Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Memory Project: Image Gallery

The Memory Project: Image Gallery


William “Bill” Hitchon

Dispatch riders from William Hitchon's unit in Holland, 1945.

I joined the army in July 1940. I tried to get in the year before, but they said I wasn’t old enough. So we signed up in Belleville [Ontario]. We went from there to Kingston and we were in Kingston [Ontario], at that time, we were in the 15th Field Regiment [of the Royal Canadian Artillery, RAC]. Then they sent us to Petawawa [Ontario] and in Petawawa, they changed us from the 15th Field to the 5th Light Ack-Ack[Anti-Aircraft] Regiment. In the fall of 1941, we went to Debert, Nova Scotia. We were only there for a week and we went over to Scotland. That is, we went on the [HMCS] Pasteur. We got to Scotland and they sent us by train down to Colchester [England]. In the summer of 1943, we were chosen, the battery I was in, was chosen to be ack-ack protection when the royal family were on their holidays at Sandringham [House, a royal estate]. We went there and we got there the day before they were supposed to arrive, and I had a bicycle and I was out riding the bicycle. And I saw two girls and a fellow standing on the side of the road. And they had bicycles and I said, “Are you in trouble?” They said, “Yes, one of the chains came off on the bicycle.” “Well,” I said, “that’s no problem.” I put it back on and they thanked on and I went on. And that night, the queen [Queen Mother Elizabeth] came over to where we were staying above the royal stables and she wanted to thank the soldier that put the chain on Princess Elizabeth’s bike. And Evert Fairman was our captain and he said, “Are you sure it was one of our fellows?” And she says, “Yes, he was a Canadian, he was tall and he was riding a bike.” And Evert said, “There was only one of our fellows that has a bike and he’s tall.” So after the queen had left, he called me and said, “Did you put the chain on a girl’s bike?” I said, “Yes.” “Do you know who it was?” I said, “No.” “Well,” he says, “it was Princess Elizabeth. And it was her father and her sister that was with her.” I went down to see some friends in the [4th] PLDGs [Princess Light Dragoon Guards], and got there just before dinner, so I didn’t want to go to see them, it wasI in Worthing. And I was walking down the street and there was an air force parade on down the street, a couple hundred yards. And the planes come in and dropped two bombs towards the end of the parade. And it killed, I don’t know how many it killed, but there was 21 damaged. And they machine gunned up the street, I had one foot on the sidewalk and one foot on the road and I couldn’t move. I didn’t think it was possible that you could be scared, that you couldn’t absolutely move. The next day, the planes come over again and I happened to be on further up the street, and that day I hid behind a fire hydrant. I could move then. Another strange thing happened. We were in Italy and they’d moved us, we were on a month leave back from the front and they put us right in front of the English heavy artillery. And when those guns went off, they’d lift you an inch off the floor if you were laying down. The Germans were naturally trying to knock out those heavy guns, and so we were getting quite a bit of shelling. And Leo Darache and I were playing cribbage. And he had to go to the toilet. And he went out and just went out the door and I called him back. He said, “What do you want?” I said, “Where would you be if I hadn’t have called you?” And he turned around and went back out again and 30 seconds, he was back in and he said, “I’d be dead.” He said, “There was just a direct hit on the outhouse.” And I’ll never know why I called him back. Just something told me to call him back. I’ll never know why. Another time I stepped on a mine and there was three of us walking across this field and I heard it click under my foot and I told them, “Get out of here,” I said, “I just stepped on a mine.” And they got far enough away, I threw myself on the ground, I thought it would blow over top of me and it was a dud, it come up and didn’t explode. Boy, I don’t think I had a dry stitch of clothes on me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

William Stuart Metcalfe

METCALFE, William Stuart (#A/50101) William “Bill” Metcalfe was born in Sarnia on February 21, 1921, the son of Karl Steadman Metcalfe and Julia Stuart Metcalfe, of Port Huron, Michigan. His grandfather was Lieutenant Colonel W.W. McVicar. William attended public school in Petrolia, Central High School in London, and then finished his education at Sarnia Collegiate Institute. He was a member of Central United Church and also of the Central Century Club, serving as the club’s pianist on Sunday afternoons. After high school, William obtained first class honours in his second year at Toronto Conservatory of Music. When William enlisted, he recorded his place of residence as 309 North College Street, Sarnia and his occupation as a grocery clerk. William joined the Canadian Army on August 13, 1940, in Sarnia, with the Kent Regiment. He trained at Chatham, Wolsey Barracks in London, and Kingston where he took a P.T. course. William was then transferred to the trade school at Hamilton, where he took a special course in Wireless. From there he was sent to Camp Borden with the 5th Canadian Armored Division, going overseas in October 1941. Overseas with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals 5th Canadian Armored Division, he had the rank of Signalman. He trained in England and while there he married Helen R. Appleby on February 17, 1943 at Chelsea, Middlesex. The new Mrs. Helen Metcalfe was originally from Petrolia, Ontario. William and Helen would have one son together. Later, at the time of William’s death, his wife Helen and son resided in England. William went on to serve a year and a half in Italy, with the British 8th Army in the Central Mediterranean Forces, and was also in Belgium and Holland. In late 1943, not long after his arrival in Italy, William wrote a letter to his grandfather in Sarnia, Lt. Colonel W. W. MacVicar. The following are portions of that letter: I never saw so much filth and poverty anywhere. These towns are beyond all imagination. The first few days here were beautifully warm, and we thought there was something to this “Sunny Italy” business, despite the fact that the nights almost “did us in”. Don’t know when I ever ran into such bone-biting coldness. You can put on everything you own, and still shake like a model T Ford. Then came the rains, and believe me, it has everything that England ever showed us in the way of rain beaten by a mile. We are bivouacked in a vineyard, using pup tents as a home. They aren’t too bad except that every time you touch the canvas when it is raining, the water pours through in torrents, and being so low we are always touching them, so, there being no room upward, we decided to go down, and now are sleeping some three feet below the surface of the ground in something that is a cross between a tent and a dugout. It is not bad, though, and actually it is comparatively dry and quite warm. We are thankful that conditions are no worse than they are. They definitely could be very much worse. The food is good and can be supplemented with all kinds of oranges, apples and nuts. The one thing here worth mentioning is the music one can hear anywhere in the streets. It seems to be the only thing these people can do properly, and they do it under the least provocation. Some poor broken specimen of humanity shuffling along will suddenly burst forth in a flood of song that would put Nelson Eddy to shame, and when they get about half “vino-ed” up you should hear them. Speaking of “vino”, it is no wonder these people got licked at every turn of the wheel if they have been drinking that brew ever since they were infants. It’s vile! About the only thing I can say for it is that it would make good ink. Approximately one month after VE Day, marking the end of war in Europe, on June 4, 1945, William Metcalfe would lose his life in Groeningen, Holland. In mid-June of 1945, Lt. Col. W.W. McVicar in Sarnia would be notified of the death of his grandson, Signalman William Stuart Metcalfe, which occurred in Holland on June 4. William Metcalfe would later be officially listed as, Overseas casualty, in the field (Holland), cause of death drowning. Twenty-four year old William Metcalfe is buried in Holten Canadian War Cemetery, Netherlands, Grave VI.B.13. William Metcalfe’s name is also inscribed on the Petrolia cenotaph in the Town of Petrolia.


Virtual war memorial

Friday, March 18, 2016

Marguerite Downes

Maj Marguerite Downes

Major Marguerite Downes, the highest ranking black female officer in the Ontario Canadian Army Reserves, died on June 4 in Toronto of respiratory failure. She was 70. Read More The Globe and Mail

Who's who in Black Canada