Remembering the coldest night of all
Editor: Frequently I look out the window and curse if it’s raining. I must go out to walk the dogs, however. I was thinking of this the other morning when my mind drifted back to wartime Holland. The spring of ’45 was wet, cold and miserable.
But the coldest night of all was in ’47. We of the Princess Pats were on Exercise Sweet Briar. We had been tearing over miles of Alberta in pursuit of the enemy, who were some of our own fellows slated for that role. We were in support company and rode in Jeeps with our Vickers machine guns.
That evening we parked our Jeeps, waded through a frigid slough and dug slit trenches with our weapons at the ready. Our battle dress uniforms froze stiff in the below-zero air.
About 4 a.m., we were ordered out of the trenches and back into our vehicles. We crept through the darkness without lights following our platoon commander.
Finally we received the command to halt and set up our weapons in an easterly direction where our lieutenant thought our final objective, the enemy’s position, lay.
He turned command over to the sergeant as he was going to reconnoitre to ensure we were in the right place. As ordered, we cocked our machine guns and waited.
At approximately 0555 hours, (five minutes to six), as the sky to the east lightened, we saw dancing headlights bouncing across the prairie toward us. This was unprecedented, as everything had been done in utter darkness up to this point.
Then we heard our officer’s voice screaming to get those bloody guns, the Jeeps and ourselves the hell out of there.
Without hesitation, we followed orders throwing our still-primed weapons into the vehicles and roaring off in a westerly direction. Less than 60 seconds later, all hell broke loose: shells from the artillery shrieked though the air and exploded in the place our Vickers had been placed.
Rifle and Bren gun fire swept the area and would have decimated us if we’d still been there.
Our platoon leader was ashen-faced as he brought us to a halt and ordered us to set up the guns and fire at the position we’d just abandoned. Whether his colour was the thought of what would have happened had we stayed or, perhaps, the knowledge that he would be facing our angry colonel regarding his misplacement of our position due to incorrect map reading I don’t know.
However we all survived, and the last time I saw Mervin he was a retired major living in Langley.