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Remembering The War

Gordon Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1988      p09  
Gordon Ahenakew
Gordon Ahenakew
P.C: Betty Ann Adam
A long time ago, while growing up on the Sandy Lake Reserve, I used to see and hear the Elders talking and it was always in a circle. I didn't know that the things that they were talking about were important to them. At one time when I was between fourteen and fifteen years old, I went and sat down and listened to them. They were talking about Hitler and how he was overrunning countries. They said that it was only a matter of time before England would be invaded. They also wondered if the King would be able to stop him (Hitler), because he was very powerful and had been building his army for a long time. They also wondered what would happen to our Treaty if the German should win.

I thought to myself, "If I am accepted into the army, I will go overseas and fight this Hitler". I waited until I was 17 years old, it was then 1943. I thought I was ready then, so I told my dad about my intentions and asked him to let me join up. He said, "Alright son, but I ask you one thing, try to get some kind of training while in there, so it will be useful to you when you get out."

I then hitch-hiked to Prince Albert and went on to #12 Depot in Regina. There I was accepted and sworn in.

We left for England, from Halifax on Christmas morning. It took three days to cross the ocean. We docked at Liverpool, but could not get off the ship because the tide would not come up. We didn't get off until New Year's Day. This was the first time that I heard the air raid sirens, I didn't see any planes, but the Germans were there, somewhere.

After getting off the ship, we were taken to Aldershot, just outside of London. There we were trained some more and then briefed on what to expect at war. They told us, "This rifle (303) will get you back home if you take care of it. Now you will be playing for keeps". They also said to us, "Good luck to you, because some of you will not be coming back."

A few days later, at night, we were taken to Dover, along the English Channel. We were put into small boats. There were about twenty-five men to each boat. One man was talking on a two-way radio, all at once he said, "Let's go!" We went, as fast as the boat would go. Later, about half way across the Channel, I could see why. The gunners started firing their machine guns, by this time I could see the planes coming low and firing, they were right on top of dropping their bombs. You could only hope that they wouldn't drop right into the boat. As I remember it, the trip was very rough.

We hit France and shortly after that the city of Calais. That city had been levelled by our planes. I saw children there that were begging for food. I gave them all that I had on me. This was not allowed, but I did it anyway. This was in February when it was very cold. We stayed there until trucks came to pick us up. I still don't know where it was we went.

Again I was startled to hear the big guns go off. In the meantime, while we were travelling, we saw animals lying dead in the fields. We again heard the big guns so I knew that we were not far from the front lines. We went through what had been a town, but it had been levelled from bombing and a bulldozer that had cleared the street like a snow plow. You could see bodies sticking out from the rubble.

Our driver, finally told us to get off the truck I think it was in Germany. A fellow by the name of Ahem got off with me and we went to a house to wait until dark. We then tried to go to sleep with the light on, but the artillery and gunfire just kept going so we only tossed and turned. Eventually, a guy came running and said, "Put that light out, don't you know you could get blown sky high?" The light was put out. I don't think I slept very much that night.

Early in the morning, a Bren gun-carrier came to pick us up, taking us to our outfit, the South Saskatchewan Regiment. The driver went quite fast. We went through what had been a town and looking to my right, I saw some Canadian soldiers standing against a wall, but I didn't say anything. The driver kept on going. I heard rifle shots and then I knew that the Germans were firing at us. All at once, they were bombing us. I hid low down in the carrier. The driver came running and told us to get off and go into one of the shell holes. We did. Fast. When the fir-

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Remembering The War

Gordon Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1988      p10  
(Continued from Page 9)

let up, he jumped and said, "Let's get out of here!" He was ahead of us and we ran to the carrier. He turned on what seemed like a dime. I was the last to get on and as I jumped on, I hit my leg on the track of the carrier. I felt it, but it didn't hurt. I felt as though it was a dream, all that time, I kept thinking that it couldn't be for real. Yet, it was very real and this was for keeps.

We finally got back to our outfit that we had bypassed. I must have looked very pale because the boys were patting me on the back. I was very hungry, but couldn't eat. I only had coffee.

The sergeant told me to ditch my rifle. He then gave me a Bren gun. From then on, he said, I would be going ahead of our company with the officer and corporal, the rest trailing behind.

After a while they said, "Let's go and get those guys". We came to where we had been shot at and shelled. We came to a narrow valley with a railroad track that had been built by Jews (slave labor). We went down a stairs that had been dug out of the ground. I had to jump down because they were too high to step down.

All at once, all hell broke loose! The Germans had opened fire on us, to our left. The officer beside me got hit and killed because he was not on the steps. I hid there in the steps. They kept firing at us, but couldn't get us. Dirt was falling on me, they knew exactly where we were. Finally, the boys went from another direction and opened fire on them. We then jumped up and went down and up the other side. Here, we all lay down, looking to see where they were. About 200 yards in front of us there was a clearing then a bush and some houses. I could hear the two-way radio to my right. The sergeant said, "Get ready you guys, we're going across". Then he said, "Let's go and get them." We ran across the clearing. About halfway there, the artillery opened up on us. It fell close to me, but I was lucky, not all of us were.

When I got across the clearing, Iran around the house. There was a stairs there leading to the basement, and there was a German soldier sleeping, sitting up, with a rifle beside him. I went down slowly and touched him on the heart with my Bren gun. I told him not to make a sound with my mouth and finger. I brought him up slowly, then we took his wrist watch and money.

There were three of us Canadian soldiers. One of them told me to throw my grenade through the basement window, so I did. Because it takes five seconds before it explodes, I counted to three and then threw it through the window. Bang it went!

We hadn't realized that there were over twenty German soldiers sleeping there, in spite of all the noise. Eighteen of them came up with their hands held behind their heads. I believe I killed and wounded some that morning. I got wrist watches, rings, revolvers and money. On that morning, I had become an experienced war time soldier.

We kept moving on, fighting as we moved. We came to Hochwald Forest and did a lot of fighting there. Later, Hochwald Forest became known as the Allied Breakthrough.

Then we cleared the banks of the Rhine River, that the third Division of the Canadian Army had crossed. I remember that night and the next morning I heard a lot of fighting. We didn't sleep, knowing

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Remembering The War

Gordon Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1988      p11  
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that our boys were dying. The engineers were busy building a pontoon bridge that we used to cross the river, a day later. I remember that we were shot at by artillery fire while crossing, but they didn't hit the bridge. Shells would drop into the water and the icy water would fall onto us. I tell you, we ran across as fast as we could. It was quite a ways, but I don't remember being tired. We stayed there for the rest of the night.

The next morning, we went to see our boys that had been killed, there were a lot of them. That was the first time that I really prayed. Standing there thinking how utterly useless war was/is. These boys were from the North Nova Scotia Regiment.

Anyway, we relieved the Third Division and found in a lot of different places. One place that we liberated was the city of Groningen in Holland. Little did we know that the future Premier of British Columbia, Bill Vander Zalm, was there. This was his home town.

We encountered little fighting after that because the Germans were retreating and the Russians were fast approaching.

One thing that I'm sorry for is that a young man from Duck Lake, by the name of Doucette, was killed by a sniper about two or three days before the war ended.

After the war, it was all fun. But, I'll say this, those of you who hear of wars or conflicts, just pray that it never happens here because it is an ugly business.

I also think we should get a little more respect from the general public because, I take it, freedom is the greatest thing that we have today.

Gordon Ahenakew is the current president of the Saskatchewan Indian Veteran's Association.