Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Observations #5
 the Padre looks back   Part 3

               After leaving home I had some turbulent years on my way to becoming a priest. I first went to Assumption College High school, then to Assumption College, then to Western University and with effort got a BA in 1928- after St Peter's Seminary in London. During those years as well as learning Church Doctrine, I discovered Shakespeare and with difficulty learned Latin. Both I think are essential for clergy and non clergy alike. I also seemed to be prone to taking risks. My swimming the Detroit river on a dare didn't seem like a big deal to me then because for some reason I found swimming to be an effortless way to travel. That did however get me into trouble with my superiors and I came to realize that my big ego had to be held in check.
      I was ordained on May 21 1932.What seemed a shocker and  unfortunate to some but what I saw as a privilege was the fact that my first funeral service as a priest was for my mother who died on Dec 8 1932- the Church's Feast Day of The Immaculate Conception.
           During the years of schooling, thanks to my father, I paid no tuition but  eventually sent my last account of $500.00 from England during the war.  From 1932 until 1939 I was at Holy name Church in Windsor and St Alphonsus Church, teaching Catholic and Non-Catholic youth Baseball and football and Hockey .
      In the summer of 1939 I saw my father and he spoke of the inevitability of war. I was too busy to pay much attention but suddenly it was September 10 and Canada had declared war on Germany. There was a kind of war fever and almost an excitement in the air. Hundreds of young men who never heard of the Treaty of Versailles (my father's explanation for the war),were signing up to fight.
      Dozens of men whom I knew as youngsters, now young men, or older teenagers, Catholic and Non-Catholic were eager to volunteer. Even if their signing up was partly due to poor job prospects and a desire for adventure, they understood that fellow Hitler had to be stopped..
         Many of those men- not just Catholics, from Windsor and the area joined the Essex Scottish Regiment. I had met so many of these men and knew their strengths and weaknesses, that I began to wonder -will the military give them the sort of support they need to deal with what was coming up?. I don't mean just spiritual support. It became clear in the years to follow that  battle fatigue or shell shock was something the military knew very little about.
          I fretted about volunteering and found myself wondering what my father would think. Purely by chance I ran into my brother Walter in the Windsor Detroit Tunnel. Walter, 4 years older than me, was also a lot more 'worldly'. After listening to me he said testily: "live your own Life Mike". I have to 'confess' that like the younger lads, a lot of my own  motivation was to join in the adventure. I had no idea what it would be like and in spite of thinking that I, with almost 20 years on the youngest of the men, had more insight into the affairs of war, I was wrong.
             I came to see how war changes a man. I saw the results of evil up close, I saw good men die, good men ruined, men lose their faith, their will to live -lose all chance for peace of mind during and after the war.
Perhaps that is what kept me in a perpetual state of high energy, striving to see humour in any and all experiences I had. For 6 1/2 years I never even caught a cold.
                 Perhaps if I had given into the despair that I felt almost daily, I never could have kept going. As my nephew noted in his note of gratitude to an old Mentor Carl Schaffer (who was also a war Artist) 'work', or as some would say, 'participation' or 'striving' provides salvation. With that I would also add David Alexander's observation that 'faith' is essential. Like countless others I have said 'War is Hell'. With it's soul destroying effect and it's assault on the human heart and mind during and after war, I have to add that it is literally Hell  here on  the Good Earth.
              I got my Uniform and  in the case of another 'first',  the first funeral I conducted in that uniform was this time for my Father who died the day after Christmas 1939.
                It was 9 days before Canada officially declared war that I wrote to the Bishop Kidd: "If you are called upon to furnish Chaplains for the service, I shall be ready".
           That winter was spent at the Windsor Barracks of the Essex Scottish Regiment.I conducted the usual church services and heard confessions. It was around then that I began to feel that father Mac, my confessor of 1913 was looking over my shoulder.
        On May 25 I moved with the Regiment to Camp Borden and on June 1 1940 I was officially appointed as the Chaplain of the 4 th  Infantry Brigade, including the Essex Scottish, the Royal regiment of Canada and the Hamilton Light Infantry. During those months I was as involved with the training as were the men. Those above me in rank tolerated my failure to adhere to the arbitrary rules of the Military. They knew I respected the need for strict discipline but they also knew the men liked me because I was not a 'Yes man' and in training I could out-run and out-shoot most of the lads.
                  On July 16 1940 we embarked in broad daylight on the Empress of Australia (the ship that                            brought the King and Queen of England to Canada in 1939)
 The following is a direct quote from Index E of my War Diary
"Enroute" (on the Atlantic)
               " There was an air of anticipation. Something exciting and dangerous was about to take place in their lives. These young men had strange new feelings coursing through their veins. One moment they were busy with longing thoughts of home, already it was-of Canada. The next moment the feeling changed to anticipatory tingling, an anxiousness to get moving. This is Life,this is adventure, this is life-or death.. To be apart of the big adventure was enough to make many an eye wander over the horizon dreaming as many thoughts as there were young men. The new Army Chaplain's thoughts were not too far off from the rest of his lads. His thoughts too were more of the adventure than of the War peril"...
             " Even the married soldiers, although more lonesome, bravely recorded glowing words of optimism (in their letters home ) that their arrival would end war, as 2nd Canadian Division was the only fully equipped Division that could travel on wheels in England. England had more soldiers but their equipment was at Dunkirk, France"
                                We docked at Clyde Glasgow on July 31 1940    
                I spent the first years with my Regiment the Essex Scottish, in England and the Isle of Wight. Until Dieppe on August 18 1942 we were mostly involved in training and watching the seashore to the east and helping out in war torn London. Because of the mauling we took at Dieppe we didn't make the 26 mile trip on D-day June 6 1944; we landed on the beach of Normandy on July 7 1944.
        I spent the rest of the War -until May 7 1945- VE Day (Victory in Europe) in France, Belgium, Holland and the Border of Germany.

        My nephew regrets that I didn't start my War Diary until Mar 1 1942 .But I did write a supplement to the Diary in 1976 when I returned to Europe. He may get something from that. I know he is one of the few who read my original Diary -the little black book, and has read and re-read the final copy.
        This should be enough to set the stage. I know my nephew has ideas coming out his ears and all he has to do now is select the best ones. He spent a life-changing summer as a Cadet at army camp Ipperwash, so he has somewhat of a sense of what being in a group of young warriors is like. He also toyed with the idea of  joining the Military during his second year at Art College when he attended the Militia training weekly during that winter at Moss Park Armories in Toronto. He admits if he hadn't received a paycheck for that he probably would not have attended. I also know he realizes in his words that he hasn't a clue about what it feels like to be under fire or to wake up and find your helmet has holes in it.
                 I know his will not be a work of historical fiction. He will base his work solely on the contents of the diary, and I readily admit there were aspects to war that I saw only from a distance. He just recently got proof that I was NOT awarded the Military Cross as has been reported. I'm grateful that he corrected that error and I'm looking forward to his so-called graphic novel. I think his work will not have the tone of a clergy man (as does my diary) but I hope he includes some of my observations about the role of a belief  in the sanctity of somethings like freedom, compassion, love and the now old fashioned words: Faith Hope and Charity. I also expect that as he searches for information in my diary he does not overlook the humour I noted and found essential to what peace of mind I could maintain... humour and music...them's the keys!
with a little prayer thrown in to keep up appearances.
             . I have to accept that my nephew  has not carried on in  the family religion, but as during war when I saw people of all creeds working towards one end, I can't fault him for that. He has great empathy for those who have suffered at the hands of the clergy and I am just grateful he doesn't number me among them.  Their day of judgement will come.
              This will likely be the last blog entry for sometime.  I hope it has provided a chance to see the big picture of my war experience. I was no hero. I was often weak and my relatives and those who knew me were kind in their acceptance of me with all my flaws. The coming tale will not be 'about me'. It will relate what was seen by me, but I consider my faith and my good luck to have been responsible for my being able to witness the horrors of war and to be able to continue.  Like many I never fully got over the stress of the  war and I'm glad my nephew understands the nature of what is now called Post Traumatic Stress. I was just  lucky to have remained healthy and privileged to work with those who gave their lives. Because of their sacrifice you are free to read this and  I-  I was able to live for 106 years 11 months and one day.
         Stress in the Military is just as big a problem now as it was in my time and although he won't make this
an essay on  that topic, perhaps some of the content of his work will help my Nephew to draw attention to
 the problem. My nephew hesitates to write anything in my name but he knows from experience that at this point  I would  wish the Blessings of whatever Divinity you chose upon you.
                       Major Mike -resting in peace
                       May you live in peace.

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