William McGee (Primary Source) | The Canadian Encyclopedia

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William McGee (Primary Source)

This testimony is part of the Memory Project Archive

William McGee served in the First Special Service Force of the Royal Canadian Regiment during the Second World War. He served in the Armed Forces from 1941 until 1964.

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.

Shoulder insignia worn by the First Special Service Force.
Special Forces top qualification insignia presented to members of the First Special Service Force.
First Special Service Force non-officer spear-head shoulder insignia pin.
William McGee (2nd from left) and other members of the First Special Service Force at the dedication ceremony of remembrance for the FSSF efforts in World War Two.
William McGee’s personal burial insignia incorporating the First Special Service Force for his burial plaque.
And we were given what was thought to be an impossible job, and we accomplished it in forty-eight hours


I am William 'Sam' McGee. I got the nickname Sam from the Royal Canadian Regiment... they nicknamed me Sam after the poem 'The Cremation of Sam Magee.' And I enlisted in September of 1941, and after various training - basic training, advanced training - I wound up in the First Special Service Force ['Devil's Brigade'], which was, on paper, the Second Canadian Parachute Battalion. And it was half Canadians, half Americans, specially brought together for a special suicide mission, which we weren't aware of. We later discovered it was to take out the heavy water in Norway, and the oil fields in Romania, and the hydro in northern Italy. The operation was cancelled, and we had a new role up in the Aleutian Islands. I stayed in the Armed Forces after the war and made a career out of it, retiring in 1964. We went the Aleutians against the Japanese, and then over to Africa, and then into Italy and on the Cassino front. And we were given what was thought to be an impossible job, and we accomplished it in forty-eight hours. But the First Regiment suffered fifty-two percent casualties in forty-eight hours. It was rough. And then we went on to the Anzio beachhead, and we secured the south perimeter. And the British were on the north, the Americans were on the east, and we were on the south perimeter with less than fifteen hundred men covering an area equal to a division of thirty-four thousand. But we used the Mussolini canal system as a defensive situation. And we kept them at bay. And just because of our constant hammering away, we didn't have to push them - they moved back five miles. We were there a hundred and five days, I think it was. Then we got relieved, and we got back to the rear to practice with tanks for the push-outs. And we did the push-outs, and we went south to meet the Gurkhas coming through the Cassino front, and headed north up the highway that the Anzio beachhead invasion was to cut initially and didn't. We went back up that highway on the west coast of Italy, and we were the first troops in Rome, and our job was to secure all the bridges over the Tiber... seven bridges over the Tiber, which we did.