I guess I have been thinking about some things all my life. One of these things (since I was a small boy) is the idealistic world I have constructed around the actual journey of my father serving in World War II, 1944/45, in England, France, Belgium and Holland. Over these many years he has spoken of only a few incidents, but these he has repeated now and then. I experienced these several stories as I was growing up and also as an adult (each time it seems, slightly differently).
Three of these stories have dominated my imagination, and continue to educate me and relate to my own experiences. Here is the first:
My father was in Europe for about 2 years, arriving as part of the build-up of troops and equipment that was intended to culminate in the D-Day invasion in June 1944. He trained in southern England as ground crew in a Spitfire squadron for the Royal Canadian Air Force. When the invasion came, this squadron was the first on the continent, landing on Juno beach the day after D-Day.
Much of my father’s training was in equipment support, and his job on the day of the crossing of the English Channel was to drive a heavy Bedford truck (very similar to the image below) from the landing craft to the beach.
Since this was day two of the invasion, they were not under fire as they landed, but my father always joked that as he drove the Bedford down the ramp into the water, and as it kept going deeper and deeper, and as the water began to rush into the cab, he was thinking that he would be entirely submerged before the truck’s tires reached bottom. They did, however, gain traction, and the Bedford made its lumbering gear-grinding way up onto the beach and then further inland. By end of the day the RCAF airfield was established enough so that the Spitfires were flying and supporting the Allied troops. They were the first Spitfire squadron on the continent, and they moved with the invasion and flew from airfields close to the front lines throughout the war.
I have always felt my father’s sense of danger, risk, purpose, and adventure as he related this story. He had not progressed past Grade 9 due to responsibilities at home (his family had immigrated from England in 1929 to a farm near Hamilton), but I believe his part in this enormous undertaking acted as his formal education.