How Boots Bettridge got his name
In 1940, Bill Bettridge tried to join the Queens Own Rifles in Toronto, but they couldn't take him, since they had a full complement of troops. He returned to Brampton, where he had gone to school with Ted Conover, and Ted's dad accepted Bill into The Lorne Scots. He trained at Camp Borden, where soldiers were still living in tents; barracks were only starting to be built when he left. Later, when the QOR returned to Sussex, Nova Scotia from Newfoundland, Bill transferred to that unit, and was shipped off to England, where he spent four years in training.
William George (Boots) Bettridge 1921-2012
The Quartermaster told him he didn't have any size ten triple E boots (wink). Bill caught on and was exempt from route marches for several weeks, due to a lack of boots. He was a kitchen helper in the kitchen, until it was learned that his foot was a standard ten. Because of this, everyone came to know him as "Boots."
Because he had grown up shooting, he scored the best on the rifle range, and was made a sniper. Technicians picked out the best 303 Lee Enfield rifle and attached a scope to it. The stock was also built up with extra wood for the sniper to rest his cheek on.
During the First World War, his dad and granddad, who were both fighting overseas, had a chance meeting in Belgium. Bill's dad had a youthful look to him, so he was able to participate in the Second World War also.
His scariest moment was the invasion of Juno Beach. There were three rows of seats in the landing craft and the center row was to file out first, the left second and the right last. When the gate dropped, they all scrambled out together. They were under fire for the first time and all protocol was forgotten. Bill's company fared well in the landing, while the officer commanding the company on the far left of Juno Beach looked back to see how his men were doing and saw that they were all floating in the water.
It took five weeks of fighting to reach Caen, and snipers were not often called on to take out the enemy. Bill was partnered with another sniper, Buck Hawkins. They would take turns spotting for each other. Officers didn't last more than a few weeks before being killed or wounded so new officers were quite often inexperienced. Normally snipers were kept back until the front line drew fire. Then from a position not focused on by the enemy, they would try to neutralize the threat. On one occasion, a new officer called for the snipers to join him in a German trench that he and other men were occupying at the front. He wanted them to take out a German machine gunner on a hill a thousand yards away. When Bill said it was too far, the officer chided him and all snipers for wanting an easy target. Boots told his partner that they better try, to appease the officer. He took a shot that fell short and the German ducked down. He popped up again and they could see him from the chest up. This continued for six more shots until he stopped popping up. Bill didn't know if he got him or the German just wasn't going to take any more chances. Boots said you could allow for wind and trajectory, but part of it was luck. They later formed a Scout and Sniper platoon of twenty scouts and ten snipers, and Bill was promoted to Sergeant.
It was a long time after D-day when the platoons got up to full strength by raw recruits replacing casualties. One young fellow placed his rifle with fixed bayonet against the wall of the trench and fell asleep. A German attacked and jumped on top of the bayonet, waking the recruit. The new guy marched the wounded German off to headquarters. Boots saw a few guys go mad. One watched his buddy get shot through the jugular vein and tried to stop the bleeding, to no avail. When his buddy died, he ran off screaming uncontrollably. Another fellow left his foxhole to socialize and chat with another friend in his trench. When he returned to his own foxhole he found a crater where a shell had exploded. He ran off out of control.
Smoke grenades would explode on impact, but if they landed in grass that sometimes cushioned the impact, and the snipers had to go out and carefully collect them. They would place them on a post and shoot them from fifty yards away. One of his colleagues did just that and the ball bearing that triggers the smoke grenade came back and hit him in the head. He ended up with a steel plate in his head and Boots caught hell from an officer for letting it happen.
ln another situation, he had grown comfortable with battle and was sitting in front of a tree using it for a backrest. He was watching a tank battle through his scope, which was propped up on one knee. An armour-piercing projectile from one of the tanks hit the tree just above Bill's head. He wasn't waiting around for another shot.
Probably most significant to Bill was a ritual he and his pal Buck Hawkins had. Bill would greet his pal in the morning with, "How are you today Buck?"
Buck would reply, "lt doesn't hurt to breath so I must be okay."
One morning Buck did not reply as usual, but seemed very concerned about something. Later that day they were in a hedgerow and the Germans were shooting at them. He could hear the bullets hissing through the bushes. The Germans knew they were there, but couldn't see them. Next he heard a thud nearby and then a closer one, so he kept moving. Buck was back a bit and didn't seem to be aware of the close calls. He was hit and died in Bill's arms. Bill checked for wounds and found some had entered his right side and almost exited. his left side. His insides were torn apart. Bill placed his helmet under Buck's head and covered him with his jacket.
Once, Boots bounded across a road into a wheat field. The Germans saw him and so did Jody Carmichael, one of his comrades. He could hear bullets whooshing through the wheat and he jumped into a German trench. You weren't supposed to do that unless you dropped a grenade in first, but Boots had no time. He had left his helmet and his iacket with Buck so he was travelling light. He had dropped his shovel and only had his rifle and a binocular case that he had to hold on to while he was running. When he checked out the case to see why it wouldn't stay on his belt, he found two bullet holes. It was cold that night without a jacket. He had used up all his ammunition and by rules for snipers, he removed the bolt before abandoning his rifle. He found a German Smizer, which he considered a superior weapon. While on the move, he met a British tank patrol. All turrets were pointed at him so he dropped the German weapon and threw his hands in the air. They recognised him as Canadian so he asked if they could help him get back to the QOR and the Colonel drove him in his Jeep. When he got back Jody called him a bootless bastard and told him how he had spent hours searching the wheat field for his worthless body. Boot's Colonel gave him some food and a bottle of whiskey. He fell asleep and when he woke up the bottle was half empty.
They had advanced into Germany when they knocked on the door of a house. No one answered so they opened the door, which was not locked. They could hear whimpering from under a bed. Bill took some of his equipment off and knelt down by the bed. A woman was shaking with fear under it. Through sign language he managed to let her know that he just wanted a place to sleep. She calmed down and came out with a little girl that she was shielding with her body. She brought out clean white sheets that Bill hadn't seen since England and he took over a spare bedroom. In the morning, the little girl brought Bill a bouquet of flowers from the garden. Bill regretted not getting her name. After the war ended, Boots was tasked with checking civilian traffic for weapons.
Back in Canada, Bill and his dad started up a business in heating and sheet metal work. He sent for his sweetheart Amy who he had met in England during his training and they married and had three sons. Boots was the model for a statue of a soldier in a Brampton park.