Bill Wigley. Photo Submitted

Veteran Profile: Lacombe veteran recounts time in service, Part One

VVOC Founding Executive Director Allan Cameron profiles a veteran in this monthly column

Bill Wigley joined the Calgary Tank Regiment in 1941, and eventually sent across the English Channel to Dieppe on August 19th,1942. This deployment was better known as “Operation Jubilee”. He was taken prisoner and held at Stalag VIII.

“We actually joined as a militia, knowing from the first that would be a Tank Corp. And so, I was probably wearing a uniform in the militia maybe eight months prior to mobilizing. I wanted to get married first and I did. Some went in the fall to Calgary and I went in the spring. I didn’t seem to think there was any big hurry to get to Europe.

We left Canada on the ship Louis Pasteur. It was a very top-heavy boat. It was meant for the south seas, not for the Atlantic. And then of course we had to go slow as the slowest boat, which was an old tub freighter and very slow. It took us 11 days to get to England, keeping out of the traffic from the German submarines. We had no problems.

War is war, and if you know your machine and you know your troops and know your order, you should know what to do. You see I was fortunate enough to be able to drive the tank, run the radio, load the gun, shoot the gun. I had all those qualifications and so it didn’t matter to me, I’ll drive if you like, I can be gunner. My main position was tank commander.

When I found out I was going to Dieppe, I knew one thing. That they didn’t play with rubber bullets, I knew that. And even though I didn’t have a lot of faith in the tank, it’s all you had and we were highly trained in what we had and we could use what we had to great advantage. And so, no I had really no concerns. I don’t think any of us appreciated landing in town. Why didn’t we land out in the country somewhere where we could buzz around? Once you sign that paper you do as you’re told. Whether you like it or not.

Coming up to landing in Dieppe, well, you know in some belts of ammunition for machine guns there is one in three that is a tracer, or one in five is a tracer. Now when you looked at Dieppe, all you could see, of course it was kind of dark. You could see the tracers. And it was just thick, it was just thick. A lot like that Christmas tree there, that’s what it looked like, only tracer bullets. And so, it was a hot landing, there was no question about that.

They dropped some kind of shell into where the controls were on our ship, on this landing craft, and wounded our skipper. He probably knew this was his last run because he went full steam ahead and ran it right up on shore because our LCT (Landing Craft Tank) was burning. So, we came out on dry ground, there was nothing to it. The skipper died, I wouldn’t say immediately, but might as well have been. He was a hero.

We were second tank out. One had already gone out and we would follow. He had like a snow fence on each track that would fall down so we could crawl up onto the promenade. They were to start bombing that town at midnight and quit just before 6. At six o’clock we were to land and don’t move any farther than 100 yards every five minutes because they (our fighter aircraft) are strafing to keep everybody down as we are moving in. That makes sense doesn’t it? But this town, it seemed they never dropped a bomb. The air force was called off at 11 o’clock at night.”

Bill lived in Lacombe, and passed away on May 10, 2012.

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