The meaning of sacrifice

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by canuck, Dec 20, 2010.

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    We can only imagine!
    The bravery of this man in combat was only exceeded by the daily courage he displayed in each of the 65 years afterwards.

    Rifleman Harold Prout

    Cliff Chadderton Oct 19 2009
    Almost every soldier has a tale to tell. This concerns one who survived but with life-long damage to his face. It tells the way in which an ordinary soldier handled serious war disabilities when he returned to civil life.

    It had been my good fortune to meet Harold Prout shortly after he enlisted. We found ourselves sitting on a bench in Brandon, Manitoba, waiting for transport to get back to Camp Shilo. There happened to be a panhandler going by our bench. The derelict took off his cap and asked for a donation. Harold, quick on the uptake, told him: “We’re working this side of the street; go stake out the exit door of that pub across the way.”

    The laughter was loud and long, but the thought was serious. Harold, ever the wit, said within earshot of half a dozen ‘Shilo-ites,’ that he would get a tin cup and sell pencils if he did not get out of the war in one piece.

    Harold Prout is a prime example of the kind of men we had in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles (RWR). During battles in the Rhineland forests of Germany late in the war, he was riding in his carrier when a German airburst exploded above him. He sustained damage of the worst kind. The most devastating injury resulted from a large fragment which tore off his entire lower jaw. The gaping hole could not be repaired.

    War wounds are often the acid test to determine whether the soldier did his part in combat. Was he able to handle serious medical war-caused problems when he returned to civil life? Let’s see!

    Harold was in my platoon. We still correspond on a regular basis. He was unable to return to Winnipeg – his home before enlistment. This was due to the severity of the shell wound and as he states: “The only two medical facilities in Canada at that time [1944] that could attempt to handle my facial damage were in Toronto and Montreal.”

    After returning to Canada, Harold underwent something like 25 different surgeries. The best that the medics could do was give him a supply of bandages to hide his wound and a syringe to get liquid food down his gullet. His post-war job was in the artificial limb shop at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital – a place I often visited on business. This gave me a chance to ask him whether the wages paid by Veterans Affairs were somewhat better than a tin cup and pencils (our private joke!). He proudly showed me his wedding invitation along with the deed to his new house. It was a heartening experience for me. Harold, notwithstanding the loss of his jaw, could still get a great smile with his eyes.

    Is it possible to measure the courage of a man if an examination is made of the manner in which he handles the damage inflicted upon his mind or body by war? The experience of Harold Prout seems to define the kind of riflemen we had in Northwest Europe. They need not take a backseat to any of Hitler’s supermen.

    Harold had what would be a normal upbringing for Canadians joining the Forces. He was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, but was raised on a homestead in Hudson Bay Junction. This is where the CN train leaves the main line for the Northern Port of Churchill. The real danger in working a homestead in that part of the world came in the swarms of mosquitoes. Also, the rail line was given to cave-ins. Riders were routinely asked to walk either in front or behind the train in case the entire embankment hit a sinkhole. This was muskeg country. The whole train could disappear. Harold’s job (part-time) was to walk the rail line.

    So the picture becomes clear. He worked on a homestead in the mosquito-infested bog around Hudson Bay Junction. Then his family moved to Winnipeg and he went to school in that city. Next, he joined the Army where his keen sense of humour made him popular with his bunkmates.

    He would need every ounce of courage when we speak of his war wound. Harold and I keep in touch. He will not mind if I stress the fact that he has lived for 65 years with only one-half of his face. This means that, after moving back to Winnipeg more than 20 years ago, he suffers the consequences of Winnipeg weather – hot in summer, cold and dangerous in winter. His mark of distinction? His dignity was not impaired by the visual effect his facial damage had on others.
    Rob Dickers, stolpi and Owen like this.
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Tim -
    Great story and probably just one of thousands who suffered grievious wounds and are still coping on a daily basis -

    I was in the Uk this past May and had the great honour of meeting our own Sapper - Brian Guy in his home - whose whole body is racked and twisted out of shape to the extent that his pants will fall down if he even loosens his belt- and we spent the best part of three hours just laughing our heads off at some of the antics we shared in that same war -

    many people to-day should meet Sapper - do them the world of good - as it would Mr Prout - and too many coming back from Afghanistan!
  3. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    They should also meet a great mate by the name of Tom Canning. My privilege along with my wife Sheila, to meet and natter with Tom..... BLESS HIM!
    I bet that taxi to my home cost you something Tom? Thanks for the card.. Sheila and myself never got to finish the cards, the weather kept us in the house.
    Happy Christmas Tom
  4. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    My admiration for the likes of the Veteran of this story. I have met so many War Disabled Vets ..many very severely wounded...Some great friends amongst them.

    Sadly far too many have gone ahead of us... My dearest friend Richard Harris, who served in the Suffolk's Infantry, and with whom I spent many a wonderful Summers day lunch with at the "Red Rose Cafe" Sturminster Newton.... of such fond memory.....
    Dick always brought the coffee in a flask, where we would sit at Sturminster Mill and watch the river. He had a special mug with scenes of VE day painted on. I managed to get hold of it for my cupboard on his demise. I also managed to save his medals and his old hat.

    Along with my other great friends. Ted Brown. Queens infantry, and Derek Hinton Sapper. I do miss these great friends.

    Richard Harris died and left Sheila and myself a large sum of money each.... Just as a token of our friendship.

    We would pay ten times that amount to be able to share his company once more.
    PS who is confined to home by the snow and ice most of the time.
    PPS I also have a damn great Vauxhall Design Vectra Automatic 2.2 litre, with less than 6000 miles on the clock, sitting on my car port. The one some coppers use to chase villains with! (fast) BRMM BRMM The snow and ice keeps me home..... They do not not grit the side road hills.
  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Cheers for posting that.
    As I said on another thread, we don't mind taking about the dead but we seem to shy away from those with disfiguring & disabling wounds.
  6. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Cheers for posting that.
    As I said on another thread, we don't mind taking about the dead but we seem to shy away from those with disfiguring & disabling wounds.

    Agreed Owen

    That article shocked me into remembering that, for some, fighting for their country had effects long after 1939-1945 had ended. In some ways it has remained out of sight. Many of the greatest generation quietly and stoically endured their debilitating injuries.
  7. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Sapper -
    The 80GBP's ($130) spent on those taxi's from Bournemouth to meet with you and Shiela were well spent in meeting you both and for the laughs we had as I have'nt laughed so much in a long time - so stay well and keep warm in that cold winter you are having and the Merriest of Christmasses to you- and an even better year to come - God Bless

  8. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Harold Prout died on May 18th, 2010.

    If you find that you are feeling sorry for yourself, read this story:

    The price of freedom

    Gwen and Harold Prout are examples of why Canadians of their age, those who fought and lived and died through the Second World War, are often referred to as members of "the greatest generation." They have the basic requirement for membership. They don't complain.

    By The Ottawa Citizen May 1, 2005

    WINNIPEG - Gwen and Harold Prout are examples of why Canadians of their age, those who fought and lived and died through the Second World War, are often referred to as members of "the greatest generation." They have the basic requirement for membership. They don't complain.

    They don't even complain that in their 55-year marriage, they've never been able to truly kiss. Harold lost his complete lower jaw and most of his tongue in February 1945 as retreating German forces were pushed into Germany and, with their backs to the wall in the Fatherland, fought with intensified ferocity.

    He became the man in the plaster mask. The phantom of the war. The disfiguring wound seems to have been considered too unpleasant, and until now his story hasn't been told in the mainstream media. It should be, because it's often said that freedom has a price, and rifleman Harold Prout of the Winnipeg Rifles paid a big one.

    There's a bumper sticker showing up during this 60th anniversary of the end of the war, declared by the federal government to be the Year of the Veteran: "If you can read this, thank a teacher. ... If it's in English, thank a veteran."

    Thank Harold.

    Sitting at the kitchen table in their upscale home in the Linden Woods subdivision, they were asked about the missing kisses. Gwen leaned across the table and drilled her forefinger into the centre of Harold's forehead. "Sure I can kiss him," she grinned. "Right there." They both laughed at length. Harold had to wipe tears from his eyes.

    Harold's laughter is muffled under a large bandage that appears to cover an injury to the lower part of his face. It masks the fact there is no lower part to his face. The bandage is empty.

    The gaping wound costs them more than kisses. His food has to be put through a blender, and then it's loaded into a special glass tube with a bulb on the end, much like a turkey baster. He feeds himself by removing the bandage and squeezing the food into his throat, a mouthful at a time. Gwen sits at the table facing his chair, which is usually empty. He sits immediately behind it on a sofa, looking away from the table. They read while they eat.

    He wouldn't think of eating in public. He feels he would be uncomfortable sitting at a table with other diners and not eating. Worse than that, he fears he would make others uncomfortable. As a result, in 55 years of marriage the Prouts have not dined in restaurants, travelled, or accepted dinner invitations.

    There's an upside, says Gwen, indicating with a sweep of a hand their beautiful two-storey home. "We saved a lot of money."

    Like most veterans, Harold has a collection of war memorabilia. Some of it's scattered on the table with old and new photos. The old ones show a young man with a strong jaw. At some point when he was told the damage couldn't be repaired, he must have been depressed. Did he ever think suicide?

    The question caused him to flare.

    "Never! Never! I survived. I'm alive. Why would I ever consider such a thing?"

    It's said nobody appreciates life more than one who has come close to losing it, and Mr. Prout is living proof. At the centre of his comfortable postwar life is a successful marriage. "Oh sure. There were lumpy spots," says Gwen, looking at Harold. She throws a beaming smile, and Harold returns it. His smile crinkles around his eyes. These two are probably closer than most couples. Gwen often finishes his sentences, and he doesn't object. For him, speaking requires more energy. He has to work harder to manipulate his stub of a tongue, and shout to be heard through his bandage/mask.

    To a newcomer, his speech is at first fuzzy. His words filter through the mask and come out with a mushy quality. But after a few minutes the newcomer picks up the cadence and forgets there's anything unusual about the conversation. The man's eyes are so lively and expressive they more than compensate for the missing mouth.

    Asked what he had for breakfast that day, Harold rhymes off a hearty meal. Orange juice. Oatmeal. Toast with peanut butter. He says he likes sausage and eggs but Gwen is in charge of both diets and she limits the intake of fats. She knows what she's doing. At 85 she's a striking woman and appears quite fit. Harold is stooping with age and has had heart surgery, but he too is agile, and, at 87, still drives.

    Since everything is blended, would he notice if, for example, somebody skimped on the peanut butter?

    "Oh, he'd know," laughs Gwen. "Actually, he's got quite a sweet tooth."

    There's unintentional irony there. He doesn't have a tooth. Ice cream is one of his major weaknesses. His palate doesn't come in contact with his food, and it touches only the back of his shortened tongue, but he says he has a keen sense of taste and even though his food is blended, he can taste all ingredients. Perhaps in the same way a blind person develops more intense hearing, his remaining taste buds have become hypersensitive.

    After two hours of conversation the interviewer was concerned Harold may be getting weary. The question went to Gwen. Is he getting tired? He's starting to sound like Donald Duck.

    She burst into laughter again, pointed at Harold (she never calls him Harry) and said: "See? See? I told you." And then to the interviewer: "As he gets older his voice starts to sound funny when he gets tired. When he was younger it never changed, but now -- yes. A duck. That's good. He's starting to sound like a duck." Harold was wiping his eyes again, and laughing.

    The laughter died when they were asked for details about their childhoods. These two were forged on the Prairie in the hard times of the Great Depression. They first met as children turned over to the Province of Manitoba for care, and housed in the Winnipeg Children's Home -- an orphanage by any other name.

    "You'll have to bear with me," said Gwen. "I'll talk about it. But I'll cry."

    - - -

    Carefully preserved by Gwen is a letter written by Harold in England and postmarked Feb. 13, 1945 -- eight days before he lost his lower face. It's addressed to her in Winnipeg. It isn't a love letter, but the kind of newsy missive one would send to a close friend. The word "swell" appears often. He tells of a night out with a buddy and two American flyers. The Yanks were curious about the war at ground level and being members of the world's best paid military force insisted on buying all the drinks. British wits of the day said the problem with the Americans was that they were over-paid, over-sexed, and over here.

    The letter didn't give details about the eight months after landing at Normandy's Juno Beach. The Winnipeg Rifles, nicknamed the "Little Black Devils" by the forces that had to face them, had been in the thick of it.

    Harold was in the first wave at D-Day. He experienced battle at the Scheldt and the Leopold Canal. He was at Caen, the Breskens Pocket, Carpiquet and many mind-numbing smaller actions. He had been steeped in so much mud and blood he knew there was no glory in war.

    There was no mention about how vulnerable he felt fighting from a Wasp flame thrower. Little bigger than a pick-up truck, the tracked carrier was open and had a crew of three. In the front seats were a driver and the flame gun operator. In the back was a man armed with a Bren gun to protect the rear, and trained to take over either of the front seats should one of those men be hit. That was Harold's position. He didn't mention how vulnerable a Wasp crew was in battle, with a large tank of jellied gasoline under pressure in its midst.

    He joked about how, when the American flyers said war was better fought in the sky and away from the mud, he told them it made him comfortable to think if he was hit, "I wouldn't have nearly as far to fall."

    Gwen and Harold had such similar backgrounds that they shared the same life. He was born in Portage la Prairie in 1918. His mother died before he reached school age and his father, unable to find work except in northern camps, placed his son and younger daughter in the care of the Winnipeg Children's Home. His kid sister, Florence, developed a close friendship in the home with a girl her age, named Gwen. Part of Gwen's role was playing big sister to her kid brother, Gordon Reid. They used their mother's maiden name, feeling anger at their father for dumping them. Even now she doesn't want to mention her original name.

    When boys reached age 11 they were moved out of the home to attend the Knowles School for Boys. At age 16, with a Grade 10 education, they were sent into the world to fend for themselves. Girls stayed in the children's home to continue their education. At 16, they usually started supporting themselves by cleaning homes. Harold regularly visited his sister after he left the home. Gwen and Florence were always together and Harold shared their dreams and was their contact with the outside world.

    Life in the home wasn't bad, says Gwen. It's talk of the earlier years that bring tears. Her parents went through a bitter divorce and her father won custody, then promptly dropped his children at the children's home. Because she was so young, about five, there were attempts to place her and Gordon with a foster family in the hope adoption would follow. They had bad luck. "People took in foster children because they needed the money, not because of a love for children. I never felt part of any family I was placed with."

    With the tears increasing but her voice never faltering, she described their worst foster home. "There was a big heavy dining room table with fiddle legs. There were two big dogs. They terrified us. When the woman went out she'd tie us under the table and tell us to stay there or the dogs would get us. And she said if we soiled our underpants the dogs would get us. Sometimes I thought she would never come back." Eventually Gwen got up the nerve to tell a child protection worker what was happening, and brother and sister were moved to the children's home.

    She remembers Saturday movies. "Every Saturday we could go to a movie, but they made us march there in a line. Everybody knew who we were and that we didn't have homes. It was embarrassing."

    Harold knows the stories, and as Gwen tells them again, he wipes his eyes. When he picks up the conversation he tells of finding work on farms and at work camps in northern Manitoba. When war was declared, he joined the Rifles on June 14, 1940.

    Late in the conversation, when asked if he would do anything differently if he had his life to live over, he laughed and said: "I wouldn't have gone to war!" Then he settled down and corrected that. "No. I would do it again. You couldn't say no. Your country needed you. All of your friends were joining up."

    The pressure on young men included posters exhorting them to stand up and be men, bands playing and flags waving, and, from the previous war, there was a Rudyard Kipling poem called The Question.

    If it be found when the battle clears,

    Their death has set me free,

    Then how shall I live with myself through the years

    Which they have bought for me?

    Like most soldiers, Harold had a nickname. He was called "H.E.," as in high explosive, not because of a character flaw, but because those were his initials. His middle name is Edward.

    On the same day he wrote the letter in England, the Allied attempt to dislodge the Germans from the area west of the Rhine River failed, after having pushed them out of Holland and into Germany. While the two sides regrouped, the Allies built up strength, including Rifleman Prout, and drew new battle plans. The Germans dug in at Moyland Wood. Some planners claimed that when the push began along a 16-kilometre front, it would be another D-Day. Historian Terry Copp described the woods as brooding and dark, "a forest right out of Grimm's Fairy Tales." It provided cover for a determined and battle-hardened enemy.

    "You have to understand," says Harold, "once an attack is launched you can't stop for anything or anybody." An armoured attack of this type moved ahead at 50 metres a minute.

    Mr. Copp, writing in Legion Magazine in December 2002, says: "The Royal Winnipeg Rifles displayed outstanding skill as well as courage in the day-long battle that cost them more than 100 casualties, 26 of them fatal."

    Harold has a copy of the regiment's casualty report for that day, Feb. 21, 1945, and it shows 105 casualties. Serviceman H-40711 H. Prout is listed among the wounded. There are no details about how individuals were wounded, or the extent of the wounds.

    Up close and personal, it looked like this to Rifleman Prout: "It was an airburst from the best gun in the war -- the German 88. It blew me out of the carrier but didn't knock me out. The driver and gunner weren't injured. The man in the rear position in the Wasp beside me was killed."

    His jaw wasn't just damaged, it was completely gone. His neck and left shoulder were chewed up and filled with shrapnel. Once on his feet, the wounded man had to save himself. The choice was wait and bleed to death, or try to make it back to the forward dressing station. With a bundled coat pressed into the gaping wound, he followed the tracks left by the advancing armored column. As he tells the story his surprise still shows. He made it.

    "I walked right into the dressing station, and passed out. When I woke up, I was on a stretcher and they were pouring blood into me by tubes in both arms." At that point he decided he wasn't going to die.

    - - -

    When the Second World War started, Canada was still caring for some 2,000 in-patient wounded during the First World War. Across the nation, there were eight veterans hospitals. After the second war, there were 25,000 in-patients being cared for in 36 hospitals, and treatment centres across the country. The biggest was Sunnybrook, just north of Toronto. Named after the area in which it was built, Sunnybrook opened in 1946. Its several buildings stretched over three-quarters of a kilometre to accommodate 1,500 patients.

    One of them was Harold Prout. By 1949, he had been through more operations than he cared to remember. "At least 20." Most surgeries simply tidied up the edges around his missing jaw. There was no hope of creating a prosthetic jaw. There was nothing to attach it to. The good news was he had put on weight. He spent so much time in hospitals in Europe being fed intravenously that his six-foot frame got down to little more than 100 pounds from his fighting weight of 150.

    In 1946, Gwen travelled from Winnipeg by bus to visit him at Sunnybrook and after that they conducted a romance by correspondence. A group of Toronto teachers had made it a mission to visit Sunnybrook veterans. They were drawn to the quiet man in the mask. Eventually they came to know Gwen, then working at the Canadian Wheat Board in Winnipeg. They encouraged them to marry and helped arrange the ceremony. The newlyweds settled in Toronto, and for 26 years Harold worked as a technician in Sunnybrook's Prosthetic Services Centre. The teachers were their closest friends.

    Getting Harold to feel comfortable enough to consider marriage also required some effort from another close friend, a young lawyer working in Ottawa and on his way to heading up the War Amps of Canada.

    Cliff Chadderton was an officer with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and lost his left leg at the Leopold Canal Oct. 10, 1944. He frequently chatted with Harold as the latter tuned Mr. Chadderton's artificial leg or refitted or modernized it. They had a lot in common. Harold had also been in the battle of the Leopold Canal. But what made them brothers was the realization that they were among 1,000 Winnipegers who stormed ashore at Juno Beach on D-Day.

    In May 1949, the war amp was getting his leg tuned and talked to Harold. "He wouldn't leave the hospital. He wouldn't go out on the streets. I said enough. Get in the car. He spent some time at my home in Ottawa. My boys were small then, but they quickly got used to the bandage and I think Harold realized he didn't scare anybody." Without being asked, Harold brought up that visit during the interview. He said that visit, and the rambunctious boys, gave him confidence. A few months later, on Sept. 12, he married Gwen in the back yard of one of the teacher's homes.

    Gwen says she knew there would be restrictions in her marriage. Their social life would be curtailed, but behind the bandage was the same guy who was so important to her during those tough growing up years. "We hoped for children, but there were miscarriages."

    When Harold retired from Sunnybrook 18 years ago, they looked around and realized they had outlived most of their Toronto friends. Their relatives, lots of them, were in Winnipeg. They went home. The real estate markets in the different cities meant they were able to trade their modest Toronto house for a small mansion in Winnipeg.

    "We used to play here," says Harold. "Where this subdivision is used to be mainly swamp. We used to be allowed to hike out here (from the children's home) and picnic and play." It amplifies their sense of having come home.


    Harold appreciates irony, and at the end of the interview asked for time to get something from another room. He returned with a wrapper with printing on it. He explained he's having trouble keeping himself in bandages because the company that makes the best has gone out of business.

    The kind of bandages that turn into plaster when soaked wouldn't have worked. They would have been to heavy, and they wouldn't absorb moisture. Saliva would trickle out at his neck. He found a special bandage that would be firm when dry, but softer than plaster and absorbent. Unable to find a new source, they bleach and clean old masks, but they're starting to look frayed.

    Harold put the wrapper on the table. The eyes above the mask showed wry good humour.

    The printing on the wrapper said: "Bande Elastique. Made in Germany."

    stolpi and Owen like this.
  9. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for posting that, Canuck.
  10. Jakob Kjaersgaard

    Jakob Kjaersgaard Senior Member

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for posting that, Canuck.

    I second that. Very powerful indeed.
  11. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce

    I second that. Very powerful indeed.

    Thanks for posting. It's just moved me to tears.

  12. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Here is the obituary.
    The previous interview reminds us of the sacrifice of the families. Harold's wife, Gwen, seems no less courageous.

    HAROLD EDWARD PROUT (published on May 22, 2010)


    HAROLD EDWARD PROUT It is with great sadness we announce the passing of our beloved Uncle Harold on the morning of May 18, 2010 at the Victoria General Hospital at the age of 91. He is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 60 years, Gwen. He is remembered with pride by his sister-in-law Evelyn Reid, nephew and niece Larry (Laurel) and Debbie (Randy). Fondly remembered by great nieces and nephews Lisa (Joel), Stephen (Carissa), Mark (Beth) and Brooke (Justin). With heavy hearts, dearest friends Denis and Isobel Duclos, the Wynne and Alwis families, and wartime faithful friend Jean Oltlammers. Also, Wayne Johansson (Lee) from Powell River. Harold was born in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba on June 12, 1918. After attending schools in Winnipeg and working various jobs including farming he enlisted with the army in 1940. He proudly served with The Royal Winnipeg Rifles during the Second World War. He took part in the D-Day invasion, landing on Juno Beach and continued to serve until he was severely wounded at Moyland Wood, Germany in February of 1945. As a result of his injury, Harold spent four years in hospital until his recovery. Harold and Gwen married on September 12, 1949. They settled in Toronto where he worked at Sunnybrook Hospital in the Prosthetic Department for over 26 years. In 1987, they returned to Winnipeg to be closer to family and watch their great nieces and nephews grow up. Both Gwen and Harold were like loving grandparents to Lisa, Stephen, Mark and Brooke. On weekends their home was the gathering place for family and friends. Uncle Harold always had a big hug for everyone, which will always be lovingly remembered by his family. Harold had many interests and hobbies. He was an avid stamp collector, loved to read wartime and mystery novels, and watched many historical documentaries about the war. To this day, he played crib on a cribbage board he took overseas during the war. He was immensely proud of his military service and it was always part of his life. After the war he remained good friends with Cliff Chadderton of The War Amps and many other fellow veterans. He was a decorated soldier and was enrolled in the French Legion of Honour, receiving the Carpiquet Medal. The family would like to thank Victoria General Hospital, fourth floor staff for their care and kindness. Our heartfelt thanks also to Dr. Pemack, Norm Donogh, retired Colonel Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Sterling House and Bonnie Wainwright, homecare coordinator for all their wonderful comfort and care. A private military service in Harold's honour will be held on May 25. If friends desire, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the War Amps, PO Box 728, Stn. Main, Winnipeg, MB R3C 2K3. THOMSON IN THE PARK 925-1120 Condolences may be sent to Home - Thomson In the Park Funeral Home and Cemetery
  13. pauldawn

    pauldawn Senior Member

    powerful stuff!

    i take my hat off to another war hero now passed - Long may his memory live!
  14. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    If, as some suggest, that life is measured not by what you accomplish but what you overcome, then Harold Prout's life is an outstanding example.
  15. Combover

    Combover Guest

    Christ almighty.

    What strength of character.
  16. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    The Costly Battle

    Prior to the assault, the two leading companies – “B” and “D” – moved into the Regina Rifles area to form up. They dug in, anticipating, quite correctly, heavy defensive fire. The start line was a road running eastward from the lateral road along the southern edge of A Sector.

    Even before H hour, enemy machine gun fire from a flanking position required “D” Company to clean them out. This was accomplished by H minus 5 minutes.

    Both “B” and “D” Companies were on the start line by H plus 10 minutes; the Sherbrooke Fusiliers were forward to give supporting fire. The attack was accompanied by ear-splitting explosions as bursting shells and mortars combined with the crack of anti-tank guns and constant whine of ricocheting machine-gun bullets.

    The advancing infantry moved through the woods under heavy fire from enemy machine guns and an artillery concentration. A particular problem was enemy machine gun fire from the left flank, until that post was neutralized, and from machine gun fire in the centre. The enemy paratroopers finally began to withdraw; most were killed by return fire before they could escape to a defended house just northeast of the wood on the edge of the village of Moyland. Enemy paratroopers who managed to reach the house were hit by rocket fire from supporting typhoons of 84 Group RAF.

    In the advance to the northeast side of the wood overlooking Moyland and its famous castle, the clearing of A Sector took 40 minutes. (Lt. Bob Gannon of “D” Company was killed; Lt. J.M. Millespie and Lt. F. Marlyn of “B” Company were wounded.)

    The next phase of the attack was a two-company assault – “A” right and “C” left – from B Sector southeastward. B Sector was cleared without opposition and on schedule.

    But the clearing of C Sector was hotly contested. Subjected to heavy machine gun and mortar fire and determined resistance, the attacking riflemen took mounting casualties, much from enemy air-burst artillery, and some from our own guns. The enemy, being dug in, did not suffer as much.

    The same opposition continued throughout the clearing of D Sector. But the attack prevailed, with support from Wasps and covering fire from tanks at the south side of the wood.

    “The flamethrowers terrified the enemy”, the after-action report stated. “The method of working the Wasps was to have three with each forward company at all times: when their fuel was expended they withdrew, and the six in reserve replaced them. This leapfrogging and relieving kept Wasps continually with the infantry. It proved of double value, first to bolster the morale of our troops, while undermining that of the enemy.”

    Let me deal specifically with each company during the clearing of Sectors B to D.

    In “A” Company, all four officers were put out of action, two killed and two wounded. (Lt. P.E. Walsh and Lt. K.P. Pritchard were killed, and the two wounded were Capt. J.R. Morgan, the company commander, who was hit by a sniper, and Lt. Harry Badger.)

    The advance was painful and step-by-step, with close-quarter fighting controlled by the remaining NCOs. The enemy positions were revealed only when they opened fire at close range. The German paratroopers were well dug in and camouflaged, and the advancing troops had to crawl forward determinedly to reach cover and fire back.

    At that stage the decimated company regrouped under the leadership of Sgt. Alf Richardson, MM. Wasps and the remaining riflemen and NCOs, supported by tank fire from the road southeast of the wood, made a co-ordinated assault up the ridge – the final objective of the company – and dug in.

    The high ground in front of Sgt. Fred Bragnalo’s point platoon provided an excellent view of the open ground below and a small wooded area 200 yards further east. Three enemy counter-attacks of 30 to 40 paratroopers each were launched from the wooded area, but were caught in the open by artillery fire directed by a forward observation officer in the “A” Company position. A heavy toll was inflicted. Indeed, throughout the entire day’s operation, casualties were heavy on both sides because of the determined resistance by enemy paratroopers and the equally determined assault by “A” Company. At the end of the day only 29 men were left in the company.

    In “C” Company’s sector-by-sector advance, its total casualties equalled those of “A” Company. Two of its platoon commanders were wounded (Lt. E.E. Gridley, wounded for the third time in action, and Lt. Bruce MacDonald who won the Military Cross).

    The depleted company, (commanded by Major C.S. Platts), aided by flamethrowers, attacked an enemy position containing a pocket of paratroopers reportedly numbering 250, on high ground in the wood. The enemy was dug in and supported by mortar fire and air-burst artillery, its position ringed with mines and trip-wire. But with flame, heavy machine gun fire and assaulting infantry, the position was stormed and overrun. Some were killed, a number escaped, and only five were taken out alive.

    By the time “A” and “C” companies had consolidated their positions at 1330 hours – three and a half hours after the beginning of the battle – Sectors B, C and D had been taken despite determined opposition. The Carrier Platoon Commander who had directed the leapfrogging and refueling of the Wasps took his platoon to reinforce “A” Company and to take over the composite group. “C” Company was left with two officers and 40 men. “B” Company, which had moved forward to consolidate with them, had two officers and 50 men left.

    The final stage of the battle – the clearing of E Sector to the eastern tip of the forest – was assigned to “D” Company.

    On turning over its northern position opposite Moyland to the Reginas, “D” Company withdrew, skirted the south edge of the wood, and moved in to link up with the heavily-depleted “C” Company. From here it attacked, beginning at 1400 hours.

    One of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers’ tanks had been knocked out, but another helped shoot in the assault. The artillery fire plan for F Sector – beyond the wood – had to be repeated to prevent enemy reinforcements from entering E Sector, and to cut down enemy trying to retreat.

    E Sector was defended by machine-gun fire and paratroopers in pits, surrounded by anti-tank and anti-personnel mines hastily strewn through the area. But “D” Company, with three tanks up with the leading troops, pressed forward, despite heavy casualties.

    When E Sector was cleared to the southeast tip of the woods, “D” Company attempted to push forward to capture some houses in F Sector, full of enemy with machine guns. Tanks could not support the attack because of mines. The enemy paratroopers then launched a wild counter-attack. Throwing grenades and firing Schmeisers from the hip, they charged “D” Company positions but were driven back.

    The still-determined enemy continued to harass the positions with machine gun and mortar fire. (At this point Lt. George Aldous, commanding the leading platoon, was temporarily blinded by grenade fragments, but after medical attention returned to direct his platoon throughout the night. He was awarded the Military Cross.) Casualties continued to mount, and “D” Company stretcher-bearers, with visible Red Cross armbands, were targets. One, Rfn. Mervin Milson, although wounded when a bullet penetrated his helmet, continued helping casualties. For this he was awarded the first of two Military Medals he won during the final months of the war.

    “The company’s success,” wrote Canadian Army historian Col. C.P. Stacey, “owed much to the skill and inspiration of its commander, Major L.H. Denison, who went from platoon to platoon keeping his men moving forward despite increasing casualties, and led the assault on the final enemy position.”

    Major Denison, who won the Distinguished Service Order for his actions, went on to organize the company’s defenses at the edge of the trees. They repelled two sharp counter-attacks during the night. “D” Company was to end the day with three officers and 50 men. (The fatal casualties included company 2/ic Capt. Bill Ormiston and Cpl. George Quovadis when a mine blew up their carrier.)

    As part of the night defence, tanks were brought forward to cover enemy-held houses in F Sector, and the Scout Platoon was dispatched to patrol nearby crossroads, where they repelled another enemy counter-attack.

    The Battle of Moyland Wood was over. But the cost was high. Of the 183 casualties sustained by the Regiment in the Louisendorf-Moyland action, 105 – 26 of them fatal – occurred on the final day among the conifers of Moyland Wood. Of the 105, 92 were from the four greatly-under strength rifle companies: they entered the battle with a combined strength of 207, and suffered 44% casualties in a single day.

    :poppy:One surviving example of the fierce Moyland Wood battle is Harold Prout, a bren-gunner on a Wasp Carrier who had his jaw and most of his tongue shot away by a German 88-millimetre shell. He has constantly worn a thick bandage over his lower face for 65 years. He was later enrolled in the French Legion of Honour.:poppy:

    An Assessment

    This bitterly-fought, one-day operation, while costly, did overcome fanatical resistance from fire-supported dug-in paratroopers.

    Casualties would have been higher, save for the use of tanks, the aggressive employment of flame-throwers and a well-coordinated fire plan.

    The following comments are repetitious, but worth emphasizing:

    “The fire plan”, stated the after-action report, “employed all the available weapons of neighbouring units, including divisional artillery and the 4.2 inch mortars and machine guns of the CH of O. The field and medium artillery were most effective once our infantry were in the wood, firing at known enemy positions outside the wood, and sealing off approaches and escape routes. Anti-tank guns and light machine guns of units in the area, and the machine guns of CH of O fired across the wood on flat trajectory – preventing the reinforcement of the assault sector.

    “84 Group RAF gave great assistance on 21 Feb. They flew approximately 100 sorties against the enemy machine gun and mortar posts. They too helped seal off approaches and escape routes.”

    With this support, the infantrymen and highly effective flamethrowers fought a ferocious step-by-step battle, suffering mounting casualties against a determined enemy.
    But the attacking Rifles were equally determined and fully committed. And they prevailed. The German 6th Parachute Division pulled its front back beyond Calcar. The road to Calcar was open.
    stolpi and Za Rodinu like this.
  17. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I had not read this thread before. It is an amazing story.
  18. sebfrench76

    sebfrench76 Senior Member

  19. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    There have been many tales of overcoming adversity but this one is amongst the greatest
    without a doubt - and I often think of my visit to see our own Sapper at Swanage and his zest for life after some 6o odd years of pain and suffering - but still manages to laugh his head off - as I did when we recalled some of the stupidities of Army life in those far off days - more people should visit both Bryan and the Saintly Sheila for a true tonic in how to just " get on with it " - but take a camera as he never seems to buy any batteries

  20. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    The follow up to the earlier post is fitting, adversity and the way he overcame it is an example to everyone.

    thank you for posting

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