An army may have marched on its stomach in Napoleon’s day but, by the Second World War, it advanced on petrol – gasoline and diesel to fuel tanks, trucks, aircraft and ships.
For the Royal Canadian Army, this was the job of the RC Service Corps.
Duncan’s Lew Audy, now 96, served in England, Italy, France and Germany with the RCASC, having joined up in Drumheller. Raised on a homestead with "lots of kids, mostly girls," he learned to drive a tractor and to work with horses. Twenty-two in 1940, with six months’ working in a coal mine under his belt, he answered his country’s call, choosing the Service Corps upon a friend’s recommendation. With 300 other recruits in Calgary, he was issued a Ross rifle of WW1 vintage and notoriety, and "marched all around Calgary.
"Everything was done alphabetically. As Audy, I got to be a training instructor although most knew more than I did…"
With little equipment and little real organization in those first weeks, "we just marched about, that’s all". Not until Camp Borden did they see anything in the way of machinery, most of it passed-down, and they were put to work placing sod over the sand "so it looked better," he thought. And more marching.
Every two weeks, they spent their leave and "all our money" in Toronto. By then, he and 30 others had been assigned to the 4th Division Petrol Company of the 1st Armoured Division. Their job was to deliver gasoline. "We had trucks by this time, all righthand drives".
After six months at Borden, it was off to Halifax by train to embark by convoy for Glasgow aboard "the worst boat I was ever on," with terrible food and a French crew. The 10-day crossing had its excitement when escorting vessels "cornered [a U-boat], dropping depth charges…"
Stationed at Grimstead, "We hauled ammunition, mostly, looking after big outfits, delivering gas every day," before heading to Italy via North Africa in another convoy that saw a Canadian merchant ship sunk by German dive bombers.
Organizational dis-function continued to be the order of the day, Lew recalls with a wry smile: "They’d have one system then they’d change the system. The Army never explained anything. It just told you what to do."
Nevertheless, once in Italy, the Canadians kept advancing through France, into Holland and, finally, into Germany itself. By then the war was almost over and Lew’s outfit found itself picking up abandoned enemy ammo for a month so that it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. He remembers crossing the fast-flowing Rhine River on a pontoon bridge and driving over, rather than through, a city completely flattened by Allied bombing.
They slept in their trucks with camouflage nets for mattresses, and were on German soil when V-E Day was declared.
Returned to Aldershot, England, all were assigned a number for repatriation home. This time, when their "number came up," it was a good thing! Unfortunately, the Americans had first dibs on boat transport and Lew’s company had to wait for three months. Three months of repeated leaves: "You’d report back to camp and they’d send you on leave again."
Finally, he was back in Calgary, to de-mob in the city where he’d enlisted. Back on civvy street after five years, he worked as a coal miner in Coleman but "didn’t like it. But I had to do something and worked in a foundry. That was hard work, moulding iron pellets."
He tried wrestling, "Just for sport; I did a bit of it before the war… But I was too small…"
After learning shoe repair, by then in Vancouver and 10 years after the war, "a friend invited me to Duncan. Crown Zellerbach Logging was advertising for loggers. I spent seven years, mostly as a blaster, building roads, at Camp 3 and Nitinat Lake. Then up north with Canfor at Woss Lake for quite a few years, road building. I retired from there in 1983 and have lived in Duncan for 45 years."
Married to Melita in 1969 – "she talked me into it" – they have a son and a daughter, and he’s a proud member of the Duncan Kiwanis Club. As for his service during the war, he concludes, "It was sure something different. I’d do it again."