plus 50 reinforcements.
The first aid man put a field dressing bandage on my heel, then they all went on to their objective, leaving me there all alone. I crawled back out to the road. It must have been 30 rods. Still dark, two soldiers were walking up the road. I got them stopped. You had to be careful. Everyone had an itchy trigger finger by then.
I heard 2 guys snoring off to the right. You know how it echoes outside at 4 o'clock in the morning. The first guys went over and woke them up and brought them back to me. They stood me up one on each side of me and hobbled down the road to a house over a half mile. On the way to the house another company was laying in the ditch with rifles and guns pointing at us. We had a different password every night. That night it was like a winter wind. They say halt winter and you answer wind very quickly. Too bad if you forgot it. They halted us and we answered wind.
We finally got to the house and they sat me on a chair and put my foot up on the back of another chair. An officer came in and fell over top of me. Almost broke my leg. It is a wonder someone didn't shoot him. They couldn't get an ambulance so they got a jeep. I sat in the front with my foot up on the hood. We were heading to where the medical officer was. A guy with a flashlight was motioning for the driver to go. He went the wrong way, straight down into a 45% ditch. This was now 5:30 o’clock in the morning and still dark. I finally got to the M.D. He gave me a shot of morphine. That was my first. I guess we were so tired we didn't need much painkiller.
I finally got an ambulance. I was in it until 1:00 A.M. the next morning when we arrived at a tent hospital in Dieppe. It road like a wagon. That was the happiest day of my life up till then. First time I'd been in a bed for 6 months. White Sheets, Canadian nurses.
I must have been under much pressure because I prayed I hope I didn’t have to go back to the front again. I spent 11 months in and out of hospitals and 8 months in the Christie Street Hospital, Toronto.
Cpl. Stewart Bray
HRLI (Hamilton Regiment Light Infantry)