Wednesday 30 November 2016

Wait for Me, Daddy!

"From what I understood from the photographer, he was trying to get a picture of how many soldiers there were, but then this kid made the getaway." (Jack Bernard)

It's the most famous photo ever to be taken in Canada during World War II.  It appeared in Life, Time and Newsweek.  It hung in every school in British Columbia during the war.  And it was used to sell Canadian war bonds.  It's called "Wait for Me, Daddy!".

On October 1, 1940, a column of Canadian soldiers marched down Vancouver's Columbia Ave. to the train station.  Their uniforms freshly pressed, their hats tilted on their head at just the right angle, their boots freshly shined, the new recruits were ready for battle.  But one little boy wasn't ready for them to leave.  The white-blond haired boy broke away from his mother's grasp and ran after his father who was part of the column, reaching out his little hand as if to say "Wait for me, Daddy!".  His father responded by reaching out his own hand. His elegantly dressed mother reached out for her son's hand, trying to keep up.  

All the while, photographer Claude Dettloff was snapping photographs of the column of soldiers on Columbia Ave.  Unprepared for the scene to follow, he captured a once in a lifetime moment on film.  His photograph would be published in The Province newspaper,  later to be picked up by several magazines including Reader's Digest.  Dettloff would become famous over the heart-grabbing image of the white-blond haired boy chasing his war-bound father down the street.


The little boy, Warren Bernard, returned to his Vancouver home that autumn day with his mother, Bernice.  His father, Jack, along with the rest of the British Columbia Regiment, boarded a train for Nanaimo where he underwent military training.

Later Jack fought on the battlefields of France and Belgium.  On the home front, Bernice and Warren lived out the war on a modest income in a rented apartment.  Since money was scarce, Bernice agreed to let Warren participate in a war bonds tour in 1943.  Dressed in a smart blue blazer and short grey pants, Warren toured the province with war bonds that featured the famous Dettloff photo.  The young boy, who had to take time off from his schooling at General Wolfe Elementary, delivered the same speech every time, ending with the line:  "Help bring my Daddy home!"  The teary-eyed audience usually responded generously to his plea.  When Jack Bernard returned home in October of 1945, Bernice and Warren were there to meet him, as was Claude Dettloff, ready to photograph the happy reunion.  

The white-haired boy grew up, married in 1964 and in the 1980's, became mayor of Tofino, British Columbia.  A sculpture honouring the moment the Bernard family said goodbye, was recently erected at the corner of 8th Street and Columbia Avenue, the spot where the original photo was taken.  Canada Post has issued a two dollar coin with the famous image.

The reunion between father and son courtesy

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Capa's Camera Captures Conflict

"The desire for any war photographer is to be put out of business." 
(Robert Capa)

Robert Capa courtesy

Andre Friedmann was born in Austria-Hungary in 1913 to Jewish parents.  Capa fled political repression in Hungary as a teenager and settled in Berlin.  He always wanted to be a writer, but with the invention of the 35 mm camera, he seized the opportunity to become a photographer when it presented itself. Combining his love for writing and his eye for photography, he embraced the relatively new occupation of photojournalist, specializing in war photography.  In 1933, with the rise of Hitler and the persecution of Jews, Friedmann fled Germany to France.  He changed his name to the more Christian sounding Robert Capa to avoid religious discrimination common in France at the time, ensuring that he was not turned down for jobs.  While visiting his mother and brother who had fled to New York City in 1937, Capa signed a contract with Life magazine as a war photographer.  He covered five conflicts:  the Spanish Civil War, the second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab Israeli War and the First Indochina War.  Capa was always where the action was:  at the American invasion of Sicily in 1943: at Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944; and at the site of the last fatality of the Second World War's European Theatre in 1945.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Capa the Medal of Freedom in 1947 for his contribution to the war effort.  Robert Capa was killed by a landmine while covering the Indochina War in 1954.  Here are some of his haunting photographs from World War II.

1.  D-Day Landings (1944)

2.  Chartres, 1944

3.  Boy on Tank, Chartres, 1944

4.  Allied Entry Into Paris

5.  Sicilian Peasant

6.  Frenchman Crying

7.  London Bombed

8.  Nazi Train (1938)

9.  D-Day

10.  Last Man to Die, Leipzig, Germany, 1945


Monday 28 November 2016

Britain's Secret Weapon

Here are ten facts you may not know about radar.

1.  Radar was first developped in the 1930's in Bawdsey, England.

2.  Radar is similar to a bat using sound to see in the dark.

3.  Radar operators during World War II were able to spot objects up to 200 miles away.

4.  A semiconductor crystal was a key component of radar.  Certain universities worked to perfect this crystal including Purdue, Bell, MIT and University of Chicago.

5.  Radar was the secret weapon used by the British during the Battle of Britain.

6.  Radar operators were sworn to secrecy, not even revealing their work to their parents.  They often said they were doing "wireless" work.

7.  British Commandos raided a Nazi radar station in Belgium in 1942.  They dismantled the system and brought it back to Britain to study.

8.  During World War II, radar was able to detect the location of aircraft, vessels and even V-1 rockets.

9.  Over 4000 personnel were involved in radar operations in Britain.

10.  At its height, radar operators could see almost 2000 aircraft on their screens at one time.

Note:  For more information, read Gwen Arnold's book Radar Days (

Canadian radar operators courtesy  

Sunday 27 November 2016

The Monuments Men

Photo of looted painting discovered in cave courtesy

The Monuments Men, 350 strong, were a group of middle aged, highly intelligent, low ranking officers who were recruited in 1943 to preserve the culture of Europe.  With day jobs as art historians, curators, architects and artists, these men set out to rescue, preserve and repair paintings, sculptures, monuments, bridges, palazzi, etc.  Many of these objets d'art were looted by the Nazis and were stored in castles and salt mines.  One convoy with 200 paintings was headed to Hermann Goering's birthday party, but was intercepted by the Monuments Men.  Some treasures were hidden by the Allied Armies  behind false walls, in wine cellars, basements, country churches and medieval fortresses.  Twenty percent of Europe's art was looted by the Nazis.  Despite having no vehicles, gasoline or typewriters, the Monuments Men were able to save and catalogue many of these treasures.  Although the Monuments Men disbanded in 1951, the quest for missing objets d'art continues; as recently as 2010, a painting called "Jewish Women with Oranges" was discovered in Germany.  Many missing pieces still remain at large. 

Photo of Monuments Men with looted art courtesy

Note:  For more information, watch The Monuments Men produced by George Clooney.

Saturday 26 November 2016

The London Blitz

On September 7, 1940, 348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters bombed London for two hours straight.  Later that evening the Luftwaffe returned guided by the fires set by the first raid and blasted the city again, this time until 4:30 am.  And so began the London Blitz, short for "blitzkrieg", a German term for "lightning war".  The city was bombed for the next 57 nights and remained a centre for attack until May 11, 1941.

Children were evacuated to the countryside, some even overseas to North America.  The majority of Londoners, however, chose to remain in the city, including the Royal Family, who helped to boost the general morale immensely.  Londoners soon grew accustomed to a new routine.  When night fell each evening, they would draw their blinds.  Streetlights would remain off.  Traffic in the city became a hazard to both motorists and pedestrians due to poor visibility.  Some families would sequester themselves in Anderson shelters assembled in their backyards.  Some individuals would wear gas masks in anticipation of an attack.  Some families headed underground to the Tube stations to find protection.  Many Londoners (60%) simply remained in their homes, maybe with a frying pan over their head.  Some brave souls grew bored and climbed up on rooftops and balconies to witness the attack first hand.  According to war correspondent Ernie Pyle:

"You have all seen big fires, but I doubt if you have ever seen the whole horizon of a city lined with great fires -- scores of them, perhaps hundreds...These things all went together to make the most hateful, most beautiful single scene I have ever known." *

The next morning, Londoners had to make their way through the rubble as they headed for work or for school.  Some returned from the underground stations to find their house flattened.  Some houses survived the bombings but remained uninhabitable.  There is the story of one woman who found a German plane in her garden, complete with the pilot trying to make an exit; she turned him in to the local authorities.

Although Hitler aimed to demoralize Londoners to the point that Britain would surrender in 1940, the Blitz actually united the British in a common cause.  The Nazis' plans for Operation Sea Lion, a land invasion of Britain, were shelved by mid-1941 in favour of an attack on the Soviet Union.  And Londoners got their city back.

*"The London Blitz, 1940", EyeWitness to History, (2001).

Note:  Read cartoonist Ben Wicks' book, Nell's War:  Remembering the Blitz, drawing on first hand accounts of the London Blitz.

Photograph of St. Paul's Cathedral, which remained intact during the Blitz, courtesy of

Friday 25 November 2016

I Took the Picture, The Marines Took Iwo Jima

"In honor and in memory of the men of the U.S. Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775."

Across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. in Arlington Ridge Park is the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial.  It consists of six men, five Marines and one Navy corpsman, raising the flag on Iwo Jima during the Second World War.  Sculpted by Felix de Weldon, it is based on a famous photograph that ended up on the front page of almost every American newspaper.  Capturing Iwo Jima helped America win the war. Capturing the photograph helped Joe Rosenthal win the Pulitzer Prize.

It was February 23, 1945.  America had been at war for over three years, the world for almost five.  American troops had island hopped across the Pacific in their battle against Japan.  Iwo Jima was the last big territory to conquer.  But it would come at a high price.  Out of the 70,000 Marines who invaded the island, almost 7,000 suffered casualties.  Japan had an even higher casualty rate at 23,000.

The Marines were determined to capture the island and what better way to do that than to take its highest peak, Mount Suribachi.  The Americans fought well that day and a few Marines mounted a small flag on top of the mountain.

Mount Suribachi circa February 1945 courtesy

Down below, photographer Joe Rosenthal heard about the flag planting.  Louis Lowery had already taken a shot of the flag, but Joe thought it was still worth investigating.  He set out to climb the 550-foot volcano, sidestepping mines as he ascended.  Half an hour later he reached the peak.  But he did not find what he expected.  Six servicemen were planting an even bigger Stars and Stripes to replace the smaller one.  At 5 foot 5 inches tall, Joe could not see much.  So he hastily made a pile of rocks and grabbed a sandbag.  He stood on top of the homemade pedestal and snapped the photograph.  Then he slowly made his way down the mountain, his Speed Graphic camera in hand.

Joe was surprised to see his photograph on the front page of almost every newspaper the next day.  The picture went a long way in building America's moral.  As author Hal Buell explained:  "It said victory more than it said anything."  

Joe Rosenthal poised with his camera on Iwo Jima courtesy

Later that year, Joe Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.  However, he was reluctant to take the credit, saying:  "I took the picture, the Marines took Iwo Jima."  He would go on to work for the San Francisco Chronicle as a general assignment photographer for 35 years.  But his most famous photo remains the Iwo Jima image.  

Out of the six servicemen who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, three died in battle later in that campaign.  However, the surviving three went on to sell war bonds featuring the famous photograph.  Assets from the war bonds totalled 23.6 million dollars.

Advertisement for war bonds courtesy


For more information:

1.  Read Hal Buell's book Uncommon Valor, Uncommon Virtue.
2.  Watch the movie "Flags of our Fathers" (Clint Eastwood).

Thursday 24 November 2016

Ian Fleming Patterned James Bond After World War II Agent

"Yeo-Thomas used a range of techniques to escape or evade his enemies, including jumping from a train, strangling a guard, wearing disguises and riding in a hearse.  These methods echo tactics later used by Bond.  And like Bond, Yeo-Thomas always carried a weapon.  In Paris, he once shot an enemy agent and threw him into a river." (

Memo: James Bond author Ian Fleming, who also worked in intelligence during the war, informed colleagues of Yeo-Thomas's escape from the Gestapo in this 1945 document

James Bond author Ian Fleming worked in intelligence during the Second World War.  In the closing days of the conflict, he sent a memo to his colleagues about the escape of Forest Yeo-Thomas, a special agent who had been parachuted into occupied France three times during the war.  Yeo-Thomas, who seemingly had nine lives, would serve as the inspiration for 007.

Forest Yeo-Thomas, born in London, England, moved to Dieppe, France at an early age, where he became fluent in French.  Forest Yeo-Thomas, nicknamed Tommy, served as a wing commander in the Polish Soviet war of 1919-1920, where he earned the Cross of Merit.  

After the Evacuation at Dunkirk early in the Second World War, Yeo-Thomas escaped back to England.  He was hired as an interpreter for DeGualle's Free French Forces.  However, the British Special Operations Executive soon lured him away to work in intelligence.  Yeo-Thomas became a liaison officer with the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action.  

Yeo-Thomas parachuted into occupied France for the first time in February of 1943, armed with the assignment to obstruct the German occupation.  Donning a disguise, he dined with Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, aboard a train.  

Yeo-Thomas returned to England where he begged five minutes with Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Granted an audience, the special agent begged for more resources for the French Resistance.  

The fearless liaison officer parachuted again into occupied France in February of 1944 where he was captured at a Paris Metro station.  Recognized as "The White Rabbit", as the Gestapo nicknamed him, he was tortured with physical beatings, electric shock and submersion in ice-cold water for four days.  The latter caused him to pass out and be resuscitated by the guards.

The Gestapo sent Yeo-Thomas to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  But they couldn't keep a good man down.  He escaped, was recaptured, posed as a French National and was sent to Stalag XX-B.  It was there that Yeo-Thomas donned a disguise, shot an enemy agent, escaped and reached Allied lines in April of 1945.  Commander Ian Fleming, also in British intelligence, learned about the escape and sent out a memo informing his colleagues of Yeo-Thomas' safe return.

Inspired by the daring exploits of the Special Agent, Fleming penned his first James Bond story Casino Royale in 1952.  "Yeo-Thomas used a range of tactics to escape or evade his enemies, including jumping from a train, strangling a guard, wearing disguises and riding in a hearse.  These methods echo tactics later used by Bond."

Yeo-Thomas' exploits did not go unrecognized.  He was honoured with about a dozen awards including:  the George Cross, Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre.  However, his dangerous career did take its toll:  Yeo-Thomas suffered from recurring nightmares and illness.  He passed away in 1962, three years before Churchill, the leader who led his country through the infamous conflict.

Hero: Wing Commander Forest 'Tommy' Yeo-Thomas, has been identified as the inspiration behind Ian Fleming's character James Bond

For more information about Forest Yeo-Thomas:

1.  Watch Carve Her Name with Pride (movie starring Michael Caine).
2.  Watch The White Rabbit (BBC television mini-series).
3.  Read Churchill's White Rabbit:  The True Story of a Real Life James Bond (Sophie Jackson).

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Koenigsberg Burning

On the nights of August 26 and 27 and August 29 and 30, 1944, Elfriede Neumann sat in her Taplacken farmhouse and listened to the drone of the planes as the British dropped 480 tons of bombs on the nearby city of Koenigsberg, the beautiful capital of East Prussia, Germany.  Churchill had called Koenigsberg a "modernized heavily defended fortress" and targeted it for attack.  The initial raid resulted in minimal damage; however, the second raid inflicted sheer terror in the hearts of the Koenigsberg residents.  Only nine months had elapsed since the Neumann family had sat for their family portrait at a studio in the city, the last time that Elfriede saw her husband alive; now he was missing in action on the Eastern front and his home province was under siege.

The bombing destroyed all seven bridges in the city.  The university was obliterated.  Many churches were targetted inlcuding the centuries-old Koenigsberg Cathedral, on an island in the Pregel River, which took a direct hit.  One hundred Koenigsbergers, including many children, were hiding beneath the church's large spire and were killed instantly.  This was not just a regular bombing, but a fire bombing.  Thousands of civilians drowned themselves in the Pregel River, their clothes burning as they ran into its waters.  Even the magnificent King's Castle was bombed (see my post "The Amber Room") and damaged, although its frame remained intact.  Statues were smashed and landmarks demolished.  Ninety percent of the 700-year-old city was destroyed.  Koenigsberg burned for an entire week and smouldered for several more weeks.  People were forbidden to enter the city.    The British had sent 800 bombers to fly over the city and drop incendiary bombs, tracking a path from the North train station to the Main train station.  Almost all of the cultural buildings, like the university, cathedral, and castle, were hit by the raids.  One hundred and fifty thousand citizens were made homeless as a result of the bombings.

Elfriede's sister, Doris, saw it all happen from her parents' farm in Nautzwinkel, a village only a few kilometres from the East Prussian capital.  She was called in by the Red Cross to help the victims of the bombings.   The fire departments and air defence were rendered helpless.  A makeshift hospital set up at the outskirts of the city was where Doris and other volunteers tended the wounded.  In the centre of the city, even those who took cover in basements were incinerated due to the intense heat of the incendiary bombs, including napalm.  The bombing of Koenigsberg was like a prelude to the attack on Dresden six months later.  When the smoke cleared, all that was left was a charred ruins.  Incandescent traces of red and orange lingered above the city for days.  Koenigsberg, the bustling metropolis where Elfriede had once shopped with her family, now resembled a ghost town.

Dedicated to my husband Rob's Oma, Elfriede Neumann (1911-2007).

Portrait of Koenigsberg Castle courtesy

Photo of Koenigsberg Castle ruins courtesy

Tuesday 22 November 2016

The Great Escape


Photo of Stalag Luft III courtesy

Stalag Luft III, a Nazi prisoner of war camp 100 miles southeast of Berlin, now part of Poland, was the site of the largest Allied escape during World War II.  The escape required incredible brain power, manpower, materials and courage.  Six hundred prisoners worked on the project.  And yet only three made it to freedom.  What happened on that fateful day in March of 1944?

The plan to dig three tunnels at Stalag Luft III was implemented in April of 1943.  One tunnel, nicknamed Tom, started in a dark corner of Hut 123.  A second tunnel, Dick, was located under a bathroom drain in Hut 122.  A third tunnel, Harry, was hidden behind a stove in Hut 110.  Some prisoners built a vaulting horse big enough to house two diggers; they would move the horse over the opening to the tunnel, and then the workers would crawl down it and start to dig, while several prisoners would distract the guards with their vaulting.  They made sure that they dug 30 feet below the surface so the guards would not hear them work.

The resourcefulness of the prisoners amazes me.  Everyone had a job:  Robert Bushell was the overseer of much of the project; Tim Walenn forged official documents for when the fugitives were stopped and asked for identification; Al Hake was a compass maker to help the escaped prisoners find their way to neutral countries; Des Plunkieett was a map tracer; Tommy Guest was the head tailor, trying to outfit the prisoners in civilian clothing for life on the outside; "Lookouts" made sure that the guards were distracted and not privy to what was going on at digging time; and "Penguins" wore pants with yellow sand hidden inside (excavated from the tunnels) which they slowly let fall out as they paced back and forth on the prison grounds.

A list was compiled with prisoners deemed fit for the escape; those who were claustrophobics, for example, were prohibited from being added to the list since the tunnels were so narrow.  As the men made progress on the tunnels, the guards discovered "Tom", and shut it down.  "Dick", which they had been using for storage anyway, was shut down.  Only "Harry" remained.  The prisoners waited for a moonless night to make their move.  On March 24, 1944,  they seized the opportunity to try out "Harry".  The prisoners, mostly Commonwealth Airmen, crawled through Harry one by one.  The first to reach the exit discovered that they were only a few feet shy of the forest, their intended target, which made them more visible to the guards.  After the 76th man, popped his head out, they were busted.

The Nazis searched for them for weeks.  Sadly, all of the fugitives were recaptured with the exception of three men, two of whom reached Sweden, the third ending up in Spain.  Hitler ordered that fifty of these prisoners executed and the remaining ones were sent to another prison where they lived out the duration of the war.

Note:  Paul Brickhill, one of the prisoners who helped orchestrate the escape, but who was not on the list due to his claustrophobia, wrote a book called The Great Escape documenting the experience.  A movie of the same name debuted in 1963 starring Steve McQueen.

Fore more information, read The Great Escape:  A Canadian Story by Ted Barris (2013).

Monday 21 November 2016

Operation Market Garden: A Glorious Sight, A Missed Mark

"The glittering triumph of the D-Day landings in France had become bogged down in the slow and costly progress through the Normandy fields and hedgerows which the Germans defended with such skill and tenacity." (

It was a Russian soldier who hoisted the flag over the German Reichstag in the closing stages of the Second World War.  It just as easily could have been a British or an American or even a Canadian soldier, had Operation Market Garden been a success.  The British and Americans would have reached Berlin weeks before the Russians and the war would likely have ended around Christmas of 1944.  Here is a look at the bold operation which could have won the Allies the war.

Hatched by General Bernard Montgomery, the head of the British forces in Europe, Operation Market Garden involved 32,000 British and American troops penetrating deep behind enemy lines to capture the canals and rivers on the Dutch-German border.  After a successful D-Day invasion at Normandy, the Allied troops, under heavy fighting, slowly made their way across France.

Bernard Montgomery, Brian Horrocks and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands discuss strategy, 8 September 1944.

Montgomery, at left, plans Operation Market Garden courtesy 

"The glittering triumph of the D-Day landings in France had become bogged down in the slow and costly progress through the Normandy fields and hedgerows which the Germans defended with such skill and tenacity."  (

The Allied Army advances to the Dutch/German border (July to September 1944) courtesy

However, it was at this point that the German resistance stiffened.  Troops that were in reserve since D-Day waited for the green light, only to have their operation cancelled more than once.  Finally, it appeared like it was time to advance.  The plan was to make a thrust deep into the German lines.  Parachutes and gliders were to land at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arhem.  General Browning was given some alarming information:  two Panzer divisions were tucked underneath the woods near their landing site.  Operation Market Garden went ahead as planned.

British paratroopers on their way to Arnhem in a USAAF C-47 aircraft on 17 September 1944.

British Paratroopers on their way to Arnhem con September 17, 1944 courtesy

The day dawned with a cloudless blue sky and a warm autumn sun.  An armada of planes, twenty abreast, flew across Holland's flat terrain like an "airborne carpet".  It was a glorious sight:  paratroopers dotted the sky.  Reality hit however when they landed.  Tanks hit the leading nine vehicles of the Allied advance.  Their radios didn't work making communication impossible.  Most of the bridges that they wished to capture were blown up before they arrived.  The final bridge at Arnhem proved the most difficult.

"The Bullets hitting the water looked like a hailstorm, kicking up little spouts of water.  When we reached about the halfway point, then the mortar and artillery fire started falling.  And when a boat was hit with an artillery or a mortar shell, it just disintegrated and everybody was lost." (

The German tanks were "devastatingly accurate".  The Allies abandonned their positions near the bridge and tried to fight their way out.  The Parachute Divison lost 1500 men to death and another 6500 were captured, many of the prisoners wounded.  It would be another four months before the Allies would cross the Rhine again.

Brigde at Nigmegen courtesy

Note:  This post is dedicated to Mr. Lyle Sherman, the grandfather of my sister-in-law, Julie Tufts, one of the thousands of American soldiers who fought bravely in Operation Market Garden.

Sunday 20 November 2016

The Siege of Leningrad: A Lost Diary, A Lost Treasure & A Lost (Almost) City

I always knew that the Siege of Leningrad was a long, drawn-out, horrific chapter in the life of Russians during the Second World War.  However, I did not comprehend the sheer size of the tragedy. It goes a long way to explain the hatred in the hearts of the Red Army when they sought revenge on the Germans in late 1944 and early 1945.  Here are ten facts, courtesy Wikipedia, that you may not know about the initial stage of Hitler's Operation Barbarossa.

1.  The Siege of Leningrad, also called the Leningrad Blockade, lasted an agonizing 872 days, from September of 1941 to January of 1944.

2.  A total of 414, 148 children and about 1 million adults (mainly women) were evacuated during the Siege to the Volga, Urals, Siberia and Kazakstan.


3.  A total of 1.2 million civilians perished, many due to starvation, during the Siege.

4.  The Soviet Baltic Fleet made over 100,000 missions during the Blockade to save the city.

5.  Leningrad was isolated from the rest of the country until an ice road formed over Lake Ladoga, called the "Road of Life"

Lake Ladoga, the Road of Life, offers way of escape and transportation route for food for Leningradians courtesy,

6.  Hitler ordered that the Palaces of the Czar be looted and destroyed.  Russians had hastily wallpapered over the famous Amber Room in the St. Catharine Palace.  Discovered by the German Army, they disassembled it and brought it to Koenigsber Castle in East Prussia where it went missing in 1944

7.  The economic destruction and loss of life at the Siege of Leningrad was greater than that of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

8.  The Diary of Leningradian Tanya Savicheva, found later in the war, describes the starvation of each of her family members

9.  Deaths in Leningrad peaked in January and February of 1942 when temperatures dropped to -30 Celsius and food rations to 125 grams of bread per day, half of which was usually sawdust.

10.  Adolf Hitler was so convinced that the Wehrmacht would capture Leningrad that he sent out invitations for a celebration at the Russian city's Hotel Astoria.  However, the Red Army finally drove the Germans out in January of 1944.

Note:  Rob's great Uncle Artur, Oma's brother, who served with the German Army, froze to death at the Gates of Leningrad.

Saturday 19 November 2016


Operation Manna courtesy 

"One could see the gunners waving in their turrets. A marvellous sight. One Lancaster roared over the town at 70 feet. I saw the aircraft tacking between church steeples and drop its bags in the South. Everywhere we looked, bombers could be seen. No one remained inside and everybody dared to wave cloths and flags. What a feast! Everyone was excited with joy. The war must be over soon now."
(Arie de Jong, 17 year old Dutch student)

Four and a half million unliberated Dutch survived on tulip bulbs and sugar beets during the Nazi occupation of 1944-1945.  With a blockade in effect, and with the early onset of winter making the barges impassable, unliberated Holland was slowly starving.  Flour was impossible to come by.  In October of 1944, butter became obsolete.  Meat coupons were rendered worthless.  A ration consisted of:  100 grams of cheese every two weeks, 1000 g of bread per week (later 400 g), 1 kilo of potatoes per week and 1.3 litres of vegetable fat per seven months.  Some farmers were compassionate enough to give vegetables to their fellow Dutchmen in the city.  Many survived on tulip bulbs and sugar beets.

While their stomachs grumbled, their bodies shivered as the Dutch had no heat, no gas or electricity during the Hongerwinter.  Some became desperate enough that they swapped their wedding rings.  Others took apart furniture to burn or even houses. 

Help came in the form of Swedish flour which the Dutch used to bake bread.  However, what saved thousands of the Dutch was Operations Manna, Chowhound and Faust, launched in April and May of 1945.  Manna was run by the Royal Air Force in which over 3000 Lancaster bombbers and almost 50 Mosquitoes, loaded down with food rations, flew at 150 metres above the occupied zone and dropped their contents.  Chowhound was executed by the United States Air Force and fulfilled the same purpose as Manna.  Faust was launched by the Allies, a smaller operation.  

The Dutch welcomed their liberators with open arms.  Some savoured their food, others wolfed it down and vomited shortly thereafter.  A few even died because their body could not handle the shock of digesting real food again.  The Dutch were so filled with gratitude that they planted tulip bulbs which spelled out MANY THANKS!  They would not forget their Allied liberators.  Ever since, the Dutch have sent tulips to Ottawa each year to show their appreciation for Canada's role in their freedom.  

Sadly, about 20,000 Dutch citizens still perished during the Hongerwinter.  But the number would have been much higher if not for the help of Operations Manna, Chowhound and Faust.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in," (Matthew 25:35)

Line up at soup kitchen during winter of 1944-1945 courtesy 

Friday 18 November 2016

D-Day: The Element of Surprise

"Our intention is to honour the survivors and their fallen comrades while the events of June 6, 1944 remain within living memory." (Bill Danard, Canada Post)

On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate the historic event of World War II. "With the imagery of this stamp, we aim to capture the experience of the very first Canadian troops to land on Juno Beach that day.  We tried to balance a sense of victory achieved with an acknowledgment of the human price," explained Bill Danard of Canada Post (

Much preparation went into the D-Day invasion, which included Canadian, American and British troops.  The Allies wanted to capitalize on a number of factors.  The moon had to be full (June 5, 6 or 7).  The tides had to be low.  The weather had to be appropriate (low winds, light cloud cover).  If all went well, they would catch the Germans sleeping.  The forecast for June 5, the original invasion day, was horrible:  a stiff wind, choppy seas and overcast.  Operation Neptune would have to be postponed for a day.  

The landing place also had to be perfect.  The Allies had dropped clues hinting that they would land at Pas de Calais.  However, it was too fortified.  In the end, they chose Normandy.  The word went out:  "Halycon Five finally and definitely confirmed."  On June 6, 1944, the Canadians debarked at Juno Beach.  By midday, the beachhead had been won.  "[By] nightfall, Canadians had penetrated further inland than any other seaborne forces."  The Canadian Army had proven once again, like in the First World War, that they were a formidable fighting force.  

Why were the Germans caught sleeping?  While the Allies employed expert meteorologists (two British teams and one American team) to predict the Normandy coast weather that month, so too did the Germans.  The former had decided that a Beaufort Scale rating of 4 or lower was acceptable for winds while the latter had decided that 4 was too strong.  Furthermore, General Eisenhower went ahead and made the ultimate decision to launch the D-Day invasion whereas General Rommel, shopping for birthday shoes with his wife in Berlin, waited for an ultimate order from Hitler, which never came.

Sadly, Canadians suffered 359 losses while the Allies suffered 12,000 deaths on D-Day.  However, the number was a lot lower than the 75,000 predicted without the element of surprise.  

What a glorious sight!  D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 courtesy

Thursday 17 November 2016

D-Day Prayer

My former pastor once pointed out that on D-Day, President Roosevelt asked employers if they would give their employees the day off to pray for the troops.  Although the weather was questionable for an invasion on the Normandy beaches that day, although the Germans had panzer tanks ready, although the odds were stacked against them, the Allies went ahead with the invasion.  My pastor believes that it was prayer which gave them a much needed edge.  The weather co-operated.  Hitler's two top men were out of the country at the time and Hitler was still in bed with orders not to be disturbed.  Therefore the Allies were able to launch a surprise attack which was successful.  Here is the radio address that President Roosevelt delivered that fateful day.

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer (my italics).  But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944

Photo of President Roosevelt reading D-Day prayer courtesy

Wednesday 16 November 2016

The Lancaster Bomber: The Heart of the Museum

It was October 2014.  Rob and I were invited to his cousin Peter's daughter's wedding in Dundas at a beautiful old church with stain glass windows and ornate archways.  The wedding couple, Crystal and A.J., held their reception in a unique place:  the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.  The guest of honour was Vera.  Vera is not a person, but a plane, one of two airworthy Lancaster bombers left in the world.  Here is her story.

Victory Aircraft Ltd where the Avro Lancaster was built courtesy

VeRA, named after her call letters V-RA, was one of hundreds of Lancasters built in Canada. Made of 55,000 separate parts, she was designed and built by AVRO in Malton, Ontario.  The four engine Lancaster had been "the best night bomber of the Second World War" according to a Luftwaffe commander.  In 156,000 sorties. the Lancaster dropped two-thirds of the bombs on Europe during World War II.  In fact, my father in law, Albert Jonasson, remembers hiding in his basement in Germany as the Lancasters zoomed overhead on their way to bomb Hamburg.  The Lancaster was nicknamed "The Workhorse" of D-Day in 1944.  Therefore, the Royal Air Force was intending to fly Lancasters, including VeRA, in the proposed invasion of Japan, named Operation Tiger Force, in 1945.

A Lancaster bomber over Hamburg, Germany courtesy

However, after the atom bomb was dropped on Japan, the country surrendered and the Lancaster was no longer needed for combat. Instead,  What happened to the other Lancasters?  Three thousand two hundred and forty nine of the bombers were lost during the Second World War.  Many of those that survived were sold to Canadian farmers for a few hundred dollars.  Still others were used to train air force crews and for search and rescue missions.  VeRA fell into the latter category.

Lancaster bombers over England circa 1944 courtesy

For fourteen years, VeRA had no purpose.  Then, in 1977, she was purchased for $10,000 by the Canadian Warplane Museum in Hamilton, Ontario.  My husband's cousin, Peter Jonasson, who used to put together model airplanes as a kid, and whose father fought in the Second World War, found out about the purchase of the Lancaster bomber.  He introduced himself to the crew that intended to restore the airplane.  They loved his enthusiasm and appreciated his knowledge of wiring, and welcomed him aboard to help with Vera's restoration.

In 1988, the bomber was fully restored and ready to fly.  Some people expected about 200 specatators on the day of its first flight.  Instead, 20,000 spectators, including Peter Jonasson, lined the runway at Hamilton Airport the day that if first flew after 25 years of sitting on the tarmac.  VeRA took its place in the Warplane Heritage Museum, "the heart of the museum".  She was mounted as a World War II memorial outside the Canadian Legion in Goderich.

Lancaster bomber at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum courtesy

Today, VeRA remains only one of two airworthy Lancaster bombers in the world.  This past summer, VeRA was reunited with the other Lancaster for a seven week airshow in Britain.  She came home, just in time for Peter's daughter's wedding to take her place behind the head table.  Congratulations, Crystal and A.J.!  May your marriage be as strong and as enduring as the Lancaster bomber!

Tuesday 15 November 2016

A Pile of Books, A Pile of Rocks & A Pile of Shoes

A pile of books sits in a glass case:  Das Kapital by Karl Marx, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Albert Einstein's works.  These are just some of the thousands of books that were burned on a Berlin street back in 1933, an early sign that Hitler would not tolerate any views but his own.  Some of the greatest thinkers came out of that era, people that would go on to help build the atom bomb and to put the first man on the moon.  But they didn't fit in to Hitler's agenda.  Freedom of thought would not be tolerated. Propaganda would rule for the next twelve years.

A pile of rocks sits on display, each one perfectly cut in a cube.  Above them hangs a photograph of emaciated humans lugging the rocks up and down a cliff.  Some workers, too weak to move another inch, fall down.  They are punished for their disobedience.  The same scene repeats itself day after day, week after week, month after month.

"Stairs of Death" at Mauthausen courtesy

A pile of shoes sits in another case, turned green from years of exposure to the elements.  A rubber smell permeates the air.  Despair permeates the soul.  These are the shoes of thousands of Jews who worked at Majdanek, a Nazi concentration camp.  Despite their number, these shoes are just a drop in the bucket.  A map shows us that Majdanek was one of hundreds of Nazi interment camps, work camps and death camps by running by the end of World War II.  Hitler took their ideas, their belongings and their lives.  But he could not take their spirits.

Piles of shoes worn by Jewish victims of Holocaust courtesy

We walked past a small wooden boat, one of dozens used to transport Jews across the water from Denmark to Sweden during World War II.  Thanks to this evacuation, nine out of ten Danish Jews survived the war.  But sadly, Poland's 3 million Jews were reduced to 45,000 by the Holocaust.  By war's end, two thirds of Europe's Jews had been murdered.

Later, as we walked down Washington's 12th Avenue to dinner at the Elephant and the Castle, we ran into a women from our tour group.  We mentioned we had just visited the Holocaust Museum.  She said that she would not visit it because she did not want to see "man's inhumanity to man".  I thought to myself that she had hit the nail on the head with that statement.  Although the Holocaust happened decades ago, it could happen again -- with different players.  Let us never forget.

Monday 14 November 2016

How Curious George Escaped the Nazis

It was a manuscript called "The Adventures of Fifi" based on the life of a little monkey.  Not even a world war would stop its publication.  It had a long journey to America:  a 133-kilometre bike ride, a long train ride, and two long boat rides.  But it made it in one piece and now is available for everyone to enjoy as Curious George.

Hans Augusto Reyersbach, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, loved to draw.  He would sketch the animals at the zoo and the horses in the park.  He fought in World War I and returned to his hometown.  In the mid-1920's, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he donned a large yellow hat and sailed up and down the Amazon River, sketching and photographing monkeys and other wildlife.

An acquaintance of Hans' named Margarete Waldstein also grew up in Hamburg.  She, too, dreamed of being an artist, attending Germany's famous Bauhaus School.  In 1935, she followed Hans to Rio de Janeiro where the two spent months sketching and photographing.  Later that year, they married.

In 1936, the young couple moved back to Europe, this time to Paris, France.  They were both Jewish and wanted to avoid Germany due to Hitler's anti-Semetic laws.  They set up a cozy home in an apartment at the Terrass Hotel.  The couple would sketch the fishermen on the River Seine, the booksellers on the quay and the animals at the zoo.

Paris is where the Reyersbach's started writing their children's books.  The late 1930's was a difficult time to get a book published:  typesetters had joined the army, paper was scarce and the laws were strict (propaganda).  Nevertheless, the artists-turned-authors managed to get an advance from a Paris Publisher for three manuscripts including "The Adventures of Fifi".

However, while their manuscript was being typed, World War II was brewing.  News spread quickly that the Nazis were "goosestepping" their way across France.  Paris filled with refugees from the north:  Belgian farm carts and horses passed Dutch cars with mattresses tied to the roofs; taxis, trucks and green city busses whizzed by the Reyersbach's window.  It was time for the couple to join the ranks of the two million refugees.

Family flees Paris circa 1940 courtesy

Hans made several trips to government agencies to get their passports in order.  THUMP!  THUMP!  He also tried to purchase train tickets out of the French capital but the trains were no longer running.  Hans purchased a tandem bicycle, but he and Margarete tried to pedal it on Paris' cobblestone streets but "sans succes".  He returned the bike, bought spare bicycle parts for 1600 francs, and assembled two separate bikes.  He also bought four large baskets, two to hold bread, cheese and meat, and two to hold clothes and their precious manuscripts.

Finally, the Reyersbach's were ready for their journey.  Under the drone of the German scout planes, they left the Terrass Hotel and pedalled through the streets of Paris, part of the largest motorized evacuation in history.  As rain pattered their bicycles, Hans was relieved that their manuscript was clean and dry under his winter coat inside one of the baskets.  The first day, they rode 48 kilometres.  A gracious farmer's wife offered them shelter in her house on that first night.  On the second day, they rode 26 kilometres and were offered a spot to rest their weary limbs in a farmer's stable.  On the third day, they pedalled 32 kilometres.  They reached Etampes, France not a moment too soon for it was bombed only two days later.

The map outlining the Reyersbach's flight from Nazi-occupied France courtesy

At Orleans, they boarded a train with their bicycles which steamed south to Bayonne as they stretched their weary limbs.  They disembarked at Bayonne and remounted their bikes bound for Hendaye.  There, they caught a second train, this one headed through Spain to Portugal.  Hans sold their "bicyclettes" for 650 francs at the train station, money that would come in handy soon.

At Lisbon, they bought tickets for a trans-Atlantic passage to South America.  One official thought Hans might be a spy, given his attire and his briefcase.  However, all was well once he opened the case and revealed his "livre pour les enfants".  The Reyersbach's boarded a ship named "Angola" which safely took them across the Atlantic to Brazil.  They waited two months for their papers to be in order.  THUMP!  THUMP!

Finally, in October of 1940, four months after they pedalled out of wartime Paris, they sailed into peacetime New York, with the Statue of Liberty in full view.  Only a year later, the former Fifi landed on American bookshelves as Curious George.  And the Reyersbach's became the Rey's.  What a journey for the little monkey and the man with the yellow hat!

Original cover courtesy

Source:  The Journey that Saved Curious George by Louise Borden.