Dear Friends: After five years and more than 100 wartime stories, this will be my FINAL Wartime Wednesdays blog post.
But since I’m so eager to stay in touch with all you lovely people, I have an entirely new blog titled Letters From Windermere.
My monthly letter will be just that — a chatty update across the digital back fence, sent from my home overlooking Lake Windermere, telling you about my writing inspiration, my travels, my hobbies, and my love of all things vintage.
If you are already a subscriber, watch for my letter in your email inbox. If you want to subscribe, sign up using the Subscribe button on this page.
To close off this very important chapter in my writing life, I want to leave you with a collection of stories which I consider to be the very BEST of Wartime Wednesdays.
A Brief History of Wartime Wednesdays
When I started this blog back in October 2013, with a description of the wartime airfield turned into the farm where I was raised (click here to read: Growing Up With Air Force Ghosts), I wanted to share some of the interviews I did with veterans when researching my wartime novel Bird’s Eye View.
After the novel was published in 2014, the blog took on a life of its own, as I continued to interview veterans and tell fascinating stories about Canadians in wartime. In the past five years, I have heard from historians and researchers around the world, and many of my stories have been published in newsletters, magazines, and books.
Although I know there are still thousands of living Canadian veterans and probably millions of stories that have never been told, I must step back now to focus my energy on other things.
All my Wartime Wednesdays stories will remain on this website, indexed by subject and title. I encourage you to read, re-read, or share with your friends, any of these stories.
This website has received close to one-half million visitors. My automatic counter tells me which stories gathered the most online interest — and here are the top five!
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FIVE MOST POPULAR POSTS
1. My Favourite Wartime Tunes
By far the most popular blog post, garnering tens of thousands of visits, has been this one: Wartime Music.
I didn’t research anything — I just prepared a list of my top ten favourites. Apparently a lot of people agree with my choices! In the same vein, people also visited my blog posts on Wartime TV Shows, Wartime Movies, and Wartime Fiction.
2. The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin
This true story written by Marc Stevens of Toronto about his father Peter Stevens was a huge hit. It’s an incredible story about a young German who escaped from the Nazis, falsified his name, and joined the Royal Air Force. You can’t make this stuff up! Marc has written an entire book about his father’s exploits if you want to know more. Read all about it here: The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin.
3. The Last Canadian Dambuster
The Dambusters raid was a daring feat that saw a crack team of Allied flyers penetrate enemy defences and drop specially designed “bouncing bombs” on three German dams. Today, only two of them are still living — Johnny Johnson in England, and Fred Sutherland, who resides in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. Since this is the 75th anniversary of the raid, thousands of people visited my story about Fred Sutherland to learn more about this heroic raid. For a first-hand account, click here: The Last Canadian Dambuster.
4. Merle Taylor: Maven of Morse Code
A lot of people in the world are still interested in Morse Code, a special form of communication that is no longer used. But Merle Taylor, who lives on a farm at Lochaber, Nova Scotia, taught Morse Code during the war and still practises every day. Merle embodies the qualities I have found in other female veterans: she is keenly intelligent, intensely patriotic, and full of beans. Her story has been visited thousands of times. To read it, click here: Merle Taylor.
5. Queen Mum Boosted Wartime Morale
The woman who most of us remember as a sweet old lady in a flowered hat was termed “the most dangerous woman in Europe” by Hitler himself! During the war, she epitomized British backbone as she boosted public morale, refusing to leave her husband’s side and take refuge in Canada. One can see where the current Queen Elizabeth learned her sense of duty — from her very own mother. To read about her, click here: Queen Mum.
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FIVE PERSONAL FAVOURITES
ALL the personal interviews I did with veterans, of course, are at the top of my list! But there are a few original stories that I am especially proud of, because they are so important, and so little known by the general public.
1. The Bombing of Berlin
My mother-in-law Gerda Drews was eleven years old when war began, and her family suffered terribly as their home city was bombed night after night. We are all familiar with the Blitz, when German bombers attacked cities in England, but German civilians endured the same, and often much worse, on the other side of the conflict. Now 91, Gerda still lives in Berlin and she reluctantly allowed me to interview her. Read about her wartime experiences here: The Bombing of Berlin, and what happened to her after the Russians arrived: The Battle of Berlin.
2. Hank Herzberg, Ritchie Boy
Few people know about this group of men called “Ritchie Boys” — German Jews who escaped the Nazis and fled to America, where they joined the U.S. Army before returning to Europe to interrogate German POWs. Hank Herzberg of Chicago, who lost his entire family in the death camps, passed away in 2017, but I was honoured to talk to him by telephone and read his memoirs before he died. To read his incredible story, click: Hank Herzberg.
3. The Woman With the X-Ray Eyes
Studying aerial photos to detect bomb targets was a fascinating aspect of intelligence work, and I researched the topic thoroughly when writing my novel, Bird’s Eye View. I described their amazing discoveries in two blog posts. The second is about one of the female interpreters, Constance Babington Smith, who discovered the first jet-powered weapon in history on an aerial photo: The Woman With the X-Ray Eyes.
The second is about where she did it, the gorgeous mansion, now a hotel called Danesfield House, which was the headquarters for photo interpretation: RAF Medmenham: Where the Magic Happened.
4. The Fighting Ballendines
During both world wars, thousands of indigenous men joined the armed forces and fought shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other Canadian servicemen. On their return home, they were never properly recognized for the sacrifices they made for our country. So it means a great deal to me personally to tell the story of one Métis family from Battleford, Saskatchewan, who sent EIGHT sons to war. To read their story, click here: The Fighting Ballendines. Furthermore, Ben’s little son that remained in England after the war grew up to be another fighting Ballendine, as did his son Ian! To read the follow, click here: Four Generations Strong.
5. Painting Dedicated to RCAF Pilot
The government hushed it up during the war — so most civilians to this day are unaware of how many young men were accidentally killed when training as flyers with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. About 2,000 young men from all Commonwealth countries never lived to make it overseas. Their bodies still lie in Canadian soil, including that of my own uncle Alan Light, who was flying the aircraft shown in this painting when he met his untimely death at the age of 20. To read his story, click here: Alan Light.
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STAR WEEKLY AT WAR
Over the years I have posted many of these charming covers published by the Toronto Star Weekly magazine. It’s only fitting to leave you with this final cover, showing a sailor arriving home for Christmas in December 1944. To see my complete collection of covers, click here: Star Weekly At War.
Dear friends, I hope you enjoy the very merriest Christmas and the happiest holiday season!
Please watch for your first edition of Letters From Windermere in January 2019, when we begin our journey together into the new year. All the best, Elinor