United at War | Canada: The Story of Us, Full Episode 8
World War Two, a war even more terrible than the last, demands courage, commitment and ingenuity. Canada will meet this challenge head on, giving everything we have, at home and abroad. Canadians come together, working, and fighting, for a common cause. United — at war.
There are photos that want to speak to us…
This is one of them.
Text from a reader of Souvenirs de guerre that I have translated.
This text was written most spontaneously on 13 and 14 August 2021, following a historical reminder heard on the morning radio.
Fifteen years after the Second World War, on the night of 12 to 13 August 1961, 15,000 armed soldiers of the German Democratic Republic surrounded the part of the Berlin capital which, at the Yalta Conference, had been allocated to the Western countries (USA, UK and France). On the morning of that day, on both sides of the dividing line between “East and West”, Berliners heard on their morning radio that the border between the two administrative and political territories had been definitively closed. More than anywhere else in the world, this was a brutal shock and the pain of it lasted until November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell.
Let me tell you why this historical event has a special significance for me.
On my sixteenth birthday, October 7, 1972, out of respect for his word as well as prudence, my father had the idea of placing a small transparent plastic box on the kitchen table as a gift without any wrapping or ribbon. I knew it, although I had never explored it. Inadvertently, a few years earlier I had found it one day in a ‘private’ drawer in the house, and my mother had simply told me that it consisted of photos from his time ‘in Europe’. My father referred to his years away from Montreal, from 1940 to 1945, as “Europe”. When he came home from work and I told him of my discovery of this treasure, he simply said that when I was old enough to understand certain things, we would look at the contents together. You can imagine how happy I was that the day in question had finally come!
As soon as the lid was lifted and the first photo was taken out, my questions followed one after the others awkwardly. “When was this? How old were you? Who was that next to you? Where was it?” and so on and so on…
As my questions were repeated according to my pressing need to know things, he appeared to me, with each successive question, as more and more emotional with his answers. Today I understand that these answers were having this effect on him. Fortunately, in order to pull himself together, he almost always had the way, the words, the explanation by which everything fell into place.
Among the photos that motivated my questions was this one:
He told me it was taken in Berlin at the Reichstag. As part of the Canadian troop that was there immediately after the war, his detachment had been ordered to face the Russians in the area shown. And most importantly, that if the Russians advanced towards the building without permission, they were to fire…
The commander had told them that if the war against the Germans was really over, they might have to take away the idea of the Communists taking over the whole city, and that things could very well start in the destroyed Berlin Parliament. And finally, that some of the Allied generals like Patton and others would like to continue the war to “drive them home”.
I felt my father in a strange state, a mixture of sadness and combativeness, and putting everything back in the box, he announced: “And the rest is for another time. Let’s go and eat at the restaurant, it’s past six o’clock.
Of course, there were still a few occasions to discuss this time over the following years. But he never spoke to me again about that particular photo.
When he passed away ten years later, I got it into my head one day to find out more about his wartime journey and, of course, the day came to dig deeper into this photo. With my wife as my accomplice, I found myself in Germany in 2016. And there, from the very first day we were there, I had confirmation that the photo had indeed been taken at a specific location at the Berlin Reichstag. So our investigative efforts had a first concrete result. A first one, because we were really not at the end of our surprises.
For several days afterwards, we travelled around Berlin and a few more victories, which, I’m sorry to say, are not “the topic of the day”, followed. Back home and since then the search goes on. Some time passed and another amazing fact came to us about the 1945 photograph. My father’s photo shows the exact spot where, from above, the most famous photo of the Reichstag was taken in May 1945 (to be really precise, I should say the succession of photos taken between May 1 and May 4). In other words, exactly in line with each other.
A stone statue, a carcass of a tramway, debris on the ground, bell towers, etc.
But that’s not all, because since then, information has been released to the media that gives historians a hypothesis to consider.
Firstly, more or less two years ago, the precise location where the Russians had installed their radio base for communication with Moscow during and after the Battle of Berlin, which they won, was revealed. A place, hitherto kept secret by the Kremlin, from which all military information was sent to Moscow and all orders from Moscow to Berlin were received. In a word, where the Russian radio transmission centre was. This is the same one that historians have shown on the photo dated 2 May, which shows debris in its entrance, a shot in which two Russian tanks can be seen placed around it so that they can crossfire towards the street corner next to it (the one on the left closing off access to the street and the one on the right pointing towards the military lorry that is close to it…
And then, a few months ago, it was announced that since the very beginning of May 1945, the British had been so well aware of the existence of the Russian communication point in question that, under the noses of the Soviets, they had set up a secret listening centre with the most sophisticated equipment of the time in a part of the Reichstag, directly opposite it. This too remained secret until then.
A place, if ever there was one, for the Allies, who certainly had to be protected from discovery by the Russians. And that, no doubt, regardless of the way in which it was achieved…
So, more than 75 years later, not only is there probably still a lot to discover about this war that disfigured Europe and devastated the whole of humanity, but it is up to each and every one of us, modest strangers, and without title for the most part, to participate in it to the extent of what we possess as a trace of this past.
Thank you for reading!
And see you next time, perhaps here, for the pleasure of reading you?
There are photos that want to speak to us…
This is one of them.
To be continued…
November 11 – R220222’s Final Mission – Epilogue
Last time I wrote about Jean-Paul Corbeil’s final mission. He had survived 40 operations flown over Europe from May to September 1944.
Well I was wrong. He flew his last operation on August 16.
In 2015 he had an idea.
This is the English version of the letter he wrote in March 2015.
The letter was in an enveloppe with another enveloppe with a special card inside. On one side of the card there was the cover of his log book and a photo of his crew taken in May 1944. On the other side there was an image of a page taken from his log book where we can see his two operations on D-Day.
86 letters and cards were sent in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day 2015. Some were sent in Canada, some in England, some in the United States, some in Belgium, some in France.
Later, he asked me to write again to these people and to add this to the blog…
My last mission
As Remembrance Day approaches, let us remember the 42,000 young Canadians, including some 19,000 airmen, who gave their lives in the defence of freedom during the Second World War. I would like to share with you my last letter that accompanied the reproduction of a page from my logbook, along with a photo of our crew, and ask that you keep these authentic documents for posterity.
I want to suggest that you give copies of this mission card, as well as the envelope with a postage stamp created especially for this project, to people of your choice who will be able to pass it on from generation to generation.
Also, you may freely distribute copies of everything you have received to people who would be interested in promoting the duty to remember in their entourage. The next time I contact you by email, I will tell you where and when the idea for this project came to me and what happened next.
What about this project? One hundred original cards, accompanied by a letter explaining my last mission, were sent around the world to people who had expressed an interest in honouring the memory of Alouette Squadron and promoting peace. Several people wrote to me and told me to whom they would eventually send the card, letter and stamped envelope specially for this project.
On behalf of myself and all the Alouettes, we wish you and your family a serene and long lasting peace.
Jean-Paul Corbeil, Canadian veteran
Jean-Paul Corbeil died on October 3rd, 2018 and the final mission has been dormant since. That was until I found the grandson of Lloyd Lafoy who flew one operation with Jean-Paul Corbeil in 1944.
Lloyd Lafoy was known as Lucky Red. Red because of his hair colour and Lucky because he always came back from his operations.
Lucky Red was also an air gunner. When he flew with Jacques Terroux’s crew he was manning the mid-under turret and Jean-Paul Corbeil was the mid-upper gunner. In my numerous meetings with Mr. Corbeil we never spoke about Lucky Red because I did not know they were both on the same operation.
Since my last contact with Che Lafoy who received a card, I have started to find people who would understand Mr. Corbeil’s final mission on Earth.
All of the remaining cards have been sent. Each recipient shares something with R220222.
One recipient is the grandson of Wing Commander William Gerald Phelan. His grandfather signed one of R220222’s log pages. He had checked his August 1944 entries for errors or omissions.
Something was not by the book. Day operations had to be in black and night operations in red. R220222 had to enter all the information the right way.
Squadron Leader Phelan approved his log book.
I am sure R220222 was not reprimanded for it, but he remembered it when he told me about what would happen if a Squadron Leader would find something wrong in an airman’s log book…
Don’t give me no bullshit…
Message from a reader
I am the oldest son of Wallace Edgar Seymour. He was a Chief Petty Officer Telegrapher aboard the RCN Destroyer Escort Athabaskan, on convoy patrol in the North Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War.
Fondly known as “Leggy”, I am told because of his height. My father was on leave when the Athabaskan was torpedoed by the Germans in the English Channel.
Lucky for me, as I was born in March, 1942. If you, or your readers have any anecdotes, or stories about my father, his children would be very grateful.
William Wallace Seymour
You can leave a comment to contribute.
My friend Jim Christie is sharing this link.