"War had been declared in Germany. Jobs became very scarce so a group of us decided to join the Air Force. I applied with the R.C.A.F. as a tail gunner. I waited for a while, became impatient and four of us (from Transcona) decided to join the Army: Alfred Aubertin, Wilfred Paquette, Roger Firman, and I. We enlisted with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles regiment in Winnipeg."
"Now we had to tell our parents and that was something else. We were having supper when I casually mentioned without drawing too much attention that I had joined the Army.
"That was a dark moment.
'Are you crazy?' my father asked.
I said, 'No, I thought I would see the world. Its time I go on my own.'
He said 'You'll never come back.'
'Why not?' I asked.
'You're gonna get killed'"
"That took my Dad's appetite away. He was not very happy."
"I remember Uncle Emile's last words when I left for overseas when he said: "Paul, make sure that you take cover and protect yourself from enemy fire, even a blade of grass could save your life."
Paul Martin served in the army over six years and while in Europe took part in the Battle of Britain and Normandy Landing Campaigns (D-Day Invasion).
"As we came near the Normandy coast of France, all our landing crafts were lined up at full speed ahead to get near the beach as quick as possible and jump out. With the command: 'Disembark, Doors Down', we leaped into the water and to our surprise 8 or 9 feet of water. Many of us couldn't swim so we had to help each other. Beside me was a young soldier of 18 who had just arrived to the regiment [His name was Louie]; he couldn't swim and was scared to death so Paul Gauthier and I grabbed hold of each of his arms and dragged him to the beach. When we got there he was dead; he had a bullet hole in his forehead."
"There were so many ships and planes, you could hardly see all the water. Then, all hell broke loose. They were shooting - for real. Guys were dropping like pigeons. Some couldn't swim. We scrambled to shore and hit the dust. There was heavy bombing. It was just like in the movie Private Ryan, but the men were much younger. They looked more like innocent high school students." In the mayhem the soldiers just kept moving. "You couldn't stop to help anyone. The medic followed up at the back. The air force saved our hides really."
"We fought for every inch."
The experience of coming home was filled with tremendous emotion, as recalled by Paul Martin?
"One of our greatest joys was when we boarded the C.N.R. train. I then realized that I was heading home because the C.N.R. was the bread and butter of Transcona. When I arrived in Winnipeg, my Dad, Uncle Emile, Harry and Alma, Edward and Henry Poirier were there to meet me. What an emotional reunion! I had never met Alma's husband, Harry Chapman and it seemed that everyone had grown and changed. That evening we had a celebration with neighbours and friends: it sure was a happy time.
I was away six years and you don't realize how everyone has changed and grown. I expected everything to have remained the same.
On my return I visited Father Bellavance, our parish priest - he was very happy to see me.
I also paid a visit to Dr. Murdoch Mackay, who was our family doctor and a good friend. "Your back? Come on in.." He ushered me into his office,
"?Lets be quiet" (He) opened the huge safe, pulled out a bottle of scotch and we drank to each other's good health.
"I'm glad you're back Paul?"
He brought me into the world. I was his first baby.
Now that the war was over, I had important priorities; namely, a job and a family home. I was hired in the C.N.R. Upholstery Shop. The government were building homes called wartime houses?and (I) was allocated a little 2-bedroom cottage on Victoria Avenue (West). (Paul Martin, In Awe With Life)
Paul Martin in Royal Winnipeg Rifles uniform
Capt. Paul Martin C.D. Retd. tells his story of the D Day invasion
Transcona, Manitoba, Canada
Je suis Paul Martin. I am Paul Martin, born in Transcona, Manitoba, Canada. I didn't realize at the time that my ancestry was from Normandy, and I was surprised, we're really Acadian, and my great, great grandfather was Pierre Martin and his wife Clementine Clemenceau was her maiden name. Clemenceau was her maiden name, came from Normandy. So I had a special tie and I went back to look after my ancestors.
I would like to say a word to the French people. I congratulate you and I want to tell you how we, the Canadians, appreciate how well you are looking after the graves, the war cemeteries in France. They're picturesque, there's flowers, the grass is cut. You maintain it lovely and the children go periodically and pray or bring flowers and pay tribute to those that gave the best they could. They gave their last hour for your freedom, for the freedom of the world.
In 1940, in June, my comrades and I decided that we should make our contribution to the war. We joined the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and we started to train in Canada. Then following our tour of duty in various camps we boarded a ship in Halifax and headed for England. We landed in Liverpool England and there we began our training in England to prepare ourselves for future challenges, which was really D-Day rehearsals. Of course, you must realize that during this time we experienced the Battle of Britain, the bombing in London and all the major cities. And, that sort of gave us an idea what it was all about.
Our training comprised of bayonet fighting, cliff climbing, boarding onto landing crafts, everything that was necessary if ever we did a landing on the coast of France. Of course, we didn't know where the landing would take place. We just assumed this. In preparation for the landing we were gathered in the New Forest, which is on the coast of England, and all the troops were gathered in this forest and we were under tight security with a barbed wire fence around the compound. No one came in or out. That was our preparation. They had maps on the wall of a hut and they took us, a group at a time and explained what our role should be.
I was with Headquarters Company of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. I was a dispatch rider and our task was shown to us quite clearly with no names, of course of the towns or cities of France, all fictitious names so that there would be no leak as to where we were landing. It was vital that this secret was kept; otherwise the whole landing would be in jeopardy.
And one evening we started boarding trucks and we headed for Southampton, which is a seaport in southern England and we got onto a ship. The whole regiment were on this ship in preparation for disembarking. During the evening we heard lectures. Our priest came and talked to us and we had a little mass service and had communion and we still didn't comprehend the importance of this task.
Later in the evening we received a memo from our Commander-in-Chief, General Dwight Eisenhower, and this letter we kept. It was wishing us Godspeed and good luck, explaining the danger of this task. As morning came, around two or three o'clock in the morning, we started to embark into our landing crafts. We still didn't comprehend because we had never been in actual, under fire. We got into our landing crafts, so many at a time, about fifty or sixty. We took our positions and then they lowered the crafts and when it got to within six, seven feet from the water it cut off the ropes that was holding up the landing craft and it down into the water and then the motor sped up and then we all assembled into the channel. There were so many ships on the water that you would say we could almost walk across. It was just unbelievable. And, of course, all the big ships had one of these security balloons hanging from it to prevent dive-bombers from dive-bombing onto the ships.
As daylight came, around four-thirty, five o'clock, the hue of the sky, a light blue came up and the signal was head for the coast. All the little landing crafts, the motors started and we just started to creep towards the coast. We still didn't comprehend. And, as we headed closer and closer we saw a coast then we realized that must be the coast of France. We started creeping closer and closer. Still we hadn't experienced anything yet. When we got a little closer we started hearing bullets, shells hitting the side of our landing crafts. We put our heads down then we said; "Now they're shooting at us. This is real!" And we started getting closer and we were supposed to have a dry landing which means it would be close enough to jump into the sand and take our positions on the beach. But we came close but we couldn't get close enough and the doors came down on our landing craft and they said "The door is down" and that was the signal for us to run and jump off the landing craft and we were in about eight, nine, ten feet of water.
We started paddling and swimming, we had a rifle, all our pack. Then I heard my friend Louie holler, "Paul, I can't swim!" So I had another friend of mine, Paul Gauthier who was beside me and I said, "Paul, we've got to help Louie. He's going to drown before he gets to the beach." So we grabbed an arm each side and we struggled to drag him to the beach. When we got deep enough, or shallow enough, we said "Louie you're on your own. Go like hell." Louie just dropped like a sack of potatoes and he had a bullet hole in his forehead. We really had been dragging a dead man to the beach. Paul and I looked at each other and "Oh my God. This is it!" So we headed for the beach. Of course, we crawled on the beach, amongst the bodies of people screaming and the wounded yelling for help. And our orders we can't stop for anybody go because we have to take a position. So we went forward and waited for signals and every signal we would advance. And they had pillboxes on the beach, were very accurate, with machine guns in them and they were just cutting us down, just like cutting a hayfield. We crawled our way up and then we took another position and we finally were able to land a tank on the beach.
And the tanks are destroying pillboxes and aircraft came and landed some more, dropped some more bombs on the pillboxes. And our landing beach was Juno Beach and we landed at Courseulles sur Mer. And that house is still there I can still see it, a two-story house. When we came up it was there. So we advanced and our objective was the railway track approximately six miles I believe ahead, so we start crawling to our position and the enemy was really giving us a rough time. Panzers were coming in and everywhere we looked there was snipers, the curse of troops. All you could hear was the zing of those bullets and the sniper very accurate in their hiding in high places, even behind us and we kept looking up and down and they would be in church steeples and upper stories of houses, up in trees. That was the curse - that was terrible. Anyway, we advanced and we took our objective. We had a heavy loss that day and we couldn't believe it. We didn't know, of course, how the other companies in the left was doing, or on the right, and then we advanced and took our position.
As a dispatch rider I had to deliver messages from the colonel or anybody else to the companies and go back to the beach when we advanced far enough and bring up convoys because when we landed we just came as troops with what we carried. Now we had to have supplies there was gas, gasoline, ammunition, food, all the supplies required to keep an army alive. So at first chance we got, they started to land and they had built a big bridge. I forget the name of this bridge but it was all parts connected together. We had to have a dock and this dock was all connected. Then we could bring the big ships to unload the goods and they rolled off. Then we started to fight back. We gave a good account of ourselves.
The saddest part of it all was that the enemy, the Germans, had put in the front lines some of their prisoners, primarily Polish prisoners. They were in the front and they were being cut down and we'd go through in a field and those young sixteen, fifteen year old Polish prisoners they'd come out of a haystack yelling "Don't shoot us, we're prisoners." They were frightened to death and I can understand why. They came out and to them, the war was over. They were better off than we were. We had to feed them; we had to look after them while we were being shot at. But that's war!
Our journey in France was a tough one; every inch that we took we had to fight for. We went through Bretteville, Orgueilleuse, all these little towns and the people welcomed us. It made our hearts feel good. People ran out on the street and give us cheese and cognac and calvados and wine and of course we had to watch ourselves, you know - you can't fight very well if you drink too much. Some of them were emptying their water cans, water bottles, filling them with wine. Well, finally the orders came you know "Cut it down boys." Anyway, that was the beginning of our journey. We had many taken prisoners and my best friend when I joined with, Roger Firman was taken prisoner. We knew approximately where he was but we weren't too sure and we were advancing of course, all this time and we came across a field and there we found behind a wall at Chateau Doriel all the bodies, I think there were sixty-nine Canadians, they were prisoners and they were shot, killed there, they were shot as the enemy retreated. That made us rather angry. We didn't think that was fair. That wasn't under the Geneva Convention. A prisoner is a prisoner and he's supposed to be protected. They took advantage of the prisoners and shot them. They were murdered in essence.
We kept on going and then we readied ourselves to take Caen. Caen was a big city and a heavy population. Word was out that it was heavily populated with the enemy and I remember seeing big bombers come over and unload their bombs on Caen prior to attack the next morning. When we got into Caen we were told that the enemy had retreated and all we did, we killed French peasants right in Caen, probably destroyed the city. But we were not to know, we do the best we can and we took Caen and kept on moving. When we reached an airfield we wondered, "How can we take an airfield?" Of course, when I say I, I mean the whole Canadian army and the British on our right. How do we take these places? Well, we surrounded it, but to our dismay the hangars were looking down the runway. The hangars were filled with tanks. They were shooting at us from tanks from the hangars and I thought, "My God, how are we going to get through this?" And our colonel put a call through to for aircraft support. The Typhoons came over, rocket firing Typhoons and they took a dive towards the runway and they were blowing those tanks just like sardine cans. And we thought, "My God, thank you Typhoons" They did a good job. And we lost heavy too on that exploit.
At Falaise there we took prisoners. They called it the Falaise Gap. At Falaise we took roughly thirty-five thousand prisoners. We closed the Gap and captured the whole works. Now that creates another problem. What do you do with thirty-five thousand prisoners? You've got to march them back in a big line and we had a compound built, barbed wire fencing and they were all in there and had to be fed. Anybody wounded had to look after their wounds. It's a major problem. But we did the best we could and we looked after them. We respected the Geneva Convention.
There was many instances of troops couldn't stand the strain of fighting and they would have a nervous breakdown. They would call them shell shock. I feel sorry for them. Some of them never got out of it. They came home, hardly knew who they were - too much of an experience - too worrisome. You were constantly on guard. I think that the purpose of this exercise was to really relieve the French people of their guards and German prisoners. They helped us and they were so happy to see us. I think that as far as Canadians are concerned we did the best we can. We're proud to have helped France and the Allies in ending this war.
I think the time has come for the young generation, children, should make sure they don't forget that sacrifice. That sacrifice was made willingly for them. They gave their yesterdays for your tomorrow. Remember them, don't pity them, just remember them and don't forget that all these troops that died had parents and had brothers, sisters. They too suffered the pain of a loss. And also remember those of us that came back. We too still have some pain. But remember us and when you see us with our gray hair, or limping or so forth, remember that they came, or there was a day when we too had nice black curly hair and we full of vitamin. Now we turn the eighties, eighty-three, eighty-four, eighty-five the pains and the aching bones are taking over but we still remember our comrades and we still appreciate our great country. And it was a great sacrifice to keep it free.
Et vous, les citoyens de France, on vous remercie pour avoir toujours apprécier le sacrifice qu'on a fait pour votre secours. C'est un plaisir de vous voir de temps en temps. Et je m'en vas retourner vous voir quelques années. Merci, au revoir.
And you, the citizens of France, we thank you for having always appreciated the sacrifice we made on your behalf. It is a pleasure to see you from time to time and I will return to see you in a few years. Thank you, goodbye.
This uniform was worn by Captain Paul Martin
141 Regent Avenue West, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Paul Martin was promoted to Lieutenant
28 June 1945
Transcona, Manitoba, Canada
Hat pin from the Little Black Devils as would be worn by Paul Martin
141 Regent Avenue West, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Paul Martin served as the last Mayor of the Town of Transcona in 1958 and 1959. He has actively served his community for many years as a councillor for the Town/City of Transcona, and school trustee. He is the founder of the Transcona Historical Museum, a former member of the Board of Directors, and currently a volunteer. He was chairman of the "Return the Bell Committee" in the 1960s to have the bell of the H.M.C.S. Transcona returned to the community and placed in the museum.
Paul Martin who joined with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles
Paul Martin is a member of Royal Canadian Legion Transcona Branch No.7, and serves as the Padre for the Legion. On the occasion of his 75th birthday, Paul Martin wrote his autobiography titled "In Awe With Life."