Veteran recalls first arriving in France during war: 'I knew it was for real'

World War II veteran Roy Hare

LONDON, Ont. - Roy Hare, of Sarnia, is proud to represent Second World War veterans at multiple events in Northern Europe.

At 94, Hare, who served with the Essex Scottish Regiment, is healthy and still able to travel. But Europe is a continent, much different now than it was during his first trip there in 1944.

In that trip, Hare fought alongside his buddies, many of whom didn’t come home. Their faces are the only memories that bring emotion to the naturally tough and quiet guy.

Hare was born in a rural area east of Sault St. Marie. Prior to the war, he had never been further than Sudbury. One of only two boys, in a family of 13 children, he’d wanted to fight ever since his older brother, Lloyd had joined in 1940.

“We were pretty close to each other and I wanted to do whatever he wanted to do,” Hare says.

But Hare was not 18 until late 1943. Like most, he was full of excitement about joining the army, but unlike most, he learned about the stress of war long before leaving Canada.

The disturbing lesson came after arriving at his first barracks. “One of the lads decided he didn’t want to go into the service, so he tied his tie around his neck, and then tied it to the bar joint, and then slid off the top bunk. He didn’t want to go to war,” Hare recalls.

With that tragic initiation, Hare was fast-tracked through training and was shipped overseas as the D-Day invasion was in full swing. Within two weeks of his arrival in England he was shipped to France as a replacement.

He arrived at the tail end of the Canadian fight at Caen, France. “You could hear the clanging and banging of all the firing and stuff like that. It was kinda scary for a 19-year old,” he says.

Within days, Hare was in carrier, assigned to the Essex-Scottish. It was, by chance, the same regiment as the brother he had not seen in more than three years.

Amazingly, a sergeant made the connection and arranged a brief reunion. The reunion was short, as Hare went into the fight.

On his first journey out, he heard a loud bang and noticed everyone had bailed. It was another lesson.

“They knew what it was and they were gone, and they didn’t tell me. But they did not catch me in that situation again. I knew it was for real. You’ve got to look after Number 1.”

It was advice, he would use again when, weeks later, an Allied air raid mistook his group for the enemy. “You look up and see the bomb doors open, and you got no place to go.”

Hare escaped unharmed, but says the bombing, nearly wiped out neighbouring soldiers.

Into Holland, Hare would face more close calls, including a German heavy gun attack.

The toll of battle weighed on Hare and his unit. After seeing the bodies of Allied soldiers, murdered by the Nazi SS, one of his crew, as Hare puts it, went “bomb wacky” and suddenly decided to fight a German unit – solo.

"He grabbed a Bren gun and was going to kill all the Germans. Well as soon as all his ammunition was gone, so was he.”

What we now know as PTSD, it was a factor for all in the fight, including Hare, who by early 1945 was fighting Hitler’s child soldiers, some as young as 12.

“A lot of the Hitler youth, they did not care. They had no fear. They never thought about the consequences.”