Major Richard “Dick” Dillon Medland, DSO, CD was in born in 1919 in Toronto, the son of William John Medland and Isabel Marie Dillon Mills.
His uncle, Captain Frederick Ross Medland served with The Queen’s Own Rifles before joining the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and was killed in action during the First World War. His grandfather William Alexander Medland had also served as a Major with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.
Dick was the first Company Commander of A Company when the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment (2RCR) was activated in 1950. He served with 2RCR in Korea and was Battalion second in command when 2RCR went to Germany in 1953. He also commanded the RCR contingent at the coronation in 1952.
For his service in Korea, he was awarded the US Bronze Star on 07 November 1953.
He died 15 March 2005.
What I Cannot Forget:
A Wartime Remembrance
By Maj. Dick Medland (Ret.)
As told to Tom Vandermeulen
Dick Medland was my neighbour and friend. I appreciated his gentle humour, his intelligent wit, and his deep sense of human compassion. One chilly November day twenty years ago we sat down in the warmth of his living room for tea, and a chat. Out of curiosity I asked him if he would tell me about the war years. This is his story.
Outside, the bare trees and cold, grey colours of November create an aura of sadness. It’s a time of remembrance, when the dead meet the living. And, every November I think of my friends who died so long ago on the fields and beaches of war. Somehow just thinking of them seems to bring them back alive, if only for a few fleeting moments.
Before the War
I was still a boy fresh out of Upper Canada College when I joined the Queen’s Own Rifles in 1938. My regiment was mobilized on June 10, 1940, while I was still working at my first job at the Imperial Bank in Toronto. I was 21 years old.
England Stood Alone
It’s hard to describe exactly how people felt. Hitler had already run over most of Europe. Italy was in his camp. Spain was Fascist. Europe was on the boil. The feeling, I think, was that England was alone. There were no Allies then. Nobody. And nobody knew how all this was going to turn out. Nevertheless, there was a lot of dedication. The “Empire Button” exemplified this sense of commitment. At one time everybody in the city was wearing one. You could get yours by writing a letter to the editor of the Toronto newspaper The Mail and Empire.
A Tremendous Burst of Industrial Activity
In 1939, after a decade of economic depression, the unemployment situation was desperate. One million Canadians were unemployed (out of a population of 11 million). In 1940, almost overnight, I witnessed a tremendous burst of industrial activity. Every industry was expanding. Laidlaw Lumber had to supply material for the army huts. Canada Bread had to bake more bread. Inglis had to make Bren machine guns instead of fridges and washing machines. General Motors and Massey-Ferguson went into military production. Thousands were hired.
While men were being mobilized to fight, women went to work in the munitions plants. If you wanted to build a house in those days you couldn’t. The supplies were all spoken for and, besides, there were no men around to build it.
Learning To Be Soldiers
My battalion turned out to be a solid outfit made up of sound people who felt they had to do something. One rifleman later became the president of Tip Top Tailors. The mobilization must have been quite a drain on Toronto’s middle management. In early July, 1940, we were sent to Camp Borden with our regiment for a shakedown. We had to get ourselves organized. These were all civilians. None, or very few, had ever seen a rifle in their lives!
We Grew Up Very Fast
From August until December, 1940, the unit was stationed in Newfoundland. We stayed at Botwood and Gander Lake – in tents! As it got colder and colder, we realized that the army had forgotten to send our great coats. You develop a sense of humour in those conditions.
Our job on the coast was to be on the lookout for German submarines and “pocket battleships.” Alas, we experienced no contact with the enemy. Well, almost. One day we captured a German freighter. The ship had refused to stop until bursts of gunfire were exchanged. That was the very first time I ever fired or was fired at. The boat was full of Scotch whiskey!
Gander was a dull place. The only excitement was when we accidentally shot a moose. Payday wasn’t so dull. In those days Newfoundland had its own currency. So we were paid in Newfoundland currency. But the highest denomination was a 50 cent piece! – Probably because nobody there had much money. Imagine carrying around thirty dollars worth of 50 cent pieces in your pocket. The only thing to do was spend them, and we did.
The harsh conditions in Newfoundland, however, were a valuable experience. It made us grow up very fast. We were kids when we went in, men when we came out. After going through that, nothing else would seem so bad.
Serious Military Training
In January, 1941, the regiment was transferred to Sussex, New Brunswick. Sussex was a good camp. It was the only place I ever caught fish with my bare hands. Actually, our brigade was on the vanguard. At Sussex we got down to serious military training on a big scale. We had to build our own rifle ranges and install our own sewers and water pipes. It was a tremendous experience for everybody. That’s when our group was melded into a real team.
Stacked Like Cordwood
In July, 1941, as part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, we sailed to England. Thousands of troops were stacked like cordwood in a transatlantic liner. Having a battleship with us was nice. We were part of a big convoy. Radio silence meant we often shouted across the water from ship to ship. No lights were allowed at night. The Atlantic crossing was an interesting one. One uneventful submarine alert and a near collision in the middle of the night added to the excitement.
Our First Real Mission
For the next three years we would be a vital part of England’s defence. We worked hard, but we had a wonderful time. We were trained soldiers, ready to fight, and proud of our role. This was our first real mission.
England was still alone. Dunkirk had happened a year earlier, leaving her almost disarmed. Yet, we believed we could beat the Germans if they tried to invade England. This was due to the ingenuity of British defences. For example, the British had taken all the signposts down from the roads near the coast. Where narrow roads cut through an embankment, they had installed a “fougasse”, a 1,000 pound oil bomb. If a German tank tried to pass by, the oil would be unleashed across the road and ignited. The British had all kinds of weird inventions, mostly installed by the Royal Engineers but handled by the Home Guard. And they all ended in big explosions.
D-Day: “Nobody Slept”
After years of preparation, the massive invasion of Normandy took place on June 6, 1944. D-Day brought me and thousands of other Allied troops into the bloodiest fighting of the war. As we crossed the English Channel into battle, we could not imagine the fate awaiting us. Many would die on the beaches. Others would live a little longer in the hell of war.
I was part of the second fighting echelon, landing right after the initial wave of troops had secured the beach. It was an unforgettable sight. As far as you could see the world was covered with ships, planes and soldiers. We knew the amount of planning that went into this. It still staggers me how it all jelled. Nobody slept the night before, or the first night ashore.
Not a Way to Start a Day
The very first thing I saw as I landed was the headless body of an old corporal friend of mine, Freddie Harris, lying on the beach. He had been hit in the head by a mortar. About an hour later I saw something I will never forget as long as I live. We were a little ways inland, in a pretty seaside village. My sergeant-major asked me to come into one of the houses. Inside I saw an old man sitting in his rocking chair, with a mark on him, stone dead. His wife lay on the floor beside him. She was dead, her head partially severed. That sight, the old man and his wife, gave me the first twitch of pacifism I ever got. I don’t consider myself a pacifist, but at that moment I began to understand how futile war is. All of this had happened before 8 a.m. It’s not a way to start a day.
The Falaise Gap: “A Ghastly Sight”
On the fifth day, I was made commander of my company. We continued to fight, without a break, for 55 days. Although death surrounded us every day, the worst bloodletting we would witness took place during the historic closing of the Falaise Gap. The operation trapped the German Army in France. Thousands of troops were systematically destroyed by Allied firepower. It was a ghastly sight. You couldn’t drive on the road out of Falaise. It was so cluttered with dead bodies – men, horses, everything. The carnage and slaughter I saw there affected me. It affected everybody. It made us sick. I don’t think anybody said anything. What could you say? We were by then hardened toward death. Yet, the war was far from over.
Face to Face With the Enemy
Despite the bloodshed, I believe this war may have been the last war in which there was any gentlemanly conduct. At one point during the winter of 1945 I came face to face with a captured German colonel. We had just broken through German lines and it was impossible to evacuate prisoners. That night I spoke to the German officer.
“What are the Germans fighting for?” I asked. He mentioned something about the Versailles Treaty and some other things. “But why are you fighting?” I continued. “For the same reasons you are,” he replied. “My country is at war.”
“Lucky You, It’s Over.”
By March, 1945, nine months of fighting had passed and I was determined, as never before, to survive this war. I was still in command of my company as we moved through the Hochwald Forest, 35 miles inside the German border. Suddenly I stepped on a German SCHU mine, causing me serious ankle and foot injury. I knew I was on the mine in the split second before it exploded. We had been told if we step on a mine, to stay on it. That was the mine drill. That way the pressure would push the explosion out instead of up. If I had quickly lifted my foot up, I might have lost my whole leg. The next thing I remembered was someone telling me, “Lucky you, it’s over.” “I’ll be back,” I answered. “Don’t bother,” he replied, “it’ll be over.” The war was indeed in its closing phase. Allied victory was assured. Just then somebody gave me something, probably more morphine, and I blacked out again.
When I came to, I saw stained glass windows and several pretty girls. “Heaven,” I thought. But, no, it was only a small church in Germany that our field ambulance had taken over. The shipping tag hanging from my shirt ominously read, “Amputation”. Since the field ambulance was too busy to do it on the spot, the job would have to be done back in England. Thank God the surgeon in England saw it otherwise. Seven operations later I still have my foot.
“They Would Never Glorify War”
On August 25, 1945, I returned to civilian life and my job at the Imperial Bank. Five years to the day later I rejoined the army and stayed on. I retired from active duty in 1968.
After seeing so much death and destruction in war, I can’t be for anything but peace. To me, Remembrance Day is a reminder that we should never do this again. During the war there was lots of heroism. Deeds to save others happened on both sides, every day. There aren’t enough medals in the country to give out to all those who deserve them. Whenever I speak about the reality of war, I’m not doing it for myself alone. All five of the closest friends I had in the regiment were killed in combat over there. I knew them well. I went to school with them. I know they would never glorify war.