My grandfather, Charles W. Pearson, was a man that everyone loved dearly. He served the Allied Forces in WWII, taking after his own father, William Pearson, who fought in WWI. For years I had always wondered about his campaign in Europe and what he must have gone through. He never would tell us, but after having gone through the history books and notes I now have a very good idea:
WWII begins in 1939 after Nazi Germany attacked Poland.
April, 1941- Charles joined the 48th Highlanders (I Wing) of Toronto, as it was clear that Britain was in trouble and the war would not be over soon. His regimental private # was B 75014. By Oct., 1941 he was an acting Corporal.
May 8- Sept. 29, 1941- Canadian armies were tactically training across the nation, from Nanaimo to Gander, Nfld. Major training in Nfld. was also partly with USA Armies. Sports programs were a major part of the training.
Jan., 1943- Charles joined the Brockville Officer School to become a lieutenant. By May, 1943 he was at Camp Borden.
July, 1943- The first wave of our armies headed to Nova Scotia and on to England where they continually trained at Fleet and New Hunstanton.
Sept, 1943- Charles made rounds with a platoon of men in Simcoe, Ontario.
Dec, 1943- Charles was in the UK at Crowborough Common with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment (The Lincs). He began sending parcels and letters back home to his wife, Winnifred, and his daughter, Judith, my mother. Major military practice battles were held around England and Scotland for months. Games of softball were played between regiments and companies. Other activities included: 10+ mile marches, how-to handle POWs, concerts and seminars on how-to prevent VD. A few fatal, accidental vehicle collisions occurred. One enemy plane crashed into the buildings killing some of The Lincs. Soon, however, the real battle was about to begin.
June 6, 1944- D-Day had begun a month earlier in the largest sea to land assault in mankind's history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Canadian 3rd Division and 2nd Armored Brigade landed on D-Day as part of 1st British Corp. 1st Canadian Army, under Gen. Crerar, landed by mid-July. They were international in character. In addition to 3 Canadian divisions it had a Polish Division, a British Corps, and sometimes American, Belgian and Dutch troops under its control.
July 18, 1944- The Lincoln and Welland Regiment (Lincs), to which Charles will eventually be re-connected, had landed in Normandy aboard 65 ships. The Lincs were part of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, a part of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. Other regiments included in its ranks were : The Argylls, Algonquins, Lorne Scots, Lake Superiors, S. Albertans, GG's Foot Guards, Grenadiers, New Brunswick Rangers and the BC regiment. After landing in France in July 1944, the regiment formed part of II Canadian Corp's "long left flank" of the Allied advance. In Normandy, they took Tilly, Bourgebus, Butcher Hill (all bloodbaths involving hand-to-hand combat), and part of the infamous Falaise Gap in Operation TOTALIZE, where the Allies were involved in large armoured battles.
Soldiers often went on without sleep or washing. When they could sleep they would find any place they could to lay their heads- this sometimes included digging a slit trench with gun in hand.
The plan was that the Canadians were to work alongside the Polish and British Army from a distance. Eventually the Americans were also to join up with all three, coming from the south, after they had devastated many of the top armies of the Third Reich. The final assault in later months would occur all along the Western Front into Germany. They were all to meet fierce pockets of German resistance, as well as having to disarm land mines, and deal with horrible, muddy advances. The Canadians were to take every German stronghold objective on their march north-east. Often the Germans (aka "The Jerries") were on the run, but as stated before, some intense pockets cost the lives of many of the brave Canadians along the way. For more details let's get back to the story.
August 1944- Heading for the Belgian border, the Canadians drove through the grateful French town of Bernay, where the crowds cheered day and night. Young female collaborators were not treated so nicely: they got their heads shaved and some were hung in public. The Belgian port of Antwerp was crucial for bringing in supplies. The British took the port by Sept. 5, 1944. The war was now at its height and this is where my grandad entered the European continent for battle. By this point the Allies were destroying the German supply lines making fighting back that much harder. Charles was part of the next wave of recruits to join up with the Lincs.
* Sept. 6, 1944- Charles joins the Lincs as one of four officers in charge of A Company, as their march across the Somme continued at a French village called Yaucourt-Bussus, near Abbeville. From the 3rd on they rested up, but were ordered on for the next big assault. The plan was for the 4th Canadian Armoured Div. to advance across Belgium to Holland, with the 10th Canadian Infantry to be responsible for the Belgian city of Eeeklo. On Sept. 7 they were across the border. On Sept. 11 A Coy moved to Moerbrugge on carriers, supported by tanks. They came under heavy machine gun fire, pinning them down. Enemy snipers worked from homes and Mj. Baldwin was hit. B Coy was sent up and both fought forward to Lekkerhoek. Jerry POW's were taken. At night The Lincs were still being shelled, but they still moved across the Ghent Canal, where they set up bridgeheads. The Lincs made it to Eeklo by Sept. 15th and liberated the area to the joy of its residents. As they entered one side of the town the Jerries were on the other side of town evacuating. Next, the men took a 3 week break at Maldegam to reorganize. Some days involved endless shelling here, but the drive to Holland was on.
Oct. 25, 1944- Now inside the Dutch border an attack was set on Wouwsche Plantage with the Lake Superiors on Oct. 25. "The battle for this town was bitterly fought, against the Herman Goering Division, and was won at a cost of heavy casualties: the fighting was made even worse by reason of the enemy's use of a Sherman tank which he had captured." The battle was won and Major McCutcheon was awarded the Military Cross.
A relative newcomer to battle, Charles still had to get accustomed to the deafening noise of the modern German and Allied artillery. Soon after, Charles and his crew were set to move through Holland where the worst of the fighting was yet to occur.
Oct. 27, 1944- Christmas - In Oct., Charles was listed in the war diaries as being an Intelligence Officer at Battalian Headquarters. The Germans were surrendering en masse during Operation SUITCASE. Some Canadians ended up being POW's as well. Flamethrowers were common artillery on both sides by this point. The Canadians liberated the famous town of Bergen Op Zoom. The Lincs had 38 casualties on the last 2 days of the liberation. Despite losing their friends some rested up, and some celebrated by partying and watching movies in town.
One story of note involves a group of Canadians and Germans in a street fight. While chasing each other around huge factory full of toxic chemicals with guns loaded, and excess use of grenades, they both ended up at a wall, with both groups on either side. The Jerries called their enemy "Canadian swine", while the Canadians taunted the Germans by calling them "bastards", daring them to come and meet their knives. The Canadians were totally outnumbered, but the fight lasted throughout the night. (For in depth coverage of this and all the battles the Linc's fought read brave Sgt. Kipp's "Because We are Canadians". He was involved in this life or death fight in the factory).
Some Dutch, meanwhile, were caught alerting the enemy with light signals at night. They were interrogated and put in POW cages.
These days brought intense fighting with guns and shell fire, but the Battle of the Scheldt was over by Nov. 8th. Nov. 29 was a cold, clear day for the troops training. Lts. Dunlop and Pearson had reconnaissanced the area for training grounds. The Lincs organized a Christmas party for 500 Dutch children on Dec. 6 while German V1 missiles often flew overhead and landed nearby. By this time, troops were billeted in local Dutch homes.
Dec. 16- Jan. 25 - The massive and epic Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes began. Here, the Allies (800,000 men) took on the German offensive (500,00 men) in this decisive battle won by the Allies. The Canadians were supposed to be the ones to meet the Germans, but due to the decimation of their numbers at this point in the war, the Americans had to do most of the work.
The Lincs knew, however, that the war would still have to carry on past Christmas: a slower war was better than a fast one that would cost more lives. The men were billeted by the locals. On Jan. 20 Lt. Pearson and Sgt. Skelding reeced a route to Waspick and The Masse River for their next big campaign.
Hell Occurs Jan. 26- Jan.31, 1945- The climax of the Lincs campaign took place next in their personal Hell known as Kapelsche Veer (Operation ELEPHANT). The Maas River in central Holland was key to the Allies. The Canadians had made many attempts crossing north. They would often do night crossings in small boats, which proved annoying due to the wide expanse. The men would often end up back on the side they started from because they got turned around without even knowing it. POW's were taken on both sides and held for questioning to get an idea of what the other side was up to. Kapelsche Veer was an island stronghold in this river. The 1st Polish Armoured and the 47th Royal Marines tried in vain to take it and suffered greatly. The Lincs were given the job on Jan. 26th. It turned out to be their worst day of the entire war. On day one they lost 113 men, despite the huge artillery support offered by other Polish, British and Canadian regiments. One bomber mission was offered by Spitfires.
The Lincs had trained for a week prior to the invasion. Special canoes were brought in from Peterborough, ON. The commanding officers knew the campaign would prove costly, and it also seemed pointless. Even men in the regiment who were cooks or clerks, who had never even been trained to use a gun before, were called up to take part in this horrific experience. The Lincs were given flamethrowers, which were of little help because they made soldiers sitting ducks due to the slow advance made when carrying and using them. This was made even worse by the cold, damp conditions of winter after being made to wade/swim in the icy river. Many of the troops suffered through intense frostbite. The Lincs A, B and C companies made the attack, while D company stayed at Capelle as reinforcements. Every officer in A and C were casualties. B reached their objective. D reinforced B and was to pass B. They came under heavy bombardment and dug in 600 yards from their objective. D only had one tank, but managed to inch forward while still under heavy mortaring at 200 yards. Officers Dickie, Armstrong, Slater, Smith, Snake, Thorne and the infamous Major Lambert were killed.
The Lincs tried daily to complete the task in the rain and snow, until they finally succeeded. By this time, their white, camouflaged snow suits were bloodstained. The 8th Polish Army took over and relieved them. In the 6 day battle the Lincs had a total of 249 casualties after starting with about 300 men. With 6 of their own officers now dead they still managed to take control of their objective. (The Germans apparently tossed many of their own dead into the river).
Operation BLOCKBUSTER- As the Canadians headed east toward Germany they took time to take on new reinforcements, train them, bring them together as a unit and get them ready for battle. The previous aforementioned battle had really wiped them out. The Canadians, British and Americans were all about the meet up as they headed for the huge Western Front offensive across the Dutch border into Germany and on to the Rhine River (Rhineland). The winter thaw was in full affect and the ground was very wet and muddy, which affected the advance by roads. With the Lincs now in Germany, what happened next must have been one of Charles' most terrifying experiences.
The Lincs and the rest of their Canadian regimental buddies made it to the Hochwald Forest gap, just east of Udem. On Feb. 27, 1945 the Algonquins, Argylls and Lincs were to take the area. Field Marshall Montgomery claimed this time to be the heaviest enemy fire on the entire western front throughout the whole war experienced by the British and Canadians. The Lincs moved off at 8 pm and by 6 am the next morning (the 28th) were on the western edge of the gap, minus the squad of tanks that were with them previously. Most got stuck in the mud. Taking the railway was key. The Argylls were getting barraged that morning and suffering many casualties. In the open space there was great confusion because the enemy fire did not let up long enough to allow movement. During that morning tanks from the BC Regiment came to help the Lincs B and C Companies in their attacks. The tanks got stuck in the mud again. By midday, B and C of the Lincs continued attacking and moved into the woods. Then all of a sudden the "sky closed in as the enemy unleashed a massive artillery barrage of artillery, rocket-projectors and mortars". The projectiles landed in the treetops, under which the companies (B and C) were passing, causing airbursts that inflicted many casualties. They had to stop the attack and head back for their trenches they'd occupied during morning. Major Crummer of C Company recounts the horror,
"We were in the middle of it, standing, trying to push forward. Well, we didn't stand long. We went to ground damn fast. You just lose everything. You can't do anything about that... You really hunker down and pray to God that you come out of it all right, because you can`t do anything for anyone, really. You look around and see if anybody is wounded and help them, but I didn`t see anybody. They were all pretty well experienced and had found rat holes or something like that ... I think at that point, I was buried a couple of times and got out of it. The area was mud, just mud . I remember hearing the shelling and then after a while I didn`t hear anything, but I saw it ... I remember the huge explosions all over the damn place. At that time I crawled under a tank to get away from some fire and I could sense the tank settling down in the mud, so I got the hell out of there . There was no cover. Trees are no cover, especially in shelling because you get limbs and you get shrapnel coming down on you. We didn`t get any further than that." http://www.canadianheroes.org/loren/hochwald.htm
An Argyll wrote, "a black haze hung over the place after the shelling stopped...while a sudden, unreal quiet descended, only broken by the feeble cries of the wounded."
The Lincs had suffered 49 casualties that day; 85 the previous 3 days. One German officer recalled that he was amazed the Canadians didn't spread out and attack, as opposed to directing their attention in the gap. He felt, the Canadians would have won the battle sooner if they had spread out.
I received this recently, "My name is Randy Barkman. My father fought with Charles Pearson and was a fellow officer. Lt (later Capt) W. H. Barkman is mentioned in your documents (pictures) many times. He also trained to be an officer at Camp Borden and Brockville. It seems he was wounded (in the Hochwald Forest) Feb. 28, 1945 the day before Lt. Pearson was also wounded. That was from shrapnel bouncing in the trees from the Siegfried Line. He remembered a new recruit running up to him in the forest with his arm blown off, so happy was he that he would now be able to leave the war."
* The Next Day March 1,1945 Charles Gets Hit- The Lincs were relieved by the Saskatchewan Regiment that morning and retired to farms at the bluffs east of Uden to regroup. They were still close enough to the front to receive heavy enemy shelling fire. That afternoon 8 more Lincs were injured. Sure enough 8 are listed in the history books and one of them was Charles Pearson. He was hit by shrapnel in his left, upper thigh. To see a modern Google Earth map of the area in which Charles was hit go here. The Lincs stayed at the farms until Mar. 2, and in the area until the 12th when they took Veen. From Feb. 26- Mar.10, 1945, the 10th Infantry Brigade had lost more men than at any other time (754 casualties).
Operation HAYMAKER- The Canadians pulled back across the border into Holland to regroup and take on new enlistments after their recent losses. Before heading back into Germany, a group of men from the Lincs went to check out a suitable base at a castle near Almelo, the German administrative centre in Holland. Here they found a Nazi official had shot himself, his wife and his baby daughter. They found the child in the arms of her mother.
Then they headed northward, back into Germany for the final takeover on Mar. 28. The Allies all met up for campaigns and completely devastated Germany. No country in history had ever been so flattened by bombardment and surrender. (Only ignorant Germans fought on, with little realization that they were defeated: these included the Hitler Youth conscripts). On the Western Front alone, the Allies had a POW count of an astounding 1,000,000. Adolph Hitler had committed suicide on Apr. 30 as the Russians and Poles took Berlin. Between Mar. 30- May 5, 1945, the Lincs had suffered POW losses of their own, plus many more killed in action and a very large amount of men wounded (around 300) .
From this point on fraternizing with German civilians was not allowed, in order to let the Germans know they were a defeated people. For more about this period of the war for Canadians (with awesome photos) go to: http://wwii.ca/content-55/world-war-ii/the-capitulation-of-germany/
Victory and Homeward Bound- The Allies continued on into Germany, and by May 8 "Victory in Europe" was complete. The Lincs had stationed themselves west of Oldenburg, Germany. The grueling last 3 weeks had been marred by angry feelings that the war had not ended sooner, and because of the constant sniper fire they had to worry about daily. Their war did not end in a major battle; it just petered out. Still, the joys of celebration were felt across the allied front. Their hell was over. (Of the 1,000,000 Canadian men that served overseas, 40,000 lost their lives).
May 13 saw Lt. Col. Coleman discuss the proper behavior he wanted from the regiment, citing rumored incidents of rape and disorder, which may have occurred within some ranks of the Canadian Army. May 16 saw The Lincs policing Oldenburg.
By May 27 they were back in Holland. Many parades, activities, sports meets and speeches of thanks were offered during this period. By summer many were returning home. Charles spent July in the major cities of Belgium with other officers like Major Sharpe, Gordon Beardmore, Ken Fisher and Sgt. Lawrence.
Charles stayed on in Europe and was listed as being in the army here until Nov. 27th, 1945. On Nov. 10 he made a phone call home from Huizen, Holland. By Dec. he was on the HMS Puncher, an aircraft carrier, that landed in Halifax.
He made it home in Toronto on Christmas Eve. His wife, Winnifred, and my mother, Judith (then 5 yrs old) waited for him at the CNE grounds. My mom went running for him and hugged the first man she saw with a moustache: unfortunately, she went for the wrong man. The final remnants of the army had returned to Canada by Feb. 15, 1946.
The Final Procession- On Jan. 29, 1946, some of the Lincoln and Welland regiment returned to St. Catharines by train for a final marching procession to much fanfare on the streets of the city. My grandad was picked up in Toronto on the train's way to St. Catharines. Of the 376 soldiers and 29 officers who marched that day, only 22 soldiers and 3 officers were left from those who 1st enlisted in 1940. In total, the Lincs had suffered a total of 1548 casualties after their landings in Normandy. Lt. Colonel Swayze concluded his final farewell remarks at the municipal building: "Pray God that this Battalion, or any other, will never be called to active service again." Everyone agreed. My grandpa went home to be with his wife and my mother that night back in Scarborough. He remained with the regiment and was officially discharged to civilian status on Mar. 9, 1946.
The Hospital Years That Followed- For years Charles volunteered at the Scarborough Hospital. He was the most cherished of the volunteers and was always there no matter what- even after his long bouts of pneumonia. He was honoured with an award. He was always telling his war stories and waxed with pride when he noted he was often the only man in a crowded room full of younger women.
The Return to the Battlefront (1995)- In 1995, the 50th reunion event occurred across Europe. My grandad was asked to join other Canadian war vets in celebrations held in The Netherlands. The event was televised on CBC tv for a week. On the 1st day of tv viewing we spotted Charles waving in the stands, which made us very proud. The Dutch children came out in waves to cheer on their Canadian liberators from a long ago generation. One young person said, "They are not strangers to us; they belong to us; they are our liberators". The celebrations occurred throughout the nation. The saddest memories were reserved for ceremonies at Canada's war cemetery at Groesbeek near the German border. 2400 are buried here.
Grandpa was sorely missed by all on Jan. 2000 when he passed away.
* In 1945, five men of the Battalion were declared missing in action and presumed dead after the battle of Kapelsche Veer. During construction work in 2000 and 2001, the bodies of three men were uncovered and the Regiment sent burial parties to their interment in a cemetery near Bergen-op-Zoom.
* Westerbork, Netherlands was the site where 102,000 Dutch Jews and Gypsies were shipped to Nazi death camps. One of these was Anne Frank.
* To see all the photos of Charles at war and at the hospital go to my facebook link (make sure you are logged in 1st): http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.10150547478495512.654539.589115511
* To read poems written by the daughter of the Lincs' Jim Alexander about his war recollections go here: Shrapnel: Tales of a Soldier Dad
* To learn about real accounts of the horrors of life on the WWII battlefields, and disturbing truths about the Lincs and the Canadian Army get Sergeant Kipp's book via inter-library loan: "Because We are Canadians". Kipp and Alexander were friends and both great soldiers.
* Here is my friend, Tracy Lovejoy's, grandfather's recollections of the war at this link here.