My grandfather and my father served in the World Wars.
Five of my seven uncles served in the Second World War, one from Scotland and four from British Columbia.
From my grandfather’s journals from 1939 through 1959, which I did not receive until my father passed away in 2009, I learned much about the times and lives and what these men and their families went through.
I remember my grandfather sitting in his chair by the fire with his foot up writing in his journal.
He used a pencil and wrote in school scribblers; every so often he would dip the tip of the pencil on his tongue.
My father was the youngest of six children having five sisters.
My grandparents had acquired property in the south Okanagan; just north of Oliver on old river bottom land through the First World War Veterans Land Act in 1913.
They lived in Nova Scotia at the time.
It took them several years, different jobs and five births to work their way across Canada.
They arrived in Oliver in the spring of 1922 where my father was born in 1923.
From an early age my father was taught the value of a strong work ethic.
Along with his parents and sisters, they turned this raw land into a productive farm that sustained them.
It also became a small business that supplemented my grandfather’s war pension – while providing fresh produce, eggs and such to their small community.
Without electricity or running water, it was hard work, determination and true grit that made it a success.
During the war years and afterwards, they provided free food to any in need.
At 17 years, my father joined the Armed Forces, and after training, he was posted at Vancouver and York Island serving in the 31st Heavy Battery coastal artillery until he was old enough to go overseas.
He went overseas August 1942 as artilleryman reinforcement to #2 C.A.R. Unit at Ludshott, England. While there, he was posted to the 5th Battery of the 3rd Canadian Medium Artillery Regiment as a gunner.
While in Scotland, he met and married a lovely young lass from Glasgow.
After more training in England and Wales, he was on to the invasion of Normandy, Caeb, Falaise Gap, Grez, Nez, Bolonge, Flushing, Ni jmegen (Holland) to Bremen, Germany where on May 8, 1945, the war ended.
He, like so many others, was traumatized by the atrocities and horrors they experienced.
A lot of the men returning from the Second World War used alcohol to numb the pain of their horrific experiences.
There was no recognition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – just “Chin Up ole chap” and get on with it.
My father never shared many war stories until his later years.
He told me the whole campaign is in his memory as one continuous roar and a series of unending explosions for 11 months 24 hours a day, with very few exceptions.
Being dive bombed every night for weeks, shot up by 50-calibre machine guns plus antipersonnel bombs.
“…Bombed twice by our own aircraft at Caen and the Falaise Gap, and again during “combined ops” of 1,500 Allied aircraft on the way through Bologne and Flushing.”
He also described the aftermath of the combined ops of Market Garden, which left an indelible image in my mind. Wondering how if just his recollection of it affected me so deeply, how ever did he cope at all?
His memory was of horrific devastation and destruction.
The stench of rotting flesh from man and beast strewn along the roadside, in ditches and fields made him and others vomit.
Many men suffered mental and physical health-related problems. My father was quite deaf and had an injured knee.
He was compensated for these injuries through Veteran Affairs; however, nothing could erase the trauma he experienced.
Many of these Second World War veterans’ family life were never the same.
Many ended in divorce and wives and children were left to move forward on their own.
War is destructive not only to the solider, but also to their families who struggle to make sense of it.
The entry from my grandfather’s journal from Oct. 31, 1945 reads as follows:
“It is a Red Letter Day for this family, Bob came home from overseas.
We went to Penticton to meet him on the train.
He is looking fine, we are sure glad to see him.
We did not go to bed until 5:30 am.”
Four days later the diary entry reads:
“Bob started hitchhiking to the Nickel Plate Mine today.”
Only four days after returning from the horror of a bloody war, my father, at age 22, was hitchhiking 100 miles in order to find work to support his new family who would be arriving from Glasgow in the next few months.
To my father and all the men and women who sacrificed so much for so many I am eternally grateful.
Although I wear a uniform I was not born to fight;
All these wounded boys you lie beside,
Goodnight, my friends, goodnight.
And the skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend;
And all the rain falls down amen,
On the works of last year’s man.
Leonard Cohen: Last Year’s Man lyrics