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.