Doc Alexander: Last Post
Doc Alexander’s Second World War journey has come to a close. I posted the last entry in his last journal on Sept. 13 with
the last sentence “Everybody is very excited and this train cannot go nearly fast enough.”
The train did reach Calgary later that day, ending his wartime journey. His post-war journey continued, of course. Dr.
Laurence Guy Alexander (Alex), no longer Major L.G. Alexander, rebuilt his Calgary medical practice and many of his first patients were members of the Calgary Tanks. Who better to care for them after the war than the man who cared for them during the war?
Alex also continued to offer his services to the people of the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, traveling out to the little hospital at Morley every Thursday, which would have not been enough for him. He would have loved to given the Nakoda more of his time, but he just never had enough.
Along with his family practice (and he made house calls), he worked as a surgeon at the General and Holy Cross hospitalsl. He also served as the doctor for the Hudson’s Bay Company store in downtown Calgary, the Calgary Stampeders hockey team and chief medical officer for the Calgary Stampede.
All told, he was a busy man after the war because he believed it was his duty to serve; it was a rare evening or an even rarer Christmas morning that he wasn’t called out to attend to a patient.
He sacrificed much for his belief that it was his duty to serve: he gave up his practice and his ability to support his family when he left for overseas, all those years away from his family (my dad, Bob, was three when his father left and seven when he came home), his personal safety (wounded three times) but thankfully he did not give up his life.
In return, his patients out of appreciation for him, often found ways to help his family. Grocers put extras aside for my grandmother. Nakoda often arrived at the doorstep with meat, as did local farmers.
His commitment to and his connection with his patients came back in the kindness they showed his family while he served overseas.
Along with his commitment to serve, I think he also personally enjoyed the risk and the rush that came with being a front-line regimental medical officer. And even when he was shifted to the 2nd Field Ambulance and then given command of the 6th Field Dressing Station, he still rushed headlong into danger whenever given the chance.
Alex, like all of us, was a complex man. He was humour-filled, irreverent and if orders did not suit him, he would not follow them. He liked to be the centre of attention, but when he was doing his job, the person he was caring for became his centre of his attention.
Despite being a prominent and very busy doctor, he was never a wealthy man. He learned what it meant to be a medical professional in the First World War as a stretcher bearer, during the Great Depression and the Second World War: To him, along with a call to serve, it meant compassion first and foremost, and if that meant accepting eggs or milk in payment that was fine by him.
I first began to get know him in 1994 when, as a journalism student at Mount Royal College (now a university), I wrote my first story about his experience at Dieppe; I have refined and retold that story three times since then.
I began sharing his journals in 2012, in time for the 70th anniversary of the Raid of Dieppe. I continued to share his journals for the next four years, not always consistently. Four years is a long time and I didn’t always feel motivated or have the time. The death of my sister Lesley on Aug. 9, 2013 pushed everything, including this project, to the side; as did my move to Calgary and the time it took to get settled and adjust. Sometimes I got frustrated and couldn’t bring myself to post the entries and sometimes I just couldn’t face the work it would take to get caught up (and my thanks to Mike Hunter for his timely reminders that Alex’s story is important).
My hope from the outset was that a wider audience could see what I saw in my grandfather’s journal: a remarkable story of the Second World War, which is why I wanted to share it, rather than just keep in the family. I have plans to take the next step and turn Alex’s journals into a book. I would also love to explore his story as a graphic novel, as well.
For now, I am surprised and a little saddened that it is over; that we’ve reached the end. Sharing Alex’s journals has been a regular part of my life for the past three years and just like that, it’s done.
But, as they say in my grandfather’s beloved regiment, the Calgary Tanks, Onward!
Thank you all for reading.