AMHERST – 1939: The world was at war. Countries looked to their young to defend them. Mere teenagers at the time, Allison Chapman and Harry Walker had joined the militia and were soon to see action.
“I was shifted around from time to time,” said Chapman. “I landed in Europe as Advanced Corporal with the Provost Detachment of the Van Doos (the Royal 22nd Regiment).”
Chapman wore many hats during his service. He worked as a driving instructor, moving on to becoming a machine gunner in the battalion, and then the driver for a brigade major. He was transferred to Provost Corp, military police. He was attached to different brigade headquarters as well as receiving several promotions.
Walker had a different story. He joined up one month before he was 17. But Walker’s service overseas didn’t start until 1942, where he was assigned to the 8th (New Brunswick) Hussars, a tank unit.
“We arrived in Naples and were posted to Ortona,” he said. “We didn’t do any fighting there but we were under some shell fire. We went up to what they called the Hitler Gothic and the Gustav lines. We cleared them, and kept going up to Coriano Ridge with 18 days there of straight fighting.”
We all know some of the horrors that came from the Second World War, most having learned about the Holocaust in school, and learned about the tragic ways some of our Canadian soldiers died. But for Chapman and Walker, they actually lived through it and saw the devastation.
Chapman remembered coming to a death camp after most of its occupants had been exterminated.
“It was something to see and I never want to see it again,” he said. “If you’ve seen someone dying or dead, that hasn’t had food for a long time, it’s nothing but skin. I’ve seen, in that place, traps they used to pile the dead in. The individuals had hardly any strength to lift their own skeleton let alone another body to pile on. A few were alive, walking around with a shirt tied around their waist. Nothing I want to see again.”
Walker saw different horrors during his service overseas. He remembered one specific time when he saw a tank, crew inside, burning.
“You’d see the smoke and know something was burning. Each tank had five men in them. Sometimes, two or three would get out and one or two or three wouldn’t get out,” he said. “In a company of 126 men, you knew all of them because you lived with them. Everybody knew everybody pretty well. That was the hardest. You try to dismiss it out of your mind, but you never forget it. You never stop thinking about it.”
With every passing year, the ability to forget becomes easier. Very few veterans are left now to remember those times. Both Walker and Chapman are left with some memories they wish they didn’t have but hope that their sacrifices saved the younger generations from having to see similar horrors.
“You have to think about what the world would be like if it ever happened again,” said Walker. “As time goes by, the tools that they have for war increases the killing capacity. God knows what would happen if we had another one. You have to remember to try and make this the last one.”
“We fought for freedom so we’d have a safe place to live if we got through. We were one of the lucky ones,” Chapman added. “We don’t want anyone to see what we have seen ever again. We hope none of the younger generations are called upon to pick up arms to fight for what we have won.”