Let­ters from a gun­ner in Ger­many

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED - — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

When­ever I vis­ited the late Don­ald Noble in cen­tral New­found­land, there was noth­ing he en­joyed more than sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble or in the out­doors gazebo and chat­ting. He was a wealth of knowl­edge about this, that and some­thing else. In­vari­ably, he held me spell­bound as he told sto­ries about his ex­pe­ri­ences in mil­i­tary life.

Fol­low­ing Don­ald’s death in 2011, I thought his tales of yes­ter­day would die with him. Now, thanks to the ef­forts of his grand­son, Trevor Pur­chase of Em­bree, the elder man speaks from the grave. Ear­lier this year, Trevor pub­lished the 45 let­ters his grand­fa­ther wrote from over­seas in 1953-55. The re­sult is a book, “To His Lov­ing Mother: Let­ters from a Cana­dian Gun­ner in Ger­many.”

“In an age be­fore in­stant mes­sag­ing,” Trevor says, “Don­ald kept in touch with his fam­ily back home in the old-fash­ioned way — hand­writ­ten let­ters sent through the mail.”

In Fe­bru­ary 1953, shortly be­fore the Korean War came to an end, 19year-old Don­ald Noble of Wind­sor (now Grand Falls-Wind­sor) joined the Cana­dian Army, be­com­ing a gun­ner in the 2nd Reg­i­ment Royal Cana­dian Horse Ar­tillery. His reg­i­ment re­lo­cated to Fort Prince of Wales in Deil­inghofen, near Hemer, Ger­many, in Novem­ber, as part of NATO’s in­te­grated mil­i­tary force in post­war West Ger­many. On a peace­keep­ing mis­sion, Don­ald was as­signed to Fox Bat­tery.

Trevor writes in the pref­ace, “Don­ald once told me he was in­vited to leave his job as a gun­ner in the ar­tillery and trans­fer to the po­si­tion of ra­dio op­er­a­tor be­cause, as the of­fi­cer told him, ‘You are a good writer.’ I did not have the chance to see his writ­ing abil­ity for my­self while he was alive, never hav­ing read any­thing writ­ten by Don­ald.

“It was only af­ter he passed away that his wife found an old black Pot of Gold choco­lates box and, in­side, a stack of let­ters.”

All of them are ad­dressed to Don­ald’s mother, Eleanor. He of­ten men­tions his only sis­ter, Ruby, and brothers, Max, Fred, Harry and Frank. His wife, Lucy, was liv­ing in Bishop’s Falls, rais­ing their daugh­ter, Donna, now Trevor’s mother.

“The goal in this book,” Trevor ex­plains, “was to keep the text as true to the orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble.”

Don­ald’s let­ters are in­ter­spersed with more than 50 photographs from the 1950s, many taken by him on his trav­els.

There’s one of Don­ald stand­ing be­side his mother, his arm draped around her, per­haps taken just prior to his de­par­ture for Ger­many. There are snaps of his wife, Lucy, and Baby Donna. There are can­dids of Don­ald and his bud­dies at a party. There’s a solemn de­pic­tion of Don­ald and his fel­low sol­diers at a me­mo­rial to Rus­sian sol­diers killed at the Ber­genBelsen con­cen­tra­tion camp dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. In another photo, Don­ald is stand­ing near a prim and proper guard on a horse at Buck­ing­ham Palace. There’s even an an­niver­sary cake for the 2nd Reg­i­ment Royal Cana­dian Horse Ar­tillery.

Don­ald’s chatty mis­sives evoke lov­ing glimpses of his far­away home. De­spite the spelling mis­takes and miss­ing words, the heart­felt emo­tions shine through.

On Dec. 8, 1954, for ex­am­ple, he writes: “Good night Mom, how are you tonight. I hope that you and the fam­ily are still well. I re­ceived your let­ter to­day, and I glad that you are still feel­ing well. As for my­self I am just feel­ing fine. Well Mom, it’s a lovely night here, only it’s sure cold out now. And there’s a bit of snow down here too. I guess there’s still snow down over there to eh. Well I hope we have snow for Christ­mas as it would seem more like Christ­mas use to be eh.”

On May 5, 1955, he writes: “But I would like to be home tonight. It sure seem a long time since I seen you last, the night you & Ruby got aboard the bus at Bish­ops eh. And I sure would like to see Lucy & Donna.... Rem. me to all the fam­ily & friends....”

In his fi­nal let­ter, writ­ten on Nov. 8, 1955, he writes, “Don’t be dis­ap­pointed if you don’t get any more mail from me as I will see you soon, I hope.”

Don­ald re­turned home in 1955 and, even­tu­ally, built in Wind­sor “the house that he had been dream­ing of while he was in Ger­many.”

Those of us who wish to re­mem­ber and hon­our the in­di­vid­u­als who served in the mil­i­tary are in Trevor Pur­chase’s debt. It might take less than an hour to read “To His Lov­ing Mother,” but the sen­ti­ments ex­pressed therein will re­main with the reader for a long time to come.

Lest we for­get.

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