Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

While today is Pepero Day in Korea, in Canada it's Remembrance Day. It's the first time in nine years I've been home for it, and it's been in the news a lot. [Apparently there has been much more interest in it in recent years than in the past, due to the fact that Canadian troops are in Afghanistan.] At this very moment I can hear on TV the story of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter. So it goes.

My father has done research into our family history for over two decades, and I've tried to do my part as well, especially by scanning photos and getting oral history down. There are lots of interesting stories of family members' involvement in past wars, even as far back as the War of 1812. A March 10, 1848 petition for land by my great. great, great, great uncle states that
Your petitioner enlisted in the late Glengary Light Infantry on the 1st April 1812 and was regularly discharged at Adolphustown on the 1st April 1815 and served part of his time under Captain James Fitzgibbon of the late Glengary Light Infantry Fencible.
He was also
...wounded in the arm in May 1813 at the taking of Fort George in the late American war with the U. States and again wounded in the ankle joint on the 25th July 1814 at the Battle of Lundies Lane by a musket ball lodged in the ankle joint and remaining there for 32 years and 1 month causing your petitioner much pain and from said last wound has been a cripple ever since.

Your petitioner suffering so much pain was compelled to call upon a surgeon and have his foot taken off on the 25th August 1846.
He was, however, denied the land he wished for 'free from fees', which makes the final paragraph of this history of the Glengary Light Infantry Fencibles a bit of a joke:
[W]hen the regiment was disbanded, the non-commissioned officers and privates receiv[ed] grants of land in various parts of the Province of Upper Canada.
Most of the material I have is of a more recent vintage (which fits in with Remembrance Day better, I guess, as I heard on the news today it is to remember those who fought in World War I and after, and not in wars that determined such meager things as [Upper and Lower] Canada's continued existence).

A few years ago, I went through a box of photos and documents that belonged to my great grandfather Albert Stuckey (my mother's mother's father) and found several letters written during World War I from someone named Harold Harvey, and after some digging, I found on the 1891 census that my great grandfather and his grandmother had shared a house with Harold's family in Toronto. From the letters, it's clear Harold had been working for my great grandfather in his shoe pattern shop prior to the war. After arriving in England, he 'strained a cord in his stomach' while lifting a 525 pound case of clothing with another soldier, which left him out of action for several weeks, after which he had to restart training. The letters give some idea of what it was like for someone in England waiting to go over to France.
Jan 27, 1917
I’ll be glad when it’s all over, and I can get back home again. Of course, I don’t want to come back until I’ve done my bit, and I hope that’s pretty soon. I’m getting sick of England.

Feb 23, 1917
You say in your letter, if you were me, you wouldn’t be very anxious to go across to France. But if you were on this side of the water, you would get the fever to, the same as I’ve got. Once on this side, and you are never satisfied. You want to be on the go. Some don’t, but the majority does. They say, it will take at least four years to demobolized. So you see, if I go across now, and do my bit, and most likely get a Blighty* one, well, I’ll be home to see the end, as I was in the beginning. But I got along ways to travel yet, before I get home again. And to see all the wounded, well, that don’t change my mind, because I know I’ve got it to go through.

[*A 'Blighty' was a wound which was not serious to kill or maim, but bad enough to get you sent home - and about the best thing a soldier could hope for.]

April 22 1917
[He describes the joys of making rabbit stew from a rabbit caught in a snare, noting that] there’s one thing about this life, it’s learnt me to cook. That is, in a rough kind of a way. But we’d eat anything from an ant to an elephant these days. They half starve us over here, but it’s no use kicking, although they tell us that is a soldier’s privilege.

May 27 1917
I’ll be on the first draught going, I hope. I hope I don’t go to the 75th, because I want to go to the third. All my pals are in the third, and naturally I want to go there.

June 10, 1917
I guess by the time you receive this letter of mine, I will be in France. I am in a draught hut at present, and expect to be put on a draught any time now. They say France and the trenches are awful places, but to my estimation they can’t beat what I have already gone through. And the place I am at present would be alright but for the N.C.O.s and officers.
He obviously didn't enjoy training very much. This form letter is dated July 15, and may be from France.

In a letter dated August 7, 1917, my great grandfather writes that he hadn't written in awhile because he had
been waiting to see if you had gone to France. Albert [Harold’s brother] was in and told me you had gone to France and that you were in the 75th Batt. Well Harold old boy, keep your heart up, for something tells me that you will come back safe and sound.

I am sending a sample of some new binding and it is ok. I wish you were home so that you could help me out. But never mind it as hope it won’t be long before you are back again.
He never made it home. The reason my great grandfather had possession of this letter is because it was returned to him. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, Harold Harvey died on August 18, 1917. A look at the history of the 75th battalion puts him at the Battle of Hill 70, where, in addition to rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire, the Germans employed mustard gas and flamethrowers. He was one of 1,505 Canadians killed in the battle.

In the letter my great grandfather sent, he wrote, "We are sending you a box, let me know if you get it. Lizzie Fulton is sending two pairs of socks in it." In a letter from my great grandfather's cousin Frank, dated August 9, 1931, he apologizes for not writing for so long and writes
I would like you to tell your wife that I received two of her parcels that she sent her brother when in France during the war. I got them through her name being the same as mine. After her brother was killed they were sent to me about 10 months after his death and they was in good order and I sure appreciated them at the time. I had been in the line then about 17 months, half starved and half frozen at the time.
No record of my great grandmother having an older brother exists, but I realized the other day that these might have been packages for Harold that he received. I know little about Frank Stuckey's involvement in the war other than what his attestation papers show - that he signed up in January 1916 at the age of forty-six.

It was probably about nine years ago that my father's mother went to the Legion and signed out the World War I memoir that her father, Norman Hipson, had written, and which she had donated after his death. Titled "Memoirs of a Camouflaged Civilian," it contained this photo, taken in Italy, in which he is standing:

My father just received a copy of the 1911 census the other day showing that at 14 my great-grandfather was already working underground in a coal mine (and after he came to Canada, he worked in a mine until the day before he died). According to his memoir he enlisted on April 16th, 1918 (on a dare from his brother, my grandmother told me), and left England at the end of August. Unlike many British soldiers, he wasn't headed for the western front, but for Italy, where British troops reinforced the Italians after their defeat at Caporetto in late 1917, and where he arrived in September. As he describes his experiences,
On Sept. 14th we left Padova to join the 12th D.L.I. [Durham Light Infantry] whom we found on Sept. 16 at Carriola. In Reserve on the Alps. After doing a few days on the mountains we were relieved by the Italians[.] [...]

[Then he went to] Padova where we arrived about midnight on Oct. 9th. At this place we had further training and we were also transferred to the 48th Division of the Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Batt. [...]

[T]he morning of the 25th of Oct. when we marched or rather climbed the Alps once more, we did as reinforcements in the afternoon of Oct 25th. Joined the Bucks at Malga Fassa Fort. The reserve position and three days after we went “Over the Lid” which ended in a slaughter of our fellows, over a hundred casualties.

After the “stunt” was finished we returned to Malga Fassa Fort and stayed there until 3:00 am Nov. 1st when we were ordered to get our kit on and away we went. Lined up just N of Asiago and at 5:45 am we started the advance which led to the route of the Austrian Army and the end of the war. At 10:00 am the same morning we had successfully stormed Mounte Catz After being held up we reached the summit. Here we were shelled for three hours, after this we met with little or no resistance. Next day Nov 2 we advanced along the Val D'Assa Pass.
As his battalion marched into Austria, he became one the few British soldiers to enter enemy territory in Europe (troops on the western front never entered German territory). When I first read this, nine years ago, it was difficult to find much information about the British forces in the Italian campaign (or much about the Italian campaign in English at all), but by a few years ago there were many more resources on the internet (including a trench map of the area he fought in). I used Google Earth to make this map using the places listed in his memoirs:

He made it out of the war in one piece, but his future wife's brother was less lucky. Francis Bradford disappeared and was not heard from for years. This photo of him is in the background of another photo.

It wasn't until after the war ended that he appeared at his family's doorstep one day. He was little more than a skeleton as he had been a POW in Germany and had been forced to work in a salt mine, living on little more than potato peels. His parents, during that time, had had no idea if he was alive or dead. One can only imagine their reaction when he finally came home.

In World War II, my grandmother's brother, Bill Hipson, enlisted as his father had before him. The photo below (he's on the right) was sent home from England. (That dog appears in another photo as well.)

As a clipping from the local paper described it,
He enlisted in the Signal Corps on August 10, 1942 shortly before his 19th birthday and shortly afterwards transferred to the RCAMC [Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps]. He arrived in England on June 24, 1943, and was sent to France on D-Day.

The 23rd Field Ambulance was attached to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and with them he travelled through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany. […] He said the Ambulance was the busiest between their stay at Caen and the closing of the Falaise pocket.[…]

“We had a hard time getting the German SS to take our transfusions. Some held out altogether. They didn’t want to take our blood. They felt like they were better heroes not to take it.”[...]

Asked where he spent V.E. Day he replied, "In Aurich, Germany." The Germans he said were so downhearted over their defeat that it affected any great celebration on the part of the Canadians, but when they got back to Holland the folk there went crazy about Germany’s surrender and showed the way to celebrate.
The article notes that he had volunteered for the Pacific theatre and would be going to Kentucky to train.

As for the celebrations in Holland, I remember in university a foreign student from India who'd put a Canada flag patch on his jacket. He told me that when he was in line at immigration after flying into the Netherlands, a woman working at the desk called him forward from the back of a line, asking him about his patch. In his estimation the Dutch still felt very kindly towards Canadians (as it was Canadian troops who liberated the Netherlands).

My father's cousin also fought in the war, but did not come home:

When she went to visit his grave in Italy at some point after the war, his mother was happy to see how well-maintained the cemetery was.

On my mother's side, all of the men in or married to my grandparents' families enlisted. My grandfather's brother, my grandmother's brother, her sister's husband, and my grandfather all served, but I only really know details about my grandfather. My grandmother's brother enlisted in the army, and she said her father - perhaps remembering how Harold Harvey had died - wasn't very happy that he did so. Her brother wrote her a letter dated Feb. 25, 1945, which gives some idea of how exhausted he was:
I expect to get a bit of leave soon but it’s not to travel around, I just want to go somewhere and catch up on some warm sleeping quarters. After the war is over I think I’ll build a house with a fireplace in my bedroom so I can wake up nice and warm in the morning. […] I expect to spend an awful lot of time at the cottage when this thing is over just relaxing.
I believe he and my grandfather's brother served in the army, but as my grandmother told me her brother never talked about the war. Her sister's husband was involved with radar overseas. One of the ironic things is that those who died can be searched for on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and then their unit's history can be traced, and all of this can be done online in a matter of minutes. For those who survived the war - as luckily everyone on my mother's side of the family did - learning about where they served is more difficult.

My grandfather, Donald Berry, had often talked about his service in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I heard his stories many times, about how he had failed a Latin exam when he was sixteen and his mother, who was a teacher, told him to retake the test or get a job. My grandfather was incredibly bright, but, as he told me about Latin, "I had no use for it." So he did what his mother couldn't have imagined - he asked his neighbour if there were any jobs available at the law office he worked at, and soon my grandfather was employed there, much to his mother's chagrin. It was because he had dropped out that he needed to take classes after he enlisted to catch up on his studies (mostly math, I imagine). As my grandmother noted recently as I was scanning photos, the soldiers who were married during the war wore their uniforms at their weddings; my grandfather was no different:

Their wedding had to be moved to an earlier date, due to his leave, which is why they ended up being married on April Fool's Day, 1943. While there is a military document saying he had permission to marry, apparently he was not given enough time off. His father waited outside Toronto's Initial Training School to drive him to the wedding, and then they went to London, Ontario, for their honeymoon. He was actually Absent Without Leave, and when he went to St. Catherines to begin his flight training, he was asked, "What's your excuse?" When he said he'd gotten married, the officer replied, "Best excuse I've heard all day," and didn't punish him.

I'd known that he was at Summerside air base in P.E.I., and had assumed (actually, I think someone mistakenly told me) that he didn't finish his training before the war ended. Most of his stories took place there. Like the time he followed a river inland to its source and marked its location on a map so he could go fishing there. Or the guy he talked to who'd returned from England who'd told him he'd fallen asleep on top of barracks, missed a call for everyone to go inside, and saw a plane, he swore, that flew without propellers. Or seeing a beluga whale nurse its young in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Or seeing a U-boat slipping into the water near shore. Or the time he chartered a plane so the other pilots could go off the island to buy booze (P.E.I. was dry at the time, and only, if I remember correctly, pregnant women could get it with a 'script' (prescription)). Or my grandmother remembering flying from Toronto to return to P.E.I. after the birth of my aunt, and having to land and warm up a bottle of milk in a hangar. Or how my grandfather bought a car in P.E.I. and with friends drove it back to Toronto through the U.S. (Canadian roads weren't very good at the time), where, being in uniform, they were well treated by the Americans they met, who were so happy the war was over.

So it was with interest that I picked up Ted Barris's book Behind the Glory when I was at my grandparents this summer, and started flipping through it. The book is about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and especially focuses on the instructors who trained around 200,000 pilots, navigators, wireless radio operators, air gunners, flight engineers and ground crew in Canada during WWII. My mom or dad made an offhand remark about my grandfather having been an instructor, which amazed me. How could I have heard these stories over the years and not known that? This book was very useful in helping me decode and understand another book: my grandfathers flight log. Basically, reading it, I can see what he did almost every week he was enlisted. At the back is his service record:

Enlisted 1942.06.24
Central Tech, Toronto 1942.07.31 - 09.21
#1 Manning Depot, Toronto 1942.09.25 - 1943.01.23
#6 Initial Training School, Toronto 1943.01.24 - 04.03
#9 Elementary Flying Training School, St. Catherines 1943.04.04 - 05.28
#16 Service Flying Training School, Hagersville 1943.05.30 - 09.15
#1 General Reconnaissance School, Summerside 1943.10.02 - 1945.09.18

This page of the flight log describes his fourth week at #9 Elementary Flying Training School in St. Catherines; you can see on April 22 he had his first solo flight, after about nine and a half flying hours training in a Tiger Moth.

A newspaper article shows him (D.F. Berry) learning to identify enemy planes:

He received his wings as an Air Navigator in September 1943 and served as a flight and navigation instructor for almost two years at Summerside in P.E.I. Here's a list of what instructors had to teach:

I can remember him describing dropping three buoys into the water and viewing them through a sight which could then judge how far they had moved and could be used to calculate wind speed which was then used to correct the course being plotting. It sounded quite complicated. He flew Ansons, which were reliable twin engine planes used to prepare pilots for flying large planes like Lancaster bombers. As the page linked to notes, the Anson was "dubbed "Faithful Annie", inspiring this poem which lauds the Anson's superiority over the Cessna Crane:

Oh, the Crane may fly much faster
Inside she may be neat,
But to me the draughty Anson
Is very hard to beat.
Her plywood may be warping,
Her window glass may crack,
But when you start out in an Anson.
You know that you'll come back.

-Andy, No. 7 SFTS (Fort Macleod) 1943"

I found these photos awhile ago. I'm not sure if my grandfather took them or not:

Pretty neat. My grandfather told me that the war had been pretty good to him. He'd gotten to learn how to fly, and then got to keep flying as a flight instructor. His flight log has him down for a total of 1300 flying hours, with over 1000 of them as an instructor (I have no idea how many pilots and navigators he trained). I'd imagine the reason he told me all the stories he did was because he looked back on that time so fondly.

My grandfather with his father.

In the photo above you can see the headgear and goggles he is wearing, and I can remember as a child putting them on and playing with them and trying (and failing) to imagine what it must have been like for him to wear them when he was flying. As years went by, his stories, and, much later, photos and his flight log have helped give me some inkling. It's a dark irony that as I became more interested in these stories, Alzheimer's Disease was robbing him of his memory.

He passed away six weeks ago, so it's to him I dedicate this.


Anonymous said...

peace, dude.

K said...

Hi, you suggested in an earlier post that Remembrance Day was only for those who died in WWI and after and I was sure that was wrong. This is from today's Globe and Mail and is from a ceremony at "The Cenotaph" in Ottawa:

Thousands of Canadians gathered in the bright sun around the cenotaph at the centre of Ottawa. The monument was first unveiled by King George VI in 1939 to commemorate Canada's response to the First World War. References to the Second World War and the Korean War weren't added until 1982, expanding the cenotaph's meaning to include all those who served Canada in times of war.

Helen said...

They both look great in the wedding photo!

K said...

By the way, if you want to read a little about the Italian campaign in Austria in WWI check out Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms." It's a semi-autobiographical account of his time as an American volunteer ambulance driver in that area, his desertion and escape by boat to Switzerland.

matt said...

Thanks for pointing that out - The news was wrong (I heard yesterday that it was from the Boer War on, though I suppose 'Canada' didn't exist in 1812).

I have that Hemingway book around somewhere but have never read it...

Thanks, Helen!

The Sanity Inspector said...

Fascinating stuff, congratulations on still having all this family history in your possession. The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated History of World War One is a great, great resource, if you have access to it.