Remembrance Day: PoW recounts life behind the wire

William Renwick’s war proved short.

He dropped into France as part of the D-Day landings of the Second World War, but made it to Germany under more difficult circumstances than he expected.

“I only lasted three days. Then, I was taken prisoner of war (PoW),” Renwick said.

Renwick enlisted at the age of 17, while living in Hamilton and served as a member of the First Canadian Parachute Battalion. He jumped into Normandy at 1:09 a.m. on June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Overlord: the codename for the invasion of Western Europe by Allied forces.

Landing in France, Renwick’s squad was responsible for disabling any German defences that would hinder the advancement of the Canadian troops arriving on the coast. On the third day, it met heavy resistance.

“We cut through this one place and the Germans were over the side. They opened up on us,” Renwick said.

Renwick’s captors took him to Stalag IV B, one of the largest PoW camps in Germany. The prisoners lived in harsh conditions.

“You had to learn to live inside the barbed wire,” he said.

Some of his fellow prisoners, however, could not cope. Renwick described a British prisoner, who felt he would never go home.

“Just before Christmas he got a parcel from home and in it was a chocolate bar from his three-year-old daughter who he had never seen. We cut him down in the morning. He’d strung himself up,” Renwick said.

When Remembrance Day approaches every year, Renwick, now in his 80s, speaks at venues such as schools and churches, challenging younger generations to find a way to make peace in the world. Renwick recognized that he doesn’t have the solution.

“You’re going to have to find a way because you can’t have another war,” he said.