Chapter VII


On 26th August, Lt.-Col. Clift was given the command of 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade replacing Brigadier H. A. Young who had been appointed Quartermaster General in Ottawa. Major F. B. Courtney was left in command of the regiment with Major Thomas as 2 i/c. On the 23rd there was a short move and on the 24th the troops embussed on T.C.V.s and strted off on the road to Brionne. Enemy positions were not known, so before the town was reached, the battalion debussed and the formal "advance to contact" formation once again employed. Upon arriving at the Risle River in the town, it was found that the bridge had been blown up so defensive positions were established on the west bank and patrols sent across the water on a reconnaissance patrol. These patrols soon returned with the information that the town was clear of the enemy so the companies moved across and took positions on the outskirts of the town. Engineers meanwhile, started repairing the important road bridge. A two-day rest and a bath parade were enjoyed, it being the first real let-down that the battalion had seen since Caen. The German air force dropped a large delayed action bomb near Battalion Headquarters whick later on blew in all the windows and left a 75 foot crater.
It was here that one of those "bright scouts" decided that sleeping in a farm house during a raid was a bit too risky. Grabbing his blankey he went outside and across the field to a big 60-cwt. vehicle and bedded down underneath it in a bit of depression. In the morning he was shocked to find he had parked underneath the ammunition truck which was perilously close to the crater.
On the morning of 27th August, the battalion embussed again on T.C.V.s for the beginning of a long push to the Seine River. They debussed at St. Martin on the edge of the Foret de La Londe which was an eight-mile stretch of thick woodland situated in a large bend of the Seine River, a few miles from Rouen. It was soon established that the forest was defended by high-grade German troops. They fought a bitter battle from tree to tree throughout the forest.
The initial plan was for three companies to clear down the road to the river edge while "C" Company cleared the wods on the left flank. The enemy fought hard but by applying steady pressure and a series of flanking movements, the line was broken and the battalion captured the high ground overlooking the Seine river just south of La Bouille. The main position, or firm base, was in and about this hamlet. The next task was to swing east through the Foret de La Londe to high ground about a mile north of the village of Port du Gravier. "C" Company led the attack at 0300 hours on 28th August, followed in order by "D", "A", and "B" Companies. When two-thirds of the way to the objective, a railway crossing was encountered. Here under Captain Vic Shubert, "C" Company came under very heavy fire. After an unsuccessul attempt to deal with the fire from the left flank, Captain Schubert took a platoon and some snipers and started a flanking attack on the right. This was the last seen of this group for many days. They suffered casualties and were taken prisoner but were freed a few days later when an independent English Armoured Regiment caught up with the fleeing Germans. The remainder of "C" Company were being subjected to machine gun fire and were ordered to withdraw. Mortar fire caught the withdrawing company and both remaining officers, Lieutenant J. P. Jesson and Lieutenant R.C. Cree were killed. C.S.M. Smith took command and brought the remnants of the company back through "D" Company and the battalion re-established on their firm base positions. There were but 13 men left in "C" Company and these were put in a special platoon in "A" Company. After a brief rest, the battalion again started back towards the same objective. This time the advance was behind an artillery barrage. Strong opposition was met 1,000 yards from the start line and so a good deal of the barrage value was lost.
During this advance the C.O.'s carrier hit a mine, killing Major Courtney and Captain Hadley. The Signals Officer, Lieutenant Fairgrieve, was also injured. Major E.W. Thomas took command and the advance continued. After fighting to within a mile of the objective, the unit was forced to take up good defensive positions and dig in. On and off during the night they were subjected to fire from all sides and their rear. Morning cae with casualties unable to be evacuated unless the promised tanks arrived. These of course could not take a chance on the ambush in the woods. The enemy continued with a few minor thrusts with no great effect. The Huns added confusion to the fighting by using radio wave lengths and giving false orders.
The S.Sask.R. received orders to withdraw but these, too, were false. The unit acted on these false orders and found the enemy waiting for them at every bound. Each time a German machine gun would open up, three or four Bren gunners would fire at the source, shooting from the hip. Gun after gun was knocked out in the manner but the unit casualties increased steadily and progress was slow due to an increasing number of wounded personnel. At last the ragged, spent remnants of the S.Sask.R. were back in the firm base position, and the Camerons and tank support formed a defensive screen in front.
But still there was no rest. Those left in the rifle companies were sent in again ahead of the Camerons to hold a slope as a start line for the other two battalions of the brigade to pass through. Brigadier F.A. Clift went forward with Major Thomas to look the ground over. He decided that the companies were not far enough forward and instructed "D" Company to proceed to the top of the hill. This was attempted, but, after losing over a third of the men left in the company, it was found to be impossible to go ahead without reinforcements.
Three tanks in the rear battalion area shot up a number of targets indicated by the infantry and thus prevented the positions being over-run before the main attack started. Brigadier Clift continued with his reconnaissance and was struck by a sniper bullet in the leg breaking it above the ankle. Carrier platoon men on foot bolstered the small defence position and the enemy shelled it with mortars. Attempts at evacuatino could only be attempted in the case of the seriously wounded. Many men owe their lives to the work and courage of L/Cpl. Trail who was the driver of the medical jeep. Time and again he drove throught those murderous forest lanes evacuating wounded and cracking jokes about "running the gauntlet", "charmed life", letc.
Fifteen other ranks and two officers had arrived in the afternoon but one of the officers and some of the men were killed before they reached the companies they were reinforcing. Now there were only about 60 men left to hold the area, including three junior officers, one of whom was spending his first front line night. THe plan for the Camerons and Fus. M.R. to pass through was postponed. Pressure was increasing on the right flank of the small group. Several Bren gun barrels had burned out and ammunition was runing very low so the battalion withrew 200 yards to an old monastery. At nightfall food was brought up and the men were able to get some rest.
During the night of the 30th, the enemy withdrew from the forest and the full day was spent resting and reorganizing. Lieutenant J. K. Johnston was put in charge of "A" Company with 23 men, Lieutenant N.K. Shpare with "B" Company and 21 men, C.S.M. Smith with "C" Company and 9 men, and Lieutenant F. Lee at "D" Company with 12 men. Captain R.L. Taylor, the Padre who had done such marvellous work throughout the battle, took a burial party out looking for those who had been killed. Sgt. M. Faille and the Anti-Tank platoon located the spot where Captain Vic Schubert and his platoon had been ambushed and found three men there, wounded but alive. The carrier platoon patrolled to La Chenile and rounded up 80 prisoners with the help of the French underground movement. Information was gained that the enemy had withdrawn and crossed the Seine to Rouen. Because of its reduced strength there was no difficulty in transporting the complete unit on its own 'F' echelon vehicles, to a point on the outskirts of the city.
August had been a bloody month for the S.Sask.R. From Ifs to Rouen the score read:
Killed: 13 officers 109 other ranks
Wounded: 28 officers 280 other ranks
Missing: 4 officers 14 other ranks
Sick: 1 officer 37 other ranks
Injured: 1 officer 37 other ranks
Shock-exhaustion: 0 officers 22 other ranks.

The total casualties since landing on the Continent were 742 all ranks or close to one full battalion. The reinforcement situation had not been good and replacements were being sent into battle without any gradual acclimatizing or introduction to fire. It is difficult to put on paper what the P.B.I. has to go through and amazing that they come out of these trials still with a sense of humour.
On 1st September, the regiment was loaded on transport and started off on the long awaited re-entry into Dieppe. The French people lined the roadsides for miles cheering, crying, and praying. During the move, word was received that Dieppe had been evacuated by the enemy and so the S.Sask.R.s entered Dieppe from the back door this time without a fight. The men settled down in some German billets for a well-earned rest. 2nd September was spent reorganizing personnel, reinforcements, equipment and records, and in washing away the grime of battle.
Passes were granted for free time in Dieppe and many made directly for the French cemetery where so many Canadians had lain since the raid in 1942.
Many will also remember the celebrations in the establishment called "Le Grand Dix." The 69 Starlight jeep parked outside all evening was the only invitation needed for S.Sask.R. men to investigate.
Personnel from the raid paraded the following day to a special rememberance service at the cemetery. In the afternoon the complete 2nd Canadian Division marched past Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar, C.B., D.S.O., G.O.C.-in-C. First Canadian Army, while he took the salute with many French officials. The S.Sask.R. was proudly led by Major E.W. Thomas. On 4th September, Major Thomas was attacked with malaria, a souveneir of his former service in Italy, and was evacuated to Hospital. Major G.B. Buchanan, who had been Intelligence Officer at 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade, returned to the unit and took temporary command. Captains H.P. Williams, J.M. Stewart, and G.E. Colgate received their majorities and took command of companies.
On 5th September, all Dieppe Raid personnel were transported to Pourville, accompanied by a War Photographer, and many good pictures were taken of the men on Merritt bridge. More reinforcements arrived, and the battalion was once again at fighting stregth. Major Williams was acting 2 i/c, Captain K.A. Williams was O.C. A Company, Captain N.R. Sharpe in B Company, Major J.M. Stewart in C Company and Major G.E. Colgate had D Company. Captain George Lane took over the Support Company and Lieutenant B.A. Urquhart was Intelligence Officer.
Years later Colonel Clift was asked just what impressed him most as Commanding Officer of the S.Sask.R. His reply is worth recording here.
Quote: "The fact about the unit in the Normandy campaign that impressed me most as a C.O., aside from the fighting qualities of our chaps, was the way in which our unit was looked after administratively by all the H.Q. Company and B.H.Q. personnel, etc. Captain Hazlett, Captain, Stephenson, and R.S.M. D. Nix in particular were outstanding. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that we were the best administered unit in the 2nd division by a long, long way. I never once had to look back over my shoulder and give anyone Hell. The staff were always there when we needed them and people chased me to find out what was required. I think the answer to this lies in the efficiency we developed in England as the ideals of service that our administrative officers and our senior N.C.O.s absorbed into their being during that period in the United Kingdom training."

By Pte. Mike Mycock, S.Sask.R.
In plywood crates we get our food,
Its Army name is pretty crude;
Canned fish, canned beans, and hardtack too,
On top of that a can of stew.
Oh, Compo.

The Q.M. says we've duck today;
Somehow his mind has gone astray,
For from the mess an odor comes,
No one mistakes, we gnash our gums.
Oh, Compo.

The M. and V. tins have no tags,
No labels and no witty gags;
The cook contrives a fancy hash;
To us it's just the same old mash.
Oh, Compo.

The hardtack's in a five-pound box,
It's harder than the hardest rocks;
It chips our teeth, it hurts our gums,
We dunk, but it no softer comes.
Oh, Compo.

The tea comes mixed with dried up milk;
Cook says, it's just as fine as silk;
But when we drink the horrid stuff
The Limey's even say it's rough.
Oh, Compo.

To sum things up the Army way
We eat out rations up each day;
Of steaks and chops we much adore,
But with Compo we'll win this war.

So eat your stew, and all the beans;
With ersatz-butter-margarine;
And soon we'll live just like a king,
A fond farewell we'll gladly sing.
To Compo.

By Pte. Mike Mycock, S.Sask.R.
Two narrow strips of common wood,
Rough made by unskilled hands,
Now mark the spot where our boys fell
In all these distant lands.

On battle fields of hard-won ground
They sleep where they did fall;
Their grave is not in well-planned plot,
Surrounded by a wall.

But comrades in the midst of fight
Took time out for a spell;
And said a prayer, and formed a cross
Abover where he had fell.

Or to the rear for those who died
From wounds beyond our aid,
A cemetary so neatly kep
In row on row are laid.

We seem them there in lands so bleak
Along the roadside way;
A lonely sight we won't forget:
That is the price they pay.

These crosses are like sentries proud,
As those men were in life:
Their symbol means that they live on
Just as before this strife.

Oh, silent cross you mean so much,
So proudly standing there;
The loved ones of those soldiers brave
Now offer up a prayer.

Oh, let this be our final fight,
And all our conflicts cease;
Where man may dwell in fellowship
And everlasting Peace.