What do a First World War bugle, three Second World War daggers and a bayonet, a silk escape map and a Zippo lighter (not to mention a pile of badges and other insignia) have in common? They all belonged to my grandfather – Doc Alexander – and have been passed on to me via my uncle, Don, and his brother, my dad, Bob. It’s a veritable treasure trove and I’m really excited as I have the mate to two of the daggers and have never seen the other two, one of which is a German bayonet. My grandfather did not play the bugle during the First World War. He was in a mortar unit and then served as a stretcher bearer, but somehow, he came to have this beautiful, but very battered bugle in his possession. Along with all of that is a King’s Own Calgary Regiment Zippo lighter from 1950 that has obviously been well used. I’m not a smoker, never have been, but there is something about flicking a Zippo lighter open and closed. It’s incredibly satisfying, especially knowing that my grandfather would have done the same thing with it. The silk escape map is of Germany and some of the badges would have been on his uniforms at different times during the war. The two white rams lying on the escape map can be seen in a photograph of my grandfather taken in his Regimental Aid Post in Seaford, England early on in the war. The rams were early insignia of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. I’m a pack rat by nature and I love old objects, so I’m thrilled to have this little treasure trove of my grandfather’s fall into my lap and many thanks to my uncle for passing it on to me!
There’s a remarkable set of photographs making the rounds online these days. If you haven’t seen them, they’re worth a look. They’ve been hidden for the past 45 years and have only recently seen the light of day. Vietnam war rifleman and amateur photographer Charlie Haughey was given the task of taking photographs meant to improve morale – a very different role from photojournalists or combat photographers covering that war. Given that his approach was different, so too are his photographs. Many of his photographs show the human side of the American soldiers. It’s nice counterpoint to the iconic images from the Vietnam War, all of which are heartbreaking. Charlie’s photographs is a reminder, much like my grandfather’s Second World War journals, that beyond the stereotypes, the news or the history, there are real people involved in these wars.
Imagine over 100,000 people gathered along a parade route to celebrate and honour Canadian veterans of the Second World War? That’s exactly what happened in Apeldoorn, a beautiful city in the Netherlands, on May 8, 2005 during the National Veterans Parade. This parade marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi Germany. And simply put, it was a remarkable sight. Something I will never forget. During the parade, as 350 vintage war-time vehicles carried 1,700 Canadian veterans along a tree-lined street, the throng of happy, smiling people of all ages pushed up against the vehicles with hands out offering a drink, flowers, flags and most of all thanks. Sixty years later everyone there was still so happy to see the their liberators, men they they called “their Canadians.” And the veterans, in response, to this emotional outpouring of gratitude seemed to stand a little taller, smile a little broader and for those who marched along the route, it was easy to see in them the young men they had once been. This is why we remember, why we pause today, even for a moment, to say thanks. These men – and women – gave up years of their lives (and many gave their lives) for the greater good and for that we owe them so much. So veterans everywhere, thank you.
In a letter home (the first letter to make it to Calgary following the Dieppe Raid), Doc Alexander wrote:
Now Dieppe is a thing of history, and a memory intermingled with horror and pride at the way in which Canadians can face difficulties. Anything I saw in the whole of the last war – and I saw plenty there – nothing can in the slightest compare with this. A combination of fire from every direction, both sides, in front, behind, above and below, and every conceivable type of weapons pretty well sizes up the situation.
The troops were magnificent: the navy and the air force were wonderful but the price which was paid for the results attained was high. I do not know how much I can write due to censorship so I must not go into details which might be of any benefit to the enemy.
You will know by now that we are a very sad regiment, having lost a great many of our officers and men. Our colonel (Lt.-Col. A.H. Andrews of Winnipeg) is lost. John Begg has been made colonel commanding the regiment. George (Capt. George Valentine) is lost but may be a prisoner of war. We an only hope and pray that this is right. I had a long talk with George on Saturday before we went in and saw him again on Sunday evening as they were leaving. He was cheerful and full of ambition and when last heard from over the radio was displaying amazing courage and fighting a gallant fight. We think there is a good chance that George is alive and we certainly pray that it is true.
Gallant Charlie Page (Major C.E. Page of Calgary). On Saturday night, Charlie and I had a great talk in his car out on the road. A wonderful chap and a great soldier. He fought his landing, and was known to have carried his objectives.
“Buddy” Purdy (Capt. W.G. Purdy of Calgary) was magnificent. He led his tanks as only Buddy knew how. One of the youngest officers in the regiment, clever, likeable and was heading straight for much bigger thing when he led his men into action.
Dick Allred (Capt. Richard Allred of Calgary), faithful old Dick, was as cool as ever, carrying out his job on the beach under withering fire. We miss him terribly here but believe and hope he may have been captured. We know nothing more about him.
Allen Turney (Capt. A. H. Turney of Calgary) is also missing and there is a definite chance that he may be a prisoner. Last Friday, I was with him all day at headquarters. He was a grand lad and faced what was before him with courage, demanding the respect and admiration of all.
Would love to be able to give you more details of things but I know I can’t. You know how we feel. We know how you at home feel, but we also know that things of this nature must be done and to get the results which we must get, we must pay. The paying is cruel to us here, the waiting relatives at home – terrible.
If only these things will bring home to those in Canada the fact that this is a war. We do need men. We need every effort that man, woman and child can put into this, and we need it now, if not in a voluntary way, the compulsory and rigid at that…
⁃ It becomes apparent that the attack is failing and the command is giving to prepare to withdraw.
⁃ Doc Alexander wrote: “A French hospital ship pulled alongside us and we loaded a few of our casualties on it and it pulled away.
⁃ “Dive bombing was added to our bombardment and three huge black German aircraft flew straight at us and when only a short distance away released aerial torpedoes. I was on the cat walk facing them and saw three which went in front of the ship. Timmy Cameron was on the rear of the boat and saw two go behind it.
⁃ “We gradually drifted away from shore. Our engines were running but we could not steer it. The Locust drew up beside us and we transferred to her, what casaulties we had left, she tried to tow us, but failed, then came along side and tied up to us and due to the fact that a Marine Sargeant had been able to start our motors, we could travel if the Locust steered us.
⁃ “All our Naval Crew were gone, but one, and another who had gone overboard but had swum back and took charge of the boat, all our Gunners were dead and our guns were all out of action. We were a complete derelict. We could see a T.L.C. Burning on the shore, and I saw another sink. The smoke stack and bridge of our boat was blow away, the hull was riddled with holes large and small – thirty-three holes were registered by direct hits from large guns – and I have no idea how many were there from small ones.”