Love Stories from the Front Lines
Happy 97th birthday, granddad!
(click here for the print version I made for my grandfather to read)
I am touched, inspired, and horrified by the stories my grandfather has told me about the war. I can’t imagine the pain and suffering of watching your friends blown away beside you; the blood of your brother on your clothes. The images that war paints in your hearts forever.
One day in the kitchen of our family home some 10 years ago, my grandfather suddenly opened up to us, allowing the graphic stories of war and accompanying tears to flow from his aching soul. My mother, sister, and I listened in shock. Especially my mom who had never heard her father speak of that part of his past in all her years.
He literally cried talking about a young man who suggested my grandfather move his gun to a certain spot in the battlefield, but how my grandfather stated that he was fine where he was, only to turn around to follow the whisking sounds of a bullet taking that same young man down.
It could have been him.
The horror on my grandfather’s face as he described a Canadian soldier lying with half his head missing; still alive. Or, recollecting two engineers standing close to him stepping into landmines, Germans lying dead with their eyes open – following him wherever he moved. The images haunting his dreams long after his return home from the war.
My grandfather came close to losing his own life, having had a mortar bomb go off next to him. It was the end of combat for him as he would spend the rest of his days upon his release from the 110th British Hospital, travelling Europe with the mobile laundry unit.
He talked of both sides of the war, describing little children in tattered clothing standing in a row, thin as rails from starvation, pails placed at their feet with hopes that the soldiers would be able to spare a few scraps from their mess tins.
My grandfather always made sure his parcels from home went to those kids.
There were some feel good stories as well. One in particular, is of a family he was stationed with in Nijmegen, Holland. The father was an engineer on the wall, and he and his wife had three children. The story my grandfather often tells, is about the youngest girl, Yoki, who was having a birthday.
My grandfathered gathered a bunch of chocolate from the other guys, and talked to a couple of friends who were chefs, who both provided my grandfather with the supplies needed to bake a cake for young Yoki. My grandfathered called for Yoki once all the neccesary ingredients had been gathered, and asked her to take the supplies to her mother so that she could bake her a cake for her birthday.
The next day was a Sunday, and Yoki came up to my grandfather’s room with eyes full of tears, asking him if he would come downstairs for a piece of cake that her mother had made for her. Little Yoki reminded him so much of his own little girl back home.
When people ask my grandfather what war was to him, he states “we hoped we seen them, before they seen us.”
War isn’t about being smart. It’s about being lucky and the stories my grandfather shares, display many examples of how fortunate our family truly is, to have had him as part of our lives for so long.
I now have many hours of micro-cassette coverage of my grandfather talking about his time overseas, as well as the many adventures his life has known; some fascinating, some disturbing, as told form an old ripped and faded rocker in his 16th floor Stoney Creek apartment. Even the place in which he and my step-grandmother have lived for the past 30-plus years, has a story.
“I used to pick grapes on the old orchard that existed where this apartment now stands. Your grandmother and I are the only tenants who have lived in this apartment.”
My step-grandmother also tells some frightening tales of her own, having witnessed war from another angle; through the eyes of a scared bystander. Her first husband also served in the Second World War, leaving her back home in war torn England; their flats violently shaking from the angers of combat all around them.
World War II was so long ago, yet it isn’t hard to tell how alive those memories still are in my grandfather’s heart, whenever he talks about those dark days. 97 years young today, and still living those tragic events over and over, 60+ years later.
I could tell a thousand tales of Europe, none more graphic and real then the ones told through the eyes of a veteran themselves, but the story that touched and inspired me among all of those that he has shared, is the love story between my grandmother back home raising their young daughter (my aunt), and my grandfather overseas fighting for his families freedom.
Two years they were apart. Many of us can barely last a day or two without missing our loved ones. I can’t envision those kinds of sacrifices, especially being away from a child and the first steps of youth that you can never have back.
I would say that we are very lucky in this day and age, and we are, but then I pick up a paper, and I am constantly reminded of the sad realities; War is still all around us.
Lucky would have been for that war to actually have lived up to its moniker, ‘the war to end all wars’.
My grandfather kept two diaries during his volunteer of duty; one forever lost. The first one was written from the front lines during his early part in the war. The second one, I have and although it is a rather uneventful account (in terms of war anyways), of travelling with the laundry unit post injury, it exhibits a man hopelessly in love with his wife and child. Missing them. Thinking of them each and every minute of the day. Finding strength and courage to find his way back home, holding onto the images of their loving embrace upon his return.
My grandfather wrote to my gran each and every day when circumstances permitted, and he wrote with great enthusiasm in his journal each time he received a letter or parcel from his ‘darling Winnie’.
This diary and the story of love from war is one of my most prized possessions, in a time where everlasting love seems so few and far between. When you read his daily entries, the way he refers to my grandmother, you can’t help but want to know their kind of love; to be loved in this way, and to feel this same kind of love for another in return.
Although I was only a baby when my grandmother passed, so often my grandfather expresses how much my mother reminds him of her mother. In a round a bout way, I was able to get to know my grandmother through my mother’s love.
There is so much we can learn from our elders. They have lived a life of uncondition. Volunteered to fight for their country. They have stood in line all day long in bitter cold Canadian winters during the depression, to get a free pair of boots form the Salvation Army because their families couldn’t afford to buy them. Sometimes when the day was over, there weren’t enough supplies for those at the end of the line.
Husbands and wives stayed together and weathered lifetimes of obstacles – most of which cause young marriages these days to parish before they even have a chance to truly know hard times, or the true love that forever; in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, can foster.
None of us is perfect. My grandfather is certainly no different, but he has been a dear friend and travelling companion; a role model, and a loving great-grandfather to my children.
I can’t imagine what it is like to watch the world evolve over the span of 95 years. This evolution lives in his memory which seems just as vivid now, as it was the days he lived the stories he still tells.
My grandfather is one of the greatest story tellers I have ever known. I can only hope that my grandchildren will never know such similar tales, because of the sacrifices my grandfather and those who never returned home made (and still make to this day), fighting for our freedom.