Thibodeau, Robert

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                       Thibodeau Left His Family to Join Army
                                 By Margery MacRae

When the Second World War began in 1939, Robert Thibodeau was 36, but he wanted to join the Army. Born in Brantville, Thibodeau was living at Bog Hole Brook near Doaktown with his wife and four children at the time.

“I just went to Fredericton one day and signed up,” he said. After he was accepted, he told the registrar he would have to take his car home and tell his wife. “You can’t do that,’ they told me, “’you’re in the Army now,’ and so I had to send it home by my friend, Henry Babineau, who had gone with me to enlist, but wasn’t accepted because of a boil on his arm.”

Thibodeau, who celebrated his 88th birthday in June, said he was driving a 1927 Chevrolet that day. “It was my first car and I had to sign it over to Henry who drove it home and told my wife, Dora, what I had done.”

The First Battalion Carleton York Regiment received their training in Woodstock and from there they headed for England on the Bernuda landing in time to have their Christmas dinner in London. Before going overseas the soldier said his wife was allowed to come for a one-week visit. “I remembered we stayed at Mrs. Galllagher’s and paid her $1 for the room for the week.”

The children were not allowed to come. At that time, men with families were not being accepted for overseas duty. “I had to lie about that,” he laughed. “I knew that two men with families had gone ahead of me but they said that they had no children, so I said the same.”

Thibodeau said his division landed at Cove between Aldershot and Redding in England and set up camp. Here that the King and Queen and their daughters came to present the regiment with their colors. “The English people were fine people,” he said, “and certainly used me well. Several families used to invite me in for supper. I could never say a word against them.”

Thibodeau said he was overseas for two years before he could sign his name on his pay cheque. Finally, Sgt. Wilson said to me. ‘Bob, I’m going to teach you how to sign your name because if anything happens to Captain Clark, you’d be in a bad spot.’ Cpt. Clark always signed for me before that. Anyway he got a blackboard and before long I could write my name.”

Thibodeau said because his mother had died when he was six he never had the opportunity to attend school. However, he has been able to drive a car because someone was allowed to read the questions to him on the written driver’s test. “I know what all the road signs mean and I’m in good health so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be driving,” he laughed.

Lost A Finger

Like many veterans, Thibodeau can relate many wartime experiences, but they are not all ones he particularly wants to recall. “I spent the entire six years in England and Italy and never received a scratch, but the day after I arrived home I went out to cut some kindling for the stove and I accidentally cut my finger off. “It was on a Sunday morning and so I went over to get Dr. Hamilton to fix it up for me,” he said. The doctor was still in bed and called out the window that he didn’t have office hours on Sunday, “but when he saw what had happened he let me in,” Thibodeau said.

Following the death of his mother, Thibodeau said his family broke up and he was sent to live with Charlie and Jessie MacWilliams of whom he has fond memories

Following his marriage, a friend told him of a man, Ed Storey, who was looking for a couple to come and keep house and help him work in the woods. “So that is how we came to be living in Big Hole Brook. I was paid $1 a day and my wife received $20 a month. Eventually I drew a lot up there.” Five years after that the war ended, Thibodeau obtained employment at the Royal Canadian Naval Ammunition Depot in Renous which employed veterans. It was then the family began looking for a home closer to work. “I bought this home (in Pineville), near Renous) from Mike Tucker for $1,000 cash and received the deed, and I worked as a janitor at RCNAD until I was 65 in 1968, when I had to retire not because I wanted to, but because of my age. I love my work.”

Thibodeau said he has attended many reunions for war vets over the years, although many of his war-time buddies are no longer here, he said sadly. The late John Fortune of Blackville also served in the same division.

Thibodeau’s brother, Agape, who served in the First World War, died last year at 92.

Thibodeau is very active and can be seen out driving his car every day. His wife has developed Alzheimer’s and requires daily care from a care-giver. The government had been very good to veterans. Thibodeau said although as he puts it, “I don’t believe in abusing the system. They pay for someone to look after Dora. I get a cheque and turn it over to her (care-giver) who lives next door.” He said he is aware more benefits are available to him as a veteran, but there is nothing more he wants. “We’re very comfortable here and have everything we need.” The elderly veteran has attended Remembrance Day services every year in Blackville, never missing one he can recall.” I’m planning to go again this year if God spares me,” he said.

Source: Miramichi Weekend – November 08, 1991

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