"I lifted him out of the stretcher and his back just literally fell out and he died right there in my arms. It’s in my mind all the time."
Albert "Bert" Hogg served as a medic in the Second World War. See below for Mr. Hogg's entire testimony.
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We got into Africa first from England. In 1943, we were down in Africa building the hospital under canvas to prepare for the Italian, or now the Sicily campaign. And we were almost, well, we weren’t quite prepared for that particular attack on Italy and Sicily, but we did have our tents all rigged up, and it took us quite a time to get organized when a Sirocco [hot winds reaching hurricane speeds] I would call it came over in Africa and blew all the tents out into the desert. And the temperatures there were anywhere from 110 to 125 degrees [Fahrenheit] and it was really, really hot. But we worked like you’d want to believe, like real Trojans, real soldiers. And we got the one major marquee [tent] set up for our first on... of patients and they were coming up across the Mediterranean [Sea] of course. And it was something here that you had to see it to believe it, to see these people coming in.
And again, they were well taken care of in Africa. And then before I left Africa, I transferred myself into the Independent Machine Gun Company as a stretcher bearer, all voluntary. I don’t think there was any conscription, so all is strictly voluntary. And I went to Avellino [Italy] from Africa, I got in the boat and we went over to Avellino in Italy where we sort of set up the, not set up a hospital, we were just setting up my arrangements to go into The Princess Louise Fusiliers in 12th Brigade. It was Independent Machine Gun Company. And I found that fascinating and very interesting until I was on my own, no doctors, just myself as a medic and we had, I think it was in the neighbourhood of 180 men in our platoons and groups and I had quite a responsibility I thought with being, well, everybody called me doc, that’s what I mean and I’m getting at, because I was the doctor within a month and a half to two months of being with these guys.
And from there, we went up through Italy into the Gothic Line, the Hitler Line, the numerous lines that we had to pass through. And in one of these particular areas, I was sort of, they were getting their guns and their machine guns and their Bren Gun Carriers all sort of ready to go into the action, because we had what we call a five day rest, five day into battle. And while we were in the rest area, the 88s [millimeter guns] were firing over the top of the soldiers ahead of us and landed in our particular campsite, if you want to call it a campsite. It was just a group of men working around, cleaning up their guns and things. Well, we had numerous casualties right at that moment. I had a terrible, terrible experience with guys that, when I thought as a boy, as a young kid, back in Canada, that when you watched the western movie here, anybody that got shot anywhere, whether it be in the arm or the leg or the back, he was dead. Well, when these guys came up and they were still alive with their arms really hanging off, their legs crushed, I had a situation where I was bandaging up one fellow and lo and behold, he was in bad, bad shape. By the time I finished putting all the bandages on him and preparing him for evacuation, I lifted him out of the stretcher and his back just literally fell out and he died right there in my arms. And that was only one of many of the people that just … It’s in my mind all the time.
But then we had a young officer, a lieutenant was in our group we know in this case, just further up north, just no more than a mile or two up from where we were and we were in the wooden shack it was. And there was about 30 of us in there and they were planning their method of attack and what they’re going to do. And the lieutenant there said, “Look, I’m going to try and get some sleep, I want to go over there and I’m going to stay in that haystack. You guys know where I am, that’s it.” And a shell came over and believe it, it did not go off, but it went right through him and killed him. And we had to dig him out behind the haystack and bury him in the field, just a shallow grave. Because I understood later that they’d take these people and put them in a proper grave in a different area. And that was another sad situation that I was involved with.
We did carry on and had numerous skirmishes and shooting and what have you, all the way up. And I always felt in my own mind that I was protected under the Geneva Convention of 1927. Nobody’s going to shoot a medical man with a Red Cross on my helmet, a Red Cross on the back of my coat, my little parcel bag of goodies that I had and I had morphine, I had packages upon packages of morphine. I had all sorts of equipment to treat these fellows, right on the spot. I did a lot, and I even had an opportunity to take care of a young girl who, we got a letter from the commanding officer of the British Army saying that the girl had picked up a detonator of a grenade and it exploded in her hand. I took it to my officer and he said, “What can you do, doc, can you help her at all?” I said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do.” With the equipment I had, the sterilization method I used for boiling instruments and things, I had to remove the two fingers from her hand and bandaged her up, because she was wrapped in a piece of ordinary brown paper, wrapped around her hand because they did not have any method of treating her. The Germans took all the doctors and all the young men that they could possibly take with them as workers in their particular army, so they had nobody, they left nobody in the area.
So I had to take care of this particular young lady. And it was an experience again that I thought was very good. Left her with plenty of bandages and stuff and cream and sulpha [antibacterial medicine] to, to … And I never heard from her again so I don’t really know how she made out. But we often thought of her.