Hamiltonian Doug Iverson was one pound over the 115 pound limit for admission in the armed forces when he signed up in December of 1943. Because of his small size and weight he was first recruited by the air force; but when the position offered turned out to be that of a tail-gunner, Doug wisely opted for the army. A recruiter asked him about his hobbies and when Doug said he liked music, that apparently qualified him for the position of radio operator. What followed was a period of intensive training. The radio operators were taught Morse code by listening to records, that progressively upped the speed of the dots and dashes. Ultimately they were able to send and receive at 18 words a minute which qualified them for signalmen. Now 90 Doug vividly remembers his year in Europe. He landed in France in July of 1944, a month after D Day, as a replacement for a signalman who was killed by friendly fire at the Normandy city of Caen. “There were more deaths by friendly fire than by the Germans,” Doug recalled. Doug’s job was to relay messages on enemy positions from a Piper Cub spotter plane flying over enemy lines to allied artillery units. “I would give locations to the batteries who would then fire a few test shots. Then we would fine tune the location and once done, someone would say, “lets give them hell.” Doug has never lost his signal training. “I was watching a war movie with my son, and there was a scene where a signalman was using a heliograph to flash coded messaging, and I was able to read the messages off the screen. My son was shocked because at that time it had been more than 60 years since I had decoded messages.”
After Caen Doug’s unit moved through the Falaise Gap to Holland passing through Arnheim where just weeks earlier the Allies had failed to capture a bridge over the Rhine. The operation had resulted in more casualties than the D-Day invasion. Doug remembers bulldozers being used just to clear the wreckage of allied vehicles and artillery that were blocking the roads. Doug’s unit spent December in Nijmegen, followed by a bombardment that essentially destroyed the town of Cleve (the birthplace of one of Henry VIII’s eight wives). The retreating Germans had destroyed most of the weirs and dams that were used to control the rivers that made up the Rhine delta, resulting in mud and water everywhere. “Monty (Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery) , called us the water rats,” said Doug.
As the mission moved into 1945, the German resistance was collapsing. Doug remembers his unit driving along roads where the bodies of dead German soldiers were everywhere. “The British and Canadian dead would be collected at night, so we seldom saw them,” recalled Doug. “But the Germans were left to the last .”
Doug’s unit made its way to the Hague in Northwest Holland where the people were literally starving. “It was heartbreaking,” said Doug, as he recalled Dutch residents picking food out of the garbage containers outside the Canadian mess hall. His voice breaking 70 years after the fact, Doug remembers handing a brown bag lunch over to a little boy who was accompanied by a 2 year old brother. “I will never forget it.”