Staghound Magazine

George Hoffman’s Memories
This Chapter is entitled
Continued from Staghound November 2004

The war in Europe was over, but the war in the Pacific was still going on. It must have been about the middle of June when some of our men , those that had volunteered to go to the Pacific, started to leave the regiment to go home for a thirty day leave, then start training for jungle warfare.. Most of them made no bones about gambling on the war being over before they would become involved in it. As events transpired. they had gambled and won. My own attitude, and many of us were of a like mind was- we had volunteered once. If our politicians didn't have the guts, or what ever it took to send Canadian soldiers where they were needed, then I wasn't volunteering to to something I had already volunteered to do. When we were sworn in when we joined up we were in until the cessation of hostilities.
 I was appointed to the position of transport sergeant about this time It was a titular position as far as I was concerned. Our transport corporal was a very efficient N.C.O., and I tried to stay out of his hair and let him do his job. I rode a motorcycle as part of my duties - the nature of which I was never entirely certain.
  It was July of 1945 that my mother wrote to inform me that my dad was having very serious health problems and had to have an operation. My presence was required at home.  Harvest time was approaching. Brother Leonard was thirteen years of age; the load was more that a lad of his years was expected to carry. As it happened, he did far more than he should have. He eventually suffered for it. 

 I approached my C.O. with my problem. He informed me that he required a letter from my dad's doctor stating  the condition of my dad's health before he could recommend my release to go home. He said once the letter was in his hand he could expedite my return to Canada 

 In the meantime, my mother had been talking to Tom Henry, the post master at Argyle, a World War 1 veteran and a member of the Canadian Legion.  He told her that if he were to take the letter from the doctor, and work through the Legion, they would have me home in no time. I never heard any more about the letter. I suppose it had been swallowed up in the blizzard of paper somewhere at Army headquarters. 

 Leonard, by a lot of physical effort on his part, and some help from the neighbours, managed to get the harvest in - while I was over in Holland playing soldier. I was disgusted with Tom Henry for his well intentioned, but fruitless meddling. To say nothing about the bad light I imagine this must have put me in with my commanding officer. I felt that the whole affair made it look like I was trying to "work" my way home. The matter was never brought up again.

In the summer and early autumn, we were stationed in the town of Oldenzaal. While we were there we laid in a supply of firewood which we hauled from an area just over the Dutch-German border. There had been a Canadian Forestry Corps  sawmill setup there, and there was a good supply of slab wood to be had for the taking. The reason for our stockpiling firewood was that it was still not certain when we might get home, and we were preparing for a cold winter if we were still in Holland. 

 In October (1945) we moved from Oldezaal to Amersfoort. We were  billeted in a Dutch cavalry barracks there. All ranks including Corporals, had their sleeping quarters in the main barrack building, while senior N.C.O.'s and commissioned officers were billeted in the surrounding buildings which had been part of the barrack complex. 

 While we were stationed there the Manitoba Dragoons had forty  German military personnel staying in the barracks. They were explosive experts who were drawn from the Army, Airforce and Kriegsmarine, to neutralize the various minefields which the Germans had laid while they were retreating. The Manitoba Dragoons were responsible for their rations, quarters and discipline. The British Army's Corps of Engineers would pick them up each morning and take them out to the area that they would be employed at, and bring them back at the end of the day. 

 At this time I was appointed as the Regimental Police Sergeant, and made responsible for these people while they were not directly under the command of the British engineers. I had to answer to our Commanding Officer and the Regimental Sergeant Major, and no one else. 

 One morning while I was marching  the Germans out to their transport. Sergeant-Major Jack Lambert accosted me in the hallway of the barracks and told me to order one of the Germans, who was wearing a hat badge, to remove it at once. I pointed out to Lambert that the hat badge was a part of the soldiers uniform, and as such, he was required to wear it. Lambert did a lot of shouting and blustering. I told him to "butt out," and told him I was responsible to the C.O. and the R.S.M., and any complaints he had, he was to take up with the aforementioned officers. I never heard any more about the subject of prisoner's hat badges. Lambert hardly spoke to me after that. 

 He had been awarded th Military Medal during the campaign. I don't know whether he was pushy by nature, or whether the decoration had gone to his head. We had several other men in the outfit who had received the decoration; I never heard that they tried to throw their weight around. 

 I had one other experience where I had people trying to interfere with the way I handled the Germans who were under my supervision. A young Dutch lad, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years of age, hung around our barrack area. He would sometimes do odd jobs around the regimental area. He sometimes helped out in the kitchen. He was pretty mouthy and a real smart aleck. Some one had given him one of our castoff uniforms with the insignia removed. He was a real pain in the butt. 

 During the evenings the Germans would sing. They were a well organised choir. I would suppose that some of them had studied music as they were a delight to listen to. One evening I went up to the top floor of the barracks, where they were quartered, to better hear them sing. I would stand out in the corridor to listen to them. Their senior officer, a Kriegsmarine Lieutenant, saw me standing out there and came out to pass the time of day with me. He spoke English. I calculated his age to be around forty-five or fifty - at that point in our young lives we perceived him as being ready for the wheel chair brigade. 

 He told me his legs bothered him a good deal, and that he often walked up and down the hallway in the evenings to exercise them. I walked up and down with him, and we chatted as we walked. I pulled my cigarettes out of my pocket and I lit one. I noticed that he was watching me. I asked him if he smoked. He replied that he did - when smokes were available. I had a spare pack in my pocket which  I gave him. As I handed him the cigarettes, this mouthy Dutch kid came around the corner He started in on me for giving the Germans cigarettes.  _ "You give the German cigarettes-you don't give me cigarettes." I told him to bugger off. He went away grumbling. 

 The next morning  while I was in the transport office, which was at the top of the stairs in one of the out buildings in the area, this Dutch kid showed up. I was busy filling out a work order to take my motorcycle out when this kid started yelling about me giving Germans cigarettes. I made a quick move toward him as I once more told him to bugger off. This time I was mad. He moved toward the stairs to get out of my way. I kicked him in the ass, and he fell down the stairs. He got up and started badmouthing me again. I grabbed him by the collar and told him if I ever caught him in the area again I would kill him. We never saw him again. It was a rather brutal way of handling a problem, but the boy didn't know when he was well off.

One of my friends whom I shall never forget was Sergeant Johnny Spence. Johnny was an Ojibway Indian. He had won the Military Medal during the campaign in France. One evening when we were both occupied with some duty or other, we were a bit late in getting over to the sergeant's mess. We were rather surprised when we entered the mess, that every body seemed to be drunker than hoot owls, and some of the people were dancing on the tables. As we entered, we stopped and almost did a "double take". At which time Johnny exclaimed, "Holy mackerel, I thought I was the Indian around here!" I still chuckle when I think of Johnny and the remark he made at that time.

Around the end of November 1945,  preparation got underway to get the remainder of the Manitoba Dragoons back home to Canada. We were moved from Amersfoort to a staging camp at Nijmegan. We were there for a couple of nights at which time we were transported to the port of Ostend. We arrived in Ostend a day or two before we would board the boat which would take us to England. Sgt. Glenn Riddell and I had permission to travel to Den Haan that evening. This was only a twenty minute ride by tram from Ostend. Glenn was engaged to a girl in Den Haan, Lena's mother and father owned a small resort hotel there. I had met the family a few months before, when Glenn and I had traveled there for a weekend. These people wined and dined us royally that evening. They opened their best bottle of champagne - we all toasted the future and a safe journey home. 

 A few days later,after we arrived in England Glenn started getting cold feet. He spoke to me about his feelings,saying he was very undecided, and probably confused as well, about marrying Lena. He finally did write to her, and broke their engagement. I received a letter from a close friend of Lena's some weeks later. She told me that Lena was completely devastated and heartbroken. I believe  at that time, I could identify and sympathize with Lena's feelings. I have been told lately (1990s) that Lena never married. She apparently went to work for De Boors and became very well off financially. 

 We were finally loaded on the channel boat I mentioned earlier There were a large number of British troops on board as well. While we were still in Holland my bow gunner, Trooper Gerald Chicken, had found a mongrel pup somewhere which he was trying to take home with him, to Lacrosse,Wisconsin.. The British had a very strict quarantine law concerning animals entering the country. Some of the aforementioned British troops who were on board, became aware of Gerald's dog, and reported that the Canadians had a dog in their possession, and were trying to sneak it through the country without following the quarantine procedure. As the quarantine period was quite lengthy, Chicken decided to  take a chance and hide the pup in his haversack. 

 One of the ship's officers announced on the P.A. system, that a dog had been observed in the possession of  one of the Canadians on board. There would be dire consequences if the dog were not surrendered at once and quarantine arrangements made. 

 A group of us accompanied Chicken as he moved about the ship in the event that there might be a confrontation. As we stepped out through a hatchway onto the deck at one point , we encountered one of the ships officers who stepped aside to let us pass. The dog in Chicken's haversack  chose that very moment to let out a "bow-wow-wow" just as we passed him. All of us who where following chicken then let out a "bow-wow-wow." He looked at us- we could almost read his mind.  He probably thought  that we had lost what little sense Canadians were supposed to have. 

 Chicken and his dog arrived safely back in Canada, and eventually back to Lacrosse, Wisconsin. We corresponded briefly after  we returned to our respective homes. The last letter I received from him was when he was in Tokyo, serving as a Second Lieutenant in the American Army. 

 There was another announcement made while we were on the boat. We were reminded that it was illegal to bring firearms with us while entering the U.K. We were to throw such prohibited  articles overboard and there would be nothing more said. Our reaction to this directive was :"Bugger them !" I believe that almost every Dragoon on board had a pistol in his kitbag - we didn't throw anything overboard. I brought a Luger pistol home and gave it to my younger brother, Leonard. It was all legally registered. Leonard had it in his possession until about 1996 at which time he gave to Douglas, who now has it in his possesion , legally stored and registered.

We will continue with more of George’s Memories in the July Issue

Back to Staghound ~ March 2005

George Hoffman’s Memories
July 2005
This chapter is entitled
We eventually arrived in the south of England where we were billeted in huts while we waited for the word to pack up and get on a ship and start for home. All the noncommissioned people were billeted under the same roof. There were a number of men from various regiments from western Canadian units who were taken on strength of the Dragoons in order to fill out our repatriation draft. I understood that these people were Manitobans who had been serving with regiments other than the Dragoons. (Don't quote me, I could be wrong about this ! ) 

One of these men was a Corporal Harding who had served with the Calgary tanks, He had been bugging me for days - pushing ,shoving, and other childish antics. He seemed to think it was a great game. I warned him several times to cut out the horse play. I felt that as we were on our way home, I was reluctant to put him on charge for improper behaviour. Warnings and threats had no effect on him 

It all came to a head one evening while I was lying down after supper. I had been assigned to a top bunk,which was about five feet off the concrete floor. I dozed off. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the concrete floor. This mental misfit had tied my shoelaces together and rolled me off my bed onto the floor. I was boiling mad, but still reluctant to put him on charge. I reasoned that if I had put him on charge, our repatriation might have been delayed pending a hearing. While I was busy untying my shoelaces, this twit was taunting me. I picked up my tunic and started to put it on. 

I had one arm in a sleeve, and was attempting to get my other arm into the other sleeve. He was holding onto the sleeve. I told him to let go. He laughed, still hanging on to my tunic, and said, "You're not mad are you ?". I lifted a punch off the floor and drove him in the jaw. He said, " O.K., lets go outside." I threw my tunic on my bunk, and said-"come on ! ". He backed down saying that if we went out where it was dark, my friends would beat him up. I suggested we finish it off inside. He backed down again, saying that if he beat me I would pull rank on him. I told him he was an ass-hole, and to stay away from me. I never had any more trouble from his direction after that. 

While we were waiting for an available ship to return us to Canada, leave passes were very easy to come by. The people who were administering the camp were happy to have us out from underfoot. Most of us left to various points around the United Kingdom. It was only a few days away from Christmas. Another one of my old troop mates, Sergeant Harry Petrie, invited me to accompany him to Dundee, Scotland. We were to stay with Harry's aunt and uncle, Jean and Dave Bouchard. They were very warm-hearted and hospitable people. I had visited them on a previous occasion. 

Christmas does not seem to be the holiday in Scotland that it is here. I mean, it is not celebrated with as much to do as it is here in North America. Hogmanay, New Years Eve, is celebrated with a great deal of gusto - so we discovered. 

We left Dundee on Christmas Eve, and journeyed to Edinburgh by train, to visit with the Ferguson family whom I became aquatinted with during the several leaves to Edinburgh I had taken on previous occasions. They had a grand-daughter who seemingly doted on me. She was a year old when I had first met the family in 1942. Elizabeth was always thrilled to see me. Visiting these people was the next best thing to going home. After visiting with them for a couple of hours, Harry and I travelled back to Dundee that same evening. 

Harry and I attended a couple of dances during our stay in Dundee. One evening, after attending one of these dances, I was walking home alone. There weren't very many unescorted girls there , and I am not much of a dancer anyhow. It was about 10 PM; the streets were not too well lit. As I walked along the semi-dark streets I encountered a group of young boys whose ages I judged to be anywhere from nine to twelve years. As I approached them, they began to abuse me with some very foul language - and started throwing rocks at me. I stopped and called out to them: "What the hell kind of game are you guys playing at ?" There was a silent pause, then one of them spoke up: "Jesus Christ Canada, we're sorry, we thought ye wuz a F------g Pole !" This remark was especially funny as it was delivered in the broadest Dundee accent. I didn't realize until months later that the Polish servicemen were intensely disliked by a number of Scottish people. I suppose it compared with the feeling some of the English people had for the Canadians. A few bad apples gave the whole group a bad name. However, there were a number of Polish soldiers who had married Scottish girls. 

On New Years Eve, (Hogmanay) Harry and I stayed at home with Dave and Jean. They had a few friends in for a "wee dram" - amongst them, a young married woman whose name was Margaret. I was sitting beside Dave and listening to the people around me, and watching Margaret. She was getting pretty tipsy and rolling around on the floor and giggling. I remarked to Dave : "Margaret is certainly feeling that one drink she had."  Dave's reply stunned me: "Aye Geordie. it's the p---k she's needing!"  Magaret's husband was in the British army and stationed somewhere in North Africa. I was utterly flabbergasted at Dave's remark - particularly so since it was made in mixed company. 

We will continue more in the November 2005 Issue... 

Back to Staghound ~ July 2005