WW II cook gives ultimate sacrifice

Leading up to Remembrance Day, I talked to my son about my uncle Allen Olimer who died in France during the Second World War.

My son somehow thought his sacrifice was less because he had been a cook for his regiment, Fort Garry Horse. This made me very sad and I explained to him that his sacrifice was equal to every other person who gave their life in the service of his or her country.

He had a skill and he volunteered to put himself in harm’s way in order to use it in service to his country. For this, our family and a country is grateful.

I contacted Gord Crossley of the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives for more information about the cooks who served.

This is what he said:

Cooks would go through the same basic training as every other soldier, then would go for specialist cook training. Some would also be trained in water purification and testing. They had to be trained in food preparation for everything from a dozen to 800 men at a time. Each Armoured Squadron (3 Squadrons to a Regiment) had 19 tanks and a number of trucks carrying supplies such as fuel ammunition and baggage. One of the trucks carried mobile kitchen equipment and a trailer.

When in battle, tank crews generally lived off ‘compo’ rations, which were mostly canned goods issued in boxes of food sufficient for 14 men for a day. These were split up amongst the crews and they ate when they could. When in a rear area, the regimental cooks came into play. The senior sergeant was qualified to inspect meat and could purchase it if available or it was supplied frozen from Service Corps supply depots, well in the rear.

The cooks would make fresh bread and cook meals with a mix of compo and fresh food that could be found. Much trading went on with local farmers, with the main currency being cigarettes, which were issued free to the soldiers.

The cooks and other support trucks moved behind the main fighting troops, generally stopping in tree lines or villages but could also be dispersed in the open if the threat of air attack was low. They would often move at night. The formation of all the supply and support vehicles is called the “B Echelon”.

When my uncle was in service on the day he died,  8 August 1944, the B Echelon vehicles of the FGH and other Canadian and Polish units were arrayed in the open south of Caen, near the modern village of Ifs.

A planned bombing raid on Caen went wrong when the colour of the flares to be dropped by the pathfinder aircraft turned out to be the same colour that day as the flares to be fired by our troops to identify themselves as friendly to overflying allied aircraft. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, our bombers dropped their load on the Canadian troops below.

The troops sent up more flares to warn the bombers off, but that just brought on more bombs. Frantic radio communications made it to divisional headquarters, then to England, then from Army HQ to the air force, where the message was passed for the bombers to stop dropping on that area. There was no direct radio contact at the time from the ground troops to the aircraft.

Unfortunately many troops were killed as they were in unarmoured vehicles, parked in the open. Many vehicles had full loads of fuel and ammunition for the tanks, and their explosions and fires contributed to the damage. 125 Canadians and Poles were killed and 131 were wounded.

Above is a photo taken after the bombing, supplied by Gord Crossley. Thanks kindly to him for the photo and information.

We will not forget.

12 thoughts on “WW II cook gives ultimate sacrifice

  1. Your son asks an important question about our ‘Fallen’ re his great
    uncle. Official ‘heroes’ and media-declared ones get a lot of ink.
    But behind those frontline men were many more doing the myriad
    things that keep a army moving. Without them the men with guns
    would not get far. Napolean I think knew “An army marches on its
    This was a vital point in the late Great War creation of the Imperial
    -now Commonwealth philosophy – War Graves Commission. Fabian
    Ware, Kipling et al declared all lost lives were equal, all whose
    remains were located would get equal dignified graves, all ranks t
    ogether. (This was not done in earlier wars – dead officers named,
    “and other ranks”..)
    An accident like that is particularly poignant – no heroics to lean
    on in telling family stories. Having a photo of the site is something ..
    Your boy might be able to get a “clipping” of the Globe and Mail
    coverage of the accident, using his library card to access it.
    You could post it along with the museum photo on his VWM file.
    Take a look at the newspaper Casualty list…wonder who was in
    charge of the Polish graves – the British ?
    Imagine how the bomber crews felt when they discovered what had
    happened…Perhaps the popular media word “sacrifice” is a confuser
    in war coverage – they didn’t choose to die, they all had just offered
    when joining up “for the duration” to risk their lives in service overseas.
    Thanks for sharing Kathy and son. Lest we forget…

  2. Who were the fallen,
    I like the quote, “An army marches on its stomach.” I hadn’t heard it. Thank you.
    Also didn’t know that all lost lives weren’t considered equal before Great War commission stressed it. Great information.
    Will be sure to get my son to check for a Globe story on the 1944 bombing mistake with his library card.

  3. You are in luck in Globe coverage. A war correspondent was caught
    in it too but was luckier. On the 16th.
    The Star ‘Pages of the Past’ can have great war coverage but is not free
    at our library. You can get an hour on it for $3 + and if you know what
    you are looking for you can focus on those dates .
    If you go to PoP free search 1945 to Saturday Nov. 10 you will find a
    great article, (terrible pix used), by Vimy Ridge MC Greg Clarke, WW 2
    war correspondent. What’s not said is who in particular he was thinking
    of – his son Murray was killed in fall 1944 in France. (I’ve tidied the piece
    up for an image, now up on the VWM file of J M Clark, of the great Star
    famiy of newsmen.
    The Star is too mean to post the Honour Roll image online for people
    who may not know that their casualty had worked there. The Staff who
    returned to the Star after WW2 service would surely be furious at this
    failure to share with modern technology..

  4. Thanks very much. Will make the search easier.
    The Star is soon putting up a pay wall on its site (early 2013) so not only no Honour Roll images, but not much else either unless you’re willing to pay.

  5. All they have to do is print a photo of it with their plaque and post
    it and it is in circulation giving people a chance to find out they
    have an interesting connection in Toronto. It also could encourage
    other companies to put theirs on websites.Churches and schools too.
    -Pre-war civilian occupations are important in building up a picture of
    those who went off to to war and didn’t get back. Luckily our WW I
    casualty entered his last employeron his CEF documents, helping
    in tracking newspaper mention of his Missing, then KIA status.
    Any idea what this Great Uncle was doing before he volunteered ?
    I found the Star plaque somewhere else by chance and have copied it
    to the VWM files of several of the names – a woman called Marika
    Pirie of the Great War Study Group has photographed and posted a
    huge number of such things.- she deserves serious recognition as a
    volunteer just as much as people who just fundraise from others.
    arranging galas..
    Star PoP is free with library card if a library chooses to sponsor it.
    What’s fascinating about those world level conflicts is not the blood
    and guts but the logistics of putting together the pieces, mobilizing
    the whole country to fill the many needs ahead. Not like professional
    military doing tours today, with no effect on our daily lives..

  6. We’re getting mixed up here. WW 1 and 2 Honour Roll plaque
    naming Toronto Star war dead hangs in the building last heard.
    It would have been moved there from the old Star building.
    All being suggested is that they take a photo and put in the paper
    around November 11 along with all those pix of old guys who did
    NOT die in their wars, the civilians we refer to as war veterans.
    -“Pages of the Past” like the Globe’s “Canada’s Heritage 1844”
    is an online, searchable archive of the papers over the years.
    Payment is reasonable, luckily here the Library features access
    to one as a service, using your library card number. Just having
    old newspapers at your fingertips, instead of on Microfilm at a
    local library is a goldmine for those who look things up at these
    original sources.
    ‘Paywall’ charging for daily access is a separate issue as it means
    their current issue, instead of paying for home delivery of the real
    newspaper. Will see how it goes, as I read it and the Post online
    and pay for what’s left of the dear old grey Globe…

  7. This is from Fallen:
    Well, the obvious placement for that army volunteer was where his skills and knowledge were needed. Think of all the support functions to be manned when they started a big army overseas duty from scratch…
    Browsing WW1 war posters, trades are featured including, of course re horses. There was honour in all placements, doing one’s duty to the country required doing what was asked of you, even if you joined up with other ideas.
    If there is a photo of the store or the area, you could add it to his VWM file. This is the sort of thing that brings them back to life, not just shadows…
    Remember Kipling’s lines for Sault Ste. Marie Cenotaph 1925, written at the request of a local newspaperman ..
    From little towns in a far land we came,
    To save our honour and a world aflame.
    By little towns in a far land we sleep;

  8. last line omitted, sorry
    From little towns in a far land we came,
    To save our honour and a world aflame.
    By little towns in a far land we sleep;
    And trust that world we won for you to keep.

    Lots of insights packed into so few words…
    Even more poignant is when the dead person was an immigrant
    to this country from yet another “far land’,,, Russia, Japan, India,
    not just UK.

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