A story of capture and survival

Veteran shares memories during ceremony at TRU

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
November 8, 2012 01:00 AM

Troop Sgt. Don Cameron reflects on his military service while speaking at a TRU Remembrance Day service held Thursday.

It doesn't matter that nearly 70 years has passed or that he had a stroke seven years ago.

Troop Sgt. Don Cameron's memories of his harrowing capture, injury and survival at the hands of the Germans during the Second World War remain intact.

Cameron shared a few of those memories during an early Remembrance Day ceremony at Thompson Rivers University where several Rocky Mountain Rangers had gathered to show their respect.

"It's good to see the Rocky Mountain Rangers here, that's how I got started," said the 95-year-old.

Born in 1917 in Ontario, Cameron's family lived in Salmon Arm by his late teens.

At 22 years old, he became a member of the Dukes Infantry Regiment of New Westminster. At 25, he became a tank commander for an armoured regiment and was shipped out to Brighton, England.

In summer of 1944, he recalled, he survived a dramatic near miss.

"That day the good Lord was looking after me," he said.

Cameron was standing in the street distributing the first mail they'd seen in three months to his troops when a German raid alarm rang out. The soldiers ignored it since the likelihood of the enemy approaching that exact spot was remote.

He continued calling out names but eventually looked up to see he was the only soldier on the street. Then he saw the Germans.

"I was the only person there and Jerry was shooting at me," he said with a chuckle. "Jerry mustn't have been very good at shooting because they never touched me."

His regiment pushed the Germans back on that occasion, but worse was to come.

Shortly after the D-Day landings, Cameron was stationed in Caen in the lower Normandy portion of France.

The Canadians and the Americans were successfully catching the Germans off guard with their plans of attack. But tragedy struck one day when Cameron was tasked to scout out an area across an uncut alfalfa field and report back to his colonel.

The enemy was crouching in the tall grass and shot at Cameron as he ran across and back again.

While catching his breath behind a tree, he was shot above the right knee but still managed to continue towards the tank where he and his colonel had planned to meet up.

Before he got there, two German tanks full of soldiers spotted the colonel and his second in command also running toward the tank.

They launched their artillery and killed them.

Cameron took refuge near his tank and pulled some leaves over himself to hide. One German soldier walked by less than a foot away without seeing him, but a second saw him and Cameron was captured.

He spent six days in a German ambulance and was given only two sips of water during that time. Then he was transported to a prison hospital in Paris where a German doctor cut him unnecessarily wide open from knee to hip.

He removed a machine gun bullet but didn't suture him or bandage him with proper dressing. Rather the doctor wrapped his leg with a stretchy paper material that soon became soaked.

"I was there 17 and a half days," said Cameron.

His wound turned green and he suffered deep pain.

When the hospital was finally liberated, a French doctor told him he'd lose his leg, but Cameron pleaded with him to take another look.

The doctor promised not to amputate right away and wheeled him into surgery. When he came out, Cameron's leg was saved.

"The doctor kept his promise. He cleaned it out instead."

Three years ago Cameron returned to Normandy and he was sad to see that the beautiful brick buildings that had given soldiers so much trouble because it gave German enemy occupants a perfect sniper protection were all gone after being destroyed in the war. And rather than replace them, wooden buildings had taken their place.

Cameron was also moved by the warmth and jubilation that still exists to this day when Canadian soldiers are in the locals' midst.

"Walking down a street a woman stops and looks down at (my medals), runs towards me, throws her arms around me, kisses me on both cheeks and says 'Thank you for saving us.'"

The crowd at TRU shared her sentiment.

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