Jean-Paul Bertrand (Primary Source) | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jean-Paul Bertrand (Primary Source)

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

At 19, and then after turning 20, I received my call to mobilise. So I showed up, I was in Longueuil which was Montreal South at the time, on the other side of the Jacques-Cartier bridge. I enlisted in the artillery. I'll tell you why; because I had worked with veterans of 1914-1918 and we had worked together in construction before as well. We had a hard time! The boss used to shovel ¾-inch crushed stone with a number four shovel behind the mixer. He had a metal shoulder and he had been hit by shrapnel in 1914, 1918 and he’d had a fractured leg. So he says to me, You like horses, so why would you enlist in the infantry, in the army? He says, enlist in the artillery, you'll like it. You'll be behind the lines. He says, you'll get to sleep at the peasants’. So when I was called, I asked for that, I passed my test and they said I would do well in the artillery. That's why I was one of the last gunners to join the [Royal Canadian] Horse Artillery in Petawawa. There was big mountain of coal, and in the winter we would deliver the coal by horse. We would also distribute supplies; I can't remember how many kitchens there were in all. We would collect swill which we would sell to the residents of Mattawa. They would boil it in wood containers, they had boilers. And in the winter we would cut ice on the river, and we would distribute it for the ice boxes. When they got rid of the horses, they transferred me directly to England.

When I arrived in Belgium, they came to get me. They took me to a reinforcement unit, the 5th Field Regiment Artillery. I spent about four months in Holland and then we crossed the Rhine to Germany. They warned us that it would be dangerous there, that there would be SS [Schutzstaffel] and the Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth]. They said, they won't hand themselves over. But it was the opposite because we had done a sweeping before the crossing. It had gone well. They were all friends when we got there and then I went in... with my guns. The friends gave themselves up as prisoners. We had a quantity of prisoners before the cease fire took place on May 8, 1945. Afterwards, we had an occupation army. I left the 2nd Division, 5th field. Then they transferred me to the second, 3rd Division [2/3rd Canadian Infantry Division of the Canadian Army Occupation Force], the grey patch with a little bar underneath. The main 3rd Division had just a patch. We carried out the occupation. We did sweepings and we rounded up the SS. They thought of us almost as liberators since the SS would shoot them down. The SS weren't on the front line, they stayed behind and they would shoot people. During a time, the Americans had bombed them a lot, especially the V-2 rockets. There were places where we couldn’t advance - there were thousands of [destroyed] V-2s, it was mayhem. Then, in places where we couldn't advance any more, the German [civilians], the elderly, the women, we would say to them [in German], Warum du viel arbeit [why do you work so much?] One, she said, Nicht viel arbeit [not much work], She said, Ruski, Ruski! And she showed me that they were scared of the Russians. They were clearing the roads so that we could go and arrest them. We freed the Russian prisoners in the work-camps. On the way over, it took me 14 days of travel, of which eight were stormy, it was hard. We were always scared of being hit with torpedoes. We had a safety vest with a light attached to the shoulders so that we could be found during the night, with some batteries in the pocket. And a water gourd of course, since we couldn't drink salt water. The journey back was a lot nicer... And when we heard "Welcome Home Canada" when we arrived, we were happy.