It’s after midnight and here I am again, just me and my cat. So, its story time.
I was having trouble with an ear infection over the last few days, so I couldn’t hear too well in one ear. It reminded me of a wartime experience I had that was kind of funny.
As you will know if you have read about my job in action during the war, I was a radio operator, an artillery signaler, working up front with the infantry (The Essex Scottish of Windsor, Ontario) in late March 1945.
We were advancing through a burning village we had set on fire to drive the Germans out of the houses they were using to hold up our advance. (See the photograph taken from our Bren-Gun carrier (our signaler’s tracked vehicle). I took the picture while we were waiting for the infantry to get to their start line to launch their attack, just 30 yards or so off to my right,
When the attack began we followed the infantry through the burning village. It was very hot. The smoke got into my nostrils, the embers floated down around us and into the carrier. The machine guns and the rifles began to stutter and snap around us. The infantry and tanks went forward and cleared most of the village as we followed along.
I had one earphone off my left ear listening to the racket going on around me, ducking when I thought I had to. With my right ear I was listening on a small portable short-range radio called a #18 set for messages from my Captain who was up with the lead infantry with my buddy signaler who was using a #18 set to communicate with me.
I also had a large long-range radio called a #22 set mounted in the carrier to send firing signals back to the guns when they came in over the #18 set from our Captain.
Suddenly the advance was stalled. I shouted at an infantry officer standing near the carrier and asked what the problem was and he said, “I was just going to ask you because my signaler’s radio went dead a few minutes ago.” (He had been in touch with his own signaler up with the lead troops). Just then my radio came alive:
My buddy’s voice came over the net:
“Hello Mike-4, Hello Mike-4, message for you.” So I gave the standard reply,
“Hello Mike 4 Hello Mike 4, Go ahead, over,”
“Hello Mike-4, Hello Mike-4, “Held up by Hell Peter, over,” came back the reply.
I sure didn’t know what a “Hell Peter” was. Mind you it was noisy and hot and the bullets were still flying around so I couldn’t be sure what I had heard. So I got back:
“Hello Mike-4, Hello Mike4, Say again, over.”
This time I put both earphones over my ears and it made no difference, back came the response:
“Hello Mike-4, Hello Mike-4, Held up by Hell Peter, over”
Now I am desperate and I shouted for the Infantry officer again and called him over.
“Jeeze, Sir”, I said, “I’m dammed if I know what he is saying because he keeps saying they are held up by Hell Peter, never heard of such a thing have you?” “Gimme the earphones he said and ask your guy again.” So he put on the earphones and I asked again:
“Hello Mike-4, Hello Mike-4, “Say again, over.”
The Infantry officer started to laugh and I asked, “What did he say, what did he say?” He said, “Your buddy was trying to tell us that they are held up because of a “Shell Crater.”
Was I ever embarrassed! But we both had a great laugh later.
From then on we got along fine and I became the infantry communications signaler as well as our artillery signaler for the rest of the attack.
Note: Today you hear of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) that kill so many of our soldiers in Afghanistan and US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, we had them too. That shell crater was 30 feet across and 12 feet deep. Woe betides any tank that ran over them.
The Germans had begun to use huge 1000-pound naval shells wired to explode. The hole was so big that our tanks had to go off road and around the hole. That was the trick. They planted mines on both sides of the road so that when the lead tanks tried to go around the hole up they went. We learned, but our engineers had to take the time to detect them and lift them before the advance could proceed. While they were doing that the Germans would often send in 88 air-burst exploding shells, making life very unpleasant. That was a nasty problem we had to cope with on a number of occasions.