Second World War veterans by

June 11, 2014

NEW WATERFORD — Joseph Meagher may have many memories from his service in the Second World War but the one he’ll never forget was the day word came the war had ended.

“It’s always a good feeling to know you’re going home,” he said quietly during an interview at Taigh Na Mara, where he now lives.

Meagher was a sergeant with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, an infantry regiment of the Canadian Army. He has many stories he often shares, including the day the troops went in on the first wave at Juno Beach on June 4, 1944, using pipe bombs to blow holes in the barbwire as the soldiers moved inland fighting pockets of Germans.

Juno Beach was one of five beaches of the Allied invasion of German occupied France in the Normandy landings.

Meagher said the spirit of the troops was high.

“We were firing bullets, it was our job,” he said.

“On the beach, bullets would be flying at you. It’s a part of your life you’ll never forget.”

In a story documented by the regiment, just before nightfall the troops came to a farmhouse with a German anti-tank gun in the window. Meagher came up with a plan — half of his section would stay there and the other half would walk around to the back of the farm. Once in place, the other section would open fire to keep the Germans busy. During the gunfire, Meagher’s section went in the back, wiping out the Germans and destroying the anti-tank gun. As the troops were leaving, the men heard a noise from the cellar. The soldiers shot the lock off the cellar door and found a French family.

“The family did not have much food but had a lot of wine.”

Meagher, now 96, describes himself as “just a spring chicken.”

With a bit of a smile he remembers all too well the soldiers hearing the war was over and that it was time to go home.

Meagher went to Ontario working in the gold mines there before returning to New Waterford years later.

Stanley Stepaniak

NEW WATERFORD — A sound Stanley Stepaniak will never forget during the Second World War was the bombings.

“The bombing in London was one of the bad things that took place — and the shelling,” he said.

Stepaniak was about 20 years old when he joined the Royal Canadian Engineers in 1941. He doesn’t remember being afraid while heading overseas to war.

“You don’t think about that,” he said.

“You go because you figure you have to go.”

He was a member of the Royal Canadian Engineers and worked as a sapper, an army engineer.

“We were picking up and clearing landmines and setting explosions when we had to do it,” he said.

“There were different things we had to do, including firing shots around the lines.”

He said the bonds within the troops were strong.

“My platoon was always together. Wherever they went, I was with them. It was part of your service.”

On D-Day he remembers being in England and going over to France a few days later.

“There are things you can’t forget like when we were in Holland going up a hill and a good friend of mine from Sydney got killed. I was so mad at the Germans. The hardest part of it all was losing some friends.”

He said at the end of the war, the whole place went wild.

“It was good to get home and see people again. You are glad you are out of the war, you want to relax.

“It was a feeling of relief, something I do think about on D-Day.”

However, he said once he got back to Cape Breton it was hard to find work.

“There wasn’t much going on, there was no work.”

Stepaniak said that after about 10 years in Cape Breton doing little jobs, he finally went to Montreal for about four years where he found work laying bricks. He lived in Ottawa after that for a few years and eventually moved back to Cape Breton.

When D-Day comes, he said there are not a lot of thoughts that go through his mind.

“You fight the war, and then you are out of it and want to relax. You are glad to be out of it.”

Marshall Desveaux

NEW WATERFORD — When the Second World War ended, Marshall Desveaux never got to go home right away.

“I never got to go home until New Year’s Eve, 1945,” he said.

“So it was 1946 when I got home. I was in Holland all summer.”

Desveaux served with the 3rd Canadian Battalion Infantry of the Highlanders from 1942-46. He arrived at Juno Beach days after the invasion. The beach was cleared at that time, however there was still a lot of fighting inland. His troops fought their way through France, Belgium, Holland and then into Germany.

He was wounded in Germany nine days before the war ended.

“When the war was over I was in the hospital in Belgium,” he said.

Desveaux was in a military half-track vehicle at the time.

“She went over a mine. I got hit below the knee, in my leg and in my hand,” he said.

“We were also hit by a blast in the air.”

There were five or six in the vehicle at the time, he added sadly.

“I don’t know who got wounded — what happened to them. I never saw them again after that.”

Desveaux said after the war ended the troops did a bit of training in Holland at this time.

“The people in Holland thought highly about the Canadians.”

Desveaux had worked in the coal mines for about six months before he went into the army.

When he returned to Cape Breton, he worked in a tavern for about eight years, then as a letter carrier for Canada Post for 30 years.

Desveaux said on D-Day there are always memories that come back.

“It was a start in getting rid of the Germans,” he said.

“We were glad when the war was finally over.”

Joseph Petrie

NEW WATERFORD — When Joseph Petrie got the news the Second World War had ended, it meant he could go home to meet his son Joe for the first time.

“He was about three years old. He was born while I was in England,” Petrie said.

“Trying to get acquainted was the real problem — he looked at me like a stranger then.”

Petrie was 19 years old when he joined the Canadian Army in 1941.

He was sent to London, Ont., for a mechanical engineering course. One day the orderly officer gave him a telegram.

“It was from my wife Agnes. She said for me to meet her at the Union Station, downtown Toronto,” he said. “I told that orderly officer I had left my wife in Cape Breton. He said, ‘You might have left her there but she’s not there now.'”

Petrie found out later that after he had left for the army, his wife and five other women had marched into the recruiting office in Sydney and signed up.

His wife ended up working in a war plant with detonators and shells.

“The only way you could quit would be if you became pregnant — that’s when she went back to Cape Breton.

The war left permanent memories for Petrie, including the day when the troops were preparing to storm Juno Beach.

Petrie said the troops had gone across the channels in small boats.

“When you’d look up to see, it was like looking up at a huge cathedral or something the size of it. She was throwing shells into the city of Caen about 25 miles in.”

Petrie said the troops were sitting in their little boats waiting storm the beach.

“We were waiting for our turn to come and it came.”

“There was so much noise going on and clattery, you didn’t have time to get scared.”

He remembers the soldiers being directed up the field where they stayed that night.

“That night a German bomber and came over and blew up an ammunition dump that we had on the beach. It looked like the fourth of July all over again with all the sparkles.”

When word came the war was over and the soldiers were able to go home , the celebration was massive.

“‘How soon?’ That was the next question,” he said.

Petrie worked as a mechanic in Cape Breton after the war and is well known by residents for being able to “fix any car you bring him.”

Horace Lovell

LINGAN — Horace Lovell spent less than a year overseas during the Second World War as part of the Royal Canadian Artillery and the experience is still hard to talk about.

“It was quite an experience going into Germany,” he said.

“You never forget anything that happened to you.”

He said heading into battle with your comrades by your side, the bonds ran deep

Lovell was about 19 years old when went down to Victoria Park in Sydney to join the army.

“I was sent to Fort Petrie at first without any basic training,” he said.

At Fort Petire, his duties included serving as a rangefinder. Instruments would be set up on the bow of the boat in range, one in each Fort Petrie and the Lingan fort.

Troops lived in huts aross the road.

In Lingan he said the fort had the most modern of equipment available.

Lovell was sent to Halifax for training with the artillery and when he came back helped train others to use the equipment.

New Waterford legion service officer Tom White said the guns at the fort at this time were massive.

“The big guns would almost fire to Newfoundland. The hole in the centre was 16 inches, when we were kids, we could crawl in them.”

Lovell married his wife Verna in 1944, marking a 70th anniversary this month.

“Shortly after we married I was sent overseas,” he said.

Lovell arrived at Juno Beach on June 27, 1944. The troops had anti-aircraft guns.

“We moved several times to lay down fire for the Canadian and British troops up ahead.”

When asked how he felt when he heard the war has ended, Lovell immediately smiles.

“It was a relief,” he said.

“We came back over by boat and we were put right on the train, brought right back to Sydney,” he said.

“My wife and my neighbours came to pick me up at the station.”

Lovell went on to work in the coal mines for about 22 years.

He said there are always memories for him on D-Day.

“It reminds me for the relief felt by all that day. ”

White said that after the war ended, Fort Petrie fell apart.

“In the early ’90s Lovell got a crew together, they started cleaning, collected money, put a roof on and got that thing going, which is now a museum. Horace put a lot of work into this.”


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