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Private J. "Mike" Forester, The ArgyII & Sutherland Highlanders, age 16, Kingston, Jamaica, 1940.
(Courtesy of The Memory Project/James Forester)
"And I crawled, by golly, I don’t know how I did, but I got into the ditch and I went unconscious."
I was always a three-inch mortar man. I got in the three inch mortar platoon and I got to like the mortar platoon. Well, the base plate had to be a combination of steel and iron; and it was shaped like a home plate on a baseball field, and it was heavy. You carried that on a harness around your neck and you also carried your rifle; and if you could, you carried a couple cases of mortar bombs with you. And you’d be the first guy to run up wherever the target was. Like I got to be what they called a control post operator. When I got to England, my officer made me control post operator. It was my job to go out and find the enemy, and put the special aiming post and different things where I knew the enemy was. And the guy with the base plate would come up and he’d be the first man to put the base plate where I had it marked. And then the barrel, the man with the barrel on his harness, he’d come up and he’d put it down into the base plate and turn it. It would lock. And then the man with the tri-pod steered the tri-pod down over the barrel and locked it to this heavy spring that held the mortar together. And then she was all set to blast. And the sight, number one on the gun carried the sight in a leather case.
I got it at 2:00 in the morning. I brought the mortar platoon up to where the German army’s trying to get out of the [Falaise] Gap. And the road was jam-packed and I had to bring the mortar platoon across this farmer’s field and I don’t know how I got across there. The water was so deep and I just had to push and keep the throttle open on my Norton [British motorcycle] and I followed this Bren Gun [light machine gun] Carrier. I stayed in his track and the fellow behind didn’t like it too well because that little quarter light you have on the back of a vehicle ahead of you. He kept yelling at me, get out of the way. And I says, you come on and take this machine, see how you like it. But I was a new man.
And you know, one thing about the Canadian army. They don’t take too well to you until you prove yourself. And I sure got wind of that quick. But, anyway, I got the mortar platoon out to the road and there on this gravel road, I seen this [M4] Sherman [tank] sitting there at about 2:00 in the morning and he’s firing the big gun, the opposite direction of where I decided his tank was. And his machine guns were going and I got across the road; and I went in and I took shelter in behind the Sherman. And while I was there, another Canadian dispatch rider came along and a British paratrooper on his little bike. So the three of us were taking shelter and believe it or not, I fell fast asleep sitting on my Norton because I had been going for maybe three days without sleep. I was so tired.
But all of a sudden, this other Sherman came down this gravel road. I guess they were trying to get as many of them Germans as they could. And he didn’t see my back wheel. My back wheel was sticking out onto the gravel road and he hit my back wheel and he drove me down into the [tank’s] tracks and that’s where I was until a bunch of guys come running over. They finally got me out, they pulled me out of the tracks and that. And somebody yelled, look out, the gas tank’s going to explode. And they dropped me. Well, I crawled on my hands and knees. I saw it with all the shell flashes, I could spot this ditch across the road. And I figured, well, if I want to live, I’d better get over into that thing. And I crawled, by golly, I don’t know how I did, but I got into the ditch and I went unconscious. The next thing I knew, I woke up and there was a guy standing over me and he had a map lamp in his hand. It shines down, doesn’t shine out, it shines straight down and I could see the stripes on his arm; he was a sergeant. I don’t know who he was, but I said to him, Sarge, I said, would you mind looking at how my lower body is. And he undone my battle dress pants and he took my shell dressing out of my helmet under the camouflage net. He put the shell dressing on the wound. It [the accident] cut my femoral artery, and it partially severed the main nerve in my left groin.
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