Tales of a WWII scout car driver

This story originally ran in the November 11, 2011 issue of The Guide


Laverne Tufts joined up in September of 1942. He wanted in the Armoured Corps, with the tanks. He got it, and spent about six weeks in Winnipeg doing basic training.

“You learned discipline, saluting, and marching, and how to look after your equipment and stuff like this,” said Tufts who had just turned 20.

Tufts was trucked off to Camp Borden in Ontario after a Christmas leave where he was snowed in at home for a couple of weeks.

“We got into some pretty vigorous training there (Camp Borden). The big guns in the tanks were two pounders and six pounders. They seemed pretty big at the time, but they weren’t that big once we got overseas and saw what they had there.”

After the Armoured Corp draft left Camp Borden, they went to Halifax where they eventually boarded The Queen Elizabeth and set sail. 

“I think they said there were 28,000 of us,” said Tufts of the tightly packed ship that would take them to Scotland. “They had bunk beds way up as high as you could climb to get into them, and just room to walk between them. This was the way they carried the troops. They just packed you in as solid as they could.” 

Tufts said The Queen Elizabeth travelled fast, faster than a lot of ships at the time.

“The other boats couldn’t keep up to go as a convoy, so she went on her own,” he explained. “They told us once we got out on the ocean she changed her course about every eight minutes. This was to stay away from the German torpedo boats.”

After six days on the water, they arrived at Greenock, Scotland. It was a nice sight to see.

“The grass was quite green I remember, and this was January,” recalled Tufts. “There was no snow of course, and it looked kind of good to us because that winter we had a terrific pile of snow in Ontario.”

The troops were loaded onto a train that night and arrived in Aldershot, England for more training. 

“I think all Canadian troops knew what Aldershot was. It wasn’t a nice place to stay but apparently most of the troops ended up there,” said Tufts, who then travelled to Hove, England for more tank training. “It was pretty good tank country and we did quite a bit of training there.”

In June of 1943, Tufts joined the Lord Strathcona’s Horse armoured regiment, and he stayed with them until the end of the war. 

“They were a good outfit, quite a disciplined outfit, I guess you’d say, but we got along pretty good,” said Tufts. “All the regiments were supposed to have what they called a scout car troop. It was meant to go scouting here and there, ahead of the tanks and what not, checking for blown out bridges, crossing rivers, and there were numerous other things that we did.”

Tufts explained that a lot of their training, after they went down to the Brighton, England area, consisted of driving scout cars.

“One or two or three would go here or go there, and then we would have to get in contact with the sergeant on the radio and tell him where we were by giving him a description on the map, making sure we knew our location all the time.”

The Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment, or Strath’s as Tufts refers to them, headed to Africa in November of 1943, landing in Algiers. Eventually they headed up the north coast of Africa to another port called Philippeville, where they were stationed for a few more days.

“Then one night, they loaded us up onto a boat and we crossed the Mediterranean into the boot of Italy,” recalled Tufts. “We pulled into the Naples Port early in the morning when it was still dark, and this is really when we saw the first sign of war. There were ships sunk in the harbour and the boats couldn’t get in very well.”

The subsequent advance up the boot of Italy bloodied the Strath’s but also forged their identity as a Canadian tank unit, second to none. The regiment left Italy in February 1945, and fought in the North West Europe campaign to liberate Holland and the Lowlands.

One of the regiment’s most noteworthy battles in Italy was the Melfa River Crossing. During this desperate battle the Strathcona RHQ reconnaissance troop established a bridgehead in conjunction with “A” Company, on the Melfa River and held it against determined German tank and infantry attacks until reinforcements could arrive. 

It was the first real battle Tufts was involved in during the war, and it was also the biggest battle he ever saw.

“Our regiment got the go ahead to make a crossing of the Melfa River,” he said. “It was one of the biggest battles I think the Strath’s ever had. We lost a lot of men, and a lot of tanks in that battle. Maybe the first one is always the worst.”

The Strath’s started fighting at the Hitler Line on May 23, 1944 at Italy’s Melfa River, and made the crossing on the 24th, said Tufts.

“It was at this time that we found out that our tank guns were a little too light for the armour we were engaging,” he continued. “The 75 mm guns wouldn’t penetrate the Tiger tanks. They would hit the front of it and ricochet off. This was pretty grim for the tank gunners.”

Tufts said it was shortly after this historic battle that the Allied Forces came out with a new tank gun, a “17 pounder.”

“It was a terrific gun,” he recalled. “It would just stop or tear through any tank at all. It was just a dandy weapon, so that gave the guys quite a bit more enthusiasm to get out there again.”

Tufts said the tough fighting continued all the way up Italy. 

“We always seemed to be making a crossing of a river, because there were very few bridges left after the Germans kept moving back,” he said. “They took the bridges out before they moved back. And then they’d set up armament. The German army was really clever at setting up gun positions. Antitank guns would be mounted in the side of a bank, cemented in, and they would cover probably a mile. Several times we’d try to take them out. We’d call the air force but they couldn’t do an awful lot to them.” 

Tufts said by the spring of 1945 they were happy to be out of Italy and into “friendlier” territory in northern Europe. In April they had moved up to Holland and prepared for more fighting.

“When we got out of Italy and further into Europe it was a different kind of war as far as I was concerned,” he said. “We weren’t that well liked in Italy, especially in the southern part, but as we got up to Rome things changed. But in the southern part of Italy they didn’t know what to think of us, and I guess you couldn’t blame them because the Germans had just overrun them and they’d lost their own troops. The Germans came in and took everything, and then we came in, so what would they think.” 

Tufts said that in Italy if you saw a haystack a mile or a quarter of a mile away, or an old building, or a clump of trees or a bush, there would probably be an antitank gun behind it. 

“This would happen so often in Italy, where we didn’t run across that at all in Holland,” he said. “This was because the underground people, they didn’t want us shooting into them – they’d come out and they’d look after a lot of that for us. They were a lot of wonderful people and they were well organized.”

Tufts remembers that it was about eight o’clock in the evening on May 4, 1945 when the colonel called a meeting with the Strath’s and told them there was an unconditional surrender to be signed by the Germans at eight o’clock the next morning.

“Everybody was up in the air, and had a real whoop and holler and a good time,” he said. “The celebrations didn’t really start until the next night though. Even though it was a surrender, we were still on the alert for a day or two after because we didn’t know who or what was coming out of the bush.”

After the war had ended the Strath’s were invited back to the first Belgium town they had landed in, Izegem. 

“The town invited the whole regiment back,” said Tufts. “About 200 of us went back. They took quite a few truckloads of us back for the weekend. They put us all up, and put on dances and shows, and anything you wanted. You couldn’t wish for a nicer place.”

After the end of the war, the Strath’s spent some time back in England before being deployed back to Canada in January of 1946. The troops went home on the very same boat they’d come across on, The Queen Elizabeth.

“I came through all the fighting fairly well,” said Tufts who was wounded only once, seriously, during the war. “And I was very happy to be home.”

Tufts married his wife, Celia, in 1950 and they raised three boys and a girl (Joan Kemp of Killarney) on their farm just south of Fairfax. Laverne and Celia now reside in the Royal Legion Plaza and recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary.

Eighty-nine-year-old Laverne Tufts sits comfortably in his Royal Legion Plaza apartment as he peruses some of his war memorabilia. He was a scout car driver in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse armoured regiment. Tufts’ story, above, appears as it did in the November 11, 2011 edition of The Guide.


WWII photo of Laverne Tufts in his early twenties.

A photo of the scout cars used by Tufts and his troupe during WWII. Tufts had the same scout car for the entire war. See more photos of Laverne Tufts on tour below.