Wartime Wednesdays Celebrates Two Years

Hello, Readers Everywhere!

In the past two years, I've written posts that are now the equivalent of a full-length book. I’ve been asked many times to combine some of my original posts into a printed version, and that’s something I will address in 2016.

From now on I’ll post a new entry ONCE each month (perhaps more often if the spirit moves me.) If you want to be notified whenever a new post appears, enter your email address in the yellow box on the right side of the page that says Subscribe by Email.

My website isn’t “monetized,” as the current lingo goes, meaning that I don’t charge a subscription fee or sell advertising. But if you enjoy Wartime Wednesdays, I would appreciate it so much if you would buy a copy of my novel Bird’s Eye View, either for yourself or as a gift.

                              SPECIAL BOOK OFFER

Bird's Eye View retails in bookstores for $24.99 plus taxes. If you would like to receive a signed, dedicated copy in the mail, either for yourself or as a gift, I will send it anywhere in Canada for $35.00 including taxes and shipping. Email me at elinor1@telus.net by November 30 to arrange payment, and the book will arrive before Christmas.

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               TEN LIVING LEGENDS

Friends, it is so important to talk to your friends and family members NOW who lived through the war years. There is a huge difference between reading their stories in a history book or hearing it from their own lips. At the bottom of this page, please find some of my best tips for interviewing elderly people.

Here, in no order of importance, are my ten living legends. Please click on the blue headline under the image to read each of their spell-binding stories.

Stocky Edwards: Fighting Ace, Family Man

Stocky Edwards grew up in Battleford, Saskatchewan. He flew a Spitfire in Africa, Italy and Europe and shot down at least eighteen German fighters. Canada’s oldest flying ace and his wife Toni still live in their own home in Comox, B.C.

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RCAF Airwoman 'Wouldn't Have Missed It'

Eugenie Francoeur Turner was one of an elite group of Canadian women who served overseas as a teletype operator on a bomber station in Yorkshire. A veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Women’s Division, she now lives in Kelowna, B.C.

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         The Last Canadian Dambuster

Fred Sutherland of Peace River, Alberta, served as an air gunner in a Lancaster. He is now Canada’s last surviving dambuster, one of a special hand-picked group that made a deadly raid on three key dams in Germany. He and his wife Margaret live in their own home in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.

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     Girls Primed to Defend the Home Front

Joy Bond was one of those plucky, patriotic girls who served in a volunteer women’s militia during the war, training themselves to defend their community in case of an enemy attack. She still lives in her own home in Invermere, B.C.

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  The Story of a Jewish P.O.W. Interrogator

Hank Herzberg grew up in Hanover, Germany, and fled from the Holocaust. He made his way to the United States, joined the American armed forces, and returned to Germany as a special interrogator of German prisoners of war. He lives in his own home in Chicago, Illinois.

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    Nursing Sisters Healed the War Wounds

Jessie Middleton was a nursing sister with the Canadian military, caring for the wounded in field hospitals behind the front lines in Italy and Holland. Now 98 years old, she lives in a nursing home in Abbotsford, B.C.

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               Boat-Busting in Burma

Jim Ashworth grew up in Cranbrook, B.C. He joined the air force and flew dangerous low-level bombing raids in his Hurricane over Burma. He and his wife Gaetan live in their own home in Invermere, B.C.

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    Yvonne Valleau, RCAF Photographer

Yvonne Valleau served as a photographer in Vulcan, Alberta, at a British Commonwealth base that trained the young flyers how to bomb targets before they headed overseas. She lives in her own home in Kindersley, Saskatchewan.

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Tony Cashman: Life as a Halifax Navigator

Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Tony Cashman completed a full tour of thirty operations as navigator in a Halifax bomber over Germany. He is an acclaimed author and historian who still lives in his own home in Edmonton.

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   Gerda Kernchen: the Bombing of Berlin

Gerda was only eleven when war began, but she survived the almost nightly boming of her home city, and the subsequent brutal occupation by the Russian armed forces. Today she still lives in her own home, in the same city where she experienced so much suffering.

 

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  INTERVIEWING YOUR LOVED ONE

 

1. If possible, visit her at home. An elderly person will be more comfortable in her own surroundings. A quiet room with good lighting is best for optimum vision and hearing.

2. If possible, plan two visits. Memories rise to the surface slowly. After the initial visit, she will be thinking about the old days, possibly lying awake during the night as the memories come flooding back. It is on the second day that you might unearth the most interesting material.

3. Be warm and enthusiastic. Many people have spent years thinking nobody was interested and it might take some encouragement to convince them that you really ARE fascinated by what they have to tell.

4. If you tape the interview, do it unobtrusively. TheVoice Memo function on my iPhone makes a perfect tape recorder. First ask her permission. Turn it on, make sure it is working, set it on the table between you, and forget about it. If you don’t look at it or touch it again, she will forget about it, too.

5. Don’t be impatient. Some (but certainly not all) elderly people think and speak slowly. It’s best if you sit quietly and make murmuring sounds of encouragement while they dredge up the memories.

6. Look around the room. Often people have their most important mementos on display. Ask about their framed certificates and old photographs.

7. Use props. When you set up the interview, make sure to ask if they have photo albums or scrapbooks. Often these are put away somewhere and it might take a few days to unearth them. Ask ahead of time if they can have them ready. Then sit down beside the person and page through the album together – this is a great way to spark her memories.

8. Ideally, some of her memories have already been written down or recorded. Perhaps she has been interviewed by a local newspaper, or a family member has already jotted down some stories. If you obtain copies of those for backup, it saves a lot of time in going over the same details.

9. There are pros and cons to conducting interviews with other family members present. The drawback is that I sometimes suspect the elderly person might be more forthcoming if she were alone with you. You want to take her back to the heady days of her youth, and that’s a more difficult when her granddaughter is sitting there. On the other hand, sometimes family members can help to remind the person of buried memories, and can also be helpful looking for old letters or photographs.

10. If you notice signs of fatigue, cut it short and plan to come back again the next day. However, my experience has been that most people are invigorated by the unusual experience of talking about themselves, and their energy may surprise you. The fatigue will come later, after you have left.

11. CONSIDER HIRING SOMEBODY. I have been asked many times to interview someone’s father, mother or grandparent. I can’t accommodate all these requests, but I know people who do interviews for a living – either in print, audio or video. If your family members passed the hat and had a video made of their loved one’s memories, it would be well worth the expense. Also call your local museum or historical society to find out if this service is offered for free. What a fantastic Christmas gift this would make for the whole family!

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          STAR WEEKLY AT WAR

The Star Weekly was a newsmagazine published by the Toronto Star. Each week it featured a wartime illustration on the cover. Here's a lovely lass wearing her boyfriend's "wings" on her blouse. To see my complete collection of Star Weekly covers, click here.

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                      About My Events

  • I have a fascinating one-hour powerpoint presentation describing wartime women in uniform, and the little-known practice of aerial photographic interpretation. And I come dressed in my wartime vintage duds! To contact me about speaking at your organization, click: Contact.

‚Äč               Calling All Book Clubs!

  • Book Clubs across Canada have discussed Bird's Eye View. I would love to visit your club, or answer your questions via email, telephone, or Skype. For a list of discussion questions, click: Book Club Questions.

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Greetings

During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

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