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DONALD WOLFE ENLISTED ON SEPT 10, 1939, AT THE AGE OF 18 After completing extensive training in Winnipeg, he set off to England in 1940. He moved through the ranks and eventually became a Corporal. As part of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, 2nd Division, his work was in demolitions. Donald's first battle was one of Canada's bloodiest-the Dieppe Raid, on August 19, 1942. He was dropped at Pourvillesur-Mer, and the raid was over by midday. In nine hours, 907 Canadians were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Fewer than half of the Canadians who departed for Dieppe made it back to England; Donald was lucky enough to be among them.

In this testimony, Donald reflects on his service and his struggles after the war. He describes the shocking images and moments that he relived after his discharge, and his journey coming to terms with his experiences and sleeping soundly again.

My first battle was on the 19th of August, 1942, which was the Dieppe Raid [on the Normandy coast of France]. It was suicidal. It was my battalion's turn to attack: there were 600 of us that went in there for--a nine-hour battle. We left 400 on the beach dead and wounded. That's how it worked out. But I wound up back. How I got back, you'll never know. I tried to swim with my army boots and my gaiters [garments worn over the shoe and lower pant leg] and I couldn't kick enough to stay afloat. I had to go up and down in about eight feet of water, because the Germans had machine gunfire on the water. So I went up and down until I got my shoes off. Once I got my shoes and my gaiters off, I swam out in the Channel and they picked me up with a landing craft. This is how I survived the Dieppe Raid. As far as I was concerned, it was suicidal. It was, oh, it was--you should have seen it. The Germans were waiting for us on the breakwater up in Dieppe, France. So as soon as we got off the landing craft, boy, it was murder. When we landed at Dieppe, there was a town on the right-hand side of Dieppe they called Pourville. My battalion, the Sixth Canadian Infantry Brigade and Second Canadian Infantry Division, we went in farther than anybody. We were maybe two miles or more from Dieppe itself.

So, we turned around and we come back to the front again, and then we went up the coast to Dieppe. And boy, was it awful. You have never seen so many people dead and wounded in your life.

I drank so much saltwater that they automatically put me in the hospital, and I was in there for a good week. Then, after I got rid of all the salt, I went back to my battalion. Two years later we landed in Graye-sur-Mer, Normandy, the same spot that we landed during the Dieppe Raid. Out of the whole works, when we got to Dieppe for the second time, there were only 35 originals left.

I was a non-commissioned officer, I was a corporal, and my job was demolition. In other words, if there were any roadblocks or a tank would come down the road, they would shut the motor off because 90 per cent of all the roadblocks were booby-trapped. Then they would call us in, and with my Jeep and my guys, we would blow up the roadblock. Then we'd work away into the German lines for another 200-300 feet to make sure there were no more soft spots in the road that could be bombs. The only way that we could clean a roadblock out was by using explosives like amatol. On both ends of the roadblocks, the Germans had what they called S-mines [anti-personnel mines] that were designed to be used in open fields. If you blew up a roadblock and some debris hit one of those mines, it would cause things to fly up in the air about eight to ten feet and explode. If anybody was in that area, they'd be lucky if they survived. The enemy booby-trapped all our wounded and dead with shoe mines [a small wood box fragmentation mine] around the neck. So, if anybody picked up a dead person to put him on a stretcher, they were blown up themselves. I had a system with my platoon. I had a piece of wood about 50 feet long with a piece of rope on the end. I would put the rope around the dead man's wrist and pull him sideways. As soon as I pulled sideways, I would know if they had booby-trapped him with the shoe mines, as it would blow his head off. But at least I didn't get killed myself. We were very lucky that we had lots of blankets, so if a person lost parts of his body, we could cover him up.

When you start to relive the war, it's not good. What I went through as a front-line soldier, you have no idea in the world. Doctors told me that if I kept talking about the war, it would cure my head. And you know something? It did. I feel 100 per cent now. At first, I was reliving everything that I went through, and I couldn't sleep. I'd wake up at 3 in the morning and I would relive everything. It was awful. Then this psychiatrist asked me, 'Do you talk about it?' I said, 'No.' She said, 'You start right now.' I started talking about it, and within three or four months, I was a different person.

Caption: OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP: Donald Wolfe in Army-issued uniform from World War 1. He bought a swimsuit to wear under the kilt to keep warm. (MEMORY PROJECT ARCHIVE)

Caption: OPPOSITE PAGE BOTTOM: Donald Wolfe at Camp Shilo, 1939. Soldiers slept in the bell tents, seen in the background, until the winter, when they were moved into an old Store off the main street of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Caption: ABOVE: Donald Wolfe, seen on the far right, heading to Halifax to catch a ship to England.

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Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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