Turning 97 this week, Tony Elliott recently marked his first Remembrance Day in Keremeos, 80 years after signing up to fight at 17.
In the U.K. in 1942, Elliott wanted to join Allied efforts to fight in the Second World War. Born in Canada, he had been sent back to his grandparents during the Great Depression.
At 17, he still needed his father’s approval before going to war. His father was willing to sign off on Elliot’s recruitment, with one stipulation, and in 1942 he joined the British Marines.
“My dad said to me, ‘Son, you’re only 17, so you’re going in the Marines,” Elliott said.
He would go on from there to crew a boat, serve in the infantry, anti-tank, in a tank, and even came close to flying a plane.
“I’ve been three-quarters the way around the world, and if I was to go to Paris and ride the Siberian Express to Singapore and take a plane from there to Seoul, I will have made my trip complete,” said Elliott. “It’s been exciting.”
After basic training, Elliott was assigned to the HMS Black Prince while it was a dry dock, and a week before work was finished his unit was split in half, with one group joining the 42nd Marine Commandos, and the other going into Combined Operations. That decision from the higher-ups saved his life.
“The HMS Black Prince sailed a week after we were called back to the South Pacific, and joined up with an Australian Cruiser,” said Elliot. “The Japanese pilots sank both of them with no survivors.”
Elliott, now 97, recently moved to Keremeos to be closer to his family. He also laid the wreath representing Korean War veterans at the Nov. 11 Remembrance Day Ceremony.
After joining the British Marines, Elliott was part of a crew of five who manned one of many troop transports that landed on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day.
“It surprised me because it was so quiet. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was until the guys hit that beach, then all hell broke loose.
“We had a turret midship with two Browning machine guns, and we had a stripped-down Lewis in the mortar well and we just sat on the water’s edge and fired away,” said Elliott. “It was murder, that’s what it was, right on the water for 67 hours while the beach was being secured.”
For a while, the crew continued to patrol the harbour, sleeping on the old freighters that were sunk as breakwaters because they had more room than their actual ships.
The landing wasn’t the end of Elliott’s time in Europe. After spending five days ashore and missing in action, he and the others were rounded up and eventually shipped off to join the Euro Marine 118th Infantry Brigade, where he worked as a driver for the five-ton truck before being assigned to an anti-tank platoon, and then finally the Second Canadian Armoured Division.
“We fought our way from Hengelo in Holland right up to Wilhelmshaven in northwest Germany, we were there for a short time and then the war ended,” said Elliott.
“It’s too bad that we didn’t have cell phones and cameras like today because the last German pocket battleship came through the locks in Wilhelmshaven and it was a beautiful sight.”
It was during his time with the armoured division that Elliott had his second close brush with death when his convoy came up on a crossroad that the group was certain had been mined.
“The sergeant says ‘We’ll wait here until the engineers come and make sure the road’s clear,” said Elliott. “Then all of a sudden this snippy little lieutenant says ‘I want them guns here now.’
“My buddy behind me went first, and my other buddy was third in line. We don’t know what happened to him. All of a sudden there was a big bang. He went about 200 yards into the field, and the other guy with him went over a 20-foot hedge, and lost both his legs.”
Despite arguing to stay until the minefield was cleared, the officer set an ultimatum; either bring the guns or face execution for disobeying an order in the line. They crossed the road, and later on, they learned that seven more mines were removed from that stretch of road.
After the war, Elliott got married and in 1947 moved back to Canada, to live with his parents in Ontario. When the Korean War started, he was working for the railroad making $78 a month, and the army offered twice as much and for him, that was a good move.
Even though he had served in the Marines, and had his gunnery training, he ended up being assigned to a tank crew. While deployed on Hill 158 in Korea, shortly after taking a break to eat and while having a conversation with his officer, a friendly mortar barrage began and caught him in the back of the head with shrapnel.
“I went through the MASH hospitals, and it wasn’t the same as you saw on the tube, it was a little different there,” said Elliott with a laugh.
He came back from the hospital to light duty and stayed until the war was over. Once he came back to Canada he worked at a mill outside Vancouver, before one of his coworkers convinced him to become a skipper on a towboat, where he worked from ‘56 to ‘80.
“I still have my ticket actually, but I wouldn’t use it anymore,” Elliott said with another laugh. “My brain is not that good at 97.”