Rodney was born January 14, 1917 in Hawkesbury, Ontario to George and Lillian Preece (née Marchan). He had 4 siblings: Mary and 3 brothers: Less, RCAF Bomb Aimer, bailed out over Germany, only surviving crew member, POW 13 months; James, RCAF instrument Technician, posted Birmingham England and George. As a young lad living in Hawkesbury Rod's Dad would often take him duck hunting at the rapids on the Ottawa River adjacent to town prior to the Carillon Dam being built. They would be up at 5A.M., drive to the river, hunt ducks for several hours and his Dad would then drive him to school before he himself went back to hunt for the balance of the morning.
After taking the bus to Ottawa, Rod enlisted in the Cameron Highlander Regiment with two other friends, Bud Holtby and Bud Chapman on September 18, 1939. All three
were enrolled as Machine Gunners and as such they were identifiable by the letters (MG) on their shoulder patches. Machine gunners were to act as support to the regular troops.
From Halifax to England via Reykjavik
In July 1940, Rod and his group went by train to Halifax and then via the Empress of Australia to, Iceland where they served for 10 months.
Rod cannot recall the name of the ship that conveyed them from Iceland to England, but he does remember that the convoy was escorted by the HMCS Hood. This must have been the Hood's last mission prior to its encounter with the German battleship Bismarck when the Hood was sunk with a loss of over 1400 lives leaving only 3 survivors. These were dangerous times, to say the least, to be crossing the North Atlantic.
Arriving just prior to Christmas 1941, Rod was posted to Toward Castle, located near Dunoon, just outside Glasgow, Scotland.
Later Rod was posted to Lord Nuffield's Estate located at Bookham, Surrey, south of London, England. Rod only remembers a lot of training but there is one incident in particular that took place during that time which he enjoys relating. One night while staying at the estate he went hunting rabbits with his 303 Enfield rifle. A pheasant took flight in front of him. So, thinking he had his shotgun at the ready and being quick with a gun, Rod fired a shot that blew the head off the pheasant in mid air. Now Rod is not one to stretch his story. He claims Allan Quinn of Ottawa will verify his story! When asked if there were problems arising from the incident, like being charged with poaching, Rod just gave an incredulous look. When asked what happened to the pheasant, Rod replied, "We ate it"!
On D-Day +5 Rod left Liverpool England and arrived at St. AUBIN after crossing the English Channel with the Imperial Black Watch. The Canadians had Bren Gun Carriers (small tracked armored vehicle) and the Imperial Black Watch had tanks. There were a couple of tanks lost over the side that sunk in the very rough seas and with the boat
rolling and pitching they were delayed two days in getting off the boat and onto the beach. The boat they were in, got stuck on a sand bar, on the outside of some other sunken ships in the harbor, and they were being shelled by German heavy guns. Fortunately, the distance was at the range limit of the guns and they didn't get hit.
They finally got to shore with 4 Bren Gun Carriers and started inland only to be stopped by a Provost (military police) who asked them where they were going.
When they replied that they were trying to find the 3rd Canadian Division, they were told that if they continued on they would be in German territory in about 300 yards. In other words they were heading right into enemy territory. At around 2200 hrs that night they finally found the 3rd Canadian Division. Today, when Rod is asked how they got lost, he said something about Senior Officers and maps and that it was the lower ranking Officers who really knew anything. This was an issue best not pursued any further.
Rod says their unit was a platoon of around 20 men, all Canadian, mostly English speaking with some French Canadian and they were continually being posted to other units as the need arose. Their unit had 4 heavy Vicar Machine Guns and Bren Guns and they were all Cameron Highlanders from the Ottawa Valley and Eastern Ontario area. During the campaign through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany they lost 6 or 7 men out of their group from D-Day+ 5 to the end of the War.
Rod remembers several incidents in particular. One was at Carpiquet, Normandy, close to what is today the large Caen Airport, where they were supporting the British Fusiliers and the Canadian North Shore Regiment. They were all bedded down and Rod was sleeping under a tarpaulin supported off the back of a Bren Gun Carrier by some 10 to 12 feet
when the Germans mounted a counter attack. Rod said he jumped on a Bren Gun and started firing but he said you couldn’t see much in the dark and the Germans finally withdrew. When they could see in the morning, he found a hole in the tarpaulin where a German Mortar Shell had passed through the tarp and entered the ground beside the place where he had been sleeping. The shell had not detonated.
Another incident took place when they were attacking the same airfield at Carpiquet. Rod was face down in a ditch, trying to stay below the heavy German anti-aircraft artillery that the Germans were using to defend the airport against the Canadians, when he was hit on the head with something that felt like someone had hit him using full force with a 2 by 4. His face was pushed into the dirt and when he touched the top of his helmet it was red-hot. A piece of red-hot shrapnel had come down from above and sliced into his helmet cutting a gash into the top. When the incident was over and the airfield taken, one of the senior officers took his helmet to show some others. Rod never saw the helmet again and it took him several days day to get a replacement. Rod kept the piece of shrapnel for many years but over time it has been misplaced.
Another incident occurred close to Carpiquet at a small town called Mesa La Patree. Things were slow and there was a gap in the firing line of some 200 yards or so
between themselves and the Germans. As one or each side would build up strength before attacking, there would be a lull in fighting. When they had the chance, they would go back to eat and rest at HQ set up at Mesa La Patree about 150 yards from the firing line. While returning to the firing line this one time, Rod asked a Corporal if they had found any loot around the area and was told that they had gone through and looked but had found nothing. Rod spied something in the rubble, a small door covered with cobwebs so Rod thought differently. They shot off the lock and found a wine cellar full wines and liquors. Needless to say the party started. When the senior brass found out what was going on, they threw in a couple of hand grenades and blew the place up. Then they asked that any remaining wine be handed over. Rod said it was the best way of handling the situation before someone got hurt after consuming the wine. He also said the officers were good about it afterwards and dispensed it fairly.
At the end of hostilities Rod was in Apeldoorn, Holland. From there he was posted back to England to play with the Cameron Highlander Regimental Pipe Band.
Return to Canada
From England Rod returned to Canada on the Isle de France to Halifax then via CPR train to Ottawa. Although they were to go straight through to Ottawa before being dispersed, he and fellow Hawkesbury lads, Pete Cameron and Remi Laviolette jumped the train as it went through Vankleek Hill. Rod recalls calling his parents who then arranged for Dr. Kirby, who was a dentist in town, to drive up in his big 1940 Buick to bring them all back to Hawkesbury.
Rod was discharged on September 13, 1945 after serving 6 years and 3 days in the service of his country. Of this time he was away from home for 5 years and 2 months. Following his return from overseas Rod opened an Auto Body Shop on John Street thenin 1960, went back to CIP where he had worked prior to enlisting. Rod retired from CIP in 1982.
Rod and Elsie moved to L'Orignal in 1978.
Rodney Preece’s medals:
- 1939 B 1945 Star
- France-Germany Star
- Defense medal
- CVSM Medal
- 1939 B 1945 War Medal