An Army Story, 1945

Posted in Family History, My Father's Stories on February 4th 2004 by Randy Reichardt

What follows is an account, written by my father, Michael Reichardt, of the time he was in the Canadian Army, in 1945, near the end of WWII. He didn’t see action in Europe or Japan – he was too young when the war ended, so he was in basic training only. As part of a long-term project, my mother and father will be contributing vignettes about their lives during various time periods, from the 1930s onwards.

    Marching at Fort Garry Barracks, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1945

    When I was in the Canadian Army in 1945, I was stationed at the Fort Garry Barracks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on the grounds of the University of Manitoba. One of the activities during training hours was boxing, in which I chose to participate.

    I trained with a few other soldiers, and finally the day arrived for the boxing matches. At the time, however, I was also training in another elite squad of soldiers. That weekend, this elite squad was scheduled to be honour guards at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street (the major intersection in Winnipeg), to celebrate another successful war bond drive. As a result, I had to miss the boxing card. I didn’t mind too much, however, because I got a 48 hour pass out of it.

    The officers in charge chose the best disciplined and presentable soldiers to be members of this special squad In addition to myself, my best friend, George Hartley, was also chosen to march. George and I had joined up at the same time, and we went to junior high and high school at the same time as well.

    Prior to leaving Fort Garry for advanced training at Camp Shilo, I had volunteered for the Japan war theatre, because the war had ended in Europe. VE Day was May 8 1945. After our basic training was over, we were transferred to Camp Shilo, south of Brandon, in western Manitoba, in the middle of May, 1945. After we were settled at Shilo, boxing came up again. I volunteered and this time got to fight. The only match I fought ended in a draw, and I broke my right thumb, and my nose was also badly injured. My opponent was left handed, and I didn’t train to fight a southpaw, so it was quite confusing to land punches.

    After the fight, my right thumb was in severe pain, and the doctor ordered an x-ray, confirming that the thumb was broken. I ended up with a cast on my right hand, up to my elbow, for what seemed forever. All that for a broken thumb, and it was during the hot summer months, and my arm was very itchy most of the time. My nose was very sore after the fight; the doctor asked me if I was having any difficulty breathing, and at the time, I said it seemed to be fine. Since the fight, I have had problems breathing through the left nostril. Nasal surgery in the early 1960’s helped correct the problem for a few years, but the difficulty breathing eventually returned, and remains to this day. While recovering from the injury, I was assigned to light duty as an orderly in administration, and did not take advance training with the rest of the platoon.

    Entering B Company Hut, Camp Shilo, Manitoba, July 1945; note the cast on my right arm

    Together with other Canadian volunteers, we were to be transported by rail from Camp Shilo, Manitoba, to Vernon, British Columbia, to train with American military officers. The American basic training instruction was to be given at Vernon, to be followed by advance/jungle warfare training at Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky.

    Then one day, perhaps August 12, 1945, we were ordered to line up for a physical, in preparation for the forthcoming troop movement to Vernon. I went along with the big cast on my right-hand/arm, lined up and passed the physical. I inadvertently covered the cast with my jacket, and the doctors didn’t notice it during the inspection! Within a couple days we packed our gear, piled onto a passenger train and headed west. Aug 14 1945 was VJ Day (Victory in Japan) and it was too late to cancel this troop movement. We were heading for Vernon, British Columbia, where we were scheduled to take American Army basic training.

    While we were riding the train, a new medical staff did their physical inspections, and when they saw me, they asked me, “How the hell did you get on here?”, advising that I wasn’t supposed to be on this troop movement with a broken arm. So now I’m leaving for further training, and I pleading total innocence, of course! What does an 18 year old kid know?

    When we got to Vernon, the first thing the medics did was to rip off the cast with a pair of big tin snips. Shortly thereafter, it was back to basic training, but only for a short time, as the army was talking about demobilizing, and was asking for volunteers for guard duty or a career in the service. Because of my young age, I had a choice of being discharged early or remaining with the Army. I chose to leave the Army, and returned home to Winnipeg on the train.

    After the discharge at Fort Osborne Barracks in Winnipeg, I enrolled in a six-month course on architectural and mechanical drafting course at the Manitoba Technical Institute. After graduating, I was unable to find work in drafting, as there were thousands of veterans all looking for work at the same time. Eventually, I took a job at Empire Radio and Auto Supply, where I worked about three years. In the fall of 1949, I left Winnipeg again, this time to go to Wells, British Columbia, to work in a gold mine, but that’s another story for another time.

More Family Stories

Posted in Family History, My Father's Stories, My Mother's Stories on January 21st 2004 by Randy Reichardt

:: This time out, a pair of short pieces from me dear old M and Da:

    Dad: One incident that comes to mind was when I was about 11 or 12 years old, in the late 1930s. We always had a big garden at the back of our house on Berry Street, in St Boniface, Manitoba. One day I was told to water the garden, but instead, I just stuck the hose in the ground and let it run for a while! Then it occurred to me that my Dad had to pay for the water, so I stopped with the hose in the ground and watered the garden! I really felt bad about that afterwards.

    Mom: Whoever wrote the words to the song, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy”, wasn’t in my mother’s kitchen 60 years ago. Living was certainly not easy for her. I still picture her working in a very small kitchen, wood stove putting out the heat in an already sweltering room. She was canning food. To keep her family fed throughout the upcoming long, cold winte,r she would can somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500 jars of food. She would can corn on the cob, kernel corn, peas, peas and carrots, carrots, tomatoes, chickens, peaches, pears, plums and strawberries. She would make strawberry jam, raspberry jam, grape jelly, grape jam, blueberry jam. If you could name it, I swear my mother could can it.

    I receive daily inspirational messages from Oprah. I think today’s thought is very fitting, in helping describe how my mother loved us all. “Love is that splendid triggering of human vitality…the supreme activity which nature affords anyone for going out of himself toward someone else.” –Jose Ortega y Gasset, philosopher