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"Happiness always looks small when you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and at once you learn how big and precious it is."
Maxim Gorky

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

For Len and Thora...

This was the telegram my Great Aunt Thora was waiting for…
My Great Uncle Leonard had been in England, France, Belgium and Holland fighting the Germans from April of 1944 until May 5 of 1945. 
He remained in Europe until January of 1946.
This photo was probably taken in Victoria before he was shipped off to England.
Last night I re read his diary he kept during that time. 
I sat in my bedroom with Big Band music playing on my iPhone. 
I could almost imagine it being a transistor radio with it’s ‘small’ sound.
The rain was coming down hard last night which was echoed in Uncle Leonard’s entries of his days and nights in the pouring rain, in the trenches in Normandy.
About a third of the way through the power went out due to a wind storm 
and I finished it by candlelight.
Many of his words speak of the longing for home, his wife and peace.
At one point he was in the thick of it during the Battle of Caen, 
a very strategic turning point for the Allies.
 For some reason he never understood, a bomb hit his tent, a piece of the shell tearing through it, smashing one side of the desk he was hiding under and buried itself in the ground just short of his head. In his words “How I ever escaped being hit will always seem a miracle to me.”
I read the fear between the lines.
I also found these papers amongst his telegrams.
One was to aid them if they were lost or captured...
(the pamphlet also has the same phrases in Dutch, Spanish and German)
If you look at the top of this one it explains how he acquired it in his handwriting.
(Slang for Germans was the term 'Jerry')
Imagine that he carried these around with him for almost 2 years.
His treks through ruined towns and villages had an immense impact on him.
He says at one point “What I can see, the civilians seem to suffer worse than the armies concerned.” 
“The refugees still keep coming out of Caen and a sorry looking lot they are. To see them gives you a rotten feeling in the pit of your stomach. Thank God! Our wives, brothers, sisters and families don’t have to go through this.”
He speaks a lot of the children and how undernourished they look but on a lighter note states that “The children have learned the words ‘gum’ and ‘cigarette’ which they ask for everywhere we go. We are leaving a trail of gum, candy and cigarettes across France."
Here he is on the right with a buddy...
He describes being in the countryside of France once and how on July 18, 1944 “It was such a lovely morning that one could hardly realize that death and turmoil lay all around me.” 
And so it went for him and so many others, trying their best to stay safe and come home.
Which he did eventually.
Uncle Leonard on the left during a lighter moment of the war...I don't know what became of the others in the photo...let's hope they had a happy ending too.
He and my Aunt Thora went back to Europe a few times and on one visit revisited the small town of Oss in Holland. They searched out the house where Uncle Leonard had stayed during the last days of the war, which he had always remembered so fondly because of the kindness of the family. The family still lived in the same house and celebrated the return of the Canadian soldier with a big party that went on all night!
Remembrance Day is a time of intensity for many including myself. For it’s these stories that flow through time and which should be told over and over, never to be forgotten.
For us all to know the dedicated sacrifice which so many made.
For us. For Freedom. For this privileged life we live here in this country.
I didn’t know my Uncle very well since he died quite a number of years ago but I’m so grateful that he kept such an important diary. 
And thanks to my mom who painstakingly re wrote (on a typewriter!) all of the pages and transcribed them into a book for our family to have.
Lest we forget.

(The last telegram my Aunt Thora received...probably the most welcome one of all...)


Nancy Kay said...

Love this post. It is an awesome record of a brave soldier. How wonderful he made it back home!

Acornmoon said...

What an amazing collection of memories for you to treasure. So many things have changed in what is only a lifetime to today's elderly. So glad he made it back home safe and sound.