Dad’s WWII Diary
The Poppy, Flander’s Fields, Last Post, and CBC live from Ottawa.
These are the things I remember being a part of November 11 in the Duff home when I was growing up.
It was a given that we would all gather, in later years, in front of the television to be a part of the Remembrance Day service offered to Canadians. It was understood that this was the day that our Dad would shed a few tears… an occasion that was very sombre and rare. Dad was always laughing and cracking jokes – but not on this day. On this day, we would not expect him to be telling jokes. On this day, we would ask him about his friends. He would tell us stories about the time he spent patrolling the Northumberland Straits, his time on Koggala Beach, India, Burma, and mostly, about his time in the air in his beloved Catalina.
Today also became know to my brother and I as the day when Dad not only said good-bye to his friends he had lost during World War II, but also the day he said good-bye to his Paula, our mother. It was this day – three years ago – when he said good-bye to Mom. I can still hear his loving words to her even today. He sat beside her in his wheel-chair in the dimly lit room. He held her hand. He calmed her and reassured her that it was okay for her to go. He reassured her that she would be okay. He affirmed his love for her and their wonderful life together. His voice was calm, comforting, and loving. I am not really sure she heard him – she was unconscious at that point – but I am confident that she would never have left him if she had not been convinced he would be okay. And Dad knew that. He let her go. He wished her well on her journey and that one day, God willing, they would meet again. She passed away the next morning — he had said his good-bye.
Dad was a survivor. What was it that kept him going? What keeps anyone going through so much loss? To this day, I still believe it was Dad’s philosophy that one must count his/her blessings. Maybe that was a philosophy taught to him through the depression, when his family had nothing but what they produced on their own farm? Dad always claimed he was well off compared to some others who didn’t have food, let alone clothing. Maybe it was the time he spent among those who lost so much to war? Dad claimed he was well off compared to the families who lost their sons and daughters, houses, freedoms to war. He survived cancer, a stroke, and multiple other health challenges.
Today, a former student of mine sent me a photo of a Remembrance Day program she had taken a couple of years ago when Mom and Dad were able to attend. What a wonderful surprise to see them in this photo – it was a new photo to me and so it was almost like we had been together one more time – sharing Remembrances. My student and her colleagues were standing behind my Mom and Dad who were seated in the front row. They were all happy – it was exactly where Mom and Dad thrived – among young people who offered them so much appreciation. I remember this day well. I am so blessed to have others remember it also.
Two more students of mine today also remembered my parents to me. “It was so nice for your Dad to be with us on Remembrance Day, Stacey”.
Although it was a tough day today – I must remember the lessons Dad taught me – to count my blessings. I count my country and the peaceful state we exist in as one of my blessings – I count my health, my family, my ability to read among the many other blessings I have. I also consider myself to be blessed to have had such great role models to allow me to see the world with gratitude.
Today – I thank the many people who have journeyed with my family and I to the place we are at today. Thanks to the care-givers who helped Dad until, literally, the day he died. Thanks to the friends who stuck by Dad even when he was no longer able to speak. Thanks to family who were by our sides always. Thanks to a country that remembers the sacrifices Dad and so many others made so that we could live a life few others only dream of.
TTFN, Dad. Thinking of you today – and always!
Preamble: I found a journal that Dad used to write in. I guess it’s okay if I read and repeat now… I’m not sure where he began his stories. I’ll just repeat from the first page. These entries are now “history”. Fascinating to read about his experiences and feelings. Hope you enjoy. I shall publish excerpts from his diary from time to time.
June 25, 1944
“Left Brantford at 12:00 arrived Toronto 1:30. Picked up airman going to Christie Street who had been washed out as a pilot – had been in navy prior to this and survived one torpedoing. Left for New Lowell 3:30 and got home via Barrie 5:30. Went to YPS and played crocinole. Rather boring evening. Sure wish I was back with Paula. ”
June 26, 1944
“Slept till noon. Went to Creemore but saw very few people I knew. Dropped in at Mumberson’s on the way back and got all the news of Bob who is away overseas. Federation of Agriculture meeting here tonight – Dad is President. Would have liked to go out but stayed and met everyone. Very pleasant surprise today – letter from Paula. Mailed an answer tonight.”
I have been looking for this song since my Dad told me the story of him singing it with Helen O’Connell on stage! (I can only imagine how much rum must have been involved in that task). Dad had a fantastic singing voice and my Mom would always brag to me about his voice. She had a fantastic voice too, but, while she was the opera buff, Dad was more blues and jazz.
Finally, this morning while re-reading some of Dad’s posts, I came across this story he told me about “Jealousy (Jalousie). I continued my search for the song and discovered that it was not a song made famous by Helen O’Connell, rather one that was popular and she chose to sing it. It seems Frankie Laine was the artist who made the song popular in 1951. Correct me, please, if I am wrong. I was so excited to find it as it just gives me such great context for my Dad – the person.
I am re-posting this story with great excitement. Here is the link if you wish to check it out:
Frankie Lane (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4AQ5sXJMqs)
Caterina Valente’s version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IRrI9DiGrw)
Here’s the original story, as told to me in my Dad’s words”
“I have always loved music. During the war, music played a very important role to connect us to home and to lift our spirits. I had a couple hundred records. In those days the records were “78”s.
One of my favorite artists while I posted in Madras, India was Ziggy Ellman. Ziggy played the trumpet. I listened to Ziggy so much and I was such a big fan that my navigator nick-named my Ziggy. To listen to my records, though, I had to wind it up… there was no electricity.
I went often into Madras to buy records. Buying a record then, however, was very different from today. The way we did it then when you went into the place someone gave you a catelogue. You’d look through the catelogue for something you’d like played. A little boy came over and you pointed to the one you’d like to hear. He had a ladder like the one you see in big libraries. We’d point out the one – he’d get on the ladder, find the record, and play it for you. If you liked what you heard, you bought it – if not it would go back into the library of records.He knew where every record was.
One day when I was looking to purchase a record, there was a woman who was in the store at the same time as me. She was with her daughter. There was a song playing at the time. The song was called Jealousy and it was sung by Helen O’Connell. The lady wanted to know the name of the song – I told her it was Jello- See. I said it the wrong way just to tease her. She told the boy she was looking for the song, Jello-See and tried to get him to play it. There was quite a lengthy exchange while the two of them tried to figure out what she wanted. The boy had never heard of the Jello song. Finally he played it on the hi-fi and the lady bought the record.
I sold all my records and gramaphone before I came home – I didn’t need them as we could just go and see the performer in Canada – we didn’t need the recorded version.
I remember the time when I went to see Helen O’Connell in Collingwood. . I motioned her over and told her I heard her record in India – she invited me to get up and sing with her. So I did. The song I sang was… you bet… “Jealousy”.”