Jack Elms’ note­book

Veteran has wealth of sto­ries to share

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front page - BY ROSALYN ROY

It’s a thin, green cov­ered, en­tirely un­re­mark­able spi­ral note­book, one a child might use to take notes in class.

For Jack Elms it is the trea­sured keeper of his mem­o­ries, some dat­ing back as far as 1942.

He reads one aloud: “So Much For En­e­mies.”

Bad Ger­mans, some peo­ple would say. Well think again. The war was wind­ing down. It was prob­a­bly the last two weeks of April, 1945. Our reg­i­ment was dug in on the River Elbe, a few miles down­stream from Ham­burg, pre­par­ing for a shoot across the river where a Ger­man coastal de­fense bat­tery was op­er­a­tional ap­prox­i­mately 7 or 8 miles away. Our com­mand­ing of­fi­cer called in a Lieu­tenant – told him to gather up 4 or 5 men, cross the river, carry no weapons of any kind, carry a white flag to in­di­cate to the Ger­man bat­tery they were com­ing in peace and to ask the Ger­man com­man­der to sur­ren­der his po­si­tion. Well lit­tle more than half­way across the river the boat our boys were in broke down. No gas. They started to drift slowly down­stream – didn’t even have any pad­dles. Of course the Ger­mans was watch­ing what was hap­pen­ing and lanced the boat from their side of the river, came out, threw our guys a rope and pro­ceeded to tow them in. In­stead of tow­ing them to their side of the river, they brought them back to our side, got out of the boat, helped our guys pull up the boat, shook hands, said “guten mor­gen” which is “good morn­ing” in English, got in their boat, stood up and saluted our guys, and went on their way. So much for en­e­mies.

There’s a wealth of sto­ries in that note­book, and as Remembrance Day ap­proaches Elms is happy to share them.

To hear them re­quires a visit to his lit­tle cot­tage. Jack doesn’t get around much th­ese days, and can no longer at­tend Le­gion events or even the wreath lay­ing at the Ceno­taph.

“In­stead of tow­ing them to their side of the river, they brought them back to our side, got out of the boat, helped our guys pull up the boat, shook hands, said ‘guten mor­gen’ which is ‘good morn­ing’ in English, got in their boat, stood up and saluted our guys, and went on their way. So much for en­e­mies.”

- Ex­cerpt from Jack Elm’s note­book

“I can’t get around like I used to. I’m 92,” he says, mo­tion­ing at his walker. “I got to take my time do­ing every­thing.”

Elms was 17 when he left St. John’s and trav­elled to Hal­i­fax, where he boarded the An­des and sailed for Eng­land along with 6,000 other men, all crowded to­gether and sleep­ing in ham­mocks. In April of 1942 he had moved from his na­tive Stone’s Cove in For­tune Bay to Port aux Basques to be­gin work­ing on the rail­way. In Oc­to­ber, shortly af­ter the sink­ing of the SS Cari­bou, he de­cided to en­list in the Bri­tish army. Un­like many in the re­gion, he did not have fam­ily aboard the Cari­bou when she went down.

“I just thought I should do it, I sup­pose,” Elms says of his rea­son for join­ing. He had never been out­side of New­found­land be­fore sign­ing up to fight.

“That was the first trip I ever made.”

The jour­ney took seven days and The An­des reached Liver­pool in the mid­dle of an air raid, which Jack be­lieves was tar­get­ing the troop ship. From there he went by train to Wat­ford, north­west of Lon­don, and was sent to train as a sig­naler (wire­less op­er­a­tor).

For the next three years Elms was as a sig­naler in the 59th (New­found­land) Heavy Reg­i­ment at­tached to the Bri­tish Sec­ond Army. Elms landed in France near Beny-sur-Mer and later caught up with his reg­i­ment near Ghent, Bel­gium. He re­mained with them for the du­ra­tion, walk­ing across much of Europe for the next 10 months un­til the reg­i­ment reached Ham­burg, Ger­many.

“That’s where the war ended. That’s where we were at the time,” re­calls Elms. “The reg­i­ment pulled up at the city hall for a meet­ing and this is what we were told.”

Elms ad­mits he saw a lot of things dur­ing his three years in the Bri­tish army, some of which he still won’t talk about.

Other mem­o­ries are more forth­com­ing. He vividly re­mem­bers the spec­ta­cle of the Al­lied Forces daily thou­sand bomber raids.

“The Bri­tish would do it dur­ing the day and the Amer­i­cans would do it dur­ing the night and they were bomb­ing Ham­burg and Dres­den,” said Elms.

If his reg­i­ment was un­der fire they would be told to stand down, brace and wait.

“The first 250 came in at 500 feet above the ground. A few min­utes af­ter­wards the next 250 came in at 1,000 feet. The third lot came in af­ter that,” re­calls Elms, his eyes fixed on noth­ing as his mind re­turns him briefly to the bat­tle­field.

He re­fo­cuses and is sud­denly back in the present.

“That was some­thing to watch. Let me tell you.”

He hasn’t been back to Bel­gium, but he does have a medal from there. He did re­turn to Eng­land with his wife, and to­gether they toured the UK for five weeks, vis­it­ing friends who still keep in touch reg­u­larly. One of his former lieu­tenants still sends him a Christ­mas let­ter ev­ery year, and he still keeps in touch with former army mates.

“I should have went back and I won­ders now why I didn’t.”

Af­ter the war Elms came home and en­listed in the Cana­dian army, where he spent the next five years, even­tu­ally at­tain­ing the rank of sergeant. He got mar­ried two years af­ter the war to Alma, who hailed from New Har­bour in Trin­ity Bay and built their home in Top­sail, a house that still stands.

Af­ter his army days were done he worked the next 40 years as a ma­chin­ist, and he has sto­ries about those times too.

“They’re all true sto­ries,” says Elms of his note­book’s con­tents. Some oth­ers haven’t been writ­ten down yet but are still fresh in his mem­ory.

A day off

Elms tells a story about Jack Ford, who was in the Air Force and once spent three years in a Ja­panese prison camp. Ford was his su­per­vi­sor and wouldn’t give him a Fri­day off to go moose hunt­ing. Elms be­gan pres­sur­ing him for the day off for a cou­ple of weeks, even­tu­ally point­ing out the un­fair­ness given that Ford granted an­other col­league time off to go to a club.

Ford put his hand on Elms’ shoul­der and said, “Jack I know who you’re re­fer­ring to, but that same fel­low owes Law Pike for a fridge and a stove, and if I fires him Law Pike will never get paid for the fridge and the stove, and Law Pike is my brother-in-law. You still can’t have the day off!”

Elms flips through his note­book, search­ing for an­other story to share. “I’ve got a lot of junk there, you know?”

He fi­nally chooses an­other story, one he calls the “The D-day Dodger” and chuck­les while he tells it.

Just like all of the tales in his note­book it’s a great story, not junk at all.


Jack Elms, 92, is only too happy to share his wealth of sto­ries.


Jack Elms (mid­dle row, fifth from left) with his fel­low sig­naler trainees. The sig­nalers were of­ten seven or eight miles away from base camp, re­lay­ing crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion be­tween troops and com­man­ders, of­ten un­der heavy fire.


Jack Elms, 17, on Princess Street in Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land in 1942.

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