Arthur Reil, a local war hero

Arthur Reil, a Knowlton resident, was a war hero who never fired a shot in anger. He was a 19-year-old farm boy from Frelighsburg who travelled to Granby to join the Army in March of 1940.

“War was proper hell,” says Mr. Reil. He spent 30 hours in the icy English Channel in 1944 after German aircraft sunk the convoy of trucks and military vehicles he was in charge of moving up the coast in preparation for D-Day, the Allied invasion of France in June of 1944.

“There were 32 of us, roped together. Only eight survived. As each man died we had to cut him loose,” remembered Mr. Reil. “We were picked up by American PT Boats.”

Sergeant Reil was so close to death he didn’t remember being rescued when he woke up in an English hospital. He recuperated and returned to his base at White Hill in southern England, putting together vehicles shipped over from Canada and the United States. After the D-Day invasion, Art was in charge of the army drivers who delivered the trucks to France. At the end of the war, he was with Canadian troops in Holland.

Arthur Robert Reil was born on August 5, 1920, on the family farm on Bowhart Road in Frelighsburg, the eldest of seven children. The children walked three and a half miles to school; Arthur left after grade 6 because he was needed on the farm, due to his father’s ill health. Art milked 15 cows, separating the cream and milk and taking both to Frelighsburg in a horse-drawn wagon.

When he was 16, the family bought a Model T pickup truck, which made travel and chores easier. Like most farmers, he could repair the simple Ford truck, as well as keep the threshing machine running.

He had learned a great deal about engines and machinery on the family farm, which he all but ran from the age of 12 on. The Army trained him to be a mechanic, and he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant, in charge of putting together equipment and supervising drivers.

When the war ended, he stayed on in England to clean up the mess. Some of the vehicles were auctioned off, others sent as scrap to be melted down. He finally returned to Canada at the end of 1946 and worked as a mechanic for General Motors in Granby for 12 years.

Mr. Reil married an English woman while he was overseas and she returned with him to Canada. They had four children, but the marriage broke down in the 1950s. He later moved to Vancouver and worked there before returning to Bondville, where he lived and worked doing odd jobs and fixing small engines such as lawnmowers. He moved to Knowlbanks in 2005.

He is a bit frail but mentally sharp. When asked his service number, he doesn’t hesitate: “156654.” He still has a driver’s license.

“Art is a very tough, resilient, interesting, intelligent, and resourceful person,” says Florence Burnham of Brill Road in West Bolton. “I’m happy to consider him a dear friend.”