The BEST of Wartime Wednesdays

Dear Friends: After five years and more than 100 wartime stories, this will be my FINAL Wartime Wednesdays blog post.

But since I’m so eager to stay in touch with all you lovely people, my blog will return in January 2019 with new content, and a new name: LETTERS FROM WINDERMERE.

My letter will be just that -- a chatty update across the digital back fence, sent from my home overlooking Lake Windermere, telling you about my writing inspiration, my travels, my hobbies, and my love of all things vintage.

My letter will arrive in your inbox whenever I choose to send it. You don't have to do anything because you are already subscribed -- just watch for my next email sometime in January.

To close off this very important chapter in my writing life, I want to leave you with a collection of stories which I consider to be the very BEST of Wartime Wednesdays.

A Brief History of Wartime Wednesdays

When I started this blog back in October 2013, with a description of the wartime airfield turned into the farm where I was raised (click here to read: Growing Up With Air Force Ghosts), I wanted to share some of the interviews I did with veterans when researching my wartime novel Bird’s Eye View.

After the novel was published in 2014, the blog took on a life of its own, as I continued to interview veterans and tell fascinating stories about Canadians in wartime. In the past five years, I have heard from historians and researchers around the world, and many of my stories have been published in newsletters, magazines, and books. 

Although I know there are still thousands of living Canadian veterans and probably millions of stories that have never been told, I must step back now to focus my energy on other things. 

All my Wartime Wednesdays stories will remain on this website, indexed on the right-hand side of this page, just like books on a library shelf. You can visit this page whenever you like. I encourage you to read, re-read, or share with your friends, any of these stories.

I’m not sure of the total, because my digital counter doesn’t go back five years, but this website has received at least one-quarter million visits in the past three years. My counter also tells me which stories gathered the most online interest -- and here are the top five!

 

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FIVE MOST POPULAR POSTS

1. My Favourite Wartime Tunes

By far the most popular blog post, garnering tens of thousands of visits, has been this one: Wartime Music. I didn’t research anything -- I just prepared a list of my top ten favourites. Apparently a lot of people agree with my choices! In the same vein, people also visited my blog posts on Wartime TV Shows, Wartime Movies, and Wartime Fiction.

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2. The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin

This true story written by Marc Stevens of Toronto about his father Peter Stevens was a huge hit. It's an incredible story about a young German who escaped from the Nazis, falsified his name, and joined the Royal Air Force. You can’t make this stuff up! Marc has written an entire book about his father’s exploits if you want to know more. Read all about it here: The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin.

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3. The Last Canadian Dambuster

The Dambusters raid was a daring feat that saw a crack team of Allied flyers penetrate enemy defences and drop specially designed "bouncing bombs" on three German dams. Today, only two of them are still living -- Johnny Johnson in England, and Fred Sutherland, who resides in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. Since this is the 75th anniversary of the raid, thousands of people visited my story about Fred Sutherland to learn more about this heroic raid. For a first-hand account, click here: Fred Sutherland.

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4. Merle Taylor: Maven of Morse Code

A lot of people in the world are still interested in Morse Code, a special form of communication that is no longer used. But Merle Taylor, who lives on a farm at Lochaber, Nova Scotia, taught Morse Code during the war and still practises every day. Merle embodies the qualities I have found in other female veterans: she is keenly intelligent, intensely patriotic, and full of beans. Her story has been visited thousands of times. To read it, click here: Merle Taylor.

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5. Queen Mum Boosted Wartime Morale

The woman who most of us remember as a sweet old lady in a flowered hat was termed “the most dangerous woman in Europe” by Hitler himself! During the war, she epitomized British backbone as she boosted public morale, refusing to leave her husband’s side and take refuge in Canada. One can see where the current Queen Elizabeth learned her sense of duty -- from her very own mother. To read about her, click here: Queen Mum.

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FIVE PERSONAL FAVOURITES

 

ALL the personal interviews I did with veterans, of course, are at the top of my list! But there are a few original stories that I am especially proud of, because they are so important, and so little known by the general public.

1. The Bombing of Berlin

My mother-in-law Gerda Drews was eleven years old when war began, and her family suffered terribly as their home city was bombed night after night. We are all familiar with the Blitz, when German bombers attacked cities in England, but German civilians endured the same, and often much worse, on the other side of the conflict. Now 91, Gerda still lives in Berlin and she reluctantly allowed me to interview her. Read about her wartime experiences here: The Bombing of Berlin, and what happened to her after the Russians arrived: The Battle For Berlin.

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2. Hank Herzberg, Ritchie Boy

Few people know about this group of men called "Ritchie Boys" -- German Jews who escaped the Nazis and fled to America, where they joined the U.S. Army before returning to Europe to interrogate German POWs. Hank Herzberg of Chicago, who lost his entire family in the death camps, passed away in 2017, but I was honoured to talk to him by telephone and read his memoirs before he died. To read his incredible story, click: Hank Herzberg.

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3. Spying on the Enemy From the Sky

This subject is near and dear to my heart. Studying aerial photos to detect bomb targets was a fascinating aspect of intelligence work, and I researched the topic thoroughly when writing my novel, Bird's Eye View. I described their amazing discoveries in two blog posts. The first is about the gorgeous mansion, now a hotel called Danesfield House, which was the headquarters for photo interpretation: RAF Medmenham: Where the Magic Happened. The second is about one of the female interpreters, Constance Babington Smith, who discovered the first jet-powered weapon in history on an aerial photo: The Woman With the X-Ray Eyes.

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4. The Fighting Ballendines

During both world wars, thousands of indigenous men joined the armed forces and fought shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other Canadian servicemen. On their return home, they were never properly recognized for the sacrifices they made for our country. So it means a great deal to me personally to tell the story of one Métis family from Battleford, Saskatchewan, who sent EIGHT sons to war. To read their story, click here: The Fighting Ballendines.

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5. They Died Much Too Soon

The government hushed it up during the war -- so most civilians to this day are unaware of how many young men were accidentally killed when training as flyers with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. About 2,000 young men from all Commonwealth countries never lived to make it overseas. Their bodies still lie in Canadian soil, including that of my own uncle Alan Light, who was flying the aircraft shown in this painting when he met his untimely death at the age of 20. To read his story, click here: Alan Light.

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FIVE CHRISTMAS STORIES

 

Each year I have written about a topic specific to the season. I would like to conclude The Best of Wartime Wednesdays with links to five heartwarming Christmas stories.

1. Mail Squadron Brought Love From Afar

Imagine saying goodbye to your husband or son, knowing that you will not see his face or hear his voice for years -- maybe forever. That’s why mail was absolutely critical during wartime, both for the boys over there and the folks back home. A special Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron did nothing but fly the mail back and forth between Canada and Great Britain. To read about their mission, click here: The Morale Squadron.

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2. Christmas Cards in Wartime

The Christmas season was an especially lonely one for the homesick men and women serving overseas in wartime, as well as their families on the home front. Here are just a few examples of the many thousands of Christmas cards and letters that winged their way between loved ones in both world wars. To see them, click here: Christmas Cards.

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3. Rebuilding the Dresden Cathedral

This church was bombed into rubble during the war, but in recent years it has been painstakingly reconstructed. I visited this cathedral, and was staggered by the dedication it took on the part of the Dresden people, and others around the world, to make this happen. To read more, click here: Dresden Cathedral.

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4. I'll Be Home for Christmas

For hundreds of thousands of families around the world, 1945 marked the first happy Christmas celebrated together after the sad and lonely years of war. To see some lovely photos of families being reunited at last, click here: Homecoming.

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5. My Dad's Best Christmas

My father Douglas Florence, who was serving in India with the Royal Canadian Air Force when the war ended, didn't make it home for Christmas -- but 1945 was still the best Christmas he ever remembered in his long life. To read his story in his own words, click here: Best Christmas.

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STAR WEEKLY AT WAR

Over the years I have posted many of these charming covers published by the Toronto Star Weekly magazine. It's only fitting to leave you with this final cover, showing a sailor arriving home for Christmas in December 1944. To see my complete collection of covers, click here: Star Weekly At War.

Dear friends, I hope you enjoy the very merriest Christmas and the happiest holiday season!

Please watch for your first edition of Letters From Windermere in January 2019, when we begin our journey together into the new year.

All the best, Elinor

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