Charles Bouchard served with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps from 1942 to 1946. In charge of transport vehicles during the Second World War, Bouchard was sent overseas to Italy and the Netherlands to fight in the trenches. Read and listen to Bouchard discuss the hardships he confronted during wartime as well as the postwar adjustments he later faced.
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"It was hard on morale and on the nerves, because they shot at us a lot. I can’t count all of the times that I was shot at. I was lucky."
I worked with my father on the farm because my father had a large farm. We also worked in the forest, cutting wood to be sold to different companies. In Italy, my job was much the same. We supplied the troops and we took men to the front lines. I was in the 3rd [Canadian Infantry] Brigade, and I was attached to the [Royal] 22nd Regiment. After a while, we were lacking reinforcements. We didn’t have enough men to replace the losses the regiments were facing. So they gave us machine guns and sent me to the 22nd Regiment yet still part of the [Royal Canadian Army] Service Corps. We had to dig slit trenches and remain on the front lines manning our machine guns. It was hard on morale and on the nerves, because they shot at us a lot. I can’t count all of the times that I was shot at. I was lucky. When you heard a whistling in your ear, it meant a bullet had come close. That happened to me a lot.
I often slept in with rats while we were being shelled. They called it the "starvation winter" [in Holland, 1944-1945] because a lot of people died that winter. When springtime came around, people were still starving to death. We could cross the lines after six o’clock in the morning; that was the agreement made in Holland between the German and Canadian high commanders [the surrender of German troops in the Netherlands was accepted on 5 May 1945]. We could cross their lines with food [for the civilians] after six o’clock in the morning and we had to be back by six o’clock in the evening. They gave us twelve hours to cross the German lines with white flags.
Returning to Canada was difficult for me, and for a lot of my friends. We were disoriented. We were welcomed by our family and friends but right away, we could tell that our presence bothered people. We came back and were seen to take work from other people. That’s how we felt and that’s what we were told.
We were used to discipline and the camaraderie between brothers-in-arms. Then all of a sudden we found ourselves in a society that rejected us and which was very different than us. We didn’t have any work. We had two uniforms. They took one away and left us with the other to wear. They sent us out in the streets with nothing. We didn’t have any schooling; none of us had stayed in school very long. The only opportunity we had was to go work in the forest, become a lumberjack or go work in the mines. That’s what was waiting for us and that’s what we experienced. I met up with a lot of my fellow veterans in the Côte-Nord region [of Quebec]. A year after their release from the army, a lot of them still wore their uniforms, completely worn out. They were unable to buy civilian clothes.
Those men went to work in the forests of Anticosti Island, in Baie-Comeau, here and there along the Côte-Nord. They were discouraged. The majority just wanted to drink; to escape their suffering through alcohol. I don’t mean to exclude myself since for a long time I also drank to forget that I was back here. For some, it may seem funny to say this, but we felt like we had been parachuted into a world that didn’t understand us anymore and that grudgingly accepted us. That’s how they made us feel. Then there was also indifference. When we weren’t being criticized, people were completely indifferent. You went to war, so what?!
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