The Historica-Dominion Institute is the largest, independent organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship. Through our work in various programs, we are determined to build active and informed Canadian citizens. As we work hard to ensure a greater appreciation for Canada’s history and heritage, we’d like to share our own stories and impressions. We invite you to do the same.
L’Institut Historica-Dominion est le plus large organisme national charitable au Canada dédié à l’histoire, l’identité et la citoyenneté du pays. À travers nos programmes, nous sommes déterminés de former des citoyens actifs et informés. Nous aimerons partager nos histoires et impressions lorsque nous tentons d’assurer une encore plus forte appréciation du patrimoine Canadien. Nous vous invitons de partager avec nous.
1942 - Canadian and British troops raided the French port of Dieppe to test German defences and the capability of the Western Allies to launch large-scale amphibious assaults. The raid lasted only nine hours. Of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers involved, more than 900 were killed and 1,874 taken prisoner.
By James Ellis
I recently interviewed my first German Second World War veteran for the Memory Project Archives. I must admit my initial preparation for the interview with Luftwaffe pilot Rudolf Walter was met with some trepidation.
In the 1970s British sitcom “Fawlty Towers,” actor John Cleese poked fun at post-Second World War British attitudes towards the war generally and Germany specifically. In one episode, Cleese’s character, the manic hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty, sustains a head injury and then makes inflammatory statements towards a group of German guests. The skit culminates with Basil goose-stepping around the room, a finger under his nose in a cheap British school playground imitation of Adolf Hitler. Not that I would make such an impromptu exhibition myself, but my trepidation was rooted in how a German war veteran, no doubt aware of this type of “humour,” would react to a British interviewer. I feared that he would be suspicious of my motives and therefore be reticent about sharing his experiences.
Germany’s role in the Second World War remains a controversial and, for some, painful subject; the perpetrators of Nazi horrors are still being held accountable today. In 2011, one former Nazi was tried and convicted in Germany at the age of 91. Easily forgotten is that after the war tens of millions of Germans lost their homes and were disconnected from their families as a result of the Allied occupation of the country and then its division into western and eastern states. The least fortunate Germans lived under East Germany’s communist rule until 1989. Other Germans, their country shattered and divided, were forced to immigrate and start new lives in foreign countries. With this historical context as backdrop, the Fawlty Towers episode’s running gag “don’t mention the war” appears as much common sense as comedy.
My pre-interview uneasiness was completely unfounded. Mr. Walter (“Rudi” as he likes to be called) openly answered my questions and, unprompted, discussed extremely emotional and traumatic experiences. An Iron Cross recipient, Mr. Walter first served as a bomber pilot on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union before being transferred to fighter units as Germany neared imminent defeat. By the end of the war, he had lost his home (which was located in a region now part of Poland) and most of his family, including both parents. However, with the Luftwaffe aircrew casualty rate of 80%, Mr. Walter was one of the lucky ones. Rudi had survived when millions of Germans had not.
Immigrating to Canada after the war, Mr. Walter left his old life behind him and started afresh, like thousands of new arrivals to Canada do every year. “I can’t complain,” he reminisces, “Canada has been extremely good.” In Canada, Mr. Walter raised a family and became a successful chemist, before retiring with his wife in British Columbia. “If we’d have stayed in Germany,” Mr. Walter adds, “we wouldn’t have gotten nowhere.”
To read Mr. Walter’s story, visit http://www.thememoryproject.com/Stories/Veteran-Profile.aspx?itemid=4737&tab=images&image=9969
The Memory Project’s Manager, Dr. Alex Herd, reflecting on the importance of recording and archiving the personal stories of Second World War and Korean War veterans as we are losing them at an alarming pace.
The Memory Project Archive just held the first of three smaller events to being held over over the few weeks. Veterans from the Greater Toronto Area are invited to have their experiences recorded, and collections digitized, by the Institute.
Bill Newell, on of the Memory Project veterans who passed away last week. From The Welland Tribune.
Alex reminds us that it is not the size of such events that matters - they can’t all be like The Last Hurrah - but that we are giving veterans as many opportunities as we can for them to share their stories, before it is too late.
If you know a veteran from the Second World War or the Korean War in the GTA, the details for the next two event are:
- Elgin Mills Visitation Centre (1591 Elgin Mills Road East, Richmond Hill) on Sunday, March 18, from 9 am to 5 pm
- Meadowvale Cemetery and Korean War Memorial (7732 Mavis Road, Brampton) on Sunday, March 25, from 9am to 5pm
By Drew Boyd
In a small cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario, old enemies rest in Canadian soil. Woodland Cemetery is the final resting place of 187 German soldiers who died while interned in Canadian prisoner of war camps during the First and Second World Wars. Buried across Canada upon their deaths, these soldiers’ remains were moved to Woodland in 1970. Far from being treated with disdain, the German graves and their monument are well tended and respected: around Remembrance Day each year, wreathes are laid in memoriam. This gravesite represents in microcosm the fascinating and complex process of how our understanding of enemies progresses from wartime to the distant past.
As living soldiers, the Germans buried in Woodland Cemetery first appeared as menacing but two-dimensional caricatures.During the First and Second World Wars, these Germans represented Canadians’ greatest threat, something so existentially hostile that we waged war against them. Their manifestation in the popular conscience was simplistic – but that was the point. Wartime necessitated making the enemy truly terrifying and an “alien” German society allowed these ideas to flourish in Canada. This perception, however, almost always changed when the enemy fell into our hands, with the sudden realization that our foes were far more similar to us than we wanted to admit. They were not supernatural monsters, only men fighting on a different side.
If these men’s capture made them appear more human in our eyes, their deaths further evolved this view and they were seen as mortals. They lived like us, suffered like us, and died like us. We realized they died oceans away from family and loved ones. Far from being some modern Titan, we came to actually find a sad banality in their passing.
As each conflict passes into history, our view of old adversaries continues to change. While our enemies were once considered a force of evil, through time we understand their motives better (even if we cannot condone them) and often see that our foes were just as human, just as frail, and just as fallible as ourselves.
With time, we move closer to the understanding that the dead already have amongst themselves: Six feet underground there is no rank, no front line, no quarrel – no war. Enemies of the past become comrades of the soil and taking heed from their experiences allow us to learn this lesson in life, before we join their ranks.
Two stories from the Memory Project Archives demonstrate how veterans see their old adversaries in a new light:
A soldier stands near a destroyed gun position.
An Allied camp on the Island of Kiska.
Debris among the remnants of a destroyed hanger likely used as a repair depot for Japanese aircraft.
Aircraft debris that littered the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.
Allied ships disembarking materials for the Aleutian Island campaign.
A derelict ship grounded just offshore of Kiska Island.
A Japanese tank lies stricken in a ditch while an aircraft wing lays nearby.
Wreckage of Japanese war materiel, destroyed either by Allied bombing or Japanese attempts to prevent vehicles and aircraft from falling into enemy hands.
Allied soldiers try to keep warm around a fire in a small dugout.
A former Research and Collections Officer of The Memory Project Archive, Marie-Eve Vaillancourt-Deleris relocated to Courseulles-sur-Mer, France in 2010, to work as the Program Manger of the Juno Beach Centre.
Marie-Eve recently sent over an update on life at the Juno Beach Centre in the Fall of 2011, including the exciting discovery of a new German tunnels and bunkers located not far from the Centre. Here is Marie-Eve, inside the tunnels, which has been covered for 60 some years.
Marie-Eve described the importance of this discovery:
“In the 1950’s local teenagers used to hang out in these tunnels or vestiges, which are part of former Nazi defence lines. The tunnels used to be accessible, but being located to close to the sea, over the years these tunnels naturally filled up with sand. It was through a stroke of luck that the brother of the Centre’s Director remembered the approximate location of the opening to the tunnel and the crew were able to dig out the sand for a day of shooting. Which reiterates the importance of sharing stories and experiences from one generation to the next. If we loose one generation’s knowledge of these things, history can slip into the sand forever.”
After a studious visit of the museum, the solemn discovery of a German Bunker and Juno Beach, young visitors to the Centre let loose and show their energy!
Additional articles on life at the Juno Beach Centre are available over at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmaments Studies website.
Pour une description détaille du mission du Royal 22e Régiment à capturer un carrefour routier reliant Ortona au hameau de la Casa Berardi en Italie écrit par Carl Pépin.
Vous pouvez le trouver publié sur son blog.
Pour plus sur la bataille de Casa Berardi, visite Le Projet Mémoire. Et, lit l’histoire de Fernand Trépanier.
By Drew Boyd, member of The Memory Project Archive
To simply state the facts would miss the point. In December 1941 Canadian soldiers fought a losing two-week battle alongside other Commonwealth troops against a Japanese attack on the British colony of Hong Kong. Why were Canadian troops in Hong Kong in 1941? Why did the Allied defenders lose and how did they lose so quickly?