Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reluctant Soldier

My Grandpa Landry spent a short time in the army when he was drafted in May of 1918. He never did end up going overseas to fight because the war ended a few short months later. He received his discharge and he and my grandmother settled back into life on a farm in the Noelville area and began to raise a family. He hoped that his own sons would never be faced with the prospect of fighting a war but that hope was in vain.

My Dad travelled to Toronto in March of 1945 to enlist in the Canadian Infantry Corps during the final months of World War II. He had no way of knowing that the war would end that very year. He was 20 years old.

He was sent to Quebec for basic training and his stories of life on the base there left us all with the impression that he hated every minute of it. He never felt that he fit in with the rest of the men. Being raised in Ontario meant that he spoke French with an accent that set him apart and he was nearly a head taller than every other man there. The rest of the recruits thought of him as some sort of country bumpkin and he got into a number of fights before they learned to leave him strictly alone.

Not all of the fights had to do with him and his difficulty fitting in. His roommate was probably one of the shortest men there and the two of them looked like a very oddly matched pair when they went into town together. Having my Dad at his side gave the fellow a boldness he never would have shown otherwise and that meant trouble. I suppose he figured no one would mess with him as long as there was a chance my Dad would step in to back him up. They were in a bar one night and Dad was minding his own business but his roommate was a little drunk and got pretty mouthy with a couple of other soldiers. They eyed Dad warily and left without making a fuss. Eventually, his roommate decided to head back to the barracks even though my Dad wasn’t ready to leave yet. He set out on his own and that turned out to be a big mistake. One of the men he had insulted earlier was waiting for him there and when my Dad finally arrived it was to find his roommate severely beaten and in the process of being throttled by a very determined attacker. It looked like murder was being done and Dad jumped in without even thinking about it. The fight was over quickly with his roommate’s assailant ending up in the hospital with a broken jaw and Dad wishing for a different roommate. He wasn’t expecting to have to fight his way through the whole regiment before ever facing the enemy.

Dad’s one great fear was that his superiors would find out that he was a crack shot with a rifle and decide to make him into a sniper. He could handle the idea of a face to face fight but he couldn’t bear the thought of being asked to shoot a man from hiding. He just didn’t think he could do it. He had been hunting since childhood but he decided he’d better keep that bit of information to himself. He pretended to be clumsy in cleaning and handling his gun in the hopes that his awkwardness would convince his officers that he had little experience with firearms. He took special care to miss when it came to target practice even though it would have been a simple matter to hit the mark every time. Putting on such an act was a strain for a man who hated dishonesty as much as my Dad did, but he felt he had no choice. News that the war was over came as a welcome relief.

He wanted desperately to be transferred back to Ontario and even dreamed of just walking away and disappearing into the forest one day. He knew that if he chose to do it they would never find him. His sense of duty won out in the end. He remained where he was until the order for his transfer was issued at last and he returned to Ontario thinking of home. He was discharged to return to civilian life when the army was demobilized in May of 1946, just before his 22nd birthday. He’d been a soldier for 14 months and even though he never saw a battlefield the experience left him absolutely convinced that he wasn’t cut out for army life. He could hardly wait to get back to the farm.

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