Lest We Forget

William "Bill" Alexander Glennie
William “Bill” Alexander Glennie

There are legends that are told in every family around the table at special events and my family is no exception.

My Uncle Bill, or more properly, William Alexander Glennie, was my Father’s older brother. Unfortunately I never had the pleasure of actually meeting my Uncle as he was living overseas by the time I was born.

I grew up listening to stories of his exploits during World War II and with Remembrance Day being just yesterday I thought I would share what I had heard.

My Uncle was a Signalman with the 17th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. As such he drove a signal truck all over the battlefield during the course of his duties. While doing so he would, on occasion, become lost.

Here are the three legends we tell of my Uncle Bill:

On one of his nightly excursions he became lost and being unable to see parked his truck alongside a wall and crawled underneath it to go to sleep. He told my Dad that under the truck was thought to be a safe place to sleep. The next day he was woken up by someone grabbing his foot and shouting “Oh my God, he’s alive!”. Crawling out from under his crushed truck he discovered that the Canadian Army had received orders to advance and that a tank and knocked the wall down onto his truck and then drove over it. Not only did he survive – he slept through the whole thing!

Another time he was sitting in his truck in the middle of nowhere waiting for orders when – and things get a bit fuzzy here on why he had to leave the cab of the truck – he either got out to fix the tailgate that kept popping open OR he got out to relieve himself. Either way, while he was at the back end of the truck taking care of business, the truck lurched violently from side to side and there was a loud WHANG type of noise. Bill finished what he was doing and went to get back into the cab. As he reached for the handle he saw a hole in his door about 5 inches across, a furrow across the seats and a matching hole in the other door. Apparently some sort of shell had hit his truck and gone straight through the cab where he had been sitting only seconds before.

Once again hopelessly lost Bill found a group of fellow Canadian soldiers who were in the same position as he was. That is to say – they were lost too. Night approached and they holed up in a farm house on the second floor. Unfortunately there was nowhere to hide Bill’s truck so the passing group of German soldiers knew exactly where they were. Hearing the Germans coming up the stairs the Canadians tipped the big thick bed on its side and dove behind it leaving Bill to hide the best he could on his own. He jumped behind the door. Luckily when the German soldier kicked the door in it hit the wall adjacent making a triangular pocket for Bill to hide in. Thinking the door had slammed flat against the wall the German soldier stepped into the room and gave a quick burst from his machine gun. Bill pushed the door out of the way and shot the German soldier, saving the others in the room. There was a pitched battle with the rest of the Germans on the stairs but having the high ground the Canadians won. Bill grabbed the Luger from the soldier he had shot and sent it to Canada to my Dad piece by piece through the post over the next several months. This third brush with death is one story the family takes with a grain of salt, so to speak, as the story bears a strong resemblance to a scene from a war movie. However there is the physical evidence of the gun to back it up. We think that Bill might have seen the movie and gotten his memory jogged and mixed up at the same time. All that really matters is that it’s part of our family history.

While it’s not a war story per se it is worth noting that during his time in the war he drug around a huge Hohner accordion with him everywhere he went. He brought it back in perfect condition too.

My Uncle Bill met his wife in England and brought her back to the States with him after the war. He was a semi-professional hockey player in Washington for a few years and then they moved back to England where he turned pro. He is a member of the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame and worked at the stadium in London for quite a few years. He was a player/Coach of the Haringey Racers of London for a number of years as well. Once they moved to Scotland he worked at the dog track in Edinburgh for 30 years until his retirement. He loved his golf and got to play with many famous golfers and played at the Pro Am level.

He passed away on March 11, 2005 at the age of 82.

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