William McKenzie Wood was a native of Montreal. He was a cadet at school in Toronto, then completed his officer training in 1942. He joined the Black Watch, as it was the local (to Montreal) English-speaking reginment. As to why he volunteered, he said “Because everybody else was….” He arrived in England in 1943, and Normandy in July 1944 when the Black Watch disembarked as part of 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division. Bill served in rear areas for the first few days, visiting, amongst other places, Bayeux, before joining his colleagues around the 23rd July. He served as a platoon commander in “C” Company. As he and his men prepared for the oncoming battles, Bill went on a scouting mission from the ridge east of Pt67 just south of Caen, and saw the bodies of fellow 2nd Div men, still in their slit trenches.
On the morning of the 25th, the Black Watch commenced what was to become a costly and infamous assault across the gently sloping fields of Verrieres Ridge.
The attack started in St Martin de Fontenay. Here, Bill made his way along hedgerow at edge of village passed the local cemetery. Once clear of cover, the entire battalion came under heavy and accurate fire from ahead and from the right flank. Bill made it about fifty yards before being wounded- a machine-gun round hit the trigger guard of his rifle, then went into his right leg. He made his way over to a house to await the attentions of a medic, but the house soon came under fire from tanks over on the left (east). Allied tanks! Bill yelled out “Canadian! Canadian!” but to no avail, the tanks kept firing, so he crawled his way back to the village to try and get patched-up.
Bill was away from the battalion for about a week. On his return, he was made Intelligence Officer. Making his way forward to commence his tasks, he passed a couple of men carrying a wounded officer back to the rear. The man on the stretcher was the man who’s job Bill now had…
During Operation Totalize, Bill rode with CO (Mitchell) in his carrier. They stopped in quarry (having recce’d the route at night previously). Dead Germans in weapons pits were all around quarry perimeter, most if not all of them had been killed by blast.
As the Normandy campaign ended the Allies pushed further east, the 2nd Canadian Division crossed the border into Belgium. Near St Leonard, during a night advance past a windmill, Germans suddenly “attacked”. Several were hit beofre it dawned on the Canadian troops that the Germans were actually surrendering. One night, whilst holed up in houses, a German tank made it’s way towards the Black Watch. In the darkness, Bill related that it was the only time he was really scared, saying “I felt hairs on back of my neck stand up”. The tank was eventually kocked out by fire from a PIAT.
Soon after this incident, Bill was captured. To one of the Germans he made a gesture: “are you going to shoot me?”. The German, to Bill’s relief, said no.
Bill was held in a PoW camp in Brunswick (Braunschweig) near an autobahn, on the other side of which was an airstrip. Bill remembered seeing (and hearing) jet engined ‘planes taking off and landing as they attempted to hold back the Allied aerial onslaught on the German Army, and Germany itself. He was asked by his interrogators as to effect of bombing on civilian population in Britain.
The prisoners in the camp did their best to better their circumstances. They had entertainment, a “night club”. The currency was generally tobacco. Anyone with any sort of trade or skill, made the most of it. Laundry was often done in return for a few cigarettes.
As the end of the war approached, the situation in Germany worsened, both for the natives and those held against their will. Red Cross parcels, which had been issued to each man one per week, went down to one per week shared. For the last four months of the war, there were no parcels at all.
By this time, Bill’s stomach was the size of his fist. Of particular concern was the lack of any fat in their diet. Ankles swelled, and nausea and dizziness occurred when standing up quickly.
The camp was eventually iberated by American forces. Bill was flown by C-47, then four-engined bomber, back to UK.
Bill was in Trafalgar Square on 8th May, VE Day, before commencing his journey back across the Atlantic. He happened to be in New York when the Japanese surrender was announced. After leaving the army, Bill studied law before entering the diplomatic service.
Bill Wood passed away in 2012.