up in England, I was very aware of the British and European experience
of the Second World War, but I wanted to find out how my parents
had experienced the war in Canada. My father made the point to
me that many people don't realize Canada had even been involved
in World War II. Far from being a distant event, however, I discovered
that the war had a big impact on both their lives.
father was three years old when the war started, and despite his
young age, has a very clear memory of the outbreak of war
can remember being in my room, being in bed and my grandfather
was there, my father’s father, James Theodore and he
was talking with my Father and my Mother and I knew as a child
sometimes knows, that there was something quite different about
the tone of the conversation and the sort of atmosphere of
fear that there was and so I have a very distinct memory of
being disturbed by the outbreak of war.
as I got older and older, I began to realise what the war was
about and you’d see maps in the newspaper, newscasts
would feature items obviously about the war and this introduced
you to politics and to the ideas of freedom versus fascism
and the awfulness of Hitler as a foe. By 1945 as the war in
Germany gradually was winding down, it had become a concept
I had to sort of wrestle with and understand and especially
after the horrible, horrifying details about the holocaust
came into view it was hard to comprehend for a nine year old
as I was in ‘45. I think fundamentally when I later became
a historian, I think I was trying to answer the question of
why these things had happened."
my mother, the war brought disruption to family life as her Father
volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Airforce as a clergyman.
While the war for him was "the big adventure of his life" for
her Mother, the war meant leaving a place where the family had
when he left to join the air force, there was much wailing
and sorrow, we had lots of good friends there...The people
were very sorry to see them go and Mother had to go back and
live with her parents in a Toronto suburb on the lake shore. We
lived there with my Mother's younger sister, Catherine. Her
husband was in the army.
had got married when I was four. I vividly remember the wedding
because it was in our house. My grandfather did the ceremony
in our living room and my uncle was there in full army gear
with his strap across his uniform."
there you were, what you might call war widows with their mother
and father. My grandfather died during this period so we were
a house full of females and my baby brother so it was quite
a strange life but it was like everybody else, all the children.
When I started school in New Toronto, hardly anybody had a
Dad, you know, I don't remember anybody having a Father"
Mother was also very conscious of the war, growing up:
you're six, you're fully aware of what's going on, I can remember
hearing the radio and it was the news and it was serious. .We
would always play that we would capture Hitler and we didn’t
go to the cinema very often but if we did go, and there were
always, you know, (on the cinema screen), refugees trudging
along in Poland and you were very aware of it.
my next neighbour, my great friend, Mary Coates, that I played
with outside of school was..I was six and she was probably
10. We alternated between doing war things and playing Arabian
knight sort of dramas which we starred in her garage because
again, everybody had a car which you couldn’t drive because
you couldn’t get petrol.The
other thing that was interesting is the signficance of the
telegram in a society like that because it was often bad news.
There were alot of telegrams and if you got a telegram, people
were nervous about opening the door."
Father has a very vivid childhood memory which occurred when he
was employed by a neighbour to deliver telegrams. Click on the
control panel below to listen to him talking about it and read
the transcript below.
knocked on the door and she saw me and she saw that I was carrying
this significant envelope and she burst out crying, she just
was uncontrollably weeping and of course she thought that her
son who was in Europe, that I was bringing a letter saying
that he'd been killed....My understanding later was that she
had already lost one son in the
war and I don't
that was the reason why this was also so very poignant for
her. But for me it was very upsetting because I don't think
why it was that my appearance would cause such distress. Anyway,
thankfully when she finally gained control of herself enough
at this message it was not as she feared but the tears of joy
then replaced the tears of apprehension, but that's another
I have of the emotions of war and the losses that could be
incurred by people..."