My job was to blow up the gate

Interview Ė April 2005.

Mr Fred J. Bragnallo
Sergeant with
the Royal Winnipeg Rifles
the 7th Brigade, 3rd Division

Liberator of the Netherlands

Well, first of all, you should know something about my history. Iím a local boy of Thunder bay, I was born and brought up here. I ended up as a sergeant in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the 7th Brigade, 3rd Division army.  I was a veteran of the Normandy campaign. We came up through France, into Belgium, and our line of advance was from France into Belgium. The city of Calais was one of the larger centers that we were involved, and there was a little fort, Nieulay, stopping our advance into the city of Calais. I played a little part in that myself. We used to take turns on being lead Platoons, you see.  If you know how a company is in battle, they have 4 platoons, I was in A- company, and 3 platoons,  B and C and C. ďAĒ had the job of taking the fort, after 2 companies had to withdraw because of the heavy fire. So when we were committed, later during the day, I was the lead platoon to get across the moat, there was a big moat all the way around it, with a drawbridge, there was a bridge going from the street to the fort, I was a corporal at the time. I had to make my way across with two other guys, and they gave us covering fire.  I got across to the moat, across the moat against the wall. They were 20 ft walls there, my job was to blow up the gate so that our flamethrowers could get in.  When we got to the gate, our  heavy artillery fire, even from the channel, naval guns were hitting the wall and phosphorus was coming on us you see, and as we went along the walls towards the gate, just before we got there, one of our Typhoons hit the gate, it got a direct hit (they were very good, the aircraft supports that we had, we called them Tiffies at that time).  They were very accurate, and they hit the gate and they blew it up and it was hanging down, I was about 20 ft away from it by the time it got hit, we didnít realize the gate was hit. 

 

 When we got to it, it was hanging at an angle.  The first thing to come up was our flamethrowers, we called them wasps,  flame on Brengun carriers, and they come up, drag the rest of the gate out, they went in, 4 wasps went in around the grounds, and all the Gerries inside were caught napping, taking cover from all the bombardments. There was an underground tunnel that they were hiding in.  Anyway, when we got in there, the 3 of us, actually it was 2 of us, another chap with the name of Hayword,  we were running for the office, to see where the flag was.  I made a dash for the office, and got the colonel, Colonel Schreuders, he was the garrison commander.  We brought him out. By this time the company commander took over, he was the senior officer, you see. He interrogated him, and the newspaper people came and so on, but we got 180 prisoners out of there, which was a pretty good catch. After that, an interesting thing happened, we were having some patrols carried out around the fort once we took it over, because they were shelling us pretty badly. Incidentally, before we completed that, the Gerries were counterattacking by shelling us, and we went into hiding ourselves, in the same places where they had been hiding. It was so fortified, that the shells were hitting the top and all you could hear was a thud. It was really protective, I donít know how many feet of concrete they had up there. Originally it was an old fort that the Germans had reinforced, it was amazing what they did there ; there was a whole lot of room where they could sleep in there, there was a bar in there, and all kinds of liqueurs in there. After we took the fort, we were on night patrol to see where the rest of the enemy was, we came across this guy, he spoke perfect English, by the name of John Woolpe. He was a student, and he was forced to go into the German army, I guess.  He was a university student, and his parents were killed.  He ran away, he wasnít in the army.  They wanted him to be enlisted, and he ran away or something, he was a Polish Jew, his parents were killed, and one sister. He came into our lines, and brought 10 German prisoners with him, they volunteered to give up. 

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      photo: June 29th, 2005.
Marina Park, Thunder Bay ON