Wartime Heritage                                   ASSOCIATION
  Henry Churchill 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion   Momentary   panic   freezes   your   nerves   as   you   fall   in   the   turbulence   of   a   shrieking   gale.   The   earth   is   small   below.      Then   comes   a teeth   chattering   jolt   as   the   parachute   opens.      Now   the   gale   has   subsided,   floating   like   a   summer   cloud   in   the   sky.   You   are   thinking perhaps you have died and gone to heaven.  Then the earth comes hurling up to meet you. Such are the sensations which you would find compressed into the fifty chaotic seconds of your first jump as a paratrooper. Henry   Churchill   joined   the   army   in   1940   at   the   age   of   28.      Most   veterans   that   join   the   army,   in   the   early   days   wanted   to   see   active service.  Most wouldn’t get sent overseas right away. Churchill   spent   two   and   a   half   years   in   Cape   Breton.      One   day,   a   boy   that   worked   in   the   orderly   room,   Grant   Brooke,   from   PEI, asked Henry to volunteer with him for paratroopers. They   went   to   Sidney,   Nova   Scotia,   for   an   IQ   test   and   a   medical.      Grant   Brooke,   a   brave   fifteen   year   old,   took   the   test   first.      Henry told the examiner, “despite his age he’ll be all right, he has encouraged me to go this far.”  They left the same day for Montreal. In   Montreal   they   were   screened   again.   Henry   laughs,   “you   really   wanted   to   go   badly   enough,   when   you   got   your   hair   cropped   as bald as a baby.” On   the   25th   of   December,   1942,   they   left   for   Fort   Benning,   Georgia,   where   they   qualified   as   paratroopers.      They   made   five   jumps to get their wings. In   May,   Henry,   otherwise   known   as   “Winnie”   by   his   fellow   soldiers   after   theh   British   Prime   Minister,   Winston   Churchill,   joined   the 1st Canadian Paratroopers and assigned with the British 6th Airborne Division, also called the “Red Devils” Close   to   D-Day,   one   fellow   said,   “Winnie,   we   should   go   out   and   enjoy   ourselves,   we   don’t   have   much   longer   to   live”         It’s   serious, thinking   they   all   couldn’t   come   back   home.   “They   told   us   we   were   expendable.”   says   Churchill.      “Losses   were   part   of   it.      In   the Airborne they   expected   70%   casualties   on   the   D-Day   experience.      In   Our   Battalion   were   550   men,   after   D-Day   we   got   around   140   of   them   together.     Then we had to hold the lines of the Battalion.  My platoon consisted of 30 m3n and we were down to 18.” D-Day   came.      “I   was   right   there   with   them,   and   I   wouldn’t   have   wanted   to   miss   it.”      June   6,   1944,   D-Day   began   with   thousands   of paratroopers   dropping   from   the   sky   over   Normandy,   France.      This   was   hours   before   the   first   ground   troops   would   hit   the   beaches.      On   D- Day there were over six thousand aircraft in the air. The   sun   had   just   set,   they   embarked   on   their   flight   to   Normandy.      Within   a   short   distance   of   the   Normandy   coast   they   were   told the   lights   would   be   going   out   shortly.     That   meant   the   guys   would   look   out   the   window   for   the   last   time,   to   see   up   and   down   the   line.      It was hard enough to jump, but in the dead of night with the uncertainty was difficult. Above   the   coast,   a   man   sitting   next   to   Churchill   said,   “Henry,   our   plane   is   on   fire.”      t   wasn’t,   they   were   being   shot   by   tracer bullets.  The  pilots dropped the plane to around 400 feet.  Normally it is 700 feet when they jump. The   green   light   came   on   and   Henry   Churchill   jumped.      On   his   way   down   he   struggled   to   remove   the   110lb   kit   bag   from   his   leg.      He released it and the rope broke. he   impact   for   his   landing   knocked   him   out.      When   he   came   to   he   was   in   an   irrigation   ditch.      “This   saved   my   life,”   said   Churchill, “if   I   didn’t   get   knocked   out,   I   would   probably   be   in   a   grave   over   there.”   Churchill   awoke   to   the   sounds   of   guns   and   the   sight   of   tracer bullets. The   kit   bag   landed   not   far   from   him   so   he   pulled   it   into   the   ditch   with   him.      In   it   was   his   rifle,   grenade,   ammunition,   a   pick   axe and six 10 pound mortar bombs.  The fuses on the bombs were dented and unusable and the stock was broken off his rifle. The   two   men   that   landed   ahead   of   Churchill   didn’t   make   it.      One   man   got   a   bullet   between   his   eyes,   and   the   other   was   shot   in   the back. Churchill moved up the ditch.  They told him to look for flares, but they were everywhere.  The sky was alive with everything. Henry   wasn’t   feeling   good   so   he   went   into   a   wheat   field   and   laid   down.      He   later   heard   voices   and   looked   up   to   see   six   men walking   by.      Dawn   was   just   beginning   to   arrive   and   it   was   difficult   to   tell   if   the   men   were   friend   or   foe.      He   followed   them   for   a   short distance but they were going east and he knew his group would be going west. Henry moved along a bunch of bushes and heard English voices.  One was Overby, and the other a medic from England. They   were   a   sorry   lot.      Churchill   had   no   stock   for   his   rifle,   while   Overby   had   a   machine   gun   but   no   ammunition. The   medics   did   not have   any   weapons.      Churchill   eventually   found   a   discarded   rifle   that   he   figured   might   have   been   dropped   buy   a   Canadian   paratrooper taken prisoner by the Germans. Churchill was in France for three months, two weeks of that on the front lines. They   were   attacked   by   planes,   artillery   and   infantry   but   managed   to   hold   their   ground.   “We   held   it   for   quite   a   few   days.”   said Churchill.  “They tried too push us out but we managed to hold.” It was three days before Churchill could sleep. Shelling   was   the   worst   experience   for   many   of   the   solders   as   there   was   often   little   respite   from   it   and   no   where   to   hide.      “A   man who says he is never scared isn’t telling the truth,” says Churchill. During   the   fighting   inland,   the   paratroopers   had   little   idea   of   the   situation   on   the   beaches   of   Normandy   beacuse   they   had   landed six   miles   inland.      It   was   there   they   met   with   a   British   Commando   who   had   expropriated   a   German   truck   and   recklessly   driven   inland   until he reached their lines. The   news   from   the   beaches   was   good   and   bad.      Troops   were   landing   continuously   and   were   making   headway   inland   but   some   areas had experienced delays with jamming up of material and men on the beaches. During   a   rest   period,   Churchill   was   sent   back   to   the   beach   area   where   he   saw   the   hundreds   of   ships   bringing   the   men   and   materials for the invasion.  “It was a spectacular sight”, says Churchill. Churchill   tells   a   story   of   his   friend   as   he   fights   back   the   tears.      “My   friend,   we   used   to   go         to   church   together   in   Sudbury,   he   was   a Pentecostal   boy.      One   day   his   officer   went   to   his   dugout   and   he   was   reading   his   testament.      As   the   officer   left,   a   mortar   landed   in   the dugout.  That was the end of him”. “A   Sergeant   told   another   guy   to   go   stand   watch   somewhere   in   the   night.      The   guy   said   he   couldn’t,   his   nerves   were   gone,   so   I   took his place and saved him from being court marshalled.” “I   volunteered   to   bury   some   people   in   the   field.      My   buddy   and   I   had   just   got   going,   and   down   in   the   valley   we   saw   movement.     The   Gerries   were   making   a   move   on   us.      I   looked   back   and   my   pal   had   taken   off   on   me.      O   buried   the   guys   just   deep   enough   to   cover   the top of their toes.  Sometimes we had to wrap white cloth around ourselves when burying people, for white was the symbol of mercy.” Henry Churchill went back to England from Normandy. The   Battle   of   the   Bulge   was   in   the   winter.      “They   had   more   snow   than   we   ever   get   here   at   home”.      Henry   went   to   Belgium.      When the German push had stopped, the weather cleared. The Germans were defeated. Churchill   went   into   Holland   on   the   20th   of   February.      They   told   him   that   he   was   going   back   to   England.      That   was   good   news.      In England they told him that in one month he would be going to Germany. During that month the y were well trained. In   1945,   March   24th,   they   dropped   into   Germany.      [Operation   Varsity,   the   crossing   of   the   Rhine]   The   Colonel,   who   was   from Winnipeg,   Canada,   went   with   them.      He   got   hung   up   in   the   trees   and   was   shot   by   the   Germans.      This   was   a   big   operation,   the   jump across the Rhine.  They were two and one half hours in the plane. and  jumped between the autobahn and the railway lines. When   Churchill   jumped   his   suspension   lines   twisted.   When   he   stoped   spinning,   he   saw   a   German   soldier   coming   in   his   direction.     When   he   had   landed,   the   German   had   gotten   to   the   second   man   ahead   of   Henry.      Churchill   hid   behind   his   kit   bag   and   got   out   his   rifle.     He   was   hoping   to   be   fast   enough   to   help   his   friend,   Clarke   but   the   German   soldier   left   and   went   toward   a   nearly   house.      Henry   saw   Clark lying there.  “I knew it was of no use to after either of them”, he said.  “I saw one guy run.”   “Another   few   guys   were   wounded.      I   shot   at   the   Germans.     The   two   guys   had   been   shot   by   a   stern   gun,   the   range   is   not   far.      When   I went up to them, one guy was bent over, the other was picking bullets out of his back and ankles” Henry   moved   along   and   jumped   into   a   German   trench.      He   couldn’t   see   down   the   trench   because   it   was   made   like   saw   teeth.      He was   all   alone.      A   hand   grenade   called   a   “potato   masher”      landed   on   top   of   the   trench.      A   German   soldier   threw   it   at   him   but   it   was   a dud.  “That saved my life’” says Churchill.  “I was meant to make it!”    Churchill   told   his   friend   John   Escaravage.   Henry   wanted   to   be   with   him   when   they   were   in   Belgium.     The   people   there   were   told   to put them up for the night and John was French and so was that part of Belgium. “John   Escaravage   got   shot”,   Henry   said.      “He   opened   his   eyes   and   said,   ‘Hi   Henry’   and   closed   his   eyes   and   died.”      Every   fourth man   was   a   casualty.      The   outcome   of   this   engagement   was   the   defeat   of   Germany's   famous   1st   German   Parachute   Corps   in   a   day   and   a half. The   Germans   would   move   at   night.   Henry   and   his   platoon   would   move   during   the   day.      “We   walked   from   the   Rhine   River   to   the Baltic   Sea.      It   was   a   long   trip   of   some   285   miles   but   very   few   of   the   boys   complained”.     After   the   jump   across   the   Rhine,   on   the   first   day twelve hundred German prisoners were taken. Ration   trucks   came   by   sea.      It   was   five   or   six   days   before   they   got   to   Henry’s   group   by   the   Rhine.   The   men   would   eat   whatever they   could   find.      They   raided   gardens   and   would   kill   a   chicken   and   boil   it   and   also   drank   the   chicken   broth.      “At   one   house,   a   woman came   out   holding   a   baby   and   asked   us   not   to   kill   the   goat   as   it   was   their   only   milk.      We   told   her   we   wouldn’t   and   said   for   her   to   get   back into her basement.”  The German Army were driven toward the Baltic Sea and  the Allied troops captured the city of Wismar.    Henry   Churchill   went   from   Wismar   on   the   Baltic   Sea   to   Lubeck,   Germany.      Then   they   flew   to   England.      “They   gave   us   leave   and   I was in Wales when a policeman stopped me and told me to get back to my barracks.  I knew I was going home!” “I’m grateful to have taken part and to be here to tell you about it.” said Henry.  “I have nothing to brag about.” [original article was written by Karen Donaldson, a YCMHS student (1996)]    
Return to  Story Archive
Canadians in Wismar, Germany
 copyright © Wartime Heritage Association 2012.- 2019 Website hosting courtesy of Register.com - a web.com company
Henry Churchill 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion