Canadian Military Communications human interest stories, and other such things
Thursday, March 24, 2016
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.