At the outbreak of World War II Richard Doucette was 17. His father, Charles André Doucette, had died in 1934 and Richard lived with his mother, three sisters, and six brothers. On January 15, 1940, he left home and joined the armed forces with the intent of earning some money for the family. He completed training at Aldershot, Nova Scotia, and joined the West Nova Scotia Regiment. After a seven and a half day voyage to England he remained in England for three years. During that time he was assigned to guard duty along the coast of New Haven, Sharron, Lansing, and many other different areas.On July 19, 1943, the West Nova Scotia Regiment invaded the coast of Sicily. After thirty-nine days on the front lines, Richard was sent to North Africa to the hospital with blood poisoning and a sprained ankle. He remained in the hospital a total of ten days. Following his recovery he returned to the front lines. “I was asked if I wanted to go back to the front line and I replied yes of course, I want to go see my friends.”The West Nova Scotia Regiment were now in Italy. On November 20, 1943 they moved forward to San Pietro, and established Battalion Headquarters in a tunnel beneath a demolished tile factory. That night, a patrol from "D" Company scaled the high ridge to the west and made its way down into Castel di Sangro. The patrol stayed for several hours in the shattered town and encountered no enemy; but on the return journey, it was fired upon from a high jagged pinnacle which formed a rocky acropolis over-towering the north-eastern corner of Castel di Sangro. Three members of the patrol, left in hiding in the town for another 24 hours, learned from civilians that 20 to 30 Germans were holding an old monastery at the summit. On November 23, 1943 orders were given by Lieutenant Joseph Alfred Blanchard to advance against the enemy. After descending the west side of the San Pietro ridge the company began climbing the muddy slopes to the great rock which rose sheer out of the hilltop. It rained continually. Breathless and soaked, the leading platoon reached the summit by the only possible route, a narrow path ascending the west side. Without delay the Canadians streamed across the plateau to attack the monastery, firing their Brens and hurling grenades through the windows.But the platoon had been lured into a trap. Machine gun posts skilfully sited around the perimeter of the plateau caught the West Novas in a severe cross-fire. A few managed to escape; the others, not hearing the dying platoon commander's orders to withdraw, were killed, wounded, or captured. Efforts of the rest of the company to gain the plateau failed. One platoon, following up the first, was driven back by a murderous fire; the other, attempting a flanking movement from the right, could not scale the sheer cliff. Both were now caught in a perilous position on a shelf of rock half way up the pinnacle, as the enemy increased their fire and began to throw grenades down on them. With the approach of daylight a thick mist coming up from the valley provided a screen which aided escape, although several men of one section broke arms and legs in jumping from the high ledge.The cost had been heavy. Four men and their platoon commander had been killed and ten others wounded. Evacuation of the casualties from the plateau involved a long and arduous descent through mud and slipping rock, and several wounded had to be left behind. In all sixteen of the battalion were taken prisoner.Richard Doucette was among those that attacked the monastery. Lieutenant Blanchard sent men in and the door was thrown open but instead of throwing in a grenade, they moved back. All were killed immediately. With no time to move, Blanchard was hit in his back. He fell and stared at Richard telling him he would never be taken a prisoner of war. As Blanchard stood up, he was shot in the head. Richard watched him lay beside his feet knowing there was nothing he could do. Richard Doucette was one of the sixteen taken prisoner. He recalls that there was so much gunfire and the sky looked like fireworks on a July 1st celebration. They had to walk about six miles and then were allowed to sleep in a barn with hay. “In the morning we had black coffee and bread. We kept walking and got on a boxcar train with a big chain on the door. Planes were over us and bombs were falling like raindrops on a stormy day. All I could do was pray that the train wasn't their next target. We reached the German border and were placed into camp 7A. In that camp there was about five thousand prisoners of war. Then I was sent to camp 2B.” It had taken three months to get from Italy to Germany after being taken as a prisoner. He worked on a local farm for ten hours a day for twelve months milking and taking care of cows alongside two other Canadians and a Polish woman. This continued until there were rumours the Russians were coming and the Germans didn't want to be taken by the Russians. Richard met Alfred, a French soldier from Boulogne-Sur-Mer, who had come to the farm. He told Richard that they should leave and together they escaped. They found civilian suits and put them on to cover their uniforms and went through two barbed wire fences eight feet tall and ten feet wide. Richard had all his possessions in a small suitcase which included a can of corned beef, a small towel, and soap. When they encountered two German officers Alfred just said "good evening" in German. Richard never spoke as Alfred told him to stand quietly and not to say a word and he, Alfred, would do the talking. They escaped detection and continued on finding a hiding place in a underground tunnel. One morning Richard looked up to see a Russian soldier and a German shepherd dog looking down at him. The Russian asked for his name. "Doucette. I'm Canadian." The Russian looked at him and replied in English, "Canadian, go down the border and you will find the US Army". Richard found the US soldiers and told them he had been a prisoner of war for eighteen months with the Germans. The war had ended three days before Richard was discovered by the Russian soldier. The US Army transported Richard to France, and then to England. Arriving in England he recalls the airport was like “a huge wedding ceremony, so much food and so many people. There was all you could eat, but after an egg and piece of toast you were full because you had been starved for months before.” A month later Richard boarded a ship to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and from there took a train to Yarmouth. He was now 22 years old and home. Richard never thought that day would happen. He had survived. He had great memories of his wartime experience but at the same time the worst memories of his life. They would continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.Richard died on February 24, 2007 at the age of 84.
Richard M. Doucette (Service Number F40065)West Nova Scotia Regiment
[The above information is based upon an interview conducted by Jessica Amiro, a student of Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, on April 18, 2006 and the history of the West Nova Scotia Regiment in Italy.]