Here are more of my Remembrance Day articles for 2011.
A soldier at war's end
By Lois Ann Dort
COUNTRY HARBOUR – In January of 1944, at the age of 18 Havelock Mason, of Isaac's Harbour followed in his father's footsteps and joined the war effort. Mason starts his story with his dad, “My father, he was in WWI and WWII in the Navy. I joined in Halifax at the old number six depot and they sent me to the engineers training centre in Chilliwack, B.C.. I was there for five months for training. then I was shipped to England. I landed in Cove, England trained there a short while and then from there went over to Alstum, Belgium.”
Mason worked as a sapper, “I was a driver. They (sappers) built bridges and cleared mine fields.”
When the war ended Mason was stationed in northern Holland and became a member of the Canadian occupation force in Germany. “I was stationed in Leer, Germany. We maintained a bailey bridged – kept it open for ships to go down to the North Sea on the Ems River. The bridge had been completed in 1939 but as soon as the war started that was gone,” Mason said.
During the liberation Mason recalls his time in Holland cheerfully. “In Holland we got along A 1. In Holland they thought there was nothing like the Canadians. We used to feed a lot of them too. They hadn't too much then- the Germans had most of it. We got a ration every two weeks with cigarettes, candy, gum and we used to give the kids our gum and candy. They knew when we were getting it and they would all be there and we would give it all to them. The Canadians liberated Holland- they're not going to forget that.”
In occupied Germany the population was not as friendly but Mason said they never experience sabotage. “They weren’t as friendly as the Dutch – you couldn't blame the in a way. They were all smashed up at the time. Their homes, streets and bridges were all bombed.”
Mason returned to Canada and to depot number six in Halifax in the Spring of '45. He and his father both returned home to Isaac's Harbour. Mason spent his working life as a quartermaster on the Great Lakes, married, had children and built a home in Country Harbour. He is a member of the Antigonish Legion and attends Remembrance Day services at Cross Roads County Harbour.
Guysborough student learns WWII history through family letters
By Lois Ann Dort
GUYSBOROUGH – Alexandra MacDonald a Grade six student at Chedabucto Education Centre built her school project for the heritage fair last March around an amazing archive of letters sent from her grandfather in Europe to his aunt back in Nova Scotia from May of 1943 to Novemeber of 1945. “I like history and I wanted to learn about my grampy because I never got to see him (he died before she was born). We have all the letters that he wrote to his aunt Emma during the war,” MacDonald said.
Through reading the letters MacDonald got to know her grandfather and learn about an important part of Canadian history at the same time. “I learned where he was and he talked about how nice some of the countries were. His favorite countries were Holland and Belgium. He loved Belgium. He went through England, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, France and Germany....He was 19 when he left, he lied about his age and said he was 21 to get in. Once he got there he missed his family, he missed home. He mentioned home in every one of his letters.”
She interviewed her grandfather's cousin and best friend Frank who also served in the war. “He was 21 when he enlisted and went overseas in February of 1942 at age 22. He said he had met my grampy in Holland and they were pretty happy. They were probably both happy that they were still alive....he got back from the war in November of 1945 so that's a long time being there from 1942.”
With Remembrance Day fast approaching MacDonald encourages others to take part in the services available in the area, “Everyone should go to Remembrance Day Services. It's not very hard to do and they're so special.”
To get young people more involved in Remembrance Day she suggested, “Teachers should teach it in school more and encourage kids to go to the services and do activities about it. That is what really got me interested, that and my grandfather was in it.” Reciting and writing poems, singing songs, performing or watching a concert, creating pictures, and writing letters to veterans are just a few of the activities that MacDonald lists which peaked her interest in WWII history.
To complete her project, which included filing and summarizes the many letters her grandfather sent home, she wrote a letter to her grandfather, a man she'd never met but now knew so much about.
Dear Grampy Lowell,
I learned about you. Things like: you were a trooper, you wrote a lot of letters and you were a very nice man. You loved the countries of Holland and Belgium because they were clean. And the people were nice. You appreciated the little things in life like letters and chocolate bars. You loved your family and often thought about home. I also learned a lot about Frank, your best friend and cousin. Frank also told me about all the time you two got in trouble together and much more. You, grampy Lowell, fought for freedom, and you are my hero.
Lots of Love as Always,
A daughter's remembrance
By Lois Ann Dort
GUYSBOROUGH – Percy Lumsden was a proud veteran who marched every year in the Remembrance Day parade in Guysborough. Although he is no longer with us, like so many of our treasured veterans, his memory remains. Through his daughter Patsy's archival skill and interest in family history, Percy's life as a soldier and beyond has been detailed meticulously on the website rootsweb. The following are excerpts from a letter Percy wrote to his mother from England in 1944.
I received a box of chocolates from you...thanks very much. They are swell mum but are you sure that you didn't sacrifice them to send them to me. I don't want you to do that mum because you need them more than I do....By the way I got two letters from you the other night too...and one from Mrs. Hogan. I guess Joe Hogan is gone all right and I feel sorry for his mother. She thought an awful lot of him because he was the youngest of the family....He was a swell guy and was just ordinary like all the rest of us....Well mum, I guess there isn't any news, so I will close now. Thanks again for the chocolates and I hope you are getting better now.
Lots of Love From Percy
For more on Percy's life in the service visit http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~guys/Percy/percy3.html
Young veterans from modern conflicts
By Lois Ann Dort
GAGETOWN, NB. – During Remembrance Day we are asked to remember the veterans who fought for our freedoms in the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific during WWI and WWII but it is important to also remember the men and women in uniform today who are serving in active conflict zones in Afghanistan. Ryan Toole, graduate of Guysborough Academy class of 2002 and son of Hadleyville, served in Afghanistan from September of 2008 to April of 2009. He is still in the infantry stationed in Gagetown, New Brunswich where he lives with his wife Lesley and their three children aged from 11 months to five years old. This past weekend Toole took time out from work and family to talk to The Journal about his tour in Afghanistan.
Toole joined the army in April 2003, not long after finishing High School. He said that he had always thought of the military as his best career option as he was a hands on kind of guy and didn't think college would be a good fit for him. He also had some family history that helped direct his path toward military life; his great-grandfather had served in both WWI and WWII lying about his age to get into the first war and courageous enough to enlist again in the second. “I always thought that what he did was honorable,” said Toole of his ancestor.
While still in school and already setting his sights on a military career, Toole witnessed the attacks on 911 on TV in the school cafeteria. “I remember being in the cafeteria in school and watching the terror attacks on September 11. I knew even before that that I would join the military. It felt right to do my part,” he said.
Starting a year before deployment to Afghanistan was mission specific training which took Toole to various locations across Canada and the United States. “We did work up training for more than a year... Wainwright, Alta; Texas and New Mexico....as much training as you can jam down your throat- I guess you can never have to much.”
Toole's unit was part of the provincial reconstruction unit. “When we first went there we were in Kandahar Air Field. Then we went to camp Nathan Smith in the middle of the city. We were also in Zhair and Panjwaii districts. We fought back and forth between Zhair and Panjwaii districts,” he said. “We would take people out who were going to do work like dig wells, and build schools....We would do patrols to be out there and walk around to show the people that we are there to help them and not do them harm.”
“When we were in Nathan Smith we would do quick reaction force. We would take people out to diffuse bombs, if anything happened you would go out for back up. We got a lot of IED (improvised explosive device) calls. People would call with a location and then engineers would do their thing. Or you would go back if there was more than one,” Toole said of the day to day work he performed while on base.
As for the mission, Toole is ardent in his belief that Afghans want to fight their own battles and he feels Canada's efforts in helping them to do so are appreciated. “They would really like to stand up on their own feet. If we don't help them do that we will be back there again. They (Afghan army recruits) would go out with us. They are pretty eager. A lot are good and switched on. A lot of them are pretty young....We should stay and teach them, give them skills to fight t the bad guys themselves. So they can look after themselves. I think that they are appreciative of the things that we are there doing.”
Being away from home is difficult but Toole says he would not be reluctant to return to Afghanistan. “It is one of those experiences that I am glad I had....My family is very supportive about me going too.” He admits that now having three children to leave behind, things would be harder than during his first tour where there was only one but he said, “It still wouldn't phase me. I would go back for sure.”
A war brides story
By Lois Ann Dort
BOYLSTON – While the WWII saw many men leave our shores to fight overseas, the end of the war brought many women, newly minted wives of Canadian solidiers, to Canada for the first time. These war brides came from all walks of life and from many different countries within Europe although most of them were from the U.K; the first foreign soil most Canadian soldiers landed on. Betty Dort, who now resides in Boylston, was one of the over 40, 000 war brides to come to Canada. On Friday she sat down with The Journal to describe the experience.
“I was born in South Wales. A place called Aberteleri. My mother was Welsh and my father English,” Dort said in a still recognizably British accent. But by the time the war started the family had moved to Birmingham, England; her father had migrated back home for work during the depression. As she recalls, she was 12 or 13 years old at the start of the war.
Her family suffered very little tragedy during the war according to Dort, “Everything was badly bombed in Birmingham because we had all the factories there. We were lucky,” she said when asked if her family had been hurt. “Of course we had air raid shelters and we used to have to go down, it was in the garden, everybody had one. But they weren't really bomb proof- not as such. If there was a direct hit you'd go anyway,” she says with a laugh.
The war dragged on and Betty grew up. She was a member of the British Red Cross and it was through her involvement with the war effort that she met her husband; a Canadian from Canso named William (Bill) Dort.
“He was stationed an hour away from where we lived,” Betty said. “The Canadian military hospital was there, and he was nursing. And I was in the British Red Cross so we used to be invited down there when there was socials going on. That is how I met him. '45 I think it was. They were still bringing troops in from the battles.
“He was from Canso. He was in the Royal Army Medical Corps.; Canadian medical corps. We married in '46. I came here in October of '46. I got married in June and then Bill came back before me and then I came over in October. He was still in the army then, so we stayed in Halifax for a month and then we came down to Canso.
“After a while there was nothing there, no work or anything so we went back up to Halifax. He wanted to try to get a job a Camp Hill but there was a waiting list to get in there so then, we were living on Barrington street in a bedsit and he got a job as a a security guard there on the docks. It didn't bother him cause Bill knew the army and they got used to anything.”
When Dort left home for Canada she left behind both parents, four brother and two sisters all in Birmingham. “They all came to the station when I went to London. Then we had to go to Canada House, then we had to go down to the boat train to Liverpool to get the ship. My father came with me to London. He wasn't supposed to but he would insist that he had to come with me. So I left him in London and that was the first time I had seen tears in his eyes.”
The voyage to Canada took 10 days and was a rough crossing. Dort landed at pier 21 in Halifax aboard the Letitia in late October, 1946. She described the journey,“All the different girls stuck on the ship. It wasn't births; there was just bunk beds stuck on and there were girls from everywhere on.
“There was one woman from Holland; she had a little boy. She had been married to a Dutch soldier and he had been killed. And then she had married a Canadian solider and when she got on the ship in Liverpool, she was sick all the way over. She couldn't get off the bunk. So I used to take the little boy and look after him. When we got into Halifax, pier 21, they had to take her off in ambulance and she was going all the way to Alberta. I thought, 'You poor soul, how are you going to make it to Alberta.' I often wonder how that little boy got on.”
When asked how she felt coming over to a new country far from friends and family with the exception of her husband she said, “Having that little boy took my mind off anything else. I was more concerned to mind him.
“It was a rough sea as well getting into November in the Atlantic. The ship just rolled side to side but it never bothered me. I always said if I had been a man I would have been a sailor.”
As for her expectations about her new country she said, “When your in love your not expecting anything you just want to be with them again. It wasn't a thought. I was surprised when I did end up in Canso. No indoor plumbing, no bath and things like that. We were used to all that you see...Come from a city, we had everything....But it didn't bother me.” Once in Canso they lived with Howard and Thelma Avery until their return to Halifax. “We weren't in Canso very long because there was no work and Bill wouldn't stand around doing nothing,” she said.
Some marriages that came out of the war years failed, making a new life in a new country proved too difficult for some women but Dort counts herself as one of the lucky ones to have had a husband such as Bill.