‘Their bul­lets are just as sharp’

The Amherst News - - NEWS - By Su­san Bel­liveau The Record

Ed­i­tor’s note: The fol­low­ing ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in the Nov. 8, 1989, edi­tion of The Record. Cyril York passed away Feb. 10, 1998.

Parrs­boro res­i­dent Cyril Yorke was in Lima, Peru, get­ting ready to set sail for West Africa when the war broke out, and al­though the mer­chant mariner would visit ports in Casa Blanca, France and Mon­treal be­fore re­turn­ing home, it didn’t pre­vent him from mak­ing two very im­por­tant de­ci­sions which would rad­i­cally change the course of his life.

The first de­ci­sion was to get mar­ried, and the sec­ond was to join the Princess Louise Fusiliers — an elite group of sol­diers, trained in the han­dling of medium weapons in­clud­ing the Vicker’s ma­chine gun, 4.2 mor­tars and Bren Gun Car­ri­ers armed with flamethrow­ers, whose sole pur­pose was to pro­vide sup­port to army units un­der en­emy fire.

Yorke first be­came in­volved with the Fusiliers reg­i­ment shortly af­ter join­ing the army.

“This fel­low came from the Fusiliers look­ing for re­cruits and when they said they had a mo­bile unit my hand was up this high (holds hand well above head),

and from there I walked across Italy,” Yorke laughed.

On Oct. 30, 1942, the Parrs­boro res­i­dent shipped out for Europe land­ing on Gourock, Scot­land. From there the young re­cruits were trans­ported by train to Camp Alder­shot in Eng­land to be­gin train­ing for the Fusiliers. The group stayed at Camp Alder­shot for a month and then headed to Box­hill for more train­ing, this time on the flamethrow­ers.

Next, the group, by now di­vided into reg­i­ments, par­tic­i­pated in the Spar­tan Scheme, a com­pe­ti­tion set up to de­ter­mine which reg­i­ment would go to bat­tle in Italy with the Fifth Divi­sion com­bat unit. Yorke re­called be­ing par­tic­u­larly anx­ious to win the com­pe­ti­tion.

“We wanted to go be­cause there was a war go­ing on in Italy and we fig­ured we weren’t do­ing any­thing just ly­ing around Eng­land.”

The group set sail for Italy, but ran into some trou­ble on the way, ac­cord­ing to Yorke.

“On the way down a hos­pi­tal ship was bombed and we stopped to pick up nurses and other per­son­nel who were in the wa­ter af­ter the bomb­ing. Six or seven ships were sank that night, in­clud­ing the ship car­ry­ing all of our weapons and am­mu­ni­tion.”

The hos­pi­tal ship was towed into Al­giers where it sank as soon as it got into the har­bor. From Al­giers, the Fusiliers headed for Naples, Italy, where they spent sev­eral weeks wait­ing for more am­mu­ni­tion be­fore head­ing across coun­try to Or­tona, Italy.

In Or­tona, the Fusiliers met up with the Cape Bre­ton High­lands and the West Nova Sco­tia Reg­i­ment and that, Yorke said, “is where my ma­chine gun came into play. We were giv­ing sup­port fire — cov­er­ing them un­til they went in. We shot in their big­ger equip­ment be­cause we had longer range equip­ment than the in­fantry.”

The High­landers lost that bat­tle. Af­ter that, Yorke said, they re­al­ized war was more than just fun and be­came “a good unit to be with.”

That win­ter the Fusiliers found them­selves stuck in the moun­tains all win­ter.

“We couldn’t get out be­cause we were un­der sur­veil­lance all the time. We lived in pup tents all win­ter,” Yorke re­marked.

The for­mer Fusilier said dur­ing their time in the moun­tains, the group be­came very pro­fi­cient in the game of bridge. Ma­chine gun trenches were dug so that the men in them would be close enough to one an­other to en­joy a game of bridge while man­ning their gun.

Look­ing back at the war, Yorke re­mem­bers mo­ments like these and says “It wasn’t all bad — you don’t think of any of the bad things; you wash them all from your mind.”

Around the end of 1944, the group headed to France and then Bel­gium where hey spent a week be­fore go­ing to Hol­land. It was when Yorke was in Hol­land that the war ended. He re­called the un­cer­tainty felt by the group at that time.

“We kind of held our breath un­til we found out it was true. It was quite a re­lief when we found out it was. The Dutch peo­ple were very happy about it — they were pass­ing out any­thing they had, which wasn’t much.”

From Hol­land, the group was sta­tioned in Italy for two or three months be­fore go­ing home. While in Italy many of the sol­diers were kept in lo­cal homes. Yorke re­mem­bers these months as be­ing filled with joy and cel­e­bra­tions as the sol­diers par­tic­i­pated in the base­ball games and re­gat­tas.

When it came time to go, Yorke was among 15,000 who boarded the Queen El­iz­a­beth for the long jour­ney home. The ship docked in New York upon reach­ing North Amer­ica and from there Yorke headed home to a wife he had not seen in three years and a son he never met.

“There was a lot of read­just­ment, they were al­most strangers,” Yorke re­mem­bered.

Not only did he have to ad­just to his fam­ily, but also his en­vi­ron­ment,

“Every­thing seemed very quiet — there was no ac­tion. I found a job as a piledriver, but I de­cided there must be an eas­ier way of mak­ing a liv­ing so I went back to the army.”

His de­ci­sion to re-en­list in the army was not dis­puted by his wife, whom he said “didn’t mind — she was happy as long as we were to­gether.”

Later, when the Korean War broke out, Yorke, who was a sergeant by this time, ap­plied to go to Korea but was turned down be­cause “at that time I was in­spect­ing ve­hi­cles that went to Korea and fig­ured my job was too im­por­tant.

“I wanted to go be­cause I had al­ready seen a lot of the world but I hadn’t seen Korea. I also missed the com­rade­ship. I think you miss every­thing — when I stopped go­ing to sea, I missed the sea. I guess it’s nat­u­ral,” he ex­plained.

Look­ing back on World War Two, Yorke com­mented when he first joined the war ef­fort he had no idea what to ex­pect. How­ever, when af­ter be­ing in­volved in bat­tles, the vet said the war didn’t seem real some­times.

“You don’t re­ally think it’s real — it’s just when you hear the shells snap when they go over your head, you know they’re get­ting close.”

He in­di­cated usu­ally there was so much ac­tiv­ity; there wasn’t any time to get scared, al­though this wasn’t al­ways the case.

“When you come off of a rest pe­riod — the first day you go back in you’re scared; every­thing scares you.”

Since his wife’s death ear­lier this year, the vet has been left alone with his mem­o­ries and al­though most are good, there are a few of the war that still haunt him. He re­called one par­tic­u­larly un­set­tling mem­ory.

“The flamethrower is not a good mem­ory. They would be cry­ing and squeal­ing but they would still keep com­ing. They were some of Hitler’s fa­nat­ics — some were only 16 or 17 years old, but their bul­lets were just as sharp as any­body’s else’s.”

The late Cyril Yorke.

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