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.
Sept. 12 — A really wonderful reception at Fort William. Went to bed early and was roused in Winnipeg by Harry Chittick and Sheldon Buckles. I had a grand visit. Harry brought me a beautiful bottle of Scotch, so Art Beauchamp, Donald, Ken House, Jim Greenwood and myself had a nice little farewell party.
Sept. 13 — Today is the day. We are sitting in Moose Jaw station, having just finished a grand breakfast. Tonight somewhere between 8 P.M. and 10 P.M. we will land in Calgary. Today will be the longest day of my life. Everybody is very excited and this train cannot go nearly fast enough.
Sept. 9 — The last few days nothing of special interest has occurred. The sailing has been smooth. Last night was very foggy and wet but not rough. At 1:10 P.M. land was sighted and at 3:30 P.M. we docked in Halifax harbour. Sunday afternoon — everybody out. Cars strung along the docks and pleasure boats in harbour. A brass band came out in a boat to meet us. A Pipe Band was on the dock. We are now waiting to disembark. The Halifax draft goes off first, then at 7:30 P.M. we follow. Met Eva Waymark on board this morning. We will be heading towards Calgary some time this evening. I cannot realize it — but on Thursday I hope my wanderings will be over. At 6:30 P.M. we disembarked and got aboard our special train. Every coach is a 1st Class coach. I believe it will be a grand trip across Canada.
Sept. 10 — we pull out of Halifax at 8:30 P.M. — Sunday night, Sept. 9. While we were eating breakfast we passed our old home at Fredericton Jct. Had a good luck at the house and at the Jct. itself. Sent a wire home from McAdam Jct. 7 P.M. we are just pulling out from Megantic Jct. now. Latest rumour is that we will land in Calgary Thursday night at 10 P.M. The meals are excellent.
Sept. 11 — 3:40 P.M. Just pulled into Sudbury, but as it is raining cats and dogs, will stay in the car. This morning Chalk River to North Bay, I rode in the cupola of the caboose. There was a grand view from there. We should hit the Great Lakes in two or three hours.
Sept. 1 — Our orders are in we leave here at 8:45 p.m. on Monday Sept. 3 and entrain at North Farnborough for Southampton, where we immediately embark on “New Amsterdam” and sail on Tuesday morning Sept. 4, for, we believe, Montreal.
That should get us home by the 15 Sept.
Sept. 2 — Spent the greater part of the day with Wynne and her friend. Tomorrow is the big day — the start of long looked for journey.
Sept. 3 — It is now after four o’clock in the afternoon. Our heavy baggage has gone, our bags are packed. We are all ready now to eat at 5 p.m. and then fall in at 7:45 ready to move off to Farnborough. It has been raining very heavily but now the sun is out so we hope that is a sign of a good trip. It seems queer leaving England after all this time, but seems wonderful to be actually going home. This is a very fitting anniversary of the start of the war. We had to draw mess tins and knife, fork and spoon today, so we are expecting a pretty tough crossing. Saw Lieut. Dibb today, he is remaining in England for awhile as his wife and baby are here. No more mail now until I reach home.
We lined up on Main Parade Ground at 7:30 P.M. Hans Geggie arrived shortly after. He had landed in London and heard I was here so came down for a visit. I was certainly delighted to see him. Both he and Ronnie are on draft for Canada, which pleases me a very great deal.
We got on the train at Farnborough North. Jim was O.C. train, so he and Ken took one compartment and George Eckenfelde and I took another. We arrived in Southampton at midnight.
Sept. 4 — At 12:30 A.M. we embarked on board the New Amsterdam, a very nice and large ship. I am in a cabin with eight others, but although somewhat crowded it is o.k. We eat in four sittings — ours is 0700 hrs for breakfast, and 1700 hrs for dinner. Only two meals a day. We pulled out from Southampton at 10:20, to the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” played by the RCAF Band.
Aug. 21 — Arrived in London and was fortunate enough to get a room in the Legion Club. Will probably take in a few shows and pass the time that way.
Aug. 20 — Notified today that we will not be sailing for awhile, but on Tuesday will start another seven days of leave. We were not pleased with this at all but can do nothing about it.
Aug. 19 — Three years ago — Dieppe.
Today I went over to Guildford and spent the day with Wynne and her sister May. Had a very nice time. Tonight have been busy sewing on ribbons.
As it is the 73rd anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, I’ve included the story I wrote about Doc Alexander’s experience—and that of his commanding officer in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Lt.-Col. K. Hunter—on Tank Landing Craft No. 8 during the raid and a 2012 story Carrie Tait of the Globe & Mail wrote about my grandfather.
Alex’s full Dieppe journal can be found here. After clicking the link, scroll down to Aug. 19, 1942 (or earlier if you choose) and then begin working upwards to read a play-by-play of Alex’s experience during the raid.