Like many veterans, my father was reluctant to publicly share his experiences of those days.  He kept his wartime memories in a battered green steamer trunk in the basement.  It smelled of mothballs and long-ago events that perhaps didn’t bear examining too closely.  It wasn’t locked or anything but we (my sister and I) were never encouraged to examine too closely the stories chronicled inside.  His hodden grey kilt & sporran, glengarry & balmoral were there, feeding generations of moths despite efforts to keep them at bay.  There were his medals and yellowing, brittle letters and documents and photos.  He didn’t talk much about that time but it was still with him in ways I couldn’t understand, but I sensed.   I could see it was with him in the ramrod straight way he carried himself.  It was there in his commitment to duty, honour and public service he followed throughout his life.  He carried it in his insistence that all honours and respect be paid on Remembrance Day.  And there was always a quiet reverence for the things that I dragged out of that trunk of memories in the basement.  There are the brief stories that he told me and the things that I have since learned.

Today when I’m in my kilt, I wear his sporran and carry, woven into the cords of my pipes, a length of camouflage parachute silk. The story, as he told it, was that there was a great deal of this material lying around.  The young fellows thought they would look dashing in silk scarves and so found a treadle sewing machine in the basement of a burned-out Dutch farmhouse.  Cutting the silk into scarf-sized strips and crudely hemming them on the sewing machine, I’m sure they all thought they resembled Lord Lovat striding ashore on Sword Beach with his piper.

On finally arriving home at Toronto’s Union Station, a Toronto newspaper photographer was on hand.  He took a photo of Don Black holding his 4-year-old daughter Helen in his arms.  On his left was his wife Nancy and on his right was his sister Margaret Jean Ferguson.  There is a hand-written date on the back: October 28, 1945.  

Lesson #20 – The Green Steamer Trunk

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