As a young man, Robert Grant saw Tunisia through the eyes of a soldier.
The Corner Brook man was a member of the 166 Newfoundland Field Regiment that served under the British Army during the Second World War.
Grant, 94, said there has never been much recognition of that service, so he was surprised last May to get a letter in the mail from the Canadian Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia.
The letter was signed by ambassador Sebastien Beaulieu, and told Grant of a project the embassy was undertaking to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Tunisian Campaign. The plan was to unveil a commemorative plaque at the embassy honouring the Canadians and Newfoundlanders who lost their lives in Tunisia.
Beaulieu promised to send Grant a picture of the inauguration and also extended an invitation for Grant to visit the small North African country.
Just before Christmas, a second letter dated Dec. 17, 2013 arrived that updated Grant on the event, held on Remembrance Day, to unveil the plaque. As promised, it contained pictures, including one of the plaque which bears the names of 101 soldiers and airmen from Canada and Newfoundland who served with the Canadian and British forces and are buried in Tunisia.
Among them were 25 Newfoundlanders. Five of them were from Corner Brook —George Burchell, Raymond Robert Woodman Johnson, Derek Loder, George Randell and Willis Wheeler.
Grant said it makes him happy to know the sacrifices of both those who lost their lives and those who survived are being honoured.
While he would have loved to go back to Tunisia, at his age didn’t think it was possible.
“Just to see, even if it was just to remember, the people that were there.”
Back in time
Robert Gordon Grant was born in St. John’s on June 22, 1919, and came to Corner Brook with his family in 1938.
In April 1940, he signed up to go to war.
“Everyone around me was signing up and I was ashamed to be left home,” he said with a laugh.
On May 12, 1940, Grant was among a group of young men from this area and Grand Falls who boarded a train headed to Port aux Basques. From there they travelled by ferry to Nova Scotia and then by train again to Montreal.
In Montreal, they boarded the Duchess of Richmond and set sail for Liverpool, England.
Once in England the men travelled by train to Crawley and became part of the 57th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment, attached to the British Army. The regiment trained in England and was posted to Norwich as part of C Battery, guarding the coast along the Wash near Holt in Norfolk.
In 1941 the regiment converted to the 166 Newfoundland Field Regiment and trained in England, Wales and Scotland. In 1942, the 166 left Scotland for North Africa, arriving in Bone on Jan. 1, 1943.
Grant said they were 300 miles from Algeria and waited there for their equipment.
“When our equipment was received, we went into action supporting the French Colonial troops,” said Grant. “We were right up with the infantry. We seen a lot of it, but we didn’t see what the infantry seen. But we saw the damage that we’d done when we advanced.”
It was a lot to take in for a young man.
“You know what they say in the British Army, ‘You just soldier on.’”
And soldier on they did into Tunisia, where they fought in the Tunisian Campaign.
When it was over, Grant remembers marching in the victory parade down a wide main street along with fellow Corner Brookers Frank Cormier and Cliff Jardine. Grant is the only one of the three still alive.
In October 1943, the regiment left Tunisia and headed for Italy. They landed in Taranto and fought their way up the Adriatic Sea to the Trigno, Morrow and Sangro Rivers, on to Cassino and Pisa, ending up in the Apennine Mountains. The troops spent the winter of 1944-1945 snowed in in the mountains.
Grant came out of action in March 1945 and returned to Great Britain in July. He married a girl, Annie Wardrop, from Lesmahagow, Scotland, and returned home on March 17, 1946.
It was back to work and raising a family with his wife, who died 12 years ago.
“And that’s the story of Robert Gordon Grant.”