I was looking at a little black book the other day. It is my precious diary I kept during World War II. You weren’t supposed to keep a diary if you were in the armed forces. They were concerned that if the enemy got a hold of it they may get some valuable information. However, I was determined to write down things that were important to me.
So, I carried this precious little diary all throughout the war. It went with me to many countries. Besides Canada, I carried it to the United States, countries in North Africa, Italy, France and England. Many pages are empty but I did the best I could to preserve memories.
As I looked at my diary I thought, it’s not really much to look at. It’s a small black-covered book about five inches by four inches in size. On the cover is printed, Five Year Diary. There is a small lock on the front but I don’t think I ever used that. I had written entries in this precious book from 1942 to 1944.
I decided to thumb through this old book the other day. Some things I was familiar with, some I’d completely forgotten. I’ll tell you a couple of entries in my diary.
January 25, 1943 – Went skiing today. Fell when I hit a rock. Broke my left leg. Went to the hospital.
This happened in the mountains of Montana.
Another entry reads: May 29, 1944 – Our Company is rather shy of men. We took a hill today overlooking the town of Velletri (20 miles from Rome). Jerry [German] counter-attacked and I was shot in the leg. George Wright tried to help me but was shot in the side. I was taken by Jeep to the 94th Evacuation Hospital.
I spent five months recovering from my wound.
As I flipped through my diary I saw something very special. This happened when we paratroopers were stationed in Shilo, Manitoba. I met a beautiful army girl (they were nicknamed CWACs) from the Canadian Women’s Army Core. We met in the canteen which was on the base. This was my diary entry.
October 14, 1942 – Met Joan Fallen at the base canteen. She’s a pretty girl.
I saw Joan quite a few times. When I was stationed in Helena, Montana, I got a furlough and went to visit her parents in Fort William. To my surprise, Joan was on furlough and home when I got there. What a wonderful family. They were so good to me.
When Joan and I parted 73 years ago, it never crossed my mind that we would never see each other again. However, time and distance changes many lives. I married my wife Greta MacPhee and we had three wonderful children – Herbie, Lark and Rosalee.
I found out later that Joan has married a very nice man by the name of Douglas Jessiman. They had two beautiful daughters – Pamela and Deborah.
My wife Greta passed away in 1992. She had contracted the dreaded disease Polio in 1951. It left her mostly paralyzed in her upper body. However, with her love of life and her love for family Greta never gave up. She ran her life, her family and her household much better than most able bodied people.
When Greta passed away, life became very hard for me to bear. Life didn’t seem to have the same purpose without my beautiful wife.
In 1994, I decided to go to Alaska. Why? Well, I’d have to think things over and plan my future. Also, I wanted to see the Alaskan Highway. This was a highway the American Army Engineers had built during the war. The Americans were worried that if the Japanese invaded Alaska they would go down the coast to the mainland United States. The impossible task of building the highway was completed.
Some thought the terrain, with its muskeg, mountains and fierce weather would make this 1,500 mile road impossible to build. But they persevered. They did the impossible.
I drove from Truro to Fairbanks, Alaska and back. If I’d driven 200 more miles my journey would have been 10,000 miles. I was lonesome and sometimes I cried but I think that trip did a lot for me.
On my way back home I passed the city of Thunder Bay. I wondered if I should go in and see if I could find Joan. Then I changed my mind. She may be in a nursing home or maybe she had even passed away. I decided I’d just remember the last time I saw her.
However, my search didn’t end there. Fate seemed to be pushing me to solve this mystery. Is Joan alive? Where does she live?
When I returned home to Truro I visited the library. I saw a line-up of telephone directories on a shelf and low and behold, one was labeled Thunder Bay. I searched through the names. At last, I found the name I wanted – Fallen.
I called. I was happy to hear it was Joan’s brother, Edward (Ted). He was very friendly. He said Joan and her family had moved to California. The weather was too cold and severe in Thunder Bay for the health of one of her girls so they had to move to the warmer climate of California.
The mystery was solved. I got Joan’s phone number from Ted. I felt kind of nervous when I dialed her number. I didn’t have to be nervous because when Joan answered I immediately recognized her voice – the voice I had heard 51 years earlier. What a great reunion. I was surprised when she asked, ‘do you still live at 17 Alice Street?’ How could she have possibly remembered that?
Then we found out about our past lives. While in the army, Joan had advanced to the rank of sergeant – the rank I also had held.
I told Joan all about my life since I last saw her. We both married loving partners, we both had amazing children and we both had been deliriously happy all our married lives. Now, 73 years later and 22 years since our telephone reunion, we still call on the phone, still communicate by mail and still keep our lives and happiness up to date.
How lucky I am to have fate give me such a special friend, my dear Joan.