Few people ever earn the honour of being called a hero.
Even fewer have ever earned the honour of being invited to Buckingham Palace, where they stood in front of the monarch offering congratulations for bravery in action and were presented with a prestigious military medal, pinned on their chest by King George VI himself. Well, I’m proud to say I know such a person very well. He’s a Truro man and all Truro should be proud of him. This humble and unique gentleman is Walter Perrin.
Perrin was born in Dean Settlement, close to Middle Musquodoboit. There were nine siblings in his family, seven boys and two girls and he worked as a farmer as a youth.
He joined the Canadian Army on May 28, 1941 and went overseas in October training in England and Wales. His unit, an anti-tank regiment, was shipped to Italy in November 1943. This was not an easy task because the Germans had some of the most powerful tanks in the world, on of which was the dreaded ‘88.’
Perrin told me of an occasion when his crew were faced with an ‘88.’ They were about 1,000 yards apart. It was capable of firing a distance of three miles. Perrin’s crew fired the first shot and you can’t believe their luck. Their shot hit the mechanism that could turn the huge gun on the German tank. With this crippling damage Perrin knew the Germans in the huge tank could not complete their mission.
Although war is a terrible thing and most soldiers try to find some fun along the way. Perrin’s outfit was no different than others. He was in Italy when he was presented with his sergeant’s stripes. He was also presented with a bottle of hard liquor for his accomplishment and his buddies were happy to help him celebrate. They quickly consumed all the liquor and then they scrounged around for some vino. At that time they were living in a wooded area and their homes were two-man canvas tents. Well, Perrin really got into the celebration and he eventually passed out. I must tell you it’s impossible to get an unconscious man into one of these little tents. However, his buddies solved the problem - they pulled the stakes out of the ground, collapsed the tent, laid Perrin’s prostrate form on the ground and reverently covered him with the canvas tent. Ingenious.
The Canadian soldier was wounded in action, hit in the leg with shrapnel, while his unit was under a tremendous shelling by the German artillery. It was almost evening before they could get him to the hospital where he remained for three months before returning to his unit.
At this time he was paraded before the colonel who told him he had been recommended to receive the military medal for bravery in action. The officer presented him with the ribbon that would go with the medal once it was presented. As you can imagine, Perrin was very proud to receive such an honour.
Perrin’s unit left Italy in February 1945, to serve in Belgium and from there moved to the Netherlands. They assisted in the liberation of its proud and the grateful people.
The bloodiest most disastrous war ended on May 8, 1945.
Before Perrin would return to a normal life he had a very important appointment with King George VI. While I was thinking of this momentous occasion my mind flashed back to a recent movie I had seen about the monarch of the day “The King’s Speech.”
According to the film, the King had difficulty with speaking. Perrin said had spoken well and the king had asked him where he was serving when he earned this great honour then offered congratulations.
Perrin returned home on the ship the Ile de France. He said there was thousands of deliriously happy military people wishing for a quick return home. He was over joyed to see his entire family and returned to farming. He eventually worked at many places and discovered he very efficient at many different trades.
Perrin was fortunate to find the love of his life, Lois Dean. The couple married Nov. 28. 1946 and were blessed with eight wonderful children.
Today, he is exactly the same body weight he was when he joined the army. A very talented man, did carpentry work, made shelves for his church and furniture. I saw a grandfather clock he made and it was perfect, a work of love.
Today, Perrin continues to live in his own home. He was an outstanding soldier, and he is admired by all for his heroism. Canada really needed men like him in the darkest days of the war. We needed heroes and Perrin was our own homemade hero.
Herb Peppard is a longtime Truro resident. His column appears regularly in the Truro Daily News.