This shoulder patch was in father’s kit bag. He would have worn it while serving with the 1st Special Service Force (the Devil’s Brigade) during World War II.
The 1st Special Service Force was disbanded in December 1944 and father was sent back to the Royal Canadian Regiment. While serving with the Royal Canadian Regiment, he was wounded in Holland in April 1945.
The shoulder patch appears to be a bit worse for the wear. I have always thought that it appeared to be at least partially soaked in blood. I imagine this would have occurred in Holland when father was wounded.
As a result of his service with the F.S.S.F. father was awarded the U.S. army’s Combat Infantry Badge. This was later converted to the Bronze Star but only for those past members of the F.S.S.F. who were still living. Unfortunately father had already passed on by that time.
On July 12, 2013 President Barack Obama signed into law a bill previously approved by both houses of Congress granting the Congressional Gold Medal to the 1st Special Service Force. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award that the United States can bestow for meritorious service.
I note the following excerpt from the Toronto Star (Feb. 22, 2012):"Receiving the medal would put Canadian and U.S. war veterans in hallowed company. Previous recipients of the medal include flight pioneers the Wright brothers, light bulb inventor Thomas Edison, animator Walt Disney, sprinter Jesse Owens, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and the American astronauts behind the 1st moon walk."
Shortly after father passed away I wrote down his experiences during the war.
The Story of Gordon Stanley Hall from Hillsburgh, Ontario During WW II
It will be my purpose here to simply record the stories that father told of his service during WW II. I will record them as they were told to me, and in some cases to others, while in my presence.
Father joined the Canadian Army in March 1941, and went overseas with the 100th A.A. Battalion from Guelph, Ontario. In England, he spent little time with this Battalion since it was over strength, and he was sent to the 2nd Heavy A.A. Battalion. Then in approximately April 1944, he was sent to a reinforcement battalion in Italy, and from there, chose to join the Royal Canadian Regiment. After spending about three months with the R.C.R. in Italy, he volunteered for service with a commando unit named the 1st Special Service Force or in the Canadian Army, the 1st Special Service Battalion or the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion. This combined Canadian-American group is presently better known as The Devil’s Brigade because of the movie made about them called "The Devil’s Brigade". The F.S.S.F. was disbanded in December 1944, and as a result, father was sent back to the R.C.R., with whom he remained until the end of the war (in Europe) on May 8, 1945.
Before going overseas father was stationed in brand new Brunswick. He recalled that he once went AWOL (away without leave of absence) and that after he had been AWOL for some time, he was returning to camp, and met three members of another unit, The Governor General’s Horse Guard. Just in conversation, he told them that he had been AWOL, and was on his way back to camp to face the music. Despite the fact that he was returning to camp in any case, the three members of the Governor General’s Horse Guard tried to put father under arrest. Father had a rather nasty look on his face when he said that these men did not manage to arrest him, and he subsequently returned to camp under his own steam. In the wee hours of the morning, however, he was awakened and arrested. He was charged with being AWOL, and with resisting arrest, and was not let out of prison until it was time to board the boat for overseas.
This boat was in a convoy, whose commander was Lord Mountbatten. So far as I know, the trip was uneventful. Many years later, however, he did say that he had a girlfriend while in England, and since she worked for the British government, she knew how many ships had been lost in the transatlantic crossing to German submarines. Father allowed that he might not have been in such a hurry to join the army, if he had known this number in advance.
The initials AA, as in the 100th A.A. Battalion and the 2nd Heavy A.A. Battalion, are pronounced Ack Ack and stand for anti-aircraft. Father recalled that he slept for some two years with his boots on because when the air raid sirens started to blow, he had to be up and running immediately. They used radar to shoot at the German aircraft, and father recalled shooting one down–a Heinkel 1-11, with five men on board, and a full load of bombs. He went to see the crash site afterwards, and said that there was a large crater, and that he had never seen so much blood in his life. Apparently there were houses nearby, and the gore was hanging off the houses.
During the very early period of father’s stay in England, it was required that all armed forces personnel be prepared to wear a gas mask at any time, so it was necessary to carry a gas mask even when off the base. After some time however, an announcement was made over the radio that this would no longer be required, and accordingly father went to a bar just outside the army base on which he was stationed, without his mask. On exiting the bar however, a senior officer took father to task for not carrying his mask. Father tried to explain that it was on the radio all over England that this was no longer required, but the senior officer would not be deterred saying that it had not been officially announced yet on father’s army base. Quite some time passed after this with no repercussions, and father felt that his transgression had been forgotten. The day came, however, when he was marched in to see the Commanding Officer. His explanations were to no avail and he was fined forty dollars.
His army pay was forty dollars per month, but half of this amount had to be sent home, so in effect his fine was two month’s pay. Father was outraged by this, and said, "Well, I just made up my mind that if I could live two months without being paid, I could survive without being paid at all.” At that time, the Legion in Erin sent father a carton of cigarettes a month, and his relatives sent him another carton. Also, he managed to buy an iron (a scarce commodity in those days), and apparently had quite a roaring business pressing uniforms for other soldiers. Thus, he was able to support himself through the black market in cigarettes, and through his ironing business. On hearing how father had refused to be paid after being fined, my brother, Bruce, commented rather gleefully, "Yeah, dad, you really showed them.” There was no hint of a smile on father’s face.
In Italy with the R.C.R., father recalled the "muddy season". Apparently, at a certain time of the year everything there turns to mud, and this gave rise to what he called the worst night of his life. They started to advance through the mud, and at night. The advance was very slow as they would only advance about six feet at a time, and then there was an interminable wait before the man in front of him advanced, and he could advance again. As this was going on, he was standing in deep mud, carrying a heavy pack and a rifle, which he was unable to put down because of the mud. I asked him where they were going, and why the advance was so slow. He replied that he never did find out. Father was to spend about three months with the R.C.R. in Italy. He once remarked that he thought Italy was a terrible place. He saw the leaning tower of Pisa, and he spent six weeks on the front line at a place called Rimini. The Rimini Line is one of the battle honours accorded to the Royal Canadian Regiment.
One night when they were encamped in Italy, someone heard noises in some nearby bushes, and father said that half the camp came out and started firing into the bushes. The next morning some of the men decided to look in the bushes and see what caused the noise they had heard. They found an old Italian woman who had been shot to death.
Father joined the 1st Special Service Force in August 1944. As I have previously stated this group subsequently became better known as the Devil’s Brigade after the movie, by that name, made of them. It was an elite force, about one 3rd Canadian and two thirds American. Father said that to join this outfit, you not only had to volunteer, but after you volunteered, they had to pick you. I have heard it said that other units in the Army liked to get rid of their discipline problems by sending them to the Special Forces and I have also heard it said that this is exactly the kind of person the Special Forces were looking for. Father did not have any serious transgressions against him but I would not doubt that he qualified as a discipline problem. As well, he had to sign a piece of paper stating that he was willing to jump by parachute, but in fact they never did jump into battle while he was a member of the unit.
He did, however, become a member of the 1st Airborne Task Force, a ten thousand-man group composed of the 1st Special Service Force, and two American commando units. They were charged with securing the right flank of the invasion forces at Normandy, by fighting through the area of the French Riviera to the Italian border. It is said that the Germans fought back tenaciously since at that time, they thought that the purpose of the task force was to push them into the Allied forces still fighting their way up the Italian peninsula.
When I was thirty-five years old, I returned home to visit mother and father in Kirkland Lake. At mother’s suggestion, I went outside one morning to drink my coffee with father on the back lawn. I had no sooner than sat down in the lawn chair opposite father when he said to me, "Did the bombs ever look pretty when they blew up at night, red hot metal shooting out all over the place.”
I did not expect him to say more, but he continued, "And one time, I was on the Mediterranean, right on the border between France and Italy, at a place called Menton, and the Navy came in and bombarded a mountain, and they set the whole mountain on fire. And the next morning, they sent myself, and nineteen other men, up on top of the mountain to capture it. Well, we managed to capture that mountain all right with no resistance because of the bombardment, and that was all right until the following morning, when the Germans counterattacked. And the 1st I knew we were being counterattacked, I was replacing another man on the machine gun, and they shot the other man through the heart."
I stopped father here because mindful of the fact that there were only twenty of them on top of the mountain, and one of their number was already dead, I wanted to know how many men the Germans had. "Well, I don’t know," he replied, "but probably about a thousand."
He continued, "Well I can only remember two things about that day. The 1st thing I can remember is that in the excitement I forgot my canteen on the machine gun, and I can never remember of being so thirsty in my entire life. And the 2nd thing I can remember is that the whole day went by so fast that it was getting dark outside, and I was wondering why it was getting dark. Well, the Germans managed to chase us down off that mountain all right, but by the time we got down to the bottom, there were only ten of us left alive. And there were hundreds and hundreds of men going up on top of the mountain to attack the Germans again. And the ten of us that were left alive were put in reserve at the bottom of the mountain. Well, that was all right until the following morning when the Germans attacked again, but instead of coming across the top of the mountain they came around behind. Well, I ended up in the middle of that one too, and by the end of that day there were four of us left alive. And of the sixteen men that died, three, including my lieutenant, died right beside me. And of the four that survived, two had to be sent home immediately because they had nervous breakdowns. There was just me and the sergeant left (Sgt. Joe Dauphinais)."
At this point father said to me, "And I killed a German officer that morning.” Innocently enough I enquired as to what rank of German officer he had killed. Father began to scream, "An officer! An officer!" I turned my head. The conversation was over. He could tell no more that day.
I wondered, however, how any of them had managed to escape, considering the considerable odds against them. Much later I was to ask him, and he allowed that on the 1st day they had been attacked, since they were right beside the sea, they had called in fire from the navy. He said that he never did go back to that place, but other people had reported to him that the Germans had left the area so quickly because of the shelling that they had left behind some of their gear.
Five years later, I was visiting my brother in Sudbury. Mother and father were there and also a friend of my brother’s who was very interested in father’s war career. Suddenly, father began to talk about the 2nd of the two days during which they had been counterattacked by the Germans: "We had a machine gun set up every sixty feet, and a man in-between with either an M-1 carbine or a submachine gun. We slaughtered them that day.” At this point, I could hardly believe my ears when my brother said, "Yeah dad, did you ever kill anyone?”
"Yes," father replied, "we were about to be attacked by a large force of Germans but our lieutenant wanted to go out and attack the Germans; so he got a bunch of us men together, and I followed him quite a long way into the German line when suddenly the lieutenant turned around and said, ‘Where are the rest of those men?’“ "Well," father continued, "I was the only one who was following him. And thank God, we never did go out and attack the Germans–we would have all been killed for sure. Anyway, the lieutenant went back to get the rest of the men, and he never told me to do anything, so I just stayed where I was. Well, I was only there a couple of seconds when a German officer came up above the rocks just ahead of me, holding a pair of binoculars up to his eyes. I shot him, and watched as he slowly collapsed, and a man on either side reached up to cushion his fall, so I guess I got him all right.” Father then turned his gaze half way between my brother and myself, and he began to scream, "Are you happy right now! Are you happy right now!" There followed an embarrassed silence, which my brother’s guest broke by asking an innocuous question.
I later came to understand that this event had occurred on the 1st of the two days during which they had been counterattacked. Many years later, father was to describe in more detail the 2nd of those two days: "When I woke up that morning, we were being shelled by eighty-eights. It’s a not bad job I had a safe place to sleep that night or I wouldn’t be here. And when the eighty-eights stopped coming in, we could hear the smaller arms fire break out, so we knew we were being counterattacked, and I started running like crazy to get into the line. Well, my lieutenant was running about ten feet in front of me, and I watched as a bullet went into one side of his neck, and a big puff of blood came out the other side. Well, the lieutenant fell over dead. But for me, I could see where that bullet came from. And where it came from there was a pile of rocks, so I ran and looked inside the rocks, and I could see a German officer in there. Well, I couldn’t quite get my rifle in through those rocks to shoot him, but there was a man on a machine gun nearby, and I knew that man had a pistol, so I ran and got the pistol, and went back to the rocks, and put my arm in through and shot him."
He continued, "I always hated killing that man. We took some pictures off him afterwards, and he had a really attractive wife and two young children.” But then his voice toughened and he continued again, "But after he killed the lieutenant (Lieutenant Robert James Painton who died on September 13, 1944. Age: 22: Son of Charles W. Painton ad Annie Irene Painton, of Eston, Saskatchewan, Canada. Cemetery: MAZARGUES WAR CEMETERY, Bouches-du-Rhone, France Grave Reference: Plot 4. Row C. Grave 59.), he just had to die. And besides that, he was already up through our lines behind the machine gun.”
In 1991, in Hamilton, there was a reunion of the 1st Special Service Force and a group of them began to talk of those two days that I am describing. Father began talking with another man about this, and they talked of how, after the counterattack on the 2nd day, a German soldier had stood up among the dead. He was waving a smaller piece of white cloth and he was screaming at the top of his lungs, “Comrade! Comrade!” He wanted to surrender, and father had covered him while this same man he was talking to, some forty-seven years later, had taken him prisoner.
In any case, some of these special services veterans spoke afterwards about father’s experiences on those two days. As a result, a man who represented himself as an author who had written many books and articles contacted father at Christmas in 1991. He asked father to tell him his story so that he could write about it. Father refused, however, to speak of these things. Often when father spoke of the war, he would become, understandably I believe, quite emotional, and I am not sure that he was able to sit down, and give a blow-by-blow coherent account of these matters. The material contained herein is a compilation gained through many years of patient listening.
There were other perhaps more mundane things that father described during this particular campaign. For example, he said once, that when they killed a German soldier, they took their medals and Luger pistols; then the French resistance took their rifles and grenades; and then, the civilians took everything else.
Also, at that time they were very near the principality of Monte Carlo which was a neutral territory during the war–a neutral territory filled with spies and agents of both sides. Father, however, said that he had gone through Monte Carlo during the war. Apparently, he had been hitchhiking, and had been picked up by some free French. Since the main roads went through Monte Carlo, and they had not wanted to take a detour, they just told father to keep his head down, and they had driven straight through.
About this time as well, he was in the city of Nice, and he spoke of going uptown and hearing a shot. He went to investigate and found a man lying dead in the street, and there was a large line-up of Frenchmen, all with pistols, filing past this dead man, and as each one passed the dead man, he fired a shot into the corpse. Then, father also saw a truck, and in the back of the truck there were six men. As he watched, an old woman got into the back of the truck, and took off her shoe, and she went to each of the six men and beat each one violently with the shoe, and when she was finished, she was so tired that she fell off the truck into the arms of the men below. Father inquired as to what was happening in this place, and he was informed that the man who was lying dead in the street was a collaborator who had tried to escape, and that the other men who were in the back of the truck were also collaborators, who were at that very moment being taken to a place on the outskirts of town to be shot.
In December 1944, the 1st Special Service Force was disbanded since a group specialized in such things as taking mountain strongholds was no longer needed as the war progressed. As a result, father was sent back to the Royal Canadian Regiment. He was wounded with the Regiment, but other than that said only that he had crossed the Rhine into Germany with the Regiment, and that they had been ordered back around immediately to attack the city of Apeldoorn in Holland. He said that from the part of Germany he had seen, Germany had been bombed so badly that were not two bricks left together.
I might mention here that father was probably somewhat fortunate at this point that he was sent back to the Canadian Army, since most of his American comrades in arms in the 1st Airborne Task Force, promptly ended up in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Father once remarked that, "You would sleep out in the snow at night and you would think that you would wake up feeling terrible, but you never felt better in your life.” I never said anything, but I certainly thought how the memory could play strange tricks on a person after all those years.
Once, when they were encamped in Germany or perhaps Holland, two Germans on bicycles came up to their camp just at dusk. The guard on duty said, "Halt", whereupon the two Germans threw down their bicycles, and fled across a field. Father always chuckled as he recalled, "The whole camp came out to shoot at them. Even the commanding officer was there, shooting at them with a pistol.” The Germans got away. They were too far out of range for anyone to hit them.
Also in this area, he recalled approaching a farmhouse, and a tank put a shell into the house, thinking that the Germans might be hiding there. After the shell exploded, a woman holding a baby in her arms came running out of the house to a nearby woodpile. Not seeing her, the tank then proceeded to put a shell into the woodpile, whereupon the woman, still with the baby in her arms, ran back into the house. Still not seeing this, the tank put several more shells into the house. No one would go into the house and check on them afterwards, and as they left the area, all they could hear was the crying of the baby.
Another event that occurred about this time, either in Germany or Holland, involved the shooting of a German soldier in the foot. "We were in a smaller village, and I was crouched down beside a building when I saw two German soldiers come around the corner of the building carrying a Canadian soldier in a stretcher. I kept watching for the Canadian soldier who must be guarding them, and as I was watching, a bullet went by my head, and I saw it plough into the foot of one of the German soldiers. He immediately dropped the stretcher, and began to hop around on one foot screaming in pain. At this time, the Canadian soldier guarding them came around the corner, and upon seeing the antics of the German soldier screamed, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ The German soldier pointed to the blood oozing from his foot, whereupon the Canadian soldier leveled his gun at the hapless German and screamed, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you! Pick up that stretcher and get moving!’ The German soldier quickly complied."
On hearing this story, I was not quite sure if perhaps the German soldier was acting smart, and the Canadian soldier had shot him on purpose, so I asked father about this. "No.", he replied, "There were bullets flying around all over in that place. They may have been shooting at me, or it may have been just a stray bullet."
There were more serious memories of this time, such as this one: "An armor piercing shell went through Company Headquarters, and took the Commanding Officer’s head right off (SIMS, Captain, FREDERICK JAMES, Royal Canadian Regiment. 14 April 1945. Age 24. Son of Frederick George and Annie Florence Sims, of Ottawa, Ontario. Grave Ref. II. D. 15. HOLTEN CANADIAN WAR CEMETERY, Netherlands). And after that, our remaining officers were all camped in one building, and a shell landed on that building killing many of them outright, and many of those that were not dead were so badly wounded that they had to be sent home immediately."
"And so it was," he continued, "that when we were approaching Apeldoorn many of the men were heard to remark that they could remember coming out of battle a few times with no officers, but that they could never remember of going into battle with no officers.
Father never quite made it to Apeldoorn. I was perhaps thirteen years old when he told this story. The next door neighbour was visiting, and he and father were having a beer. The neighbour asked father if he had seen much action during the war. “Quite a bit." father replied, and then asked, "Do you know how I was wounded?”
He continued, "It happened near Apeldoorn in Holland. We were walking behind tanks, walking single file, in the tank treads to avoid land mines. Suddenly, the Germans started shooting at us with mortars. We all jumped for the ditch, and the mortars came down all around us for half an hour. And when the mortars stopped coming in, we started getting back up out of the ditch, and believe it or not, not one single man was wounded or killed by the mortars. It was then that they opened up on us with 88’s. I jumped for the ditch again, but it was too late." Father was wounded by shrapnel in the left chest and the right knee. It was April 13, 1945, just three and a half weeks before the end of the war (in Europe) on May 8, 1945.
Father’s trip to the hospital became an ordeal. There were four of them in the ambulance, and also, a wounded German soldier who was well enough to be holding a bag of blood up for a wounded Canadian soldier. I asked father who was guarding the German soldier, and he replied that no one was. Apparently at that late stage of the war, it was not necessary. It was never safe to ask father too many questions. In any case, as they approached a railroad track, there was a train coming toward them, and the ambulance accordingly stopped. The train, however, also stopped. Several times afterwards, the ambulance started to go, and when it started, the train also started to proceed. Eventually they came to a stop with the train up against the ambulance, and the ambulance up on two wheels. They had to call another ambulance to take father and the other men to the hospital.
On leave in Amsterdam, father got into a card game and had a few drinks. Afterwards, he exited the club in which he had been. It had been raining, and because of this, the canals looked exactly the same as a paved road would look, if it were wet, and father proceeded to walk directly into a canal. He had to be rescued, and counted this as one of his closest calls with death during the war.
Father worked in the mines after the war, at Kirkland Lake, Virginiatown, Elliot Lake, Levack, Bancroft, Sudbury, Manitouwadge and finally, returning to Kirkland Lake. He once told this story: "One of the 1st jobs I had when I got out of the army was working in a gold mine in Kirkland Lake. And every day, I had to come down out of the stope to get water for myself and my partner to drink. And every day in the course of doing his duties the cagetender would walk behind me. And so every day, I would shut the water off and turn around and face him until he left. But then one day I said to myself, this is crazy; the war is over; I can’t go on living my life turning around and facing whoever walks behind me, so I decided to just stay there and keep pouring the water. Well I kind of blacked out, and when I came to, I had the cagetender down on the ground, pounding the hell out of him, and he was screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘What did I do? What did I do?’ And it was a not bad job he was screaming that or I probably would have killed him".
Father died September 8, 1998. We filed a Workers’ Compensation claim for him, and they agreed with us that he had died because of poisoning from radon gas, mostly from the uranium mines, but also from the gold mines. The minister came to visit, and he wanted to hear our memories of father. Both Uncle Jim and Aunt Ethel were there. They both remembered how happy everyone was, when father came home from the war.
* * * * *
Postscript I (June 2009)
In 1956 father began working for Faraday Uranium Mines in Bancroft, Ontario. His partner underground, Kurt, was a chap who had served in the German army during WW II. Kurt, his wife Marta and their daughter Sylvia practically became part of our family. They were welcome guests coming to our home at any time without notice. I remember a time when I was perhaps twelve or thirteen years old and father and Kurt were sitting in the kitchen of our home in Bancroft and agreed with each other that a little spell in the army wouldn’t do me any harm as it would teach me discipline. This was pretty strange stuff coming at the same time from an ex- Canadian soldier and an ex-German soldier. I remember one Christmas when I was perhaps ten or twelve years old going out into the bush to get a Christmas tree with father and Kurt. Kurt was a nice guy. Back in those days I loved to get out fishing. Father wasn’t much of a fisherman but Kurt took me fishing several times. Kurt and Marta are both gone right now. Sylvia is the President of a college in Northern Ontario.
I reached high school age in 1961, sixteen years after the end of WW II. I had a teacher who was German and had worked on the V1 and V2 rockets (aka the buzz bomb or doodlebug) that the Germans had used to attack England. I told father about this and he said that if someone had told them in the army that Germans would be teaching our kids in school we would have told that person that he was crazy. It kind of seems to me that that teacher kept a fairly low profile. He taught geography and history. Somehow we never did quite make it up to WW II in our studies of history. I recall one time in class when the subject of father’s war service came up. The teacher abruptly changed the subject. Anyway I learned about the Kings and Queens of England, and believe it or not, about Canadian pride in the victory at Vimy Ridge from this chap who scant years before had been an enemy and whose ancestors were quite decidedly on the other side at Vimy Ridge. I thought he was a not bad teacher and I liked the guy.
April 2018: This is my former teacher’s obituary. I have shortened some names: K. Ralph – Died peacefully in Woodstock Hospital on 16 March 2012 at the age of 87 with all his family and his closest friend present. Survived by his wife Sonja, his sons and daughter-in-laws Michael and Valerie, Roland and Sarka and Christian and Sharon and his 5 grandchildren; Kristofer, Mitchell, Dakota, Montanna and Marco. Predeceased by his mother Marie Pahlke in 1947, his father G. Kahler in 1972 and his younger brother K. Kahler in 1999. R. Kaehler was born 15 Oct 1924 in Bartenstein, Germany but was raised in Knigsberg, Germany. In 1942 he finished High School enrolling in the Albertus University in Knigsberg to study law but on his 18th birthday he was drafted into the German Army and did not get to go to Albertus University. After military training he was posted to Peenemunde, Germany. At the end of the war he worked for American Intelligence in the G2 section where he became the administrator of the Landshut Housing Project, a staging area for scientists contracted by the Americans to move to the USA. While working in Landshut he met his future wife, S. P., at the Post Office of the housing area they both lived in. There he also met T. R., who would become a lifelong friend. In 1953 he immigrated to Canada and worked at the Standard Tube Ltd. as a clerk in the accounting department and then as the paymaster. In 1958 he moved to Bancroft, Ont to teach history and German at North Hastings High School. His future wife S. P. arrived in Canada 2 Aug 1959 and they were married 21 Aug 1959 in the Bethany Lutheran church in Woodstock, Ont. They lived for the next 42 years in Bancroft where they raised their three boys. In 1986 he retired after 28 years of teaching and in 2001 they sold the house and moved into an apartment in Woodstock, Ont. For many years his hobbies have been stamp collecting, reading economic and political news periodicals, playing skat with his friends and travelling all over Europe and North America.
I note that the moving of German scientists to the U.S. was part of Operation Paperclip, so it would appear that my former teacher played a part though quite possibly an unknowing part in Operation Paperclip.
Postscript II (April 2010)
And right now I would like to write a sort of postscript to the postscript. It may be a bit esoteric and perhaps not for everyone. If it becomes too esoteric for you I give you full permission to stop reading at any time. I would like to describe some events that took place mainly in the fall of the year 2008.
1st let me describe myself a bit pertaining to matters of religion and faith and any afterlife that there may or may not be. I left the church at the age of fourteen in 1961 for reasons that are not important right now. Suffice to say that in the intervening years I have returned to church only for the purposes of attending weddings and funerals. I would describe myself as being not atheistic but rather agnostic – that is to say that I just do not know. In addition, I always found church to be somewhat boring and not entirely relevant to my day-to-day life. I was not against religion in any sense, just disinterested. Religion was just not a big part of my life (and still isn’t).
I shall skip forward right now to the spring of the year 2000. I was fifty-three years old at the time and found myself in that year in a short-term job as a maintenance welder in a cement plant. At the time, I had a friend who I will call Jack. He was not a close friend but a likeable person and a friend nonetheless. Jack was seriously ill in the hospital and had been in this seriously ill state and in the hospital for about one year. To be fair, I had heard some rumours that Jack was drawing closer to death. However, I was not prepared for what happened at the time of his passing.
What happened is that one day I went to work and was climbing up on a cement truck to do some welding when I very suddenly and strongly felt Jack’s presence. I did not see Jack but I felt that he was there and I said (not out loud but rather in my mind), “Is that you Jack?” Jack replied, “Yes, it’s me. I’ve just passed away.” To this I replied, “Whoa, whoa Jack, don’t talk like that.” Jack replied, “No, it’s too late. I’ve just come to say goodbye.” And then he was gone.
As I said above I could feel Jack’s presence and as this short conversation was taking place I could feel what he was feeling and what he was feeling was a mixture of exhilaration and excitement. Jack was very happy and he was in a hurry to continue on his journey.
When I came home from work that night I was certain that Jack had passed away and accordingly I phoned some friends of Jack’s to get the news. I was told that Jack had not passed away and this puzzled me because I still felt that he had passed on. However, when I came home from work the following day these same people called me and told me that Jack had indeed passed away the previous day and that he had passed away about the time of my “visitation”. I was not surprised.
I shall jump forward right now to the fall of the year 2008 when I was sixty-one years old. Things were pretty not bad for me in the fall of 2008. I had made quite a large sum of money on the stock market during the preceding months such that I felt I was retired or at least semi-retired. I didn’t have to work and as I rather happily went about my business at that time, I frequently said to myself that during this latter part of my life I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. In fact I repeated this over and over to myself so many times that it became a sort of mantra: “I just want to do what I want to do”. I did not want to be a slave to ideas that I had in the past or the necessity to work that I had in the past. I wanted to relax. I wanted to take life easy. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. Alas, it was not to be. The stock market collapsed and took me down with it. I went back to work. What is important though is that I had this mantra, “I just want to do what I want to do”.
right now it happens that near Brantford there is a lady who is reputed to be a psychic and she has given readings for quite a long time. I had heard of her before and when some people I knew went to see her I decided that just as a matter of interest I would go and see her too. And being the person that I am, I did a wee bit of computer research on this lady before I went to see her. I found out that she was the minister of a church and her basic modus operandi was to “talk” to people who had passed away and convince the person before her that she was indeed talking to these spirits so that this person would then believe in an afterlife and thus be led to a belief in Jesus Christ.
right now I was pretty incredulous about this and did not in any way expect to be convinced. I was going to this psychic for entertainment value only. However, before I went to see this lady I said to myself that if she really could talk to the departed then for sure she will talk to father because father as you may surmise by reading the above had a rather forceful personality and if any spirit were going to come through, it would be father.
And so I went to see the psychic. I had hardly sat down in the chair opposite her when she said the names of my mother, one sister, my brother and my ex-girlfriend and said these were the people who were close to me. Later she spoke of the one who is a nurse (my other sister) the one who is a police officer (my nephew) the one who is into books (my niece who was a PhD student and is right now a Professor) and the one with the horse (my other niece). For the record she had by this time mentioned my mother, all of my siblings and all of my nieces and nephews save one.
She spoke also of a lady relative who died of cancer. I didn’t get that one at the time but yes indeed I had forgotten an aunt who had passed not too long before from cancer. She also spoke of a friend named Don who had passed. I told her I didn’t know anyone named Don who had passed. She became quite upset with me and started shouting, “Don, Don, you know Don.” It was about a week later when I was out in the bush taking pictures that I remembered a fellow that I had been quite friendly with at one time who had passed away about a week before I saw the psychic. His name was Don. And I also had another friend named Don who had died in the mines years earlier.
I go out and play euchre at night and many of the euchre players are quite elderly and prone to passing on. In one grouping, the psychic gave the names of the last people who had died from the euchre games. One was named Irene and another was Jan. She said, “I don’t know if her name was Janet or Janice. People just called her Jan.” And she was quite right. I used to give Jan a ride out to the games the odd time since she lived in the same apartment building as I do. Everyone just called her Jan.
And then the psychic said to me, “I have a man here in a soldier’s uniform. Yes, he is a 2nd World War soldier. Who is that man?” Perhaps I shouldn’t have told her who I thought it was but I said, “It must be my father.” And then it came. The psychic said, "He has message for you." and she raised her eyebrows and stared at me as though she was telling me something very important and she said to me, “He says to do what you want to do.” And so as incredible as it may seem my father who had passed away some ten years earlier had through the psychic, given me the precise words of the mantra that I kept repeating to myself at that time.
As a result my meeting with the psychic became somewhat emotional although she did not understand why. Was it a coincidence? Perhaps. But if it was a coincidence, there were a lot of coincidences during my meeting with the psychic. I think I will go back and see her sometime again but in some ways I am afraid. Perhaps I am afraid of another emotional experience. Perhaps I am afraid of the unknown. The psychic said father was coming in close “to reassure me”. In one way I have been reassured for I have a certainty of an afterlife that I never had before.
Anyway, make of it what you will. I promised you something esoteric. I hope I haven’t disappointed.
I have taken this from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
Name Rank Service Number Date of Death Age Regiment / Service Service Country Grave /
Memorial Reference Cemetery / Memorial Name
PAINTON, ROBERT JAMES Lieutenant 13/09/1944 22 Canadian Special Service Battalion, R.C.I.C. Canadian Plot 4. Row C. Grave 59. MAZARGUES WAR CEMETERY, MARSEILLES
I have often wondered about this man. As related above, they were about to be attacked by a large force of Germans but he wanted to go out and attack the Germans. He was twenty-two years old. Rest in Peace.
Postscript IV (March 2015)
Joe Dauphinais who survived the two days of fighting on the twelfth and thirteenth of September, 1944 with father has written (in French) about the twelfth of September 1944 and this can be found on the internet. I have also had some email conversations with Joe Dauphinais’ daughter to clarify some aspects of this. I believe that I can give a somewhat more detailed account of the events of twelve September 1944 by drawing on these resources.
1st, as Joe Dauphinais recounts, when they sent a party out under the command of the Lieutenant to attack the Germans they did so because they did not know that the Germans were in force. It was during this sortie that father shot the German officer who was holding a pair of binoculars to his eyes. According to Joe Dauphinais they lost three men during this sortie.
2nd, father did not mention, but Joe Dauphinais makes clear that the attack by the Germans went on for at least three hours and as he states the attack lasted from 08:00 to 11:00 o’clock. During that time the intensity of the attack was such that their guns seized up because of inferior ammunition (according to Joe Dauphinais’ account in the book, "Black Devil Brigade" by Joseph A. Springer. Because of the bombardment the day before, however, the Germans had left a large number of guns behind and on the foresight and command of Joe Dauphinais these German weapons had been gathered into their position. When their guns seized up they then resorted to using these German weapons for defense.
Joe Dauphinais describes the battle in these words, “The battle is very intense. The German force is estimated at 250 men. They arrive out of nowhere and are very determined to reclaim the peak.” (Translated from the original French)
Both father and Joe Dauphinais agree that the Germans abandoned their attack only after fire from the navy had been called in.
Joe Dauphinais did not go on to describe the events of 13 September 1944.
Postscript V (January 2018)
As I have said before, we were not a particularly religious family. Many years ago I was visiting my parents in Kirkland Lake. Mother was out and a man came to the door. He and father spoke very intently for about a half-hour and then then the man left and I asked father, "Who was that man?" to which he replied, "A minister". And then I asked, "Why was he here?" to which father replied, "Because I asked him to come".
Some years later after father had passed on, I was describing this event to my sister and my brother-in-law. My sister asked, "Well, why did he come?’ to which I replied, "I don’t know." and then quickly said, "Mind you, I always thought it had something to do with the war". My brother-in-law quickly added, "That was the 1st thing that came to his mind".
Postscript VI (December 2018)
These quotes are taken from the short doc: "Victory Remembered: Legacy of the Black Devils"
"Some people had questions about why their fathers were the way they were. Well coming here has brought them closer to answering those questions that they grew up with."
"….at unpredictable times there were outbursts of unexplainable anger, maybe rage. It was difficult and we didn’t know, we didn’t understand as children. The other day I had the honour and privilege to climb to the top of Mount (unintelligible) and at the top I looked over the side and I said I understand right now and I forgive my father his rage."
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