The Day the Canadians came to Kempston

One morning towards the end of April 1944 a convoy of army lorries turned off the Kempston High Street into Wyatt Road. I thought this odd, as both Wyatt Road and the adjoining Campbell Close were dead end streets in those days, there being a fence and five bar gate at the former, where the red telephone box is today, and a six foot iron corrugated fence at the latter. The vehicles with light artillery parked on the right of the two streets. The householders soon discovered a French Canadian battalion of some 300 men, quite probably from the Province of Quebec. Soon the troops were relaxing on front lawns with tea and light refreshments.
During the afternoon some relaxed on Mr Dowler’s front lawn throwing bayonets at some speed into the trunk of a large elm tree on his lawn near to the phone box.
The cookhouse was in Campbell Close, across the road from where we lived at the time. It was outside No 11 on the concrete road. As the afternoon wore on, the cooks began to prepare the evening meal for the troops. They built a ten foot long tunnel with house bricks, about a foot wide and a foot deep, and placed gratings along the open top. On these gratings they placed several large steel dixies with lids and lifting handles; these oblong saucepans being about 2ft by 1ft, filled with corned beef stew. A large petrol pressure burner was lit at one end, flames shot out of it for some distance along the brick tunnel. This also boiled water for the tea and hot sweet. Later the lads were each given a large ladle of stew into their mess tins, tea and trimmings.
Next day after a night in their vehicles, the troops had a dawn breakfast and had all gone when I left for school.
Just three reminders of their visit were left.
Many empty Sweet Corporal cigarette packets; a surface hole in the road outside No 11 Campbell Close, and a much damaged trunk of the elm tree.
We realised later that the troops were on their way to transit camps in South East England ready for the Normandy beach landings schedules for June 5th, but delayed until the 6th due to inclement weather.
The landings were very successful, but unfortunately cost a lot of young lives.
Some time later the Council men came along with a handcart, dug out the hole outside No 11, refilled with aggregate and finished off with fresh concrete .
The marks on the elm tree persisted for many years after the war, but the tree eventually succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and had to be taken down and removed.

Doug Rowland 2011