Shredded by shells...
Soldier:
Lance Corpral. Normand J. Utke
Date: 1943 - 1945
Location: France, Belgium, Holland
Unit: Black Watch, Royal Highland Regiment

I I enlisted in the Army in October 15th. 1943, and was off to the Regina EnlistmentDepot where I was issued Army dress and equipment. I was put through medicaltests, received a number of inoculations and a military hair cut. I was then issued a 4-day enlistment leave. Then I went back to camp and was immediately posted to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for basic training. Upon arrival I was immediately promoted to acting Lance Corporal, which was just another word for hutt orderly. My duties included seeing that all men were up and out of the barracks at they'reappointed times and did roll call at 10 pm. My report was turned in to the Orderly Office, and after that my time to be in was anything within reason. Many nightswere spent at the bowling alley or the small cafe in the town with other huttorderlies until midnight. There was not much glory to the position, just a small increase in pay and being excused from all other extra duties and details. Christmas was spent there too, as it was too far to travel home.

In January 1944 I was posted to advanced training at Kentville, Nova Scotia, withthree months of intensive training where I specialized in machine gun and brenngun duties. In May 1944 I passed all tests for using the guns and was posted to CampBordon, Ontario, as I was too young for the overseas draft. I took a specialcourse in Range Finding and military driving. This took all of 2 hours, as I haddriving experience before joining. It consisted of driving a right-handed Jeeparound camp with an instructor for half an hour, then out to the battlefield to drivea brenn gun carrier. We went back to the Orderlies Office. I was issued a pieceof paper, which were standing orders good for any place in the world that the Canadian Army served. I was unable to get a long enough leave to go home as we were on standby for overseas draft I did get 2 weekend passes (72 hours).

One was spent Detroit and one in Toronto. Numerous other times I went as adriver mostly to the officers' pub in Toronto and spent most of the evenings at the social club at the vehicle compound. There were no pubs while on duty. Myreward was that I was excused from duties for the next 24 hours. I went on overseas draft at the end of June 1944 by train to Halifax. Weembarked to overseas on the Empress of Norway, which was a troop ship. The voyage took 9 days, where we encountered much rough weather and high waves. Along with the poor food, it made for a lot of sick passengers. I was lucky enough not to get sick as I had enough money with me to buy cookies, chocolate bars,and other goodies from the canteen.

We off loaded at Gatwick, Scotland (Edinborough). We then went by train to aCanadian Army holding base in Yorkshire. We were there for only 12 days. Wewere then paid in French Francs, which only meant that we were on the move tothe continent. We went by train to a port in the South. We were only there 2 daysand spent most of the time driving vehicle onto the boat for the trip. We sailedover at night. We spent 4 days sitting in the English Channel before landing atthe Mulberry dock that was built in England and towed over to France to beinstalled. There was not much action for the first couple of days, mostly nightpatrols and a lot of guard duty. We had originally been sent over asreinforcements with the Toronto Scottish Regiment (machine guns and carriers)Infantry Support.

On July 25th, 1944 the Black Watch suffered heavy casualties, so the powers tobe disbanded the Toronto Scottish Regiment and we were all transferred to theBlack Watch. We did not have a choice, but were just issued new cap badgesand shoulder patches and had to be ready to move out. The transport truck wasto be there in 2 hours. The next day we were in action with the Black Watch near the villages of St. Martin, St. Andre and May-sur-Ome. We went on to conquer the airport and theindustrial port of Caen. The rest of the city had all ready been liberated. We passed through the heart of the city and across the River Oder on a Bailey Bridge, then North to the Falaise Gap to the town of Falaise and St. Lambert.

This was the part of the war that I saw the most carnage that war brings. TheGermans hastily pulled back to the Seine River to re-organize and were harassedby our armored units from the rear and to the North by the American Army pounding the convoys when they moved during the day and we bombed theirpositions at night. Our part in their push was to follow the armored vehicles in a sort of mop up,clearing isolated pockets of Germans rear guards, left to harass us, thus givingthe enemy time to retreat. Prisoners were taken by the hundreds. This took a lotof time and manpower until we could turn them over to the rear authorities. Wewent on to Rouen, then to Abbeville, back to Dieppe and St. Vallery. Dieppe city. It's port was taken without a shot fired. Again a lot of prisoners were taken. Theyhid until found, then surrendered.

By September 2, 1944 we had taken over 2 adjoining farmyards. We were allotted a 4-day rest period The service core caught up to us complete with portable showers and a complete change of clothing, the first since leaving England. Along with a haystack with lots of straw for bedding, what a treat that was after sleeping on the ground, sitting in the back of a truck or trying to sleep onthe back of a tank or armored carrier as you moved up to the next hot spot. While in Dieppe our Regiment took part in a ceremonial march through the townto mark the return of the Allies to Dieppe. I missed the march as I was considered Company Headquarters Staff as the C.O. runner, so was left as part of the guard, to man the wireless set. I was given the afternoon off after the parade and went to town to look around. I saw the ill-fated beach where so many lost their lives. The harbor with all the docks was intact. Jerry must have been in a hurry, not to have blown them up. Only a few booby traps were left.

Good things always come to an end. We were on the road again along the North coast of France with heavy fighting again at Abberville before crossing the riverSomme. We bypassed Boulogne along the cost to Calls and Dunkirk where we again received heavy action. We were unable to take the city, but were able tosilence a number of German V2 rocket sites. That should have been a big relieffor the people of Southern England and London as the V2's were still active .Dunkirk proved to be too well defended to capture. But was left to a holding forceand we moved on across the Belgian border to Oostende, Zeebrugge and Brugge.

The British Army had reached Gent on September 8th but did not enter the town. Black Watch pulled back to relieve them. Our first day we were able to drive awedge into the center of town and hold it for 2 days. The units on both the Northand South of us had heavy fighting so we had to wait for the tanks to come tohelp clear the streets after 2 days of slugging. We went north again to help mop up along the coast into Holland, then on East to Antwerp, which had been liberated by the British. Once again we had a 4-dayrest complete with showers and clean clothes. We were also given an afternoonoff to go into Antwerp. The next day I accompanied our company commander byjeep to tour some of the underground storage areas near Antwerp that theGermans used for supplies. They sure must have left in a hurry, as there weretons and tons of stuff left behind. There was dry food, frozen food, clothing, spareparts for vehicles, water, and one whole cavern full of flour, sugar, oatmeal andcereal. They possibly did not have transportation, so it was just left behind.

We then went on to the Leopold Canal and the coastal village of Zeebrugge. There was lots of opposition, so we had to fight for every mile and had to fend off repeated counter attacks. We then went back to Antwerp to regroup and wait for an armored corps to join us for the push to Hoogerheide. Most of this part of Holland was flooded, some by the Germans, to slow the advance and some byour side to push the enemy out. We were transported back to the front line near Woensdrecht, which is situated at the East end of the Schelde Estuary. This land was slightly higher than the rest and well fortified, as it was the only way to the Estuary by land.

We were given our orders to attack at 5:15 P.M., Friday, October 13. I only got about 400 yards when we were fired on with heavy guns and machine gun fire.The first shell that exploded was near me and I took a piece of shrapnel in the arm, breaking it. That was the end of soldiering for me. I had 3 grenades in my belt, so I pulled the pins with my teeth and tossed them over the dyke, then opened my tunic, tucked the useless arm in steadying it with my good arm and got off the edge of the dyke into a field, where I made a run for our starting pointand shelter. I only got about half way and took a machine gun bullet to the footand down I went. I must have passed out for a while, the next thing I remember it was getting dark, the bullets were still flying. I got a good look where they were coming from as they were using tracers.

I tried to crawl, but the pain got to me,so I made myself as comfortable as I could with my pack as a pillow, put my firstaid pack in my armpit to try and stop the blood from seeping. I used my thumb and fingers to act as a tourniquet, and then waited for the medics. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember is someone saying, "here's one over here". I vaguely remember being in a field dressing station (tent), then beingput on a Jeep to be evacuated to an Army hospital in Antwerp, later in the day. There was not much repair work done there other than to clean the wounds and remove a piece of shrapnel from my arm, then put it in a splint and gave me blood, then let me rest up for the transfer to England.

I was wounded on October 13. Three days later I was put on a plane, flown to England (London Airport) and by ambulance to #13 Canadian Army Hospital inSouth England "M" ward. It took 4 or 5 days of assessment and numerous x-rays but was put on penicillin right away to ward off infection by needle every 4 hours for ninety days. I received the needles in the hip and was only able to roll over inone direction so my right side looked like a pincushion. Being unable to remember much of what happened at the hospital in Antwerp, I kept pestering the nurse until she finally let me read what was in my medical record. Apparently one doctor recommended amputation of my arm, another doctor disagreed, saying with the new doctors coming over to England, fresh out of med school, they would be able to assess the possibilities of saving the arm, which they did. I underwent an operation to remove bone splinters and repairblood vessels, and then was put in an airplane cast, which remained on until I got back to Canada in March 1945.

Two days later I had an operation on my foot andcame out with a cast on, with wires through the toes, tied to a bar to hold the toesstraight until the bones healed. Some weeks later the 4th toe turned black, so itwas removed, because of a lack of circulation. The cast was removed shortlybefore Christmas when they put on a walking cast. I was really happy becausethen I could get out of bed to walk around with the aid of one crutch at first. Eventhe toilet looked good.

In March 1945 I was homebound, walking unaided by then. I went by ambulanceto the dock where I was met by 2 orderlies and because I was listed as a stretchercase, was made to lie on a stretcher to be carried aboard, right to my bed. Theship was the Lady Nelson, a converted cruise ship. I thought for sure I was on acruise ship except for the number of beds in the ward. Everything was 1st class, including the dinner, which were served right away. I got ham and eggs, toast (with real butter) and jam and coffee (that tasted like coffee). I was treated 1st class all the way and was given the run of the ship as long as I used one crutch.

We landed in Halifax, then right on to a hospital train to Regina where I wasadmitted to the Veterans wing of the Regina General Hospital. I underwentanother set of x-rays and medical assessments. They made the decision then to remove the airplane cast and replace it with a short one from the elbow to theshoulder I was then granted leave to go home. I was home for only 2 weeks when I was going around the front of a car andslipped, I instinctively put out my right arm to break the fall and broke the armagain. The military hospital was still in operation so I was taken there. They cut off the cast to put the arm in a splint and packed it in ice to relieve the swelling. Then I was back to the hospital in Regina where it was set and put back into anairplane cast. I was then transferred to the Army hospital at the Exhibition grounds for 2 months, then off to the hospital in Dundurn, which has facilities forphysiotherapy during which the break in the bone separated, which wasconfirmed by ex-rays. Off came that cast, on went another. This time they did notput me under, just a needle for the pain and sat me on a stool to do the job.

I remained there until September, when the cast was removed I returned toRegina, was processed for discharge, evaluated for pension and sent home as anoutpatient. Next April I was recalled to Regina for a final medical, given my civilian clothing allowance and they cut me loose. Any further problems were to be the responsibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I was discharged on September 22nd 1945. Back to civilian life.

Norman J. Utke

Personal Photographs


The Black Watch Royal Highlanders Regimental Patch.

Out of respect for the veterans do not use any material from this site for other purposes. Please inquire by email first if you would like to use anything you might encounter on this site.
Please help me make this a valuable site. Do you want to tell your story then please feel free to email me. Click here