Joe Lowis

Joe Lowis

‘I thought maybe one more guy would help’

The sound of approaching German planes was unmistakable to Joe Lowis and his anti-aircraft gun crew.

The sound of approaching German planes was unmistakable to Joe Lowis and his anti-aircraft gun crew.

All too familiar was the din of exploding bombs that followed that morning in France in 1944.

“Two or three went off,” the 97-year-old Lacombe veteran recalls of the attack.

“One landed about 100 feet from our gun. But it didn’t go off.”

Understandably not comfortable manning a gun pit a stone’s throw from an awfully big piece of unexploded ordnance, a battery member phoned headquarters for permission to move their 40-mm Bofors gun.

Permission denied.

Headquarter brass did helpfully give them the go-ahead to build a sand bag wall around the unexploded bomb.

Lowis still shakes his head at the memory.

At 27, he was older than a lot of the young men under his charge in the 112th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery.

Raised on a farm in the Coronation area, he joined the army at 24, signing up in a hotel room at the Coronation Hotel.

“At the time, when I joined, our side was losing pretty badly. I thought maybe one more guy would help.”

After training in Lethbridge, and Ontario’s Chatham and Petawawa, he was shipped to England on the Queen Elizabeth, which had been converted to a troop ship and would carry 750,000 wartime passengers, as many as 10,000 at a time.

For Lowis’s journey, there were six men to each tiny room, sleeping in hammocks.

Posted to Colchester, Lowis and the other gunners trained, and took turns manning gun emplacements along the English Channel coast to relieve British crews.

“They were pretty exhausted in England,” he says.

On July 8, 1944, his battery was sent to France as reinforcements following the D-Day invasion the previous month.

One of his most vivid memories was surviving an attack by their own planes.

“We could see these planes break off formation and start coming in.”

An officer happened to be cycling by and Lowis warned him.

“I said, ‘Sir, you better get in our dugout because we’re going to get bombed by our own planes!’

“Sure enough, we got it.”

The planes were close enough there was no question whose markings they bore — and they weren’t German.

“I could see the guy in the cockpit, who drove the plane.”

One anti-aircraft gun crew member, who was a little slow in being convinced he was going to be attacked by his own side, suffered a minor shrapnel wound to his back as he leaped into the dugout. But the others came through unharmed.

It later emerged that there was some confusion among the airmen over flare colours used to identify friend from foe.

Lowis dodged injury that day, but would not emerge from war unscathed. His hearing was irrecoverably damaged by the din from his guns, and his nerves were affected, he says.

As the one in charge of the anti-aircraft gun, he could not wear ear protection because he had to take targeting and firing orders over a field telephone.

Lowis served right to the end of the war in Europe — and beyond. In the Army of Occupation, he found himself guarding a German hospital.

When someone swiped his knife, he substituted one from the hospital kitchens. That swastika-embossed souvenir became his wife’s tool of choice for digging out dandelions back in Canada for many years.

Lowis had met his bride Dorothy during his service in England. She had been born in Canada but had followed her family back to England.

Joe and Dorothy married in Basingstoke, England. It would be a short honeymoon. The couple were only married a week when Joe was sent home.

Almost a year went by before his wife could join him, as she waited her turn for ship passage with the thousands of other war brides.

Joe and Dorothy farmed in the Poplar Ridge area until retirement. They had been married for 61 years when Dorothy died in 2007.

Lowis’s wartime uniform and Dorothy’s wedding dress are on display at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

Students walk into Hunting Hills High School, which is one of the Red Deer Public Schools with solar panels on its roof. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school was placed in lockdown following potential threat

Hunting Hills High School was placed in a lockdown Friday after Red… Continue reading

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says some details of the provincial government’s 2021-22 budget need to be ‘sorted out’ when it comes to the hospital expansion funding. (File photo by Advocate staff)
More detail needed regarding hospital funding, says Red Deer mayor

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says some information is unclear regarding the… Continue reading

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu speaks to the media at the opening news conference at the Canadian Track and Field Championships Thursday, July 25, 2019 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

New York Red Bulls midfielder Jared Stroud, right, vies for the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during an MLS soccer match in Harrison, NJ., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Entering his ninth season with Toronto FC, Jonathan Osorio said his off-season regimen was no different than in the past. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio looks to take it to the next level this season

Veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio looks to take it to the next level this season

Powell, Lowry help depleted Raptors beat Rockets

Powell, Lowry help depleted Raptors beat Rockets

Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) makes the save on Toronto Maple Leafs' Zach Hyman (11) as Tyson Barrie (22) defends during third period NHL action in Edmonton, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. Toronto continues to lead the North Division standings, but hard-charging Edmonton is now just four points back on the all-Canadian circuit heading into a three-game series between the teams in Alberta's capital beginning Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Maple Leafs, Oilers set for key three-game series atop North Division

Maple Leafs, Oilers set for key three-game series atop North Division

Angela James stands on centre ice in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs team after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame before Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday November 6, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Hall of Famers James, Lowe, Hay named to Order of Hockey in Canada

Hall of Famers James, Lowe, Hay named to Order of Hockey in Canada

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talks to center Aron Baynes (46) and guard Norman Powell (24) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara
Nurse, five Raptors assistants sidelined to due COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Nurse, five Raptors assistants sidelined to due COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Team Ontario skip Rachel Homan, centre, makes a shot against Team Wild Card 1 as second Sarah Wilkes, left, and lead Joanne Courtney sweep at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Ontario's Rachel Homan kicked off play in the championship pool Friday with a 7-6 victory over Chelsea Carey of Team Wild Card One at the Canadian women's curling playdowns. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Homan and Einarson improve to 8-1 at Canadian women’s curling championship

Homan and Einarson improve to 8-1 at Canadian women’s curling championship

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
New vaccine brings optimism amid rising threat of variants, high case counts

New vaccine brings optimism amid rising threat of variants, high case counts

Most Read