Duncan’s Jack Bridges, 97, remembers the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago this month, like it was yesterday.
After helping to liberate Holland, Bridges and members of the Canadian 5th Anti-Tank Regiment were at the front in Germany on May 3, just two days before the ceasefire was declared, facing a regiment of German soldiers in a tense standoff.
As both sides knew the war was close to being over, nobody wanted to start a battle so the opposing soldiers just stared each other down until hostilities officially ended on May 5.
Bridges said he had 30 cases of wine in the back of his truck that his regiment had “liberated” from a German winery as they advanced through the country.
“I opened up one of the bottles of wine to celebrate, and a while later, I was ordered to report to the ‘Old Man’ and got 10 days field punishment for drinking on duty, but at 5 p.m. that day, there was a ‘rum ration’ and the Old Man had to pour me a drink,” he said with a smile.
“You should have seen the look on his face.”
Bridges said after three more weeks in Germany, his regiment was moved back to Holland and then by ship to Dover, England.
He said the men were given a 30-day leave and he and his friends headed to Edinburgh where they rented rooms in a cheap hotel and began celebrating with money won gambling with other soldiers on the way back from Germany.
“First we had to find people so that we could buy their ration coupons and then we traded them to people who didn’t want their liquor coupons, and then the party began,” Bridges said.
Bridges said they returned to camp in England after the 30-day party to prepare to return to Canada, but he had to wait longer than anticipated.
“We went home by points; two points for every month of service in Canada, three points for every month in Europe, and 50 points if we were married,” he said.
“After that, we left by divisions and my division was almost the last leave, even though I had 143 points.”
Bridges said he finally boarded the transport ship Queen Elizabeth with 15,000 other soldiers and landed in New York five days later before heading to his home in Stratford, Ontario, by train.
“The station platform was full of people waiting to see us, but I jumped off the train and hurried home, which was about four blocks away,” he said.
“My parents were at the front of the train, but I was nowhere to be seen. They came home later. My sister didn’t go to the station as her husband didn’t make it back to Canada. He was buried in Italy.”
Bridges said he was at home for just three days before he realized he was now a stranger in his own hometown.
“The girls were married, changed their names and moved, and 38 of the kids I went to school with didn’t make it home,” he said.
“I felt lonesome and out of place and put up with it for about six months. I went to the train station and asked for a ticket for the furthest place from there where they spoke English. The ticket clerk made out a ticket to Victoria and then I came to Duncan two days later. I expected to spend the rest of my life in the best little city in the world and I did, although it’s not over yet.”