France, February 1945. Our journey from Marseilles to our final destination, Wervik Belgium.
Points of interest on this route were really never considered as we were in a very strict controlled convoy. Our stops were in staging areas and here vehicles were fuelled, we had our meals and a tent to sleep in. All this was in a restricted mode and you were not allowed to leave these areas. You were fed breakfast and given rations per man for your noon meal, and your evening meal would be in another staging tent camp. All under a cloak of secrecy as far as letting any civilian know who you were. When we came close to sites of WW1 battles we saw old pill boxes with the shell damage of many years ago.
Some of these large concrete fortifications were now used for farm storage and pig pens. We came upon young forests that were only 27 years old. These forest were being harvested once again to supply the war. Where this forest stood had been 27years ago a waste land of mud torn up ground and not a living thing, Here, after this period, nature had sprung to life and a new forest grew in this terrible landscape of so few years before. Now to be cut down revealing more concrete pill boxes that had been covered with the new growth. In about five days we arrived in the small town of Wervik just over the border from France. Captain Brown went to see the town Mayor and allied authorities to get locations of houses and schools. All places that troops could be billeted in. The lists that Charlie Brown received were lists where the Germans had soldiers billeted.
After bedding down in a warehouse and after a good night’s sleep Capt, Charlie Brown laid out the details of what each of us was to do. My project was to find enough houses that had extra rooms for taking in our troops. Here it was very difficult to hide the fact we were Canadians. But we did even though the civilians knew we were not British. Our sun tanned faces gave us away that we had not wintered in Holland or along the Rhine . Actually we received a terrific welcome from these good folk, a memory of their friendship to last all our lives.
This was a good time away from the war. By day we went door to door asking the occupants in our stilted Flemish, or if we knew some French we carried on with whatever language came handy, if they had a room for the soldiers.
It was just a matter of days that all the civilians knew we were looking for rooms so our job was made easy with the town folk looking us up to volunteer their house or rooms. In the evenings we toured the bars and drank the mild Belgium beer.
We met some folk when going door to door that spoke English. One lady, about 40 years old, said Canadians had been staying in their house in WW1. She knew we were Canadians even though we insisted we were not. I think we must have been in Wervik for at least eight to ten days before the regiment arrived.
Charlie Brown drove out to Cambria to meet the regiment and guide them into Wervik. Now here is where it was really exciting to the troops taking them to these beautiful kept homes with clean sheeted beds. In fact, the ladies of the house, when going to go up their stairs removed their slippers and went up in sock feet or bare footed. What luxury! Capt Charlie Brown had thought the warehouse was a good spot for the officers to have their mess and living quarters. it was not to be. Capt Les Hand 76th Battery captain wished to look where the men were to be billete. On seeing the luxury the men had he immediately gave Capt Brown a bit of a talking down too [ I mentioned this to Charlie Brown when we toured Wevik in 1984 and Charlie said he did not remember Les Hands talk ]. Time does make one wipe out any unpleasantness. The upshot was the civilians were streaming into the street capturing a soldier or two for their place. The officers were taken into the homes too. I guess the relationship that we as an advance party had built up certainly helped and if we had known we could have said to the civilians when the troops get out of the vehicles each of you capture one or more as that would have saved Kelley and I hours of checking houses. Oh well it was a pleasant interlude never to be forgotten .