SIX WAR YEARS

How we laughed and cried, loved and languished, lived and died from 1939 to 1945

BARRY BROADFOOT October 1 1974

SIX WAR YEARS

How we laughed and cried, loved and languished, lived and died from 1939 to 1945

BARRY BROADFOOT October 1 1974

SIX WAR YEARS

How we laughed and cried, loved and languished, lived and died from 1939 to 1945

BARRY BROADFOOT

Too often war — in this case, World War II — is described only in terms of the great sweep of events. You look at the campaigns and the statistics, the tactical turning points and the politics involved, and from this you are expected to understand war. To me. though, and to a lot of other Canadians I’ve talked with, war is all about people: the soldier in Italy wondering how spring was coming in back home in Alberta, the housewife in Moncton hoping the grocer would put some Jell-0 out on the shelves so her family might have a rare treat, the 12-year-old girl in Winnipeg knitting socks for the Red Cross, the air cadets beating tin cans flat and bundling them up for the war drive.

If you want to discover more about the conferences at Yalta or the Russian demand for a Second Front in France, go to the books written by the generals and the historians.

That is their story of the war; this is not. This is the story as written by the everyday Canadian people who lived through it. It’s the story of Canadians at home and abroad, people who cared dearly about the war’s progress, but who found that even the most momentous events took on a kind of normalcy as the early months of the war faded into the later years. War back home certainly meant worry for loved ones in action, yet it also meant worry about whether there’d be enough gasoline to get the car up to the cottage on the weekend for spring opening.

Now I know that war is grim — I was, after all, a poor bloody infantryman in World War II. But this is not an unrelievedly grim look at those years. In many ways it’s an exuberant one. For many Canadians looking back from the Seventies. the war was the most exciting time of their lives. I met one man who told me. “It was a good war.” I met several who said, “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

In chronicling those years I used exactly the same method I adopted in Ten Tost Years, 1929-39, Memories Of Canadians

Who Survived The Depression. I simply traveled around the country for a year with a notebook and a tape recorder, asking men and women one question only: “What did you do in the war?” I recorded their answers but I didn’t take their names, for the singular reason that the answers came from the ordinary. anonymous people you pass on the street every day. I

wanted them to stay that way. Their w'ords tell a story that never came out in the wartime papers or over, the radios we gathered around each evening for the latest new's. Their stories weren't new-s. Instead, they are the accounts of goodhearted people in west Edmonton who grew more vegetables in their Victory Gardens than they could use; Aunt Bessie. who finally gave in and against her better judgment agreed to knit troop socks with Kitchener Toes; the soldier who came home from years in a Japanese prison camp and couldn't remember what his wife looked like.

Most of the stories that follow are from Six War Years: 1939-45 (being published this month by Doubleday), an account of the other side of the Canadian war effort that by May, 1945. had assembled and outfitted an army of more than 700.000 and an air force of almost 250,000. Altogether some 1.086,700 men and women served; that’s one out of every 10 Canadians. Another one out of every 10 worked in w'ar plants back home, wdiile others, farmers for example, fought in their own way (in 1942 alone, Canada shipped 90 million bushels of wheat to Britain).

What follows, then, is the authentic voice of the war generation. The triumphs and tragedies, the goof-ups and glories, the laughter and sadness as they were lived during the years 1939-45. It is an account told in the words of the people themselves, and says how things were and how they were accomplished. how they worked and how the people who did them felt about it. An exercise in human actuality.