Basil LeBlanc: Canadian Grenadier Guard European Theatre 1944-45
In Basil’s own words:
That boy came from very humble origins. The youngest of six from a rural village in Nova Scotia, he graduated from High School in the mid years of WW11. Employment for a youngster at that time was almost nil and when he reached the age of 18′ the minimum age for enlistment in the armed forces, he was accepted in the Royal Canadian Army. His childhood was very simple and loving, church going, with absolutely no street smarts; finding himself thrust in the midst of all walks of life under same umbrella was an eye opener to say the least. In Basic Training, one’s bushy curly hair was shorn to the nub, a rifle thrust in his hands and pointed in the direction of what was called “Parade Square” where marching and drilling was the order of the day. Simple lectures on rifle assembling and cleaning, long marches and other sundry matters were intended
To turn you into a warrior and prepare you to defend the world’s honor. Eight weeks of that ” introduction to war” concept enabled one to enter the” Advanced Training” phase . He was assigned to the Armoured Corp. ( that is not a wrong spelling ),and transferred to a larger base where he was assigned to a radio school to learn to be a Wireless Operator. One was supposed to become an expert in Morse Code, the radio language for communication of the time and to operate the radio in it’s many functions. Loading the tank’s cannon was also in his domain.I don’t think he saw the inside of a tank more than a couple of times during that “advanced training”. Sure prepared you for things to come. The course had a finite time and it ended before he turned 19 , the minimum age that a person in the armed forces could be shipped out of the country in Canada, so he had to mark time waiting for that eventful day. Great training for someone who was going to be put in harm’s way sooner or later.
The day did come as most days do and he finds himself in England doing the same thing;radio school , marching and drilling. I don’t think I saw a tank the whole time I was in England.
To put things in perspective, a regiment that trained for warfare trained as a fighting unit, sometimes in large operations with many regiments taking part, sometimes whole Divisions. Those tank crews were together for a long time getting to know one another, sometimes developing solid comraderie, and drilled in warfare. Some of those men were destined to be killed or maimed and would have to be replaced by someone with a modicum of training in all probabilities. That was what I was being prepared for, if “prepared” is used loosely.
I eventually would be asked to replace a body that perhaps was a good buddy to the crew members and perhaps sorely missed. Could I, as a 19 year old kid whose fuzzy beard could be rubbed off with a course face cloth be accepted by a battle hardened crew of men that had lost a buddy How could you train for something like that? How could you train for that first piercing call for help when a shell exploded among men just a few feet away. How do you train for that first sight of dead men. How do you train to run a gauntlet where you know that an 88 mm gun Is locked on? How do you train to listen to mortars coming your way, fall within feet of you and do not explode? How do you train to listen on your radio to your fellow soldiers battling for their lives and hearing voices that you will hear no more? How do you train to endure a direct cannon hit that but for a fraction of an inch of steel remaining prevented your head to be evaporated? How do you train to bear the fear when caught in the barrage of your own artillery with 5.5in shells raining down on your position? How so you train to spearhead a Division attack when you know that just beyond the enemy is waiting for you ? How do you prepare to return to the front lines after spending a few weeks in a hospital recuperating from an injured hand.
The answer to those questions is , you cannot. Like the rest of one’s life,it has to be lived to get to know all the questions and perhaps to know the answer to some of them. Compared to some people I have had the opportunity to know, my experiences were miniscule. Some men were brave extraordinaire;!some just could not take it. Why did I survive and others did not? As a …soldier in the portrait, I was called Kid. I do not think my crew knew my name——just Kid do this —Kid do that. Another kid in another tank crew did not survive—-and I did not know his name. He is still 18 or whatever and I have reached 89. Who knows the answer to that?