Emo­tional jour­ney retracing fam­ily’s his­tory

Tri-County Vanguard - - COVER STORY -

Jack Hat­field was 27 when he died. His brother Tracy died in 2005 at the age of 85. Both had been born and raised in Tus­ket.

Af­ter his plane was hit over Cologne on that late-spring night in 1942 – dur­ing the “thou­sand-plane” raid on the German city – Tracy Hat­field parachuted into a large wheat field. Even­tu­ally, he found a haystack, where he went to sleep. He later awoke and saw a farmer point­ing a gun at him. The younger Hat­field says his fa­ther told him he was glad to be cap­tured, know­ing his in­juries – in­clud­ing a frac­tured neck – would be treated and he would be given food.

He spent two months in the hospi­tal, the doc­tor telling him he was very lucky to have sur­vived. The pi­lot who shot his plane down went to visit him, but Hat­field re­fused to see him. The younger Hat­field says his fa­ther told him he al­ways re­gret­ted that de­ci­sion, hav­ing come to re­al­ize the German air­man was only do­ing his job that night when Hat­field’s plane was shot down.

“’He was just do­ing what I would have done,’” the younger Hat­field said, re­call­ing his fa­ther’s sen­ti­ment.

Hat­field was in­ter­ro­gated for 13 straight days by a German of­fi­cer, and, de­spite un­cer­tainty about what might hap­pen to him, he only of­fered the ba­sic in­for­ma­tion a pris­oner of war was re­quired to give. In an in­ter­view with Don Poth­ier, who wrote a book about the his­tory of Tus­ket, Hat­field re­called that at the end of the last day of in­ter­ro­ga­tion, the German of­fi­cer shook his hand and told him he was a fine soldier.

Hat­field also spoke to Poth­ier about the first pris­oner-of-war camp where he stayed, Sta­lag Luft 3, say­ing it was huge. “It seemed like as far as you could see there were pris­on­ers,” Hat­field told Poth­ier. “It was dif­fi­cult to be­lieve there could be enough sol­diers left out there to fight the war.”

The younger Hat­field re­calls his fa­ther telling him they were treated fairly well in the camp. The food could have been bet­ter and more plen­ti­ful, he said, but the pris­on­ers ate as well as their German guards and, thanks to Red Cross parcels, some­times bet­ter. Hat­field spent al­most a year in this camp (the fo­cus of the 1963 movie The Great Es­cape). Where this camp was lo­cated is now part of Poland. Hat­field was then moved to an­other camp in what is now Lithua­nia.

Hat­field had worked for the Royal Bank prior to the war and, once he re­turned home, he had a chance to re­turn to the bank, but he chose not to. In­stead, with his broth­ers Garth and Paul, he started a whole­sale busi­ness in to­bacco and con­fec­tionery called Gate­way Job­bers.

Re­fer­ring to his trip over­seas ear­lier this fall, the younger Hat­field said it was some­thing he had thought of do­ing for a number of years.

“I was over in Eng­land in 2008 and I vis­ited the air­bases over there where my fa­ther flew out of and where Jack flew out of,” he said. “I had worked it out by 2009, 2010, where I was go­ing to go and how I was go­ing to get there, but it just seemed like a very daunt­ing task at the time, so I kept putting it off, but I knew some time I would go, and I thought, well, if I don’t go now, I’m never go­ing to go.”

Hat­field was re­flect­ing on his trip just a few days af­ter the sea­son of remembrance had be­gun and the lo­cal poppy cam­paign was un­der­way. In recent years, since the death of his fa­ther, he said his Remembrance Day rou­tine has changed.

“I don’t go to the cer­e­monies,” he said. “I used to with Dad, but what I do (now) is I go to Dad’s grave in Tus­ket. I go there about a quar­ter to 11 and I stay un­til about 10 af­ter 11. Just by my­self ... just think about ev­ery­thing.”


Tracy Hat­field, a Tus­ket na­tive, in a mil­i­tary photo. His air­craft was shot down dur­ing the “thou­sand-plane raid” on Cologne in 1942.


Jack Hat­field was the first Nova Sco­tian and third Cana­dian to be killed in aerial com­bat dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. He was shot down in 1940.

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