Remembering a Fraser Lake young man’s journey abroad

Remembering a Fraser Lake young man's journey abroad

Compiled with files from Sid Sandback, nephew of Bruce Ray

 

Born in 1922 in Fraser Lake and died in 1945 in Emmerich, Germany, Private Bruce Byron Ray ran into old schoolmate Steve Kolida when they became stationed in the same company. Kolida provided first-hand insight to Ray’s death.

 

From a telephone conversation with Steve Kolida by Sid Sandback, nephew of Bruce Ray

Steve first met Bruce while attending school in Fraser Lake when they were younger. After three or four months, Steve moved back to McBride, BC where he resides today.

The next time he ran into Bruce was about January or February of 1945, they were stationed in the same company. Steve remembers seeing Bruce and he recognized him right away even though Bruce was sporting a very large handlebar moustache. Steve approached him but Bruce didn’t remember him at first until he told him his name.

Steve remembers in February they were holed up in the Reishwald Forest “dug in like gophers” waiting to cross the Rhine. The Germans were bombing every night. “Got the shit beat out of us.”

In March “After we crossed the Rhine, the Germans fought even harder.” Steve and Bruce were helping to clean the town of Emmerich. “Germans on one side of the street and us on the other that’s how close they were.”

The Canadians were instrumental in ‘cleaning’ the towns of Europe. They perfected the art of ‘mouse holes’ where they would set charges against a wall and blow a hole through the wall and then swarm inside. After ‘cleaning’ the house, they would set charges against the next wall and so on. The houses of Europe were built very close together and this allowed them to move from house to house without venturing onto the street.

Steve remembers Bruce was hit by shrapnel that took off a large part of his hip. When they were carrying him out on the stretcher, one of the stretcher bearers was hit and killed. Steve was also hit by a small piece of shrapnel in his head which was treated in hospital later.

After his release from hospital, Steve returned to his company which later moved into The Netherlands. Steve recalled their commanding officer was a Major Mitchell.

 

From the trenches: last letter home

K62848. Pte. Ray B.B.#1 Can. Scott Regt.“B” Coy.Canadian Army, OverseasJan 10, 1945

Dear Mom & Dad,

Just got a letter tonight that was wrote on the sixth of Aug. I don’t remember whether I told you I got the parcel that you sent or not. I received it OK and in good condition.

Well at present I am in a slit trench with three other fellows. Two of us sleep at each end with our feet pointing toward the center. There is about four foot space in the middle in which we have a stove made out of an old carbage can. So we are pretty comfortable. We can stand up in that four foot square anyhow. We have about six or seven in. of snow but its not too cold.

I had a letter from Yvonne and she said that they had sent me a parcel but it was on the ship that got burned and was returned to them in an awful mess. She is back in Toronto going to school. Bernice shouldn’t be very far from there and I’ll bet she’d certainly enjoy herself if she looked them up. Bob rented the café out and bought a house so she won’t be able to help herself to the milk shakes.

I got three parcels at Christmas. One from Howard, Glen and Lilly and another from Hazel. I wrote to them except Hazel and I haven’t had the writing paper so couldn’t write her. If you can send over some paper and envelopes. Not to many at a time because it is hard to pack them. Most of the envelopes stick together from the dampness.

One of the boys was down in a little town that the people have all left and came across a slaughter house. There was a horses head lying on the floor with a lot of horse’s legs in the corner so I guess the people had meat for a few days.

Some of us went down to Herman Goring’s Aunts estate and looked the house over. What a joint boy if I just had three or four rooms like any one of the many that were in that house I’d be set for life. When one looks at all the furniture that has been destroyed in this war and what a lot of people have to do without he begins to question the sanity of the people.

It takes me about two hours to write one letter and I have about twelve to write so it don’t look like I’ll sleep much for the next twenty four hours.

Write and give me all the talk on whats up back home.

Lots of love. Bruce.

Sid Sandback, nephew of Bruce Ray, visited his uncle’s final resting place at the Groesbeek Canadian War Memorial in the Netherlands

My wife and I traveled there a couple years ago and we found his resting place and took some pictures. We have quite a story of meeting the people of The Netherlands who were at the memorial the day we visited.

There was a very large bus of school children pulling in just as we arrived and the cemetery came alive with the sounds of children playing and laughing. It took our breath away. We talked with a mom who was there with her son. She could speak English and so we spent some time just chatting.

To this day, the people of The Netherlands celebrate the Canadians who helped liberate them from the German war machine and the school children are all taught the history of what the Canadians did for them. They regularly visit the war memorials in their country and they are taught that when they set foot there, they are standing in Canada. Each memorial is kept immaculate with grass neatly trimmed and brass accents polished to a shine. Grave stones are replaced when they get too weathered and illegible. The granite stone is always cleaned and bright.

She asked who we were there to see and then wanted to see Bruce’s grave. Her son, who was ten or eleven, could not speak English, but I could see the understanding in his face. I had a small lapel pin of a Canadian flag that I had for travelling in Europe. I removed it and gave it to the little boy who thought he just won a million bucks. Unfortunately, I only had one, otherwise I would have given one to all the children who were there. To have the kids there, playing, laughing and running around, brought a tear to my eye as I knew that all the soldiers buried there were enjoying their company. I had never been more proud to be a Canadian than that day, at that moment.