Shelley Joyce is the anchor of CBC Kamloops’ morning radio program, “Daybreak”. Yesterday she prerecorded a short interview with me about a presentation I’ll give to commemorate Remembrance Day. The talk will be held at:
- The downtown Kamloops Library, Wednesday November 8th , 7:00 pm
I told Ms.Joyce that from 1939 until 1945, my father served as a private in the BC Engineering Corps of the Royal Canadian Armed Forces. He was only 19 years old when he signed up, and just before he shipped out, his father gave him the address of a first cousin, Gisèle – If Dad ever found himself in Amsterdam, Granddad wanted him to visit her.
In 1945, my father did indeed end up in Amsterdam – his division was among those that participated in the liberation of the Netherlands – and he could hardly wait to join in the victory celebrations. But first, he wanted to honor his father’s request. When he got leave, he and his friend made their way to her home, a small apartment on the Herengracht. Coincidentally this is the same canal street where my grandfather was born. What Dad found there dampened every bit of enthusiasm for partying.
During occupation by the Nazi forces, Gisèle hid her Jewish friends. They survived, but on the day Dad met them, before food distribution was reestablished, he figured none of them weighed more than 80 pounds. All plans for his celebration were cancelled – Dad and his friend returned to their base, got food and fuel and returned to Gisèle’s home as quickly as they could.
Almost six decades later in 2003, my sister and I travelled to Amsterdam and met Gisèle – she was 91 years old and still living in the same building. She showed my sister and me where she’d hidden her friends during the raids (in the dumbwaiter) and she told us about the hardship and fear they endured. She jumped over to one of the front windows, and said she’d looked out from there and seen Dad. She added that the provisions he and his friend brought to her and her friends, had saved their lives.
In memory of my father and to honor her, I wrote my book, CIRCLES. Reflecting on their lives, I am impressed by how both of them went on to live happy, full lives – and in the case of Gisèle – a famous one. She was a painter and a writer. She lived a 100 year-long life of curiosity and joy.
Her bravery was officially recognized by three countries. Initially Gisèle came to the attention of the German government. She received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the federal cross awarded to people of great valor.. The second citation bestowed on Gisèle was that of Righteous Among Nations. This honor is the highest tribute a non-Jewish person can be given by Israel. Gisèle’s third honor, Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau — “Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau,” pleased her immensely – it is presented to Dutch citizens who deserve appreciation and recognition from society for special service to the country.
With characteristic humility and generosity, my father said his award was life itself. He added that Mom and us eight children filled him with all the joy and recognition he wanted.
I look forward to Wednesday and the opportunity to share the story of my dad and his Dutch cousin. I hope those who come to the Library will also bring photos or other mementoes of their loved ones who served Canada. I would like them to tell their stories too.
I am not sure if my interview will air today (Tuesday Nov. 7) or tomorrow (Wedneday Nov. 8) but you can listen live to ”Daybreak” with Shelley Joyce at this link: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/daybreak-kamloops
And to end today’s post, I will reprint one of the most iconic of all poems written about war. Those who attended elementary school in Canada, no doubt memorized it – and perhaps still remember it – as I do.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– by John McCrae, May 1915