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Canadian Army Craftsman (Cfn.) Fred Allison was a lucky man
November 10, 2017
BY TERRY GILLIS
Fred Allison was born on April 12, 1922 in Halifax Nova Scotia.
Fred’s parents moved him, his three older brothers and older sister to Toronto when he was a toddler.
Fred describes himself as more of a man of action that education. At the age of sixteen, against his father’s wishes, he quit school and began working for his brothers’ trucking and cartage company, Allison Brothers Moving & Cartage.
Four years later, just days after his twentieth birthday, following a disagreement with his oldest brother, Fred resigned from Allison Brothers Moving & Cartage. That very week, the headline in the newspaper was, “nobody between the ages of 19 and 23 to be hired by anyone without showing a rejection slip from the armed forces.” Fred’s brother, Earl, after throwing the newspaper on the table, asked him if he was still planning to quit. His response was, “yup, I’m gonna sign up.”
A few days later, Fred was standing in the Canadian Army’s recruiting booth on Danforth Avenue.
The fear, anxiety and discomfort began long before Fred ever put on a uniform. Before being accepted into the Army, recruits are required to undergo and pass a physical. Being naked (almost naked) in public for the first time was an ordeal for the twenty year-old ex-Allison Moving & Storage employee. “I was in this big building going from room to room,” Fred said. “I was praying all the way that I wouldn’t meet the secretary or something. But it was just the army (personnel).”
I could tell by his hat he was an officer. When he got within 10 feet of me I could see that he was a captain. So I pulled up a snappy salute and made that extra step and he made that extra step, and instead of him saluting in return, he put out his hand and said, “Fred.” Now that was a real coincidence.
“I looked at his face. He was my superintendent at the Sunday School I went to as a kid. He asked me what I was doing here. I said, I’m on draft for overseas, leaving tomorrow. I asked him what he was doing here,” Fred remembered.
The Captain said, “I’m here from headquarters Ottawa. I’ve been sent here to round up 200 men for a special cold weather test project to be held at Shilo Manitoba.”
He said, “do you want to go?”
Fred said, “I’m on draft for overseas. You know as well as I do that I have to be dead to get off the draft.”
The Captain said, “Look, I’ve got the authority and the reason to pull you off the draft if you want to go west instead of east.”
Fred said, “well sure, there’s no one shooting at you.”
For four months he went to Manitoba. He said the experience was fantastic. The coldest morning was 50 degrees below zero F. The project was testing machinery and equipment performance in cold weather conditions. Fred tested automotive equipment while others tested munitions.
“At the end of every day you had to fill out a great huge report on what you were wearing, what you were doing, what part froze if any. I froze my nose and ears ,” Fred recalled.
When Fred returned from his assignment in Manitoba, there was no draft to put him on for a few months so he continued his motor mechanic courses. He missed the following draft because mechanics were needed in London (Ontario). It was after returning from London that he decided to ask “the most wonderful girl on the face of the Earth” to marry him. Fred Allison and Jessie Hewitt were wed on August 14, 1943; six months before he was sent overseas.
Fred Allison counts himself lucky. He said there were at least a half a dozen times where he escaped death or serious injury. On two occasions, “it was nothing more than being on the right side of a stone fence. The guys on one side all got killed, and the guys on the other side, where I was, not a scratch.”
In Caen, France the 5.5 [millimeter] guns outfit set up their headquarters in a barnyard. Fred spent a week dodging bombs and bugs.”I slept there for a week. If you can imagine, I dug a hole in the manure. But I tell ya, before D-Day, the Army gave all the guys an anti-vermin battle vest. It was very stiff and scratchy but it did the trick. I slept in that hole and didn’t remember a bug walking across me,” Fred recounted.
Cfn. Allison was also lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time in Normandy. The 2nd [Division] Canadian General Troops Workshop travelled from Juno Beach to Normandy, then to the finish line in Holland without getting hurt. “We traveled inland all day and [in a] convoy with our Workshop. We got to this orchard and we pulled in. They wanted to put the trucks under a tree, you know, so that they wouldn’t be so likely to be strafed or bombed that night. It was dark and we hadn’t eaten all day. So we lined up and got something to eat. I just forget now what it was, but then the sergeant said, ‘dig in’, and walked away and I thought, ‘dig in’, gee whiz, I’m tired,” Fred said. Food was the last thing on his mind.
Fred said, “I decided, I’d just sleep on the centre seat in one of the lorries. They had a pad on there. And I thought, oh, that’d make a good spot to sleep. So, I just got to sleep and boy, everything opened up and I thought, boy, this is just that little canvas over me, that’s not too good, so I crawled under the seat. And then I thought, boy, that little bit of wood over-top isn’t much. So then I crawled under the truck and in the morning I laughed to myself. It was kind of new to me. I was so confident at the first and then so scared at the end, you know.”
At the time, he didn’t think so, but Fred was lucky during the Battle of the Bulge as well.
Fred explained, “Our workshop was back from the actual line where they had broken through, but the rumour went around that the Jerries had taken Canadian uniforms and had parachuted in behind the lines. And so this kind of put a scare into us and the officer told me to take my rifle and stop every vehicle that was crossing this little bridge. But he put me out there alone.
“It seemed like such a hopeless task because there I was in the dark and you’d see a vehicle or hear a vehicle coming, you were out there in the dark waving your arms to stop that vehicle. Now, you knew that if it was a Canadian soldier driving that vehicle, he’d stop. But if it was one of the Jerries, he was just going to speed up. And being alone, they [no one] wouldn’t have known. Your body wouldn’t even be found until the morning.
“I thought, gee, it was such a hopeless, stupid task. But still, their idea was that they wanted to find out if there was any actual Germans dressed in Canadian uniforms that broke through our perimeter.”
But, as Fred Allison tells people, “I got through it all right.”
After the war, Fred returned home to Jessie and began building their home and their family in Toronto.
The Allison’s gradually moved to Lakefield -a few at a time.
At fifty, Fred retired and built their retirement home on twenty acres on now what is known as Hewall Road in Douro-Dummer. He lived their with his beloved Jessie until she passed away in 2003. He continues to reside in the home he built himself, but now shares it with his daughter and granddaughter.
Fred returned to Holland on the 50th Anniversary of the liberation and again for the 60th. On his second trip, Fred visited Holden Cemetary where his brother, Tommy, a tank driver, was laid to rest. Fred lost two brothers in the Second World War.
Despite the horrors and the losses, Canadian Army Cfn.Fred Allison said, “ when I came out of the army, I was a better man than when I went in.”