My father, Bombardier Byron C Estey, Service Number G4094 Units: 1st Anti Tank Regiment: 90th Anti-Tank Battery was on the crew of an anti-tank gun, similar to the one shown above. His job was to plot the trajectory of the shells, so perhaps he would have stood in the same position as the fellow closest to the camera. The photo is taken during the Italian campaign in 1943, so my father was in the area.
Dad talked about the war, but rarely about the bad parts. He was full of amusing antidotes and descriptions and the tales of how people would act. He met my mother in England and it was love at first sight. He rarely neglected to add that he met her “…while searching for the ruins.” Those ruins were Hadrian’s Wall and my mother was also visiting them – with her boyfriend. So it goes.
My father was stationed in England for nearly three years. Canadian soldiers were positioned around London in case of a German invasion. Though such orders were never directly given, it was understood that the Canadians would ‘take no prisoners’ in the event of an invasion. My father had no problem with that.
He landed for the Invasion of Sicily and fought up through Italy. He was in what is classed as one of the bloodiest battles Canadian forces encountered, The Battle Of Ortona, called “The Italian Stalingrad”. He spoke little about these eight days, which included Christmas amongst the blood.
Dad was never wounded (though he once stood up in his slit trench to see what the “funny noises” were and had his battle tunic shredded with shrapnel). He also contracted malaria, and the day the hospital tent was sweltering and he dragged his mattress beneath a tree, two doctors stood over him. They thought him unconscious and debated his condition. There was a new medicine for malaria and they discussed whether Dad was too near death to waste it on him. Since I am writing these words you may conclude they decided in favour.
I regret not talking more about the war with him, though he did not welcome such intrusion. I did once ask how close he actually got to German soldiers. He said: “Close enough to kill them.”
Commander-in-Chief Donaldo decided it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral, if he chose the hat with cockade and plume.
The plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed (or disapproved) with a toss (or a shake) of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would added a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well-tempered geniality, moved among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck.
He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man, with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.
Wednesday was khaki day for Commander-in-Chief Donaldo.
It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men. What is a leader without his troops? As a treat – for really, dull brown did not make a striking appearance – he would chose the tank commander’s uniform.
With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power. And a steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine.
The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.
Today he would have a parade.
Massed men at attention with stiffly-held rifles and fixed bayonets.
Commander-in-Chief Donaldo would have to chose carefully. to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots are a must, raising half-way up the calf, resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels.
Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow.
His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations, with the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He is – after all – a fighting general.
[Image] https: //www.britishbattles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2-Lieutenant-General-Sir-George-White-VC-GCB.jpg
Kafka recorded the beginning of the First World War in his diary this way:
August 2, 1914: Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon.
That was it.
But, regardless of his lack of enthusiasm, Kafka believed in the duties of the citizen. He tried to join the army to fight. In fact, he tried to join a number of times. He was always refused because the government deemed his civil/government job was too important for him to relinquish.
But, near the end of the war, when Kafka was so sick he had lengthy periods of leave from his job to recuperate, the army came calling. Kafka had to appear before authorities with medical proof of his illness.
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I ‘fill in’ one of his diary entries describing such a situation.
07 February 1918
I find I must go to Prague at the end of next week. Such knowledge is proof that one should not open one’s mail. The Military yet again wishes to snare me, and I must once again prove that my hide is not worth the effort.
There were time (very rare) when my father would despair. Not his usual anger at the general incompetence and perfidy of the world around him, but a resignation to the belief that things would never get any better.
“If they want to drag me down,” he would say, “Then I may as well join them. I’ll go out into the street and let myself be swept away by the mob. I’ll become part of their common, grubby life, and let them wipe their boots on me.”
That is much as I feel right now. Let the army take me, dress me in their uniform, point me toward the Americans, and have some cowboy shoot me. Going into battle could be no worse than going into Prague.
[Site of Hitler’s bunker today]newnormative.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/germany_berlin_fuhrerbunker_2.jpg
I first visited Europe years before the Euro was the accepted coin of the realm. In fact, there were many coins of many realms, and all that money caused a fuss.
I kept a daily diary of this trip, and plan to make it a part of any memoirs I might write. So I’ve hauled it out and will make some blogs from it. But they will be greatly abridged.
Our guide took us to an Observation Tower which overlooked the old section of Berlin (now, of course, in the East), and where the government buildings once stood. I saw a part of the Kaiser’s Palace in the distance (you must remember that these buildings are restored or being restored) plus other buildings from that era.
What was most interesting for me, however, were the structures that were so prominent in Hitler’s Thousand Years – the War Ministry, Gobble’s Propaganda Office, the Air Ministry and, the place where Hitler’s Chancellery stood., from which he unleashed so much destruction, and now no more than a grassy mound in a field. A mound remains because Hitler’s Bunker is still there. It can not be destroyed because it would do too much damage to the surrounding area to blow it up. I wonder how long this symbol of Hitler, this place so close to him, will remain – perhaps a thousand years? [2019 – it is still there]
We left the Wall (though the Wall never left us) and continued on our way. We went to a stone building and stopped before it. We got out of the bus and walked into a pleasant court yard. It was a memorial – a place called Plötzensee. It was here that many of the people in the unsuccessful revolt against Hitler on June 20, 1944, were executed.
How strange it was to be standing in this grisly place of history. It was a stark, bare, small room, like a clean little room you would find in somebody’s cellar. The hooks sticking from the ceiling from which people were hung were very real. Here people died, here members of the Gestapo stood and smirked, hands on hips. I had heard of places like this, and read books, and now I saw what it was like.
Brigadier O’Donald decided that it would be a grand day to become Admiral of the Fleet – Lord High Admiral if he chose the hat with cockade and plume.
Nodding jauntily in the air, the plume put on an impressive display, as he either agreed, or disapproved, with a toss, or a shake, of his head. The dancing ostrich feathers would add a dashing air as he boarded his flagship and, with just the right mixture of stringent authority and well- tempered geniality, moved in imperious sweeps among the ranks of ratings on the aft deck.
He would, of course, be extra careful about the pitfalls awaiting a man with ornate dress sword and scabbard, among the steep steps and narrow companionways.
Wednesday was khaki day for Brigadier O’Donald.
It was the day set aside to remind him of the loyalty he must always retain from his men, for what was a leader without his troops? And as a treat – for really, the dull brown did not make for a very striking appearance – the would choose the tank commander’s uniform.
With its wide web belt and shiny black holster on the hip, flap unsnapped to reveal the butt of a wicked forty-five. And of course the black leather gloves, as befits a man at the controls of so much power, and the steel helmet polished to a mirror-shine.
The riding crop? Ah, the riding crop was debatable.
Today would have a parade. Massed men at attention with stiffly held rifles and fixed bayonets.
Brigadier O’Donald would have to choose carefully to represent his awesome power and responsibility. Cavalry boots are a must, raising half-way up the calf and resounding with silver spurs, steel-tipped toes and heels.
Then would come crisp black trousers, billowing majestically around the thighs, and kept up with a wide leather belt. He took care that each red stripe reaching the length of each leg was as straight as an arrow.
His blue tunic, he decided, would have only muted decorations and the minimum of gold braid entwined about his shoulders. He was – after all – a fighting general.
A civic reception is the time when Brigadier O’Donald would be on close display.
He believes he is at his most effective when draped completely in white, save – of course – for his highly polished black dress shoes (and, in truth, he favoured white even here, but feared such footwear was a trifle effeminate). White is striking by itself, but well he knew it made the perfect background for his medals and decorations.
He has trouble deciding upon which colour sash to wear across his chest, but finally chooses the emerald-green – the reception is in the public gardens. He dons his silver-visored cap, and graces his bosom with the blue Clustered Palm of Valour; the diamond centered Star of Courage; the gold Pyramid of the Oaken Grove; and seven rows of bars and campaign medals.
There are no visiting Heads of State, so he need not be too brilliant.
One Remembrance Day, I went to the ceremonies in Halifax, NS. The main cenotaph, in The Grand Parade downtown. It is a huge place, nearly a half a city block long and wide. A towering flag-mast is near one end, as befits a sea-faring city.
The city bus, which would normally be nearly empty during a mid-morning holiday run, was nearly full. And part way along, a grouping of twenty uniformed military personnel got on. All Navy. Spit-and-polish. I noted their shoes. I approved.
I arrived nearly an hour before 11:00 o’clock, but there were already hundreds present. The Grand Parade was awash with people, so much so that they were asked to keep on the grass, so the parade itself could manoeuver when it arrived. There was a tent where actual World War Two veterans sat. It was chill and cloudy, but no rain nor snow arrived.
Pipes and drums and a military band made themselves known in the distance. A flag carrying, colour-party of veterans marched in, followed by ranks of modern military and red-uniformed RCMP. Followed by veterans and cadets and children and organizations. In, and around, and back they marched, to finally face the cenotaph itself. Crisp orders. Boots solid on the stones. Music. Hundreds of spectators.
The ceremony follows a set routine, of course. Much is squeezed into the eleven minutes around the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A too-brief portion of God Save The Queen. Oh Canada. The Last Post. Booming artillery from high up Citadel Hill. A military helicopter clattering over us. The minute of silence. The chaplains with their words. And God’s.
There were two new (new to me, at any rate) events, and one occurrence that was impressive indeed.
Three flags – one of Canada and two smaller military – were lowered to half-staff during the ceremony. It was quite a distance to descend, and their wires screeched.
Six white doves were released. I doubt they were so-trained, but they flew into the distance and then came right back over the crowd before leaving.
And, the last note of the trumpet ended at the exact second the steeple bells began to chime its eleven times.
There is really no time to cheer during this sombre ceremony, but sometimes it is tempting so to do.
Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle
I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason.
15 January 1918
This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.
I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.
The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.
“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.
I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.
I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.
And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.
And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands.
Look after each other.