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This blog is based on the World War II journal of William Henry Smith, a Private in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.  Willy’s journal relates a fascinating and compelling story that has all of the elements of a classic literary piece relating how the horrors of the war cause the rapid maturation of a boy from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – all told in simple, straightforward, evocative, first-person prose.  

The postings are a word-for-word copy of his hand-written journal which covers the period from July 21, 1941 to July 7, 1944.  During this period Willy (as you will see he comes to be known), wrote 80 entries into his journal.  Also in the journal were some scraps of what must have been important items to Willy together with some pictures that were all loosely placed in the pages of the journal.  I have added scans of these photos and other items and fit them into the journal narrative where I thought would be appropriate.    In addition, at the bottom of the footnotes, you will find information about a video partially based on Willy’s  journal which was prepared by some students in Vancouver for their Remembrance Day ceremonies.

I came into possession of the journal when my mother was moving out of the house she and my father lived in for many years.  It was in amongst the war mementoes that my father had collected over the years.  My father, who passed away in July of 2008, was also a “North Novie” and subsequently became involved in the North Nova Memory Club.  He was President of the Ontario chapter of that club for many years and we believe it was in that capacity that he came into possession of the journal – from whom and under what circumstances I have not been able to find out at this point.  

As part of my journey through the journal, I pursued information  via the internet about various people, places and events mentioned by Willy.  I have added some external references where I thought they revealed something interesting.  Everything that I have added is in italics – everything else in the blog is verbatim from the journal (including a few grammatical and spelling errors). 

I still continue to pursue some of Willy’s references and will add anything I find out about them from time to time to the blog.  Frustratingly, in all of my on-line research, through both primary and secondary sources, I have not been able to find out anything more about Willy.  I will continue to pursue that path as well and will keep you updated on my progress, if any.    Many of his entries evoked very emotional reactions on my part. 

In the end, the fascination for me in Willy’s journal is how he diarizes his feelings, thoughts and observations on such a very personal, human level but in the light of history his entries resonate today on a much grander scale.   I hope you enjoy reading it and feel free to add your comments.

Michael (michaelwwii@gmail.com)

 

Pvte William Henry Smith

A Company

The journal beside a quarter.

First page – Willy’s name is very faint but discernible (upper right).

Willy’s writing is all in pencil but surprisingly still very legible.

 Click on images to enlarge

July 21st, 19411

The journey starts here.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to record everything about it but I’ll try.  My mother made me promise that I write in this journal as often as possible.  She believes that writing your thoughts in journals keeps you sane.  So I promised her, to comfort her.  I’ve left home.  We left today at noon from Halifax.  It was difficult seeing the coast slowly shrink as we left.  I hope this trip won’t be too long, I don’t want to get sea sick.

July 23rd, 1941

I’ve been playing cards with Rodney ever since we left.  The boat is gigantic.  There must be thousands of men on board.  There’s a swimming pool (the water is freezing!), movies, bingo and really neat things.  The ship is called the Orion2.  There’s a battleship that’s escorting us across the Atlantic in case Germans attack us.  I can’t wait to get there, it’s only been two days since we’ve left and it seems I’ve been on the ship a week!

 

July 26th, 1941

Last night, some kid, I’d say about nineteen, was crying in his bunk.  Everyone was asleep and didn’t seem to hear him.  I couldn’t help but hear him.  I was wide awake, those bed are really uncomfortable.  He must have missed home and his mother.  He’s not the only one.  We all miss home but we don’t cry about it.  We’ll see home again, someday.

July 29th, 1941

Finally!  After eight days we’ve arrived safely in the Bristol Channel!  Absolutely no threats from the Germans on our way over!  We’ll be docking soon enough at a place called Avonmouth.  My first time on European soil!

                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                         Gambling Debt? What might the math be about?

July 31st, 1941

We took a train today which brought us to Aldershot3 where we’ll be staying for a while at the Albuhera barracks4.  They gave us our leaves almost as soon as we got here.  Lots of guys seem to be going to Scotland.  Me and Rodney haven’t decided yet.

August 5th, 1941

Slowly getting used to England.  It’s a little different from home but not too much.  I’ve had the chance to see new places over the last few weeks.  England is alright.  I’ve met some new people.  Oddly enough, I’ve gotten to know things about Rodney that I never knew before!  Imagine, after being friends for 21 years, since I was born, I still don’t know everything about Rodney!  Rodney can drink five beers and still act sober.  We sneaked in after curfew last night and a major came to talk to us.  I could hardly stand while Rodney chatted away as if he had never drunk five beers.  If he hadn’t been there, I would have had my leave revoked for God knows how long.  What could I do without old Rodney?

August 15th, 1941

Nothing much going on yet.  I’ve been meeting lots of new guys.  Some are practically my neighbours, if you can believe that.  I went to school with some of them.  Some of them are jerks but I get along with most of them. There’s this one guy called Grant Howard.  He has to be the funniest guy I have ever met.  He just keeps telling us these great stories from back home and old girlfriends and we can laugh at them non stop for 15 minutes.  My stomach and my face hurt so much because of that.

August 28th, 1941

Sorry I haven’t been writing that much.  I keep forgetting about the journal.  It’s hard to keep track of it when you’re not used to writing in it every day.  Nothing new really.

Sept. 9th, 1941

The king and Queen came to visit Aldershot today.  I only saw them walk by me but they actually talked to Rodney and asked him where he was from.  He said they were really nice.

Oct. 10th, 1941

I know.  I have to write more.  Training should start soon.  Some of the guys have been leaving a lot lately.  They’ve met some girls that they liked.  I don’t think it’s such a good idea.  The girls are getting attached to them but half of these guys are using them like paper towels.  This one guy said he’s been out with at least 25 girls in about 2 months, that’s almost impossible5.

                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                    Undated Aldershot picture placed loose in the journal
                                                                                                                           Back of Aldershot Picture
                                                                                                                                                 Back of Aldershot Picture

 

Oct 21st, 1941

Col. Ralston6 came and reviewed us today.  He’s the Minister of National Defence.  One of the guys, Tom got to talk a while with him.  He said he was a nice guy.

  4 games of noughts and crosses on a page of the journal – all games were tied

Oct 27th, 1941

Training began today at Broxhead Common.  We’ve got the guys from the 11th Canadian tank battalion7 training with us too.  Nice guys.  Nothing real tough at training.  I’m not completely exhausted.

Oct 29th, 1941

We’ve moved to the Chichester area.  It’s in the south of England, so I’m told.  I wish I had a map!  Don’t know exactly why we’re here.  Rodney says it’s because they want us to stop any kind of Germans trying to land on the coast (we’re near the channel, by the way).  We’ve replaced the London Irish and London Scottish Regiment.

Oct 31st, 1941

It’s Halloween.  I’d promised my little sister, Maureen, I’d bring her trick or treating this year.  Last year, I hadn’t gone with her.  Instead I had gone to a dance that turned out to be terrible.  I can’t believe I missed that, I felt so guilty afterwards.  Now I don’t even know when will be the next time I go trick or treating with her let alone the next time I see her.

Nov 5th, 1941

Nothing new today.  I’m not too happy, there’s been a lot of rumours circulating that there are a few German attacks coming our way soon.  I can’t even sleep at night.

Dec 10th 1941

Good news! On Christmas day, some companies are going to organize a party for some young British orphans.  Maybe one of the kids will remind me of my little sister Maureen.  If something can cheer me up right now, its children.

Dec. 15th, 1941

The good news just keeps coming!  I finally got a letter from home today.  I actually got a whole package.  There had been a mix up and my letters couldn’t be delivered to me.  So now I have 10 letters from mom and the whole family all dating between August up to now.

                                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                         Note stuck in the journal from Willy’s Mom

   

   

                                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                     Cover of folded note from Willy’s sister, Maureen

 

                                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                                               Inside of Maureen’s note

 

 

Dec 16th, 1941

Lots of things have happened at home!  First of all, Maureen has lost her 2 front teeth and the tooth fairy brought her 50 cents.  Mom says she was jumping with joy for days after.  Mom is doing great, so she says.  I know its been difficult for her since my father died 5 years ago.  He worked with trains and one day, by accident, he got hit by a train.  My mother went into a very big depression.  I guess she’s better now compared to 5 years ago.  Mom says my younger brother David, who is 17, really wants to join the army also.  I don’t want him to.  He’s still in school and he’s actually smart.  I don’t want him to waste his time.  I have to write back to them.

Dec. 30th, 1941

Been real busy for the past few weeks.  The holidays were great.  Like I mentioned before, on Christmas day we threw a party for these British kids who didn’t have any parents.  It just took a load off to see these kids.  They were all so happy when Santa came out.  Their faces reminded me of Maureen.  As for presents, we didn’t have lots of things but we had lots of candy.  Hope we do it again next year.

Jan 7th, 1942

Just came back from London with Rodney and Richard.  We spent a few days up there.  Richard met a girl up there a few weeks back and he wanted to introduce her.  She’s pretty, very nice.  I was able to have a home cooked meal instead of that disgusting sludge at the base.  But still, it wasn’t like Mom’s food.  One thing that really makes me sick is those potatoes.  I hate the way the people over here cook them, they’re so dry and tasteless.  I’m home sick.

Jan 10th, 1942

Feeling a bit better.  Rodney met a girl near London.  He’s pretty much always there now.  I’m stuck here alone.

Jan 17th, 1942

Two commanders have come to check out our regiment in just two days.

Jan 25th, 1942

Rodney’s not with his girl anymore.  She left him for an American.  I hear he’s much taller than ‘Rodney the shorty’.  Me and the guys can’t stop laughing at him.

Feb 7th, 1942

It’s been hectic around here lately.  First off, on Tuesday news came that the enemy was going to bomb us.  People were running around getting to their stations.  It turned out that it never happened, they bombed another area.  Now we’ve just finished 2 days of extensive training.  I guess for some guys the party’s over.  Time to get to work.

Feb 15th, 1942

We had our first march in a long time a few days ago.  It was nice seeing the whole unit marching to Chichester Cathedral.  There’s also been a change in commanders.  I think all the companies will have new commanders.  I better not get a jerk.

Another undated picture found loose in the journal.

Back of the band picture.

Feb 27th, 1942

General Montgomery came today.  Seemed like a nice guy.  We’re getting all these new commanders now.  My new commander is Major Rhodenizer8.  All the guys in the company hope he’s better than the other guy we had before.

 March 5th, 1942

It’s total chaos.  They’ve set an age limit and lots of our guys have had to leave because they were too young or something along those lines.  I’m not exactly sure.  Some of the guys are heartbroken.  Me and Rodney were lucky though.  They didn’t split us up.  I don’t know what would have happened to me if they would have.  That would have been terrible.

March 10th, 1942

Got a letter from my mom again.  She’s doing well, so is my sister and my brother.  She says that David’s getting great results at school, passing with flying colours.  I’m so happy for him.  At least someone in the family has a bright future.  I better never see his face over here.

March 13th 1942

Friday the 13th.  They always scare me, I’m a very superstitious person.  A lot of things happened on that day.  I broke my foot when I was 12.  I broke my hand when I was 14 and I almost got run over by a horse when I was 17.  Funny enough, its raining outside now.

March 14th, 1942

Another point to prove how evil Friday the 13th is.  Last night, a guy in my company Pte. Mitchell Holmes was coming back to the base and got run over accidentally by a Jeep.  He didn’t die but he’s in pretty bad shape.

April 1st, 1942

Learnt something new about England today, spring comes much faster than out in old Canada.  We’ve been moved to a beach at Selsey Bill.   We’re staying at West and East Wittering, Branscombe and Itchenor (really weird names!) close by the beach.  We got another warning last night for an air raid but they never came.  I hear there’s going to be quite a few exercises soon.  Won’t be writing often.

GARDING THE SUSSEX COAST From a watercolour by Major C. F. Comfort, 1943 The Gun is a 40-millimetre Bofors of the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.C.A., in position above West Beach, Selsey. In the background can be seen two types of obstacles intended to prevent the landing of tanks – concrete blocks and “tubular scaffolding”. Taken from http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/docs/CDN_ARMY_39-45_E.pdf

 

June 3rd, 1942

Wow, when I said I wouldn’t write often, I sure meant it almost 2 months all we’ve been doing is marching.  Even in my dreams, I feel like I’m marching places.  To catch up on things, we’ve moved to a camp near Seven Oaks which is west of a place called Horsham.  We’re living in tents.  For the next few days, I think I’m going to relax.  Me and Rodney will try going to London or something.  Training is starting to take up a big place in daily life.  We’re moving a lot too.  At least there’s more action now, it’ll be a little less boring.

June 23rd, 1942

Me and Rodney just got back from London we had a great time.  We went dancing and met lots of girls.  There was this really nice girl that I met.  Her name was Daphne*.  We chatted together for a while and I bought her a few drinks.  She’s a little shorter than I am and her hair is beautiful.  She wants me to come and see her again.

*There’s a ripped scrap of paper inserted in the journal here.  On one side it reads “Daphne” and on the other it reads “200 The Strand 20 73533511”.  It appears to be all in William’s handwriting.

June 30th, 1942

I went to see her again today.  We went walking in Hyde Park.  That place is beautiful.  The sun was shining and the flowers smelled great. She showed me around a bit, at least I know a lot more about London now (she’s really smart).  She’s going to school here and she lives in a big apartment with a few friends.  But she really lives 2 hours from the city.  She grew up there and her family still lives there.  On weekends she goes out to see them.

These real pressed flowers are stuck in the journal. No date to them but perhaps Willy picked them as a reminder of this date with Daphne.

July 3rd, 1942

Got a letter from mom today.  Everything’s fine.  Maureen and David are fine also.  I’m trying to get a pass to have the whole weekend off so I can spend it with Daphne in London.

July 9th, 1942

They granted my pass.  I’m going for the whole weekend to London.

July 14th, 1942

I love Daphne.  She’s the perfect girl.  This was the best weekend I have had for a while.  I just enjoyed myself so much.  We ate in restaurants, she introduced me to some of her friends, everything was perfect.  I hope I’ll get to see her soon.

 July 17th, 1942

I got a letter from Daphne saying that she wants me to come back the next weekend I have off so I can meet her family.  I’m terrified, what if her parents don’t like me?  I probably won’t be able to see her again.  I have to get ready for this.

July 23rd, 1942

I can go this weekend.  I’ve worked on a few stories I can tell her parents if they don’t like me.  Wish me luck.

July 28th, 1942

It went okay.  Daphne says her parents like me but I’m not so sure her father approved of me.  Her mother on the other hand was fantastic, a very nice lady who reminded me of mom.  She just kept filling my plate and kept offering me food.  Her father was a very serious fellow who smoked his pipe quietly.  He stared at me and asked me questions about Canadian politics from time to time.

August 20th, 1942

We’ve moved again to a camp near Horsham so I’m closer to London and Daphne.  Daphne is doing fine.  But things between us are dying down.  She’s really busy with school and we hardly see each other anymore.  The good thing is me and Rodney have been spending time together and went to London a few days ago for a night out.  He brought me to the best pub in town.  I can’t believe I hadn’t been there yet.  We had loads of fun.

Sept. 5th, 1942

I got a letter back from mom today.  I wrote to her about Daphne and she doesn’t seem very pleased.  She doesn’t want me to see her anymore because she wants me to marry a Canadian girl.  I didn’t know she felt that way.  She’s a thousand miles away so she won’t know if I’m seeing Daphne or not.  Thank the Lord for England.

Sept 15th, 1942

It’s over between me and Daphne.

 

 

Oct 11th, 1942

They’ve organized this competition between battalions and everyone is going bananas because they want to win.  I hear it’s sort of like an old tradition.  I think it’s kind of dumb.

Oct 16th, 1942

We’ve moved to a new camp again at Monks Common.

Oct 24th, 1942

Training, training and more training.

Another undated photo stuck loosely in the journal.

Back of tank picture

Nov 12th, 1942

We practiced landing on the Cowes beaches on the Isle of Wight this morning.  It was our first time.  They told us never to tell anyone about what we did, they want it to be a secret.  I’ll have no problem keeping it.

Nov 30th, 1942

Still training.  Tonight at the mess dinner they made us haggis.  They had bagpipe players, it was a traditional Scottish evening.  They did this for St. Andrew’s (it’s a special Scottish holiday).  The food was interesting.  I’m not used to eating this type of food but it was good.

Dec 18th, 1942

We’re constantly training on beaches on the Isle of Wight or near Norway.  I’m guessing that we’re going to be landing on enemy beaches.  This isn’t too comforting.  They checked our feet two days ago after marching over forty-five miles and climbing cliffs and later enemy planes tried to bomb our camp as you can see we are a busy bunch.

Dec 25th, 1942

Today was similar to last year’s Christmas.  We were able to meet a few orphans and evacuated kids from cities close by.  It was fun, but boy did the kids remind me of Maureen.  I feel even worse than I did last year.  I hate holidays, they make me so home sick.  Hopefully they’ll get us to start training again, at least that way I think less about the family.

Feb 28th, 1943

It has been too long since my last entry.  I can’t sit down and spend time writing anymore, I hardly have time.  We’ve been training constantly and marching.  It’s really hard, but I’m starting to enjoy all the marching.  I become very strong and I feel much more confident about myself.  I’ll try to write more often.

April 9th, 1943

We spent the month of March training.  It was a practice, we had fake wounded soldiers and fake enemies.  We’re still training a lot.  2 days ago they made us put up barb wire while they threw smoke bombs at us.

April 20th, 1943

Training, lectures about what to do if you get captured it’s the same old thing.  The family is doing fine.

May 4th, 1943

4 days ago, they brought us to Stratford-on-Avon to visit Shakespeare theatre, Warwick castle and I forget the other one.  It was really great and interesting.  Too bad David couldn’t see this, he just loves all that literature stuff.  I bought him a little bookmark and a Shakespeare biography at the gift shop.  I couldn’t find anything that mom or Maureen would enjoy.  Next time I’m in London I’ll get them something, I’ve got all the time in the world.  War seems far from over.

June 9th, 1943

We’ve moved again to a camp at Cissbury Park.

June 17th, 1943

Me and Rodney are going up to London for a few days.

June 24th, 1943

London was nice, it was good to see it with the flowers out again.  It brought back memories of Daphne though.  It was the first time I had thought of her for a really long time.  After what she did to me, I wouldn’t bother thinking of her again.  I picked up a nice new floral dress for Mom.  I hope she likes it, it was for the new summer collection.  Still didn’t find anything for little Maureen.

July 16th, 1943

Our softball team won.  We beat the Highland Light Infantry 2 days ago and we’re the champions.  Rodney pitched a great game.  He should have made it to the Major League!  He saved our team.

July 31st, 1943

Yesterday we put on a demonstration of an assault for Col. Ralston along with B Company.  He’s the Minister of National Defence.  He looked impressed.  Still training, weather is pretty good.  Haven’t heard from Mom and the family for a while.  I’ll write to them soon.

August 4th, 1943

I’ve met a girl named Rachelle.  There was a beauty contest organized at the base and she was one of the girls there.  She didn’t win but I thought she was the prettiest there.  She’s French actually but she spoke a little English.  Her family is still living in France in German occupied territory.  She hasn’t seen them since the Germans moved in.  She worked in London when war broke out so she hasn’t had the chance to go back to France.  She doesn’t know how her family is.  I felt bad for her, she wants to see me again.  I’ll try going to see her soon.

August 17th, 1943

I got to see Rachelle again but there was a misunderstanding because she seems to be married to a man who lives in Paris.  It didn’t seem to be a problem for her.  I still bought her dinner but then politely left.  I hope she understood.

Sept 9th, 1943

I won’t be seeing London again for a while because we’re in Scotland now in a place right by the ocean called Rothesay.  Here, I think I’ve done my most difficult training to date.  First of all, they brought us in boats 50 yards from the shore and we had to swim back to the shore with our complete kit and Mae West (a sort of life vest).  The problem is that the water is freezing.  I have never been in water as cold as that.  I’m thankful I can swim because lots of the guys can’t swim.  You should see, those guys are being showed how to swim in these small swimming pools.

* There’s a page ripped out here that has some writing on it but not enough is left to even guess what might have been written only the first letter or two for about four lines.

Oct 4th, 1943

Finally back in England.  We arrived in Boscome yesterday.  The minute we got here I went to sleep.  I was so tired.  I don’t think I would like to go training in Scotland again for a while, they worked us much more in Scotland than they ever did in England.  Now they want to check our uniforms because most of us wrecked them training in Scotland.  Lots of boots must be in bad shape too.  I find myself thanking the Lord for England a second time.

Nov. 30th, 1943

Training, training. will it ever end?  Why won’t they bring us on the front already?  We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, I just want to get this over with!

Dec 29th, 1943

I’ve been a little agitated recently.  Christmas calmed me down a bit.  We entertained a bunch of kids from a town called Gosport.  It was great, there was a turkey dinner and a Christmas tree.  One of the kids had these socks with holes in them so I gave him the ones mom had sent me.  He’d make better use of them than I would.  They have to make us start fighting soon right?!

Jan 11th, 1944

I guess I’m not the only one wondering when we’re going.  There are posters everywhere now telling us to keep our mouths shut.  There’s one poster which I find particularly funny ‘Loose lips, sink ships’.  Who comes up with that?  I should have gone into that business, I could have come up with some much more original ones than that!

Jan 29th, 1944

They’ve started to make us run before breakfast.

Feb 5th, 1944

Lt. Ross is dead, a grenade exploded into his hands.  This is pathetic, how, can guys be dying on training?  What is going to be written in the telegram they send home?  What a waste of life! (9)  Guys have started dying by accident and it feels really horrible.  I can’t imagine how it’ll like when we’re fighting for real.

March 15th, 1944

Exercises seem to be dying down.  There have been lots of important guys coming to inspect us and give us these good speeches.  I don’t want to assume but I think we’re going soon…

April 14th, 1944

We’ve moved to camp about 5 miles away from Southampton.

May 10th, 1944

I finally found Maureen something and I didn’t have to go to London to find a little doll at a store close by.  It’s exactly the type she likes.  I’ll send them the presents soon since Mom’s birthday is coming up.  Less than a month, June 6th to be exact.

May 25th, 1944

Military police everywhere.  No one is allowed out.  We’re going and it’ll be soon…

May 29th, 1944

They’re telling us to bring as little of our kit as possible.  But there are so many things I know I will need.  Rodney had no problem.  I sent mom the package with all the presents, she should get it on the day of her birthday.  I can’t wait to hear how she liked it.

June 1st, 1944

Right now, all I’m doing is playing cards with Rodney and another guy called Norman.  There are so many military vehicles.  I have never seen so many in all of my life!

June 5th, 1944

They’ve brought us at the ports and boarded us in these massive ships.  This is it, we’re leaving tonight(10)    

June 7th, 1944****

As we approached the beaches yesterday, all I could think of was one specific line in the speech General Eisenhower wrote us before we left England, “The free men of the world are marching to victory!”  I felt reassured as we left in the L.C.I.’s (Landing Craft Infantry) (11) even though I could not hear myself think because everything was exploding around me.  I knew that I would fight with all my heart for my country.  I would fight with pride.  But now, words are jumping out at me.  I still can’t describe the horror I saw yesterday as I got out of the L.C.I. and got in the water, some guys were really scared, I could see it in their eyes.(12)  Hell, we were all scared.  The water was freezing.  As I approached the beach, I saw my own friends a few feet away from me, have their arms shot off or even worse die instantly in front of me.  Everything has a different meaning once you live through it.  Right now a third of my company, a third of us are hiding out in a pit until darkness sets in so we can start looking for the others.  I don’t even know where the hell we are!

June 10th, 1944

Rodney saved my life today.  We were in a pit and a potato masher grenade flew in.  I was frozen with fear but he took it and threw it back just before it exploded.  How will I ever be able to thank him?

 

 

June 12th, 1944

He’s dead.  Rodney is dead.  He’s dead.  He just lived the most painful 2 hours of his life trying to hold his stomach from bleeding and I wasn’t even there for him.  I wasn’t there.  Why the hell couldn’t it have been me?  Why?  Why did I even volunteer to join this war, why did I force Rodney to join with me?  It’s all my fault.

June 20th, 1944

I keep thinking what if I had been there with Rodney, maybe I could have saved his life.  I could have comforted him in his darkest hour.

* Previously I had a picture of and numerous references to Roderick Norman MacRae of Upper Middle River, Nova Scotia in this section.  From the research I had done, it appeared to me that Roderick was the only possible candidate as Willy’s friend, Rodney.  However thanks to a great deal of research by a few avid geneologists who have taken an interest in Willy’s journal and its mysteries, (Shirley Stone, Avalon Lawlor and Peggy MacLeod) Roderick and Rodney are definitely two different people.  This has set me back in my search for Willy since most of my basic premises were based on the apparently mistaken notion that Willy was from Upper Middle River as was Roderick.  The search for the real Willy and, now, Rodney continues.  I will publish some of the fascinating research these very kind ladies undertook to assist in solving these puzzles in the near future.  My very sincere thanks go out to Shirley, Avalon and Peggy for their expert help.  

July 7th, 1944

I’m going back home.  I lost my right foot on those new German mines.  We were under fire and I was running to hide in the fields and next thing I knew I was laying in my pool of blood in great pain.  But it’s over, the nightmare is over.

The last entry.

 

The last entry.

 

****In the fall of 2012 my wife and I traveled to Normandy and visited the various sites associated with the D-Day landings of the Canadian troops.  The videos can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=willy%27s+wwii+journal&oq=willy%27s+wwii+journal&gs_l=youtube.3…34937.44048.0.44320.30.25.5.0.0.0.261.3963.1j20j4.25.0…0.0…1ac.1.11.youtube.5VuryuezYuM  or by searching YouTube for “Willy’s WWII Journal”.

 1,2. http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/his/rep-rap/doc/cmhq/cmhq043.pdf 

This picture is hanging in the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum in Amherst, Nova Scotia

This picture of the Orion is hanging in the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum in Amherst, Nova Scotia

3. http://www3.hants.gov.uk/museum/aldershot-museum/local-history-aldershot/aldershott.htm

4. http://baor-locations.com/AlbuheraBarracks.aspx

5. http://www.canadianrootsuk.org/historycanadiansuk.html

6. http://www.junobeach.org/e/3/can-pep-can-ralston-e.htm

7. http://www.johnowensmith.co.uk/headley/wd4110cy.htm

8.  http://www.parl.ns.ca/cenotaph/leonrhodenizer.htm 

9. http://wwii.ca/memorial/world-war-ii/143601/lieutenant-alexander-bentick-ross/

10. http://canadaonline.about.com/od/ww2battles/ig/D-Day-Pictures/

11. North Nova Scotia Higlanders aboard L.C.I. en route to France http://wwii.ca/photos/dday/dday_lci.jpg

12.  North Nova Scotia Highlanders going ashore from L.C.I. http://wwii.ca/photos/dday/dday_nnsh.jpg  

A Journey to Remember:
I have a copy of a video sent to me by a teacher who worked with his students to incorporate some of Willy’s writings into their Remembrance Day ceremonies.   If you are interested in seeing it, please send me an email and I will get a copy to you.
 Here’s his email to me:
” I’m a teacher at Kitsilano High School in Vancouver.  For a few years I was in charge of the Remembrance Day ceremonies. Last year while I was working on it I came across the diary entries you found. I used those diary entries, excerpts from the book All Quite on the Western Front, and ideas from my English 12 class to create a story. 
It turned out very well. I worked extremely hard on it…. Anyhow, I thought that maybe you’d like to see what we did–of course you won’t get the school band, the French poetry and some other videos…Thanks again for posting that stuff. IT was truly amazing how it connected to the story we were already trying to tell. The audience loved it.”

 [M1]

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41 Comments

  1. I have received a number of emails from people to whom I sent this Blog and I thought I would just post them here for all to share.

    “What a fascinating read. I look forward to many more. Thanks for the time and effort to do this, Mike.

    Liz”

    “Actually, I will check this out, my grandfather landed on day 2 of D day, he survived with shrapnel wounds and stayed in the war until it was formally ended, walked most of the way across Europe. He lived until he was 91 years old. Thanks for doing this.

    Janice”

    “Thanks Michael!
    Have started reading it and it’s captivating!
    You’ve obviously done a lot of work on this but I think it’s worthy of it and may turn into something bigger than you expected.
    Marilyn”

    “… Cool blog you started, I’m always interested in “real” stories about WWII. My grandfather was in WWII but I didn’t get a chance to really sit and listen to his stories. Something I regret now.

    Anyway, bookmarked it, but please keep me posted on further blog entries.

    Dan”

  2. At 07:01 PM 18/01/2010, you wrote:
    Michael — how do I ensure that I get to read this as it unfolds?? I love it.

    Do I need to log on daily to check, or is there a way to have it come to my mailbox whenever there is something ‘new’? If so, please put my onto the mailing list.

    I am looking forward to reading more, and have a friend who’s Mom and Dad will likely be interested as well… Cath

    Hi Cathy:

    I’m not sure but I think if you go to the RSS Feeds at the bottom and select “All Posts” and then choose “Subscribe to this Feed” at the top of that page and it will automatically notify you when there’s a new post. Even simpler is to just fill out the info requested in “Post a Comment” and check “Notify me of new posts via email”. (If anyone can elaborate or clarify please feel free.) I have transcribed the whole journal and added most of the references and scans already so I should be able to stick to my schedule of every two days at most – as long as I can master the technology! I don’t have a separate email list – I’ll just post to the Blog. Obviously feel free to share with anyone else – I have a friend whose father read some of my early test postings on-line – the first time in over 90 years he had ever used the computer and it lead to some really interesting conversations between my friend and his father, I’m told. BTW, you can always post your comments to the Blog which would be sorta neat then everyone could share in your questions and comments.

    All the best,
    Michael

  3. Dad would have been proud of all the work you put into this–it’s a great read. Too bad we didn’t locate it earlier so we could have shared his actual stories perhaps made easier to share due to the diary.
    Movie to follow I hope!

    Love Sis

  4. This is sounding like a movie. It has all the makings of one so far.

  5. Hello all,

    I’ve been very gratified to know that many of you have enjoyed Willy’s journal. The feedback has been universally favourable and it’s been great to get feedback from some of the younger people to say how they were touched by Willy’s diary.

    As of this post I don’t have a great deal of new information to add but I did want to update you on a few things. “No Retreating Footsteps” by Will R. Bird is the story of the North Novas with a detailed focus on D-Day and the days that followed. One of Willy’s photos which appears under Feb. 15, 1942 above is copied in that book. Bird identifies it with the title “The North Novas marching into Debert Camp May 14, 1941”. Since there’s no attribution of the photo in the book, I’ve no idea how Bird would have got hold of Willy’s picture. Bird is no longer alive.

    Also I’ve been receiving some help from John Clarke at Cape Breton Highlanders Association in trying to find out more about Willy. His website can be accessed at http://faculty.uccb.ns.ca/highlanders/Index.htm. Finally I posted a link at http://www.army.ca under the “Military History” forums and even though we have about 160 views of that post, I have not had any feedback about Willy specifically.

    If I get any more interesting information, I’ll be sure to pass it along.

    Regards,
    Michael

  6. I received your work from my sister Jane and I read it with great interest. I think you have done a great job Michael in transcribing Willy’s diary. It’s a shame that more can’t be found about Willy; what happened to him when he got home, and other facts would certainly make the research worthwhile.
    I look forward to more updates as you are able to uncover more details.

  7. Micheal,this is a great way to remember our veterans.I am presently at the initial stages of working on a documentary on the North novies,from the perspectinve of the nephew of two North Novies,one who died in Tilly La Campaigne(July 25th/44) and the other who survived the war.
    We must continue,as my motto says,in “Keeping History Alive” so we will never forget.
    I had the pleasure of interviewing Alln Sabean Campbell who remembered my uncle Ernest Hill from France just before he died,and he enlightened me and family about his life before he died. My point is,you just never know where and when information will come your way.Keep up the good work…
    Cheers!
    I’ve also vsited John clarke and have interviewed a few Cape Breton Highlanders in his museum..He’s a great fella…

    • Allan:

      Thanks for supportive comments. I’ve also enjoyed visiting your site and I’ll be back to it to view more of your interviews.

      John Clarke has been supportive of my efforts via email and his website is also informative (http://www.parl.ns.ca/highlanders/browse.html). Another website you may be interested in for your research if you have not already come across it, is at http://www.parl.ns.ca/highlanders/browse.html which has some fascinating original pictures and articles relating to the North Novies.

      The North Nova Scotia Highlanders have been one of the most venerable fighting units in the Canadian military. As one 72 year-old respondent to a posting I had put in the Globe and Mail said about the North Novies – “Your father served in the North Novies which was perhaps the BEST Regiment in Canada. Although some dispute it was the North Shore New Brunswick Regt.
      No matter they were both ‘Excellent Fighters’.” Unfortunately many of the WWII vets have passed away but thank you again for your efforts to keep their selfless sacrifices alive in our memories.

      Michael

  8. Thanks to all for the encouraging and supportive comments.

    There have been over 1,000 views of Willy’s diary and I am honoured to have brought his words to life again for so many people. I know that my father’s wartime experiences were very similar to Willy’s (in fact their is an eerie similarity since my dad lost his left hand in a battlefield explosion just a few days after landing on D-Day). This blog has lead me to many other sites that echo the same words. Allan Cameron (one of the posters here) has a wonderful project underway at the Memories Recovered Project (http://www.themrp.org/) that I encourage you to visit. Another site which is giving life to our shared Canadian history is History Wire (http://historywire.ca/en/index) where I have also posted Willy’s journal.

    I have spent many hours with Google continuing to try to find out more about Willy with little success so far. I have combed the Nova Scotia archives (https://www.novascotiagenealogy.com/) viewing original birth, marriage and death certificates for any link to Willy his parents or siblings with absolutely no luck. I’ll continue trying to find out more about him and let you know of anything more I learn.

  9. Hey my name is Jesse and I guess you could call me an aspiring historian. I am trying to write a book and have been looking online and in libraries and any archives I can find looking for journals and different accounts on world war two. I came across this blog and was wondering if I could use it in help writing my book. Just let me know as soon as you can and even if you don’t want to thank you so much for putting this online for people to see and be able to learn more about what the soldiers went through during world war two I’m sure every soldier no matter what side they were one during the war would appreciate what you have done.

  10. I’ve continued to search for any information about Willy but with little success. One interesting site I found lists the personnel aboard the SS Orion dated 18/7/41. This is a site run by the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum.

    Their site states, “This is the list of the Original North Nova Scotia Highlanders who departed Halifax for England on 18 July 1941 aboard the S.S. “Orion”. Being an “Original” was a status symbol among the members of the North Novas.”

    In going through the list of soldiers on the ship, there are many familiar names: Rodney and some of the other men mentioned in Willy’s journal; and my father and one of his brothers. But of the 943 names listed, William Henry Smith is not one of them.

    The list of these brave men can be accessed at http://free.hostultra.com/~ambushpaintball/nshighregmuseum/originals.html
    Michael

  11. Thanks all for stopping by – trust that you found Willy’s journal as fascinating as I did. It’s interesting that the most searched term that brought people here is “pressed flowers”. I hope that those of you that used that term to find this site were not disappointed. To me the flowers have a really poignant appeal.

    For your information here’s a site for you to copy and paste if you’d like to view summary of Willy’s site stats as forwarded to me by WordPress. https://michaelwwii.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?yib=2010

    Michael

    • Being 18 years old and love history this was great i couldnt imagin that kind of life style thank you so much and thank you willy for your service

      • Thanks for your comment Kevin. I apologize for the late response but I was out of the country for awhile. It’s hard to believe that these men were the same age as you when they went off to war and I’m glad Willy was able to give you a sense of what it was like for him and his peers. We are very fortunate not to have had the same experiences thanks to their sacrifices.

  12. I just think the effort and time spent into putting this on the Internet is something you should be very proud of. I think it’s such a special thing to do for your family and it’s also a gift for future people to see what life really was like at War. I have my Grandfather’s WW11, Journal and have been contemplating on how to present it on the internet. I think the way you have done this is marvelous.
    I know i have a long process ahead of me in terms of trying to post my Grandfathers Journal. So any tips from you would be welcomed. I am certainly not going to copy your exact layout but i will certainly use it as a guide, that is if you do not mind.
    Well done and you should be really proud to make this family history available to anyone worldwide.
    Congratulations

    • Thank you for your very kind words Scott, but it has not seemed to me like it has taken much time and effort – it really has seemed like a short voyage for me from all I have learned and from the people I have had contact through this site. The site has had over 6500 page views now and has been viewed by people from 51 countries since the end of February, 2012. It really is gratifying that so many people from so many places have been able to access Willy’s journal.

      I would strongly encourage you to post your Grandfather’s journal if you are at all thinking about it. I think it is important to see the effects of war in the very personal terms that a journal conveys. It makes it much more real and horrifying and gives suceeding generations a sense of the sacrifices these men made.

      I found that as I was transcribing the journal I was lead down paths of interest to me that, in a sense, gave the journal more meaning to me. I have spent a great deal of time researching various aspects of the Willy’s writing but that time has passed very quickly. In fact, my wife and I just came back from a visit to Normandy and visited a number of places that were important to Willy and my Dad. We visited the Juno Beach Centre, Berniers-sur-mer where the North Novas landed, the Canadian cemetary in Beny-sur-mer and the North Nova memorial in Authie. It was a really touching experience for us and I have some video of the trip I hope to post shortly on Willy’s site.

      The whole experience surrounding Willy’s journal has been very moving for me personally and if I can help you in any way I would be more than happy. I have not done anything like this before and I found the WordPress site to be very intuitive and easy to use (and free!). There are probably other ways you could share the journal but WordPress was recommended to me by a friend and I did not research any other options. Feel free to use anything from this site that you find useful. The web is an endless source of information, of course, and you can spend many interesting hours pursuing threads that your Grandfather’s journal presents to you and I would encourage you to do that. I’m sure your Grandfather would be happy to know he was spurring that interest for you.

      Since the journal is a public document once put on the site, I tried to think of how I may make it a little more interesting for people who happen upon it. So one of the things I have attempted to do is to mix in as many images as possible to break up the text – I think it adds interest and can make natural stopping points for readers. The activity on the site picks up considerably at times and in analyzing the data available from WordPress it appears that from time to time students are given assignments about journals and/or the war experience and that leads them to Willy’s journal usually through Google searches (I have not done any search engine optimization nor will I). So anything that you can do to appeal to students would also be useful in attracting readers.

      As I say please let me know if you have any specific questions that I can assist you with.

      Good luck!

      Michael

  13. do you know how old he was?

    • Hi Alexandra:

      I don’t have any other information on Willy than what’s here in his diary. On August 5, 1941 he writes, “Imagine, after being friends for 21 years, since I was born, I still don’t know everything about Rodney!” So if Willy was born in 1920, as he suggests, then that would make him 92 if he is still alive today in 2012.

      Regards,
      Michael

    • Scott Berthelette
    • Posted December 3, 2012 at 12:00 PM
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Dear Michael,
    Thank you so much for sharing this journal. This is such a haunting primary source that really drives home the terribleness of war. I think anyone interested in the Second World War should take the time to read all of Willy’s journal entries. It’s a revelation.
    Best Regards,
    Scott

    • Hi Scott:

      I appreciate the supportive comments and agree with you that it gives a very human face to the tragedy of war – a major reason that drove me to publish it. Fortunately we’re still getting lots of page views (typically over 20 a day) of the journal and are now over 9,600 from over 60 countries. I think that shows the universality of its appeal.

      Regards,
      Michael

  14. Reblogged this on diary of a flâneuse and commented:
    A fascinating diary I found online from a soldier in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders during WWII. My grandfather was also in the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and he survives today. This brings an intimate perspective to an event I don’t get to hear much about from my grandfather. Since I’m in Holland, I’ve been thinking about him a lot…

    • Hi Ms. Flaneuse:

      Thank you for your input and the reblogging of the diary. As you say, Willy’s diary puts a human face to the extraordinary ordeals that our parents/grandparents experienced and I believe that is an important message to deliver. My father was always reticent to discuss his wartime experiences and I can appreciate why that might be. If you do have an opportunity to speak with your grandfather about Willy’s diary I would be very interested to know if he has any information about William Henry Smith (I realize that possibility is pretty remote) or for that matter any comments he would like to make. There are very few North Nova vets left today that I can contact.

      rgds,
      Michael

        • Ms. Flâneuse
        • Posted March 23, 2013 at 7:06 PM
        • Permalink

        Will do! Thank you 🙂

  15. My father Pt. Pat Eagle Child was with Cape Bretton Highlanders he is the native on a picture in Italy, I believe they were named New Heaven or New Haven. My dad never shared stories of the war ,when we were young. Its Hell on earth and he had 11 of us children. My dad passed away on December 29th, 1986. We are Bloods, or Blackfoot from Southern Alberta.

    • Hi Winslow:

      Thank you for taking the time to read Willy’s diary. I appreciate your comments and, as you can see from above, they echo many other comments that I have heard from the children and grandchildren of those who participated in WWII. I have had the opportunity to meet with a young man who saw action in Afghanistan and, understandably, he was also very reluctant to discuss his experience. I think part of the appeal of Willy’s diary is that it lets those of us who have never experienced that “hell on earth” get a brief glimpse of its horror.

      rgds,
      Michael

  16. Just read your blog. Thanks for putting in the effort. I have recently discovered that my Great uncle was killed at Abbeye d’Ardenne. It was intriguing to read Willys journal. It’s nice to have it documented somewhere to be able to remember those that have fallen. It was a similar blog that I determined that after my great uncle was injured he was treated by my wife’s Great uncle. Small world. Keep up the great work.

    • Hi Ken:

      Thank you for your comments. There are many of us that have direct links to some of the tragic events of war many of which we don’t know about and sometimes don’t get interested in until later in our lives. That certainly is quite a coincidence with your wife’s great uncle and yours – the odds are probably extremely remote of something like that happening given the number of injured.

      I have continued to try to find out more about Willy and have pursued what I thought were some promising leads but still with no success.

      It continues to amaze me about the popularity of the his site. We have now had over 17,700 page views since February 2012 with the busiest day ever with 99 visitors and 172 page views being just this past November 6, 2013. Visitors to the site have come from 104 different countries with the US, Canada, the UK and India accounting for the top four in total visitors. Each year the number of visitors has increased with the time around Remembrance Day being the most busy time of year. Again I think it is because many students have been given assignments about what it was like for individual soldiers.

      I’ll continue to try to find out more about Willy but I’m not very optimistic and at some point I will have to make a decision about what to do with his diary so others can enjoy it.

      I really do appreciate the feedback and the stories that people share.

      Regards,
      Michael

  17. As the daughter of a WWII Canadian soldier AND the niece of another, both Army vets with silent footprints left on this earth, I thank you for bringing the words of another to ‘life.’ That brings hope to the hearts and souls of many!

    • Thank you, Bonnie. It was nice speaking with you and good luck in finding out more about your uncle.

      Regards, Michael

  18. Thank you for your posting. I was quite impressed with his story and excited to read his emotion. There are many stories about the war especially in World war2. This, however, tried not to focus on the brutality during the war but to reflect the reality of that war in my opinion. Without dramatic scenes. Nothing is better than this journal in describing the ‘real’ war. That’s why I’m wondering that ‘Do you mind I translate this one in English into Korean?’. I want to show this journal to my friends. No purpose for any profit at all. Thank you again for your effort in blog and wait for your response.

    • Hi Park:

      Thank you for your comments. I agree that Willy’s journal captures the reality of the lasting terrible impact of war from a soldier’s very ordinary perspective with which we can readily empathize and understand.

      Please feel free to translate his diary. I think the more people that read his journal, the better. I would appreciate a copy or a link to your translation once you have finished.

      Regards, Michael

      On Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 12:42 AM, Willy's WWII Journal wrote:

      >

  19. I have read Willy’s WWII Journal twice now. I am doing the diary of my uncle, a USAAF B-25 tail gunner in the South Pacific, http://www.waynes-journal.com. The service is different, the country is different, the theater is different, but I cannot help but feel the same. Such brave, brave men who suffered so much.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree with you about the suffering these men underwent. Many of the vets of the war never wanted to talk about their experiences and when you read journals such as Willy’s or your uncle’s, you can understand how painful it must have been for them to remember those times. It is amazing to me that in reading various journals and talking to some of the vets of WWII, including my father, they never thought of themselves as brave. It is only in retrospect that we can see how much they sacrificed in doing what they thought was the right thing. For many of the Canadian boys, signing up was a way out of a life of border-line poverty and to seek some adventure at the same time. Little did they know the huge role they would play in history.

  20. Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a
    few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same results.

    • Hi Luciana:

      Thanks for the input. I have checked out the site again on IE 11, Chrome and Apple’s iOS on my iPad and the pictures all load fine. If any one else is having this problem, please let me know.

      Michael

  21. hi there my name is mason now this is such a cool and interesting diary now i wanted to ask if you’d ever sell it i am trying to write a book on the life of soldiers during war i already have a Japanese soldiers diary and a ww1 american soldiers diary and i think this would be a great addition to the book i don’t have much money to spend on diaries but i hope you email me back so maybe we can negotiate a price hope you consider to sell it –Mason

    • Hi Mason

      I’m glad you found the diary interesting. People from all over the world have enjoyed reading it. I never thought that I “owned” the diary but rather that I held it in trust for Willy or a member of his family. Since I have been unable to find either, the diary is now on public display at the North Novas regimental museum in Amherst, Nova Scotia where it will stay unless Willy or a relative comes forward to claim it.

      Good luck with your book. It sounds like a worthwhile project.

      Regards, Michael

      On Monday, February 2, 2015, Willy's WWII Journal wrote:

      >

  22. Michael,
    I saw a list of the original North Nova Scotia Regiment personnel, and I noticed, F 50123 Pte. Smith, William B., Is this the same as the Diary’s Willy??

    • Hi Ken:

      Sorry was away for a bit and just catching up. No unfortunately he’s isn’t, at least as far as I have been able to research. There are a number of Smith’s on the list of “originals” (those that sailed on the Orion on July 18, 1941) but none of them were Willy that I could confirm. You can see the list here http://nshighlanders.fav.cc/originals.html . I know the list isn’t complete since there are some others left off who should have been there so I’m guessing William Henry Smith was one of the missing.

      Thanks very much for your input. I appreciate any leads that may help me find Willy or his family.

      rgds,
      Michael


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  1. […] Personal WII Diary of a Canadian Soldier.. you seen to have forgotton the link in your post? Anyway mate, great find. Regards, TBA __________________ […]

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