Jack Bridges Special to the Citizen
In 1936 you could not buy a job.
When a girl left school she either became a teacher or a nurse or did house work.
The army paid one dollar a day and the militia paid one dollar per week. This was big money, so I went to the Perth regiment. They needed bandsmen and I was able to join up. I was 13 years old, but they arranged to have me born six years earlier as they needed bodies.
On Sept. 1, 1939 I was sleeping in bed when my brother ran into my room and held up the local newspaper and there, in three inch letters, “Britain declares war”.
It’s hard to remember my feelings; I was scared, I was excited, I wondered what will happen. I went downstairs and had breakfast and then the phone rang: “Put on your uniform and get down to the armouries as fast as you can.”
I got into my uniform and ran about three blocks to the armouries and there on the road was C company with rifles and fixed bayonets.
I ran into the building and grabbed my clarinet and headed back to the road to join the band. We marched down the street and put a guard on the telephone office, the hydro office and the water works, and spent the rest of the morning marching around town playing military music.
At 2:30 p.m. our colonel received word from Ottawa to bring the regiment up to strength for active duty. He phoned Dr. Kenner and Dr. Forester and told them they would be needed to look after the medicals for the troops.
Most of the boys that were in the militia joined up immediately, but some preferred the navy or air force. I took the test and Dr. Kenner, who was our family doctor, said, “I will pass you, Jack, but Dr. Forester will not, as you can’t see.”
The boys came in from the schools, the farms and offices and within a month the regiment was up to strength. If you could type with one finger you were in the orderly room. If you could open a can, you were a cook. If you could ride a bicycle you were a dispatch rider. Eventually everyone found their place.
Where do you put 700 boys, where do they sleep? It just happened that a furniture factory went out of business and this became their barracks. Straw was dumped and they made their mattresses and now the task started to toughen them up: march, march, march. And what a funny looking army, some with army pants and a fedora, some with civilian pants and an army jacket. Canada was not ready for war and they didn’t have the guns or the uniforms. They trained in a vacant field near the Avon River an eventually their uniforms and equipment arrived.
One night a single file of soldiers was spotted going towards the train station. It was supposed to be a secret, but pretty soon one could see the mothers, girlfriends and kids following them and saying goodbye.
The Perths went to Niagara for more training and then to Camp Borden. In 1941 they returned to Stratford and attended a church service and what a difference, they were now soldiers.
They left for England 833 strong in October and this was the last time my sister and many girls would see their husbands.
In 1941 it was easier to pass the medical and I joined the Royal Canadian regiment. In 1943 I went to chemical warfare in Ottawa and then off to Petewawa camp where I joined the artillery. When I arrived in England I joined 664 Squadron air observation post and found myself with the 4th Canadian armoured division.
On the night of May 4, 1945, 25 of us took one side of the Oldenberg airport in Germany. I was an artillery signaller and I was on the 19 set when the cease fire came through at 7:58 in the morning of May 5. About 10 minutes later divisional headquarters came on the air and asked the we find a vacant field and empty all guns. I sent one of our pilots up and we found a vacant field and we emptied the guns of two 25 lb field regiments and one medium regiment.
My was was over and I opened up a bottle of wine we had taken from the Oldenberg winery. It wasn’t a good move as it cost me 10 days guard duty.
I had joined the army as a private and after five years was still a private. It seems I celebrated too many statutory holidays that the army didn’t know about. I joined the army with a nickel and came out with a nickel. I had spent 95 per cent of my money on wine, women and song and the other five per cent I wasted.
I consider my time in the army as an interesting experience and after five years never got a scratch. I would do it all again.