By Cees Mond, PRBN Staff
When Alfred Weigel joined the military in June 1940, he didn’t know what he was getting into, just like all the other people that joined up in those days.
But unlike most of his buddies in the army, he had a clear understanding what he was doing it for. He had already lived under German occupation.
For Alfred, the war started in 1938, when German troops occupied Sudetenland, an area in the present-day Czech Republic inhabited mostly by people from German descent.
“When the German troops occupied our country in 1938, my dad was a police officer, so he had to leave,” he says.
As his dad left for England to escape imprisonment as an enemy of the Third Reich, Alfred and his brother Ernie were left behind.
“My mother was put in a concentration camp to try to force my dad to come back,” Alfred remembers clearly.
He was 16 years old at the time. He and Ernie lived with his grandmother.
During those months, the living conditions under the occupation force worsened, as did the signs that said there was no easy way out of the mess.
“We lived across a Jewish cemetery,” Alfred starts, then tells how during the Crystal Night many Jewish belongings were destroyed by angry mobs.
“My mom was just released and saw all this and she was just devastated,” Alfred says.
That’s when the family decided to make a run for the border to Prague, then still unoccupied.
“We ran the border at night, with nothing but a cardboard box with our most precious belongings,” he remembers.
In Prague, they obtained a visa to go to England, a privilege granted to many Sudeten Germans. That was in March 1939.
“We were supposed to leave March 29. That morning, the German troops marched into Prague so we got picked up again. Mother got arrested, but then they let us go.”
Finally the family made it to England, Alfred tells, where they were reunited with his dad.
They only stayed a week before they boarded the Duchess of York to go to Canada in June 1938.
They came to the Tupper/Tomslake area, where there was already a large Sudeten colony living, and started farming.
That wasn’t easy for an ex-policeman, Alfred laughs. “The only way to get to Canada was as a farmer, so they classified everyone as a farmer.”
The Sudeten kept in close touch with news from the home country.
In Europe, things were going from bad to worse. In June 1940, Hitler had already invaded Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and was driving the British troops out of France.
When in Canada the opportunity came to join the military, Alfred, then 18 years old, didn’t have to think twice.
“I’d seen firsthand what Hitler was doing to the people. There was no justice, no rights. It was a dictatorship.”
Alfred tried to join in Dawson Creek, but they wouldn’t take him. “I didn’t have permission from my parents. You needed to be 21,” he says. He went home and got the permission.
“The next day (the recruiters) were in Grande Prairie, so I hitchhiked there and joined there.
About 30 to 40 Sudeten from this area joined in the fight against the German and Italian enemies.
Alfred received his basic training in Portage-La-Prairie, Manitoba, in a reformed school converted to a basic training centre, he remembers. He was with the First Canadian Infantry Division, with the intelligence section at division headquarters.
“The head of the intelligence could speak perfect German, but he couldn’t read the German handwriting,” says Alfred whose task it was to read the mail, notes and things like movement of troops, as well as do direct translations.
“I was the only one in that section that could understand some of those dialects. In Sudetenland, we have seven or eight different dialects.”
Alfred got his advanced training in intelligence procedures and field security in Barriefield, Ontario.
On Jan 3, 1941, he went to Scotland on the S.S. Camoronia. He landed on Jan. 10.
“We were actually first put on the S.S. George Washington, but we went around the harbour and the steering went haywire,” he smiles.
After a stay in Glasgow, Alfred’s unit was formed in East Grimsteat, in Surrey in England.
His first front line experience came with the invasion of Sicily, July 10, 1943, when his unit landed with the Landing Ship Tanks (LST) 418, together with the Ontario tank regiment.
Sicily was taken within five weeks, and then the Allied troops slowly moved north through Italy but stalled before Rome.
Alfred has little to say about the two winters and a summer he spent in Italy. A lot of the scenery was very gruesome.
“Sicily. I remember pictures of it you wouldn’t believe,” he says.
On the mainland, his unit was witness to the Allied bombing of Monte Cassino on May 18, 1944.
“It rumbled steady for four or five hours. We saw (the planes) coming on one side and going on the other.”
By the spring of 1945, Alfred had made it across France to Belgium and Holland where he stayed at the military base of Soesterberg after the push across the Rhine in which he took part.
VE-Day (Victory in Europe) was May 8, 1945. While the war in Europe had finished, in the Far East, the Japanese enemy were still holding on.
Alfred and a large number of his unit volunteered with the Pacific campaign.
“The atom bombs (August 6 and 9) canceled that — we never went there.”
In the fall of 1945, he came back to his family in Canada, and in Montreal got the news that his mother had passed away.
He never made it home in time for the funeral, but he did spend that Christmas at home in Tupper.
After the war, Alfred worked at the Wilson saw mill in Dawson Creek and eventually bought his dad’s farm under the Veterans Land Act.
Today he’s still living there with his wife Rosalie, herself a Sudeten German whose wartime experience brought her to Tupper.
Rosalie Watzl left Sudetenland around the same time Alfred’s father left, in early 1939, when she was 11 years old.
Her family reached England through Poland and stayed there until March 16, when they sailed to Canada on one of the first such transports.
She arrived in Tupper April 18.
Alfred started dating Rosalie after the war, when she was 18 and working in the kitchen at the Dawson Creek hospital.
“We dated three years, and then got married,” she says.
That was on October 29, 1948.
A couple of weeks ago, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with, among other parties, a surprise party at the Pouce Coupe Legion of which Alfred has been the president for the past 10 years.
“We weren’t dressed up,” Alfred laughs. “The first thing I wanted to do was go home and shave — but they wouldn’t let me go anymore.”
A few months ago, the Pouce Coupe Legion honoured him with a lifetime membership.
During his life, Alfred mostly worked in construction while his wife and father managed the farm.
Over the years he’s worked on many Peace landmark projects such as the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, coal silos and the conveyor belt at the Tumbler Ridge mines as well as Peace River Haven in Pouce Coupe, one of the last projects before his retirement in 1988. He worked with the Carpenters Local 1237.
Rosalie remembers him being often away from home for periods of time. “We got married — I think he was home three days, then he went to work in a logging camp.”
The couple have a daughter, Theresa, who married George Bartusek. They have two grandchildren, Amanda, 14, and Christopher, 13.
Alfred says he never regretted having been in the army. “You were on the edge all the time,” he says. “In Monte Cassino, you know people were dying there, but…” He falls silent.
“On Remembrance Day, I just choke up,” he says.
He never visited his Sudetenland again.
“I want to remember it the way it was — not after communism,” he says, then thinking about his friends he left behind in 1939.
“We’re lucky. Most of my friends, that I associated with, never made it through the war.”
This article is taken from the Peace River Block Daily News, Dawson Creek, with the permission of the publisher. The Daily News retains all rights relating to this material. The information in this article is intended solely for research or general interest purposes.