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Thursday, March 15, 2012

William Acreman Omemee Veteran Remembers WWII !

History Minute: Spring of Liberation!

By Mike Gray
William Acreman was one of the first to enlist at the outbreak of the Second World War. Oddly, his regiment- The Hastings and Prince Edward County Regiment, was the last to come home at the conclusion of the war. Bill was a long time resident of the Omemee area as was his family before him. Mike Gray had the opportunity to interview William Acreman about his experiences during the war, and shares them in his article:
Omemee Veteran WWII William Acreman  Italy 1943


THE SPRING OF LIBERATION

April, 1945. The advent of spring also brought 1 Canadian Corps, comprising 1st Infantry and 5th Armoured, from sunny Italy to join their comrades in II Canadian Corps in Northwest Europe. First Canadian Army would now be the largest military force our country had ever fielded in war, three Infantry Divisions, two Armoured Divisions, as well as two independant armoured brigades.
General H.D.G. Crerar would now pivot the Canadians to the north to complete the liberation of Holland before advancing into Germany itself. The stage was set to bring down the final curtain on the war in Europe. William Acreman of Omemee, then with the Hastings and Prince Edward County Regiment of the 1st Division, was witness and participant to the war's final acts, as he had been from almost it's very start.

Enlisting

'I enlisted in March, 1940 at age 23,' recalls Bill. "My dad had been in the First War. Good jobs were hard to get then, and I was working for a dollar a day in the old Nicholls Hospital in Peterborough. Although money-wise I wasn't any better off [in the Army], I felt better about it, better about myself.There was no special preference in choosing the Hasty P's, they happened to be the closest.'
After initial training here in Canada, Bill and the 1st Division sailed for England, arriving in June 1940. The British Expeditionary Force had just been unceremoniously ejected from the Continent at Dunkirk, and the prospect of a German seaborne invasion of England was now a very distinct possibility.

Guarding England

'We went on guard down on the English Channel," Bill remembers, adding "About the coldest place I ever went to. Aldershott was pretty drab and routine. We were out under canvas in July, during the summer months.'
First Division would spend three years in England, alternating between guard duty on the Channel coast and battle training in Scotland.
"We could run 10 miles in two hours with 60 lbs. of pack on our back, tear down a Bren [gun] with our eyes closed. We were classed as 1st class troops. We were ready to go.'

Operation Husky 1943

July 1943 would find 1 Canadian Corps part of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily.
'It was healthy [the climate], more healthy than Italy, but the people were very backward,' recalls Bill.
Next came the invasion of Italy. The Germans fought a skilful, tenacious retreat all the way up the Italian mainland.
"We were never at ease, you could be called out at any hour or minute of the day.'
Bill's unit was involved in all the major actions of the Italian Campaign. While stil in Italy, the invasion of Europe, D-Day, took place.
"Well, we'd already done almost a year in action, before the European Campaign started,' remarked Bill. "We were glad, when it did get started,adding 'It's hard to say what our feelings were [about missing D-Day], but we knew our time would come to go.'
Eventually-it did.

Liberating Holland

"We left Italy on the 11th of March, 1945, from the port of Leghorn, docked at Marseillles, then proceeded up through France to Nimegen in Holland, to join up with General Crerar's Canadian Army in Europe as a totally Canadian Army."
There were no ill feelings about embarking on another campaign.
"We just thought, well, we went this far, we were gonna' see it through.'
After a short spell in England, Bill rejoined his unit, who were then in the Reichswald forest, preparing for action.
"We crossed the Rhine and caught up with our transport north of Arnhem. We came into action at Apeldoorn. At the Queen's summer house [Queen Wilhelmina was in England] these damned Hitler Youth were dug in under these pine trees. It was hard as the devil to get them out. After awhile, they started to walk out with their hands up, and you could see they were just kids-just kids."
After some five long years of German occupation and oppression, the Dutch were ecstatic at being liberated, and greeted the advancing Canadians as heroes.
"When we got up as far as Haarlem, after the Germans were chased out, they came out on the street, shaking hands, crying, and hanging on to your shoulder, you'd just think it was your sister. They were so happy to see us."

Last Days Last Duties

"Our efforts in the last days of the war was cleaning up pockets of the enemy and dis-arming them. This was a tough job in the larger cities. There were snipers everywhere, and we lost quite a few men," Bill remembered. "There was an air of excitement and expentancy as the days passed. Near the end we were stationed at a small village on the North Sea Channel, Snadport. This area was the hub for dis-arming German prisoners. Thousands of them were held in several compounds, sorted out and sent back to Germany. It took a lot of food to feed the Dutch people and all the prisoners. Finally, on the 23rd of April, 1945, the Regiment went out of action.'

Reflections on War

"I left Holland for Canada on June 20, and marked time in England until August 10, finally got my discharge on September 24, 1945."
Looking back on his almost six years in the Army, five of them overseas, Mr. Acreman reflected,'After that time in the Army, it got to be a job, not just an outing. We were glad it was over, but we couldn't believe it was. It was, 'Well, what do we do now,' that sort of feeling. Even when I got home I was waiting for orders."
"I have never regretted going to war. I feel good to have done my bit for Canada.'
Mr. William Acreman,a founding and charter member of the incorporation Of the Royal Canadian Legion in Omemee, passed away in April 2005. Many former members of The Regiment were in attendance of the Service.


For History Minute,

Mike Gray

About the Author:

image Omemee Ontario Historian Mike Gray
Mike Gray
Omemee Military Historian
Mike Gray, long-standing Omemee Legion member, is an active military history curator whose efforts have been recognized locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Mike enjoys ferreting out historic details,and bringing history to life. Mike says: 'I have been a lot of places, met some remarkable,wonderful, unusual, famous and not so famous people.Nothing surprises me anymore.' Have a history question? Leave a comment below, or ask Mike by email at mdgray AT xplornet DOT ca

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