Bud Freeston

Bud Freeston

Langley senior remembers following D-Day into Europe

Wounds in North Africa delayed Bud Freeston’s deployment to Europe

Bob Groeneveld/Langley Advance Times

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Bud Freeston landed on Juno Beach for the push into Europe in the final year of the Second World War.

But he was about a month or so late for D-Day.

Many people have got the impression that D-Day marked the end – or very near the end – of the war.

But Freeston can set them straight: “It was really the beginning of the war.”

Wounds he got in North Africa made him late for the June 6 invasion.

He was training troops in preparation for the landing in Sicily, the precursor to the invasion of Italy, when a mortar unexpectedly exploded, killing one of the five-man crew, badly damaging another man’s face, and leaving him with a leg injury that almost cost him the limb.

His slow – and eventful recovery – still left him with a “4L” rating, which rendered him ineligible for combat service.

A chance encounter with a doctor at a party got him a new 1L rating, allowing him to actively join the fight, and that he did.

Though he had missed D-Day, he saw plenty of fighting after arriving in Normandy, moving up through Belgium to Antwerp, up into Holland to Groningen, and finally right into Germany.

Freeston grew up mostly in Saskatchewan.

His father was a section man with the CPR: “Ties, steel rails, what the trains ran on… that’s what he did,” explained Freeston.

They moved from one town to another, from Saskatchewan to Alberta and back, as his dad applied for and received more important postings.

He was 18 when his dad died, and he took it upon himself to care for his mother, two brothers, and three sisters.

He worked hard to bring home about $15 per month, and decided there had to be something better.

In the summer of 1940, he was on his way across the Atlantic to England as part of the Saskatchewan Light Infantry. He was making enough money to send his mother $40 a month, and because he was sending so much of his pay home, the federal goverment threw in a few dollars more.

He would make the crossing a few more times before the war was over.

He was a sergeant in Scotland, practicing landings, when he was called back to Canada to be commissioned as a lieutenant.

Back to England, and then back up in Scotland, he decided to educate himself, studying pamphlets on machine guns and mortars.

In the army’s eyes, he became an expert. And that set him on the road to North Africa, and the training accident that he barely escaped with his life, and somehow, miraculously didn’t cost him his leg.

“We were practicing, shooting mortars into the Mediterranean, and the mortar that I dropped into the barrel exploded,” recalled Freeston.

“It’s supposed to explode a lot later,” he seems able to laugh about it a little, now that he’s a healthy 98 years old, with both legs still carrying him upright.

“Either the missile had charged itself,” he said, “or somebody put it together wrong, but in any case, it exploded in the barrel.”

He was sent to the 100th British General Hospital, because the Canadian hospital ship that accompanied his convoy to North Africa had been sunk by German bombing at Gibralter.”

His leg injury developed gangrene, and one of the doctors told him that they were going amputate in the morning – but a new Canadian hospital ship had arrived, and told Freeston, “Your own people can cut your leg off.”

But the hospital ship had arrived with two new drugs, sulfa and penecillin.

He received the drugs – which were not yet available in British hospitals – for nine days on the way to Plymouth, England, and the improvement was remarkable.

When he was back on his feet, he went right back to training mortars.

He had asked for assignment to Sicily, but was told to wait for “something bigger.”

He missed the landings on D-Day because his leg, though healed to his liking, was still listed as a liability. It was then that he happened to meet a doctor who was a member of the “reboard team” who was able to relist him as fit for active duty.

Before long he was back with the Canadian forces marching north to Antwerp, where they were halted by British Field Marshal Montgomery, who was launching his disastrous Market Garden offensive with intent to bring a swift end to the war, but which may have prolonged it by months.

Meanwhile, Freeston used his training experience to “educate the majors” as to how an effective mortar unit could help pave the way for offensives.

He was “somewhere in Germany” when the war ended.

“I can remember the day they announced the armistice,” said Freeston. “Somebody asked me, ‘What do you think?’ and I just said, ‘Thank Christ we made it.’”

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