Like many other families in Hespeler, the Hillis and McLaughlin family had son’s, uncles and Brothers fighting overseas in WW2, some made it home and others did not. My family lost 1 while 3 made it home and I am sure forever changed by their experiences. My Mom’s brothers Ken, Alex and Bruce McLaughlin and my father James Hillis Sr. went to war and while Ken McLaughlin and my father made it home safely, Alex returned injured and Bruce never returned at all.
Bruce McLaughlin my maternal uncle died on August 14th 1944. The Following is the actual Globe and mail report about the day that Bruce and 15 others of the 12th Regiment of RCA died.
Globe and Mail by Ralph Allen, War correspondent. 43rd D. RHQ – – excerpts:
Could See it Coming
Before we reached our destination it had already become apparent that something had suddenly gone wrong with the bombing program. British heavies had changed their course slightly and when we heard the next gargantuan blast of heavy bombs and saw the next pillar of smoke belch toward the sky, the area had somehow shifted to our own lines. Bombs appeared to fall on Cauvicourt, a mile northeast of the quarry.
Brigade headquarters was already reporting it to division when we arrived at the operations room, a dugout that had served as a German divisional headquarters only a few days before.
From the top of the quarry, H.D. Zeiman, correspondent of the Daily Telegraph; Collin Rayment, Montreal, our conducting officer, and I watched the first squadron of Lancasters come in two hours after the Canuck infantry had launched an attack across the Liaison River toward Falaise and drop their bombs with perfect accuracy in the area of Quesney Wood, 2 1/2 miles from our observation post.
Hundreds More Planes Coming
But the next wave of bombers hit due north of us and it occurred to us that perhaps it was time to take note of the fact that bombs had now been dropped on three sides of us and that there were hundreds more planes still in the air coming straight towards us. The planes were flying low. We waited another minute, looking through our binoculars to see if the bomb doors on the leading planes were open. Then the major called out : ” Everybody in trenches or dugouts “.
Pte. Jerome Latour, Toronto driver of our press jeep, jumped in and drove the jeep along the quarry shelf to the front of the dugout, where there was protection for it to one side. Rayment, Zeiman, the major and I jogged along on foot glancing uneasily over our shoulders, but we made just as the first bomb hit the quarry with the deafening, teeth-shattering impact of a rabbit punch from a giant. We spilled inside the dugout, past a narrow runway, down two steps and around a corner into a square room in which eight or 10 privates were already sitting around a kerosene lamp.
Scene in the Dugout
There wasn’t much to the room but a big operations map and a double tier of wooden bunks. The soldiers moved back on the bunks to make room. One of them sat on a box, his head bent over a set of signaller’s earphones. ” Hello, Sarah Two, Hello Sarah Two, we are being bombed. Over, ” he was saying. His voice was firm, clear and decidedly matter of fact.
The rabbit punches were raining down by now, and through the smoke-filled corridor of the dugout every now and then the hot, liquid fingers of blast reached and tugged as though to drag us out of our trembling haven by sheer force.
We had now become the preferred target. The bombs came at us in catching sticks and each time a stick started we held our breaths an covered our heads with our arms….
One hour and ten minutes of death and destruction _ and from our own support. It was almost unbelievable and the time seemed interminable. Many prayers were offered that day – not for life itself but that the end might come quickly. The agony of suspense was terrifying and escape impossible. The air after each stick was dropped, would be filled with flying debris and between waves the ammunition from dumps and blazing vehicles was exploding in every direction. The whole area of the quarry was raging inferno and yet strange to relate the dividing line of the bombing between the 11th, 16th and 43rd Batteries was as clean as the cut of a knife. Not that the 43rd felt safe but they were able to watch Lancasters come in an literally blow their brother Batteries to bits _ at least it seemed so at the time. They were only four hundred yards from the target and yet could only watch: any action was impossible.
An Auster air OP eventually put in an appearance and did its best to divert the bombers from us but it was only the last wave that was actually led from our area.
There was so much smoke and dust after the first few waves had passed that even decisive features on the ground had ceased to exist for orientation and from what we could gather the bombers were bent only on dropping their bombs in the same area as their predecessors.
Our toll, when it was over, was thirteen dead and fifty-three wounded to say nothing of the vehicles and guns. The gun position and Wagon Lines of the 16th and the Wagon Lines of the 11th Batteries were hit the hardest while the 43rd escaped untouched. The 16th lost practically all of their vehicles and trailers and most of their guns were damaged. The 11th suffered thirty-three vehicle casualties and it was a miracle that no more lives had been lost. Now we knew how the Germans stood it and the answer was going to ground. Unless a bomb scored a direct hit on a slit trench you were comparatively safe. It was a dreadful experience and the morale of the Regiment was at a low ebb following the raid. The Medical Officer performed miracles in his RAP in one of the tunnels and many casualties from the other Units passed through his hands.
No time was lost once the raid was over in checking vehicle and personnel casualties and the Regiment, less the 16th Battery, prepared immediately to move forward to support our Infantry in spite of our losses. The 16th had no guns or vehicles so they remained behind to refit and reorganize.
The following is the contents of a letter that my Mother received from her brother on August 20th 1944 and had been mailed on August 9th 1944.
Hya squirt,how are yuh? I don’t know why i’m writing, i can’t think of anything to write about but mush. Say hello anyhoo, so here i am sitting nice and comfortable like, in my slit trench, swatting mosquito’s killin ants and things and writing all at the same time, cripes a guy needs about four hands for this job. It’s not a bad sort of a day though-at least it ain’t raining. An enormous big bee just flew in, stopped in mid air like a helicopter somewhere in the vicinity of my schnozzle and stared at me in the face like as if he was trying to make up his mind. However, he apparently didn’t like the looks of my ugly pan so he spread out his four or five inches of wings and flew away. I am still cross eyed from looking down my nose at the brute.
How are all the boy friends, or have you found one steady one? Cripes i haven’t even been out with a gal since about March, Gee soon i’ll be losing my Hespeler technique, what little there is left. Are you still at the same job and still doing the same thing sitting at a desk, writing letters to your boy friends? That must be a pretty fair job. You even use the company paper i notice, you crook. Well yesterday i received letters from Grace,Mother, Alec,George Oliver and a girl and her Mother and Sister in England, and a parcel from Grace as well. So i did okay for one day, didn’t i?All i gotta do now is answer them and boy, thats a job. Well Mim ole dear, must scram for now, so bye for this time, hope to see you soon, but hear from you sooner.
Your Big Brudder Brucie.
B85416 Gnr Bruce McLaughlin
12th Cdn fld regiment
Canuck Army Overseas
The following pictures are of my family members at war.