Dispatch riders were a pretty rough group on the whole. I loved riding a motorcycle. We were in Cervia, south of Ravenna [on the Adriatic coast of Italy]. Because we’d been there two or three weeks, they decided, let’s say the powers to be, decided that they should throw a gigantic party. And they invited anybody of a rank of a colonel or higher. The day before the party was supposed to take place, they remembered they’d forgotten to send an invitation to the colonel in charge of the Westminster Regiment. I was to take the message up to him.
They were supposed to be dug in along a canal, with the Germans on the other side of the canal. So the Germans were on the north side, we were on the south side. I never saw them. Couldn’t find them. So I sat at the crossroads for a minute, trying to figure which way I should go and then, the Adriatic’s only a mile to the right, I’ll go down that way first and if I don’t find them down there, I’ll turn around and come back.
Well, when I got within about a quarter of a mile of the crossroad, all of a sudden, they started shooting at me. So I realized that when you got to the crossroads, since they’d been holding a position, we’d been holding a position, there was no way you were going to get through the crossroad, because they’d have it zoned in with mortars. So I dumped the motorcycle, just laid it on its side but stupidly, I went into the ditch on the right side of the road, the north side, not the south side. So I was on our side of the canal but their side of the road.
So when I realized what I’d done, I decided, I’ll crawl around along the canal, which had a couple of feet of water, and I knew there were big culverts. And when I came to a culvert, I’d cross over into the other side. From then on, I figured what I would do but I would cross, so that’s what I did.
Anyway, I dumped it on the wrong side. So when I got to where there was a big pond, I started to climb out and a couple of guys just hoisted me out of the water. I was captured. I ended up going to Stalag VII A [German prisoner-of-war camp]. So you had to work. This fellow that we had represented the Canadians (possibly Regimental Sergeant-Major Harry H. Stinson (Lanark and RenfrewScottish). I was down to 97 pounds. He said, you’re not feeding the prisoners, and we understand why, it’s because you can’t feed your own people. Red Cross has tons of food in Switzerland. They can’t get it through. They have no means of transportation. The railroads are all locked out. He said, the allies will provide you with a truck, the Red Cross with the trucks, they’ve got the food and I will supply you with the drivers. Right there and then, I have a pass signed by this guy.
Originally, I would imagine he took something like 15, somehow, 15 Canadians were transported to the Swiss border, which was about 90 miles away. Oh, by the way, he blocked it off. It was agreed that this was an all-Canadian deal. He said, you know, every Canadian when he’s about 16 years of age is driving his father’s car. The Brits that are flying the fighter planes never even drove a car. But the Americans and Canadians, you can be damn sure, every one of them can drive a vehicle. The Germans did not want the Americans, the Canadians did not want the Brits. We wanted it for ourselves. So this was run by a Canadian, a Canadian prisoner. Our representative ran the thing.
So they took, almost immediately, they took 15 Canadians south to the border. Now, how the Swiss got them down there, I don’t know. But they, when they got them to the border, there was 15 trucks there, loaded with food. They drove it to the border. The Canadians drove it up to our camp. We unloaded the food. They took another 15. So then there were 30 trucks, 30 becomes 60, 60 becomes 120. I think that’s probably how many, I don’t know.
Anyway, in March, I had become one of the drivers. They wanted us to take it to concentration camps and other things and he, we were just told, we are hauling food, we don’t care whether it’s to Russian camps, Polish camps, what camps, we will haul the food. But we’re only doing this for prisoners, POW [prisoner-of-war] camps. So anyway, this was what we did.
And this was an alternating affair. The thing ran very very well. The Germans at one time, they were very strange people. If you have your German extraction, you understand what I mean. It’s right or wrong, left or right. So the thing was, they said, we have people in our concentration camps, Dutch and Belgian people in concentration camps. If they haven’t been convicted, we will release them if you can get them out of there. I was with a group that took a load to a camp and then from there, I went to Mauthausen, which is a horror. It’s the most frightening place. I’d been in Dachau, I’d been in other concentration camps but this was the pits.
And it was on the top of a mountain and we went up there, took our load of food, wherever we were taking it, then we went up to the top of the mountain to this camp. I had a group of women. I can’t remember what the others did but I don’t know, they were very single track. I had I think 30 women got into my truck. And it was interesting, there you are, at the place, they had a girl, they had a record, so you have a watch, you had a set of earrings, you had a bracelet, here’s a watch, here’s an earring, they had big steamer trunks full of confiscated jewelry. Get in the truck.
I became acquainted with this girl and she had been a nurse in one of the hospitals and she was charged with having given aid to a shot-down pilot. But she never admitted it. And she’d been a prisoner in a concentration camp for about eight months. And she said, but it was lucky, they gassed 500 people before you fellows arrived today. One day, they’d pick every third person, the next day it was every second and if I’d been standing in the wrong place, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t on any list, it was just, alright, fine, here’s these trucks here, they can take 300 people out of here.
Now, this thing is not documented. The Canadians saved a lot of lives.
Link The Memory Project
Some documentation is provided here Link Relief Amid Chaos The Story of Canadian POWs Driving Red Cross Trucks