Stories from veterans of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion
Here are some storied written by Private Cliff N. Douglas, “C” Company, 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion
His Majesty King George VI inspects “C” Company of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion on May 15, 1944. Canadian Army Photo H38599Front row: Third man from the left in the front rank, the shortest man, is my good friend Cliff Douglas [now deceased] of Courtenay, BC. He was a machine-gunner and jumped in on D-Day as a sniper. Three of his stories are listed below. Tentative identity of the men in the front rank from the left in front row: Pte. (?) Comeau; Pte. Peter Braidwood; Pte. Cliff Douglas; ___?; Doug Thomas; Sgt. Menard. King George VI is on the far right. Note that the men are still wearing the AIRBORNE strip below the Pegasus formation patch. The stripes on their shoulders are the yellow (sometimes gold) battalion stripe indicating 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion.
The Scope on a Tripod – By Pte. Cliff Douglas K62214
C Coy 1 Cdn Para Bn
We were on high ground, as I remember it, a large sandy ditch ran across the area. It was a warm and sunny day and, if you disregarded the occasional sound of shell or mortar fire a distance away, interrupted by small arms fire and the very occasional friendly or enemy aircraft, we could have been on a military scheme anywhere in the Comox Valley! [Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada] In and around the ditch drinking tea were a disgruntled group of British soldiers drinking tea. A large opened tin of Peak Frean biscuits lay in the ditch. A dead and plucked chicken, small arms, ammunition and rations. Not too much discipline either. I got the impression we were regarded as suckers if we went to the sloping wooded area facing the enemy. German tanks could be heard approaching up a road. I had not heard enemy tanks before and it was reminded of the sound of bulldozers in the Canadian woods. Our platoon was very well disciplined, still quite green I suppose, but eager and well trained and equipped. I took the liberty of working my way over to the brambles and deciduous trees and was very interested to find a German bino-scope (?) on a tripod. It was hidden at the edge of a field and my first impulse was to snatch it for my collection! Well hidden, I thought, I started toward it, noticing the area had been raked by small arms fire, in fact I think the tripod had been damaged. Near an apple tree, with my back to our troops, I carefully stood up and just as I did, I was astounded to see a German soldier about fifty yards from me, bound out of the brambles and run diagonally across the adjacent field toward enemy ground. As I raised my rifle to shoot him, about fifty or some more of them exploded into the field and ran down the slight slope. How plainly I remember the long Mauser rifles, the L.M.G. [light machine-gun] , colour of the uniforms and particularly the corrugated gas mask containers on their hips. They all had packs. I automatically swung my head toward out [i.e. our] area and right behind me appeared a man dressed in a British army officer’s uniform. If I am not mistaken I saw a Black Watch badge and either HD or 51 HD [51st Highland Division] on his shoulder patch. I screamed to him to get a Bren [a light machine-gun] up here fast. His reply was “Don’t shoot! They are our own men!” I was astounded. Quickly I weighed up the possibilities. This was a direct order from an officer, and I was only a private. Were these some clandestine British troops? Impossible. Probably for the first time in my life I did not respect an officer. I shouted angrily “They’re f_____g Krauts!” I aimed once again at a disappearing man’s back but held my fire. When the German troops had faded into the bush I turned back to have it out with the officer. (?) I think I may have shot him, I was that angry. He had gone. I ran back to my platoon, searched for him with the British in the ditch, but he was not there. Was he a Kraut in a British uniform, was he a coward afraid to bring enemy fire on us? I wish I knew. I probably had time, initially, & from my concealed position, to empty my No. 4 mag [magazine of 10 cartridges] 4 I am not a bad shot. [I believe Cliff actually was carrying a sniper rifle although the scope had been damaged in action – he was a good shot.]
Private C. N. Douglas K62214
Fall of 1983.
An Invaluable Spring Knife by Private C. N. Douglas K62214 ex-C Coy, 1 Cdn Para Bn.
It was just a simple spring-blade knife, probably not very expensive but how priceless it would soon become.
Shortly after joining the 1st. Canadian Parachute Battalion in England, I spotted it, and it was love at first sight! I had never seen a spring-blade before although I had heard of them. It was of good steel, compact and attractively designed. The owner, Pte. M. M. Clark (since deceased) of Englehart, Ontario explained that it had been given to him by the U.S. Parachute Training School in Fort Benning, Georgia where the Canadian unit was trained. I understood each member was given one upon qualifying as a parachutist. Pte. Clark or ‘Pop’ as he was affectionately known in the unit when in England, just would not sell! I had to have one! He did mention that some day when is playing poker he may need to sell it. I was not a gambler but I watched every hand he came up with and finally one day he had a run of bad luck! A one-pound note changed hands and I was the proud owner of my first spring-blade knife!
It went with me always, snugly tucked away in my service book in the left pocket of my battledress tunic, and near to my heart. Every day and night, whether it was on a scheme, training or in a pub, my little friend was with me in the same pocket.
D Day came and the knife jumped with me into enemy occupied Normandy shortly after midnight of June 5th., a few minutes into ‘the Longest Day’. Seven days later, in Le Mesnil, my companion sacrificed his all for me.
Our platoon had been on five minutes notice to scramble from our slit trenches in the nearby apple orchard, and relieve a pinned down British unit in this small wood called Le Mesnil [Bois de Bavent?]. I remember running past Brigadier Gale [He probably meant Brigadier James Hill, Commander 3 Para Bde], holding his long staff, and [hearing the Brigadier] calling out “atta boy Canada!” He was accompanied by a British warrant officer who was one of our physical training instructors, when our unit was in England.
We moved down through the wood near a fence overlooking a field, across from which we could hear approaching German tanks and the shouting of the enemy troops. I was on the right flank, armed with my rifle, bandoliers, grenades and some plastic explosive above my toggle belt and against my stomach. A Nebelwerfer, or ‘Moaning Minnie’ fired its six 15 Centimeter howling projectiles. I believe this barrage destroyed our two Vickers Guns killing the crews. These Vickers Guns were behind us and I saw them looking very lonely (I thought at the time) as I later hobbled back to a field dressing station. I had been warned that I may be needed on the crews because of my extensive Vickers Gun training with the 16th Cdn. Scottish Regt. [16th Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s)] in Courtenay [on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada] and in the Ordnance depots. A third barrage landed slap-bang on top of us, wounding or killing practically everyone in the wood.
I had crouched down tight up against a fir tree which, if my memory serves me correctly, was about eighteen inches or so in diameter, possibly two feet, but no more. It was an uncleared wood, and to my right was a lot of scrub bush, very thick and impossible to see through. I suppose it could be compared to Stanley Park in Vancouver [British Columbia], near the approach to the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Apparently a German had managed to sneak up pretty close to my flank, which I was trying to protect. The tree seemed to explode in my ear! I bounced back from the tree and felt a piece of shrapnel deep into my left thigh. Also I felt a pain in my left chest. I glanced at the tree an found one bullet protruding about half it’s length out of the bark. This bullet had dented some cartridges in one of my bandoliers. Another bullet passed clean through this part of the tree, entering my left jacket pocket, passing thought into my tunic pocket, across my chest and away. I discovered the bullet had hit the little knife, spreading it open and smashing it into a tin of ration chocolate against my left chest. My close adversary did not fire again, he was so close I can only assume he was wounded or killed by the barrage which put us all out of business. We licked our wounds and those who survived regrouped only to be met with a very severe attack later at night. On my way back to the dressing station the first troops I had seen from the beach started to reinforce us. A Bren gun carrier [Universal Carrier] I believe it was, headed toward the area, the grim faces of the men aboard I will never forget.
When I later examined the knife more carefully, it appeared to have been hit right on top of the back of the blade, flattening it out like an open book. The knife was later stolen from me at the dressing station. I wonder what wondrous tales the new owner has come up with?
Private C. N. Douglas K62214
Fall of 1983.
[This web site editor believes the knife was a US M2 paratrooper knife which could be opened with one hand by an injured paratrooper as it was a switch-blade. This was useful in case of injury as it could be opened with one hand.]
The Rochefort Incident by Pte. C. N. Douglas ex-C Coy, 1 Cdn Para Bn.
On or about Jan. 2nd 1945 ‘C Coy’ left the village of Esplechins in convoy. Our destination was in an area in which heavy fighting between the U.S. troops and the Germans was taking place. In the afternoon, as the convoy rumbled over the snow-packed roads I was struck by the beauty of the country. Fields covered in a few inches of snow, low rolling hills with a good covering of trees, much as you would find in most parts of Canada. A cloudy, threatening sky completed the ensemble. We soon encountered a number of U.S. Tanks which slowed down the convoy as they fitted into our convoy of trucks. It was cold, and we were frightened by the prospect of engaging the well trained Germans at any time. Our heavy coats protected us well enough. Several men in the truck in which I rode slept, some just talked, some prayed. Being a Bren gunner, I stayed near the tailgate, where the cold wind behind the trucks disturbed the light snow causing much of it to enter the rear of the box.
Our convoy turned off to the left, the tanks carrying on along another road. We approached a pretty and peaceful looking hill at the base or near the base of which the trucks stopped. I remember the long walk up the steep road to the top. We seemed to carry a lot of equipment. Tired and apprehensive as we neared the top, we passed a large American sign stating ‘You are now under enemy observation beyond this point’. A discarded U.S. Garand rifle lay alongside the road, partly covered in snow. Enemy vehicles could be heard in the distance leaving Rochefort. It was getting dark now, and colder. A field kitchen was rapidly set up and while in the line up for slops we saw a German come out of the nearby woods. His hands clasped behind his head, overcoat open, an old Mauser rifle slung over his shoulder. We had been increased in strength (?) by a number of new arrivals from Canada. One, directly behind me, asked what kind of uniform the soldier wore, and was the gun a Tommy Gun! Unbelievable! A very dead German soldier lay nearby, having been run over by a tracked vehicle. After eating we were briefed on the situation and the patrols were organized. From our vantage point, overlooking the city of Rochefort and the hills beyond, we could see the road we would approach the city by. I think the patrol on which I was going, would be the second or third out. I believe one patrol would stay at a road intersection in the city as an outpost. At midnight we started out. Sgt. Harry Wright of Nanaimo, armed with a Sten and Colt .45 led the patrol. I followed close behind with my Bren over my shoulder and a .45 Colt on my hip. Behind me was Pte Danz (or Dans) with a Sten and behind him Pte. Pinay. I believe with a rifle. Down the hill we went, up the long straight road and over a small bridge, passing a sentry. The town looked forboding [foreboding] indeed, No lights of course. The strange cold silence broken only by our careful advance.
I understood we were to turn left before coming to the end of the street. Perhaps we had gone one block too far? A T intersection was ahead, and just as the Sgt. turned left to proceed down the street toward the Meuse a rifle shot rang out from across the street. I saw the flash from the doorway directly in front of me. Sgt. Wright asked in a loud voice, where the shot came from. Just as I was telling him it was from across the street and we were hitting the snow covered sidewalk, another shot from the door, hitting the Sgt. in the head and spinning him around in the snow up against my left side. Why did I almost know it was one of our own men? Did I identify the sound of the .303 Enfield action? I hesitated firing for perhaps a second for this reason then I was hit. The Bren had been hastily taken from my shoulder as I lay prone, bipod slammed forward and ready for firing. I pulled the trigger and the unbelievable happened. Perhaps it was the ice, but for some reason, although it had stayed in place the long walk through town, the rear of the magazine lifted from the catch as the breech rammed forward. Back on the cocking handle down with the mag and the Bren fired a full mag into and around the door. Another shot, likely from a window just before or while the Bren was firing, hit Pte. Danz. I do not know what happened to Pte. Pinay, but I understand he is now a chief of a tribe in Saskatchewan.
As the echoing of fire ceased I could hear men running from the Meuse area toward us. I was right. A Sgt. major was shouting for us to stop shooting as we were shooting up our own men! The trigger happy idiot who started the whole affair soon came out of the darkened doorway carrying a rifle. My Bren was on it’s side in the snow and I was sorely tempted to shoot the bastard with my .45 Colt automatic. Drowsiness and concern about paralysis in my lower body took over. Eventually the medics arrived. My Sgt. was still alive and I believe Danz was unconscious, having been hit in the lower back.
The crossing of the Meuse on stretchers and the dangerous route of the RAMC ambulance through the German lines is another tale.
Private C. N. Douglas K62214
Fall of 1983.
Cliff Douglas had served pre-W.W.II in the Canadian Militia – with ‘C’ Coy, Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s). The local platoon in Courtenay, BC was equipped with Vickers MMGs. During the war Cliff joined the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps I believe and reached the rank of Sgt. He transferred to the 1 Cdn Parachute Bn in England and took a voluntary drop in rank to Private. He was employed as a sniper for D-Day (1944 Jun 05/06). He was with C Coy 1 Cdn Para when they were among the first Allied troops to land as his group dropped from Albemarle aircraft as a protection force for the Pathfinders. For the Ardennes Cliff was tasked as a Bren Gunner. Due to his wounds he missed Operation Varsity (the Rhine Crossing 1945 March).
After the war, Cliff’s picture was used as a recruiting image by the Canadian Army. The drawing shows him in his Denison smock, airborne helmet and holding a Sten Mk. II. Cliff later joined the Royal Canadian Navy and was on a winning shooting team. He wore his coveted parachute badge on the cuff of the jacket in Naval fashion.
In the late 1940s Cliff had the inspiration for a submachine-gun where the bolt and barrel both recoiled and in opposite directions. (His concept sketch was in the back of a book that disappeared after this death.) He built about 7 prototypes. The designs varied and he eventually came up with a tubular magazine (like the roll for paper towels) in which the bullets were nose to tail in a spiral inside the outer shell. This magazine could be inserted from the rear and allowed the shooter to keep a low profile. He also placed a pistol grip under the centre of gravity. He formed a company, but the business end of it was badly run by a colleague and the business failed. There is a chapter with some photos written about his inventions in one of the major books on SMGs. Interestingly the photos show one prototype being tested by Army officers. Cliff explained that the business partner had taken a bench test model to the trials without asking or telling Cliff! In spite of that it did well but the Canadian Army did not adopt it. I donated Cliff’s prototype Douglas SMGs to the Canadian War Museum.
Unfortunately Cliff died of cancer after writing the above three recollections. I recall that he spoke of the trip on the stretcher as a nightmare. At Rochefort, the bullet had entered his shoulder, travelled through his body and exited around or below his waist. The people carrying him had to negotiate the stretcher over a steep bank by the edge of the river, and they dropped him.
Shortly before his death his last wishes included the desire to make one more parachute jump (his Doctor refused him permission), and after his death for his prototype Douglas Submachine-guns to go to the Canadian War Museum (CWM) and for his maroon beret with badge, toggle rope and 2 foot wide cast aluminum Parachute Regiment barracks sign in the shape of their cap badge to come to me. After Cliff died the prototype breech blocks, prototype magazines, maroon beret, badge, toggle rope and PR sign were STOLEN. The Douglas SMG prototypes and his medals were lost for a year but I was able to track them down and deliver them to the CWM. His Denison smock, battledress tunic, and pay books are legitimately in the private collection of S.M..
I had the great pleasure of calling Cliff Douglas a friend
Private Peter Braidwood, “C” Company, 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion
Veteran of the D-Day drop, Ardennes and Maas River operation (“Battle of the Bulge”) and the Rhine Drop.
Peter Braidwood was also issued a sniper rifle Lee-Enfield No. 4 MK. I (T) for the D-Day operation, but was never given formal sniper training. He carried three altogether on active service. Before the Rhine Crossing jump in March 1945 he was issued a second sniper rifle. That one had shrapnel embedded it in, so on a practice jump before the Rhine Crossing he managed to “accidentally” drop it while parachuting. He was issued a third one. Peter became ill on the march to Wismar in Germany and was evacuated.
Peter told me this story in the on May 5th 2015. I had brought in a sniper rifle and photographed him holding it. Interestingly, the No. 32 MK. I scope on this rifle was actually issued to 1 CPB and was brought back as a war souvenir by Pte. George Siggs of 1 CPB. George was a neighbour of mine. The next day Peter Braidwood had a serious fall at home in his garage and he passed away four days later.