- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Norman Hunt
- Location of story:
- Germany, France, England and Canada
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 November 2005
This story was entered onto the Peoples war website by Rod Sutton on behalf of Rosemary Nichollas, the author of this story from her cousin Norman Hunt, they fully understand and accept the sites terms and conditions.
After the Hochwald Forest ordeal we headed for the Rhine River. At a little place called Wesel, on 10th March 1945 I was wounded.
I had been on the radio all night with the Colonel pestering us to find out why we couldn't get our Bren gun carriers across this bridge which was about a half a mile from the Rhine River. He wanted the vehicles over there. He had been told there was an obstruction, but he didn't really know what, and we couldn't see. It was black of night. We couldn't even find the place. So first light they were going to send a patrol out, and I asked if I could go on this patrol, just to go out and get some exercise and go for a walk, you know. I didn't think it was any big deal. We set out, looked the situation over, found a great huge tree had been blown across where the bridge had been and there was no way of getting vehicles across. You could get men across because they could just walk on the tree and go. The thing had an enormous trunk. So we had done our assessment or whatever and were heading back and I saw a cream can over on the side of the road, and always hungry as young men are and always willing to look for something to eat of drink, I stepped over to see if there was any cream in it and I stepped on a land mine. There was no indication that it was going to happen. I just stepped off the side of the road and that was it, that was the end of the war for Norman. It blew one leg off, it damaged the left ankle so badly it was all dislocated and upset but there was also a broken tibia so they couldn't set the ankle or could not, as a reset, do anything to put the bones back in place so they put a cast on it and let it go.
It was early morning after they bandaged me up. I was laying on the ground, and I knew by then it was a mine because of the smoke when I came to. It all happened in seconds. It blew me up in the air, I guess, my head came down right in the hole where the mine had gone off and the smoke was still coming out of the ground. I remember thinking vividly, who threw that firecracker under me. When I came to, it was only a matter of seconds, the General I was with, General Sear, he ran around and put a tourniquet on it. So I figured something had happened to it. I didn't really know what was going on; I was dazed. As it happened there was a stretcher-bearer with some prisoners, I think, there were two stretcher-bearers and along the way they had picked up these German prisoners and were taking them back. So they came over. Skeets Brignal was the stretcher-bearer, he jumped on me and completed the tourniquet and bandaging and stuff. I remember saying to Skeets, "You'd better get that shoe off." He said, "Which one? " I said, "This one," and I patted my right leg, and he said "Why?" "I think it is sprained," I said, "and I think you should take the shoe off because I think it is swelling." So he looked around quickly and back to me, and said. "It's off, Norman." And I said, "O.K."
So then they did a little more work on me. There was another chap with me, he got some gravel in his leg. I had been given at least two big, maybe three shots of morphine, and I didn't care what was going on. Anyway, they picked me up and were going to put me on the back of a tank and take me back to wherever the first aid post was and, as they picked me up, I put my head up and had a look and I couldn't' see any foot and I thought, that's what it's all about. That's what's happened; but I wasn't sure, you know. So the sergeant got up on the tank with me after they got me off the ground, and Johnny got up on the back of the tank with me to steady and hold the stretcher because it was rough ground and I asked him. I said. "Johnny, is the leg off?" And he stammered and stuttered and finally he said. "Yes, it is." and I said. "Good." "What do you mean?" He asked. "I'm going home." I said.
And that was the big thing, I think the biggest fear was getting wounded and having to go back in. And I knew that I wasn't going to go back in. It was that positive thing that I think carried me along over the tough things, you know. I was a total of 48 hours; as near as I can remember. They operated twice in the two days that they were moving me back. Maybe two and a half days on the stretcher going from a first aid - post to a field hospital to another and back. always transporting me back further to the rear and I don't know, I'm not sure where we flew from. I think it was somewhere in France. They put me on a plane. I was out of it for a long time. I was sleeping, or knocked out, and I don't know how far we traveled or how long we traveled, but I think it was in France, and finally they flew me to England, to Kent. Lady Aster's Estate in Kent. I can remember she had donated the land on her Estate to the Red Cross and they had built a hospital, and it was a beautiful hospital. It had everything, and I remember going into the ward and thinking I had died and gone to heaven. This beautiful clean, hospital, everything was so clean and I'm in this old ragged stretcher, you know, and just grey blankets and stuff and these were all white bedspreads and red Hudson Bay blankets on the foot, just like Heaven.
Well anyway, I was there a very short time really, about six weeks. As soon as they took a good look at me in x-ray in England they were going to take off the other leg. And I said, "No, leave it alone. I've got one, and I think I can walk on it." "No you'll never." They said." And we argued back and forth, but the upshot was they did leave it. I was a lot of months, I guess, about 14 months in hospital before I could walk on that ankle. You see I wanted to walk on it because I couldn't get fitted for a prosthesis, for an artificial leg, unless I could walk. Eventually, they put me on a hospital ship, the Lady Nelson, to return to Canada. They were giving me gear at the time; when I landed there I had nothing, of course. I might have had my shirt on or something like that, that was about all. They got me pyjamas and stuff and, when I was leaving, they said we are going to outfit you with your kit, and so they brought in the new uniform and a whole stretcher full of gear. There were packs and a uniform and underwear and shirts and a pair of boots! And I said “what are you doing with the boots?" "They are yours, they are part of your kit." They said. And I said "I don't need boots, I've got a cast on one leg and the other one is off." "We know, but it is part of you kit, you've got to take them with you." So I did, you know, this was the bureaucracy. So I said "All right." Anyway, the upshot of the boots was that, when I got back to Winnipeg, my dad was there and I said: "Do you want a pair of boots for working on the Railroad?" They would make good working boots, if they would fit him. He said. "Sure, I'll try them." And so he tried them on. They fitted perfectly. So he said. "Can I have them?" “Sure, they're yours." He got rubber heels put on them, and I think he wore those things until he retired. They were the best boots he ever got in his whole life. The boots didn't go for naught."
On 5th March the Germans blew four Rhine bridges downstream from Duisburg, leaving only the rail and road bridges at Wesel. Hits were claimed, on both bridges. On the 9th of March, under arrangements made at a conference at Field-Marshal Montgomery's headquarters that morning, the 16th U.S. Corps came temporarily under General Crerar's operational command for the final stage. One division after another received orders to "stand down." By then enemy resistance was virtually at an end. At 10.40 that morning an air observation post reported both Wesel bridges demolished. The daily intelligence report by the C-in-C West read: Own troops withdrew from the Wesel bridgehead according to plan. Rearguards still on the west bank.
The end of the Rhineland battle came on the morning of 11th of March when two American platoons took the surrender of a few tired Germans in old Fort Blucher, on the riverbank opposite Wesel.
Thus ended more than a month of continuous bitter fighting by the First Canadian Army. The enemy had concentrated an unusual amount of firepower, which in General Crerar's phrase "had been more heavily and effectively applied than at any other time in the Army's fighting during the present campaign." The German opposition had been formidable in both quantity and quality.
In these circumstances the victory, inevitably, was costly. The total casualties of First Canadian Army for the period beginning on 8th February and extending through 10th March were computed at 1049 officers and 14,585 other ranks; the majority of these were British soldiers. Canadian casualties numbering 379 officers and 4925 other ranks. The Canadian losses had of course been heaviest after Operation "Blockbuster" went in 26th February; from that day through 10th March the losses were 243 officers and 3395 other ranks. The Ninth U.S. Army's losses in the 17 days of Operation "Grenade" had been just under 7300.
The loss inflicted on the enemy was much heavier. During the whole period from the beginning of "Veritable" until the German withdrawal east of the Rhine, First Canadian Army captured 22,239 prisoners, and our Intelligence estimated the enemy's loss in killed and "long-term wounded" at 22,000. On the Ninth U.S. Army's front the parallel figures were 29,739 prisoners and 16,000 other casualties. Thus the two armies' converging operations had cost the Germans, according to our best figures, approximately 90,000 men. It is no disparagement of the splendid feat of General Simpson's soldiers to say that First Canadian Army had somewhat the harder task of the two.
Now I was back in Canada in a Winnipeg Hospital with all the men who were injured and wounded. I, thank the Lord, have always been positive and I think back to two fellows in my Regiment that were wounded. Jack Trick was one. He got wounded and, at the same time, by the same sniper, the other chap. This guy got them both right between the eyes. How it happened I will never know. How the guy could be that accurate, but he got one and then the other, and I don't know which was first and which was second. The bullet glanced upwards and took a lot of the skull out and they didn't die. The bullet damaged that part of the brain and they were both paralyzed and both blinded, but they both lived. And the one fellow decided - well, I am still alive, and he taught himself to play the piano to get his hands and arms moving, learned Braille, and did all the things that he needed to do. That positive attitude that he had. The other chap just gave up. He just gave up, went into a depression, and stayed there, I guess, until the day he died. To the point where even our Padre, who was one of the kindest and best loved men in the Regiment, didn't want to go and visit him. "You know”, he said, "Norman, it is a real ordeal to have to go to see him." Because everything was down, down.
I was in hospital for 18 months to two years and at that time I was getting around on crutches, but I still used a wheel chair when I first got out of hospital. I was able to get out of hospital at weekends and Jean, the girl I first met in Saint John and whom I had been writing to all through the war, paid me a visit. She came all the way from Saint John, out to Winnipeg, stayed a couple of weeks, stayed at my aunt's place while I was in hospital, and she visited me. We had a great time. And I bought her an engagement ring, and she accepted it and was thrilled, and I was thrilled. We married just over a year later, about a year and a half later. That was when I came to Saint John for the third time.
I came down on the train and my Regiment, The Lake Superior Regiment, carried me on the train and off the train. It was then that I had the wooden leg. It was made out of a chunk of willow and heavy as it could be and awkward and clumsy, and I was as awkward and clumsy as the leg. It was a pretty pitiful exhibition, but I managed, you know.
It was a struggle, like learning to walk again, but worse. Part of being mobile, I guess, was wanting to be mobile, wanting to do it. We were married in Saint John, but went to Winnipeg immediately to live, where we stayed for about two years and, in 1948, moved back to Saint John. Finally they made me an aluminium leg and then as time progressed I wouldn't let go of the aluminium leg and then, I lost my other leg - they finally did get to cutting it off but I walked on it for quite a few years but they finally did take it off.
In Winnipeg, as well as working, I took Night School courses in accounting. Never received a Degree or anything so ethereal, but it was a good foundation for obtaining office jobs which was really, with my disability, all I could work at.
A funny thing happened round about this time, they made me a set of legs and I tried them but, you know what, I had always been a few inches taller than Mel and now I wasn't. So I said, hey look guys this isn't right. So the next pair they made were better. About that time, I found a prosthetics in Ottawa, Quebec really, Arman Viau is his name and he is a miracle man as far as prosthetics are concerned. He just built me two new legs and I walked on them and I went back six months later, because my stumps had shrunk and he mad me two more new legs. But the thing about the man that impressed me is how he does it. I can go to him and I can get two new legs made and fitted and walking and never take them off, except to go to bed, you know, or have a bath, in a week and a half. Any other prosthesis that I had ever heard of takes six months, eight months, sometimes a year and still they don't fit. These legs fit and they are comfortable and I never have any problem with them. I have to go back about every three years for new legs. Not that I really need to, but some new limbs are made of space age material, and some parts might wear or break and let you down. So he is my man as far as I'm concerned. He is concerned with war amps., he is the consultant for prosthetics and orthotics for the war amps. of Canada. He does a lot of seminars for the Champs and makes a lot of limbs, arms and legs, and especially adaptable limbs for the little kids that have amputations.
The Veterans Affairs say I am entitled to new legs every two years, but I can make it every three years and everybody is happy because they are expensive.
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