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A Piperguy48 Production
At the going down of the sun and in the morningWE WILL REMEMBER THEM
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’ve tried to understand since, but then I was just a curious youngster and understanding was not a priority. 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, or visits to the Regimental Officers Mess at Fort York Armouries. And there was always a quiet reverence for the things that I dragged out of that trunk of memories in the basement. These are the brief stories that he told me and the things that I have since learned.
James Donald Black volunteered for service shortly after war was declared, enlisting with the Toronto Scottish Regiment. He took basic training at Camp Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake and later received his Commission at Trois Rivieres, Quebec. He took part in exercises at Camp Borden where he learned to ride a motorcycle, then vowed never to do it again. He shipped overseas in late 1943 or early 1944 as a Lieutenant commanding a company equipped with Vickers water-cooled machine guns. He was stationed in England long enough to have enjoyed leave visiting relatives in Fife, Scotland. There were photos with Uncles and Cousins who stayed behind when our families left for Canada early in the century. There is a wonderful, blurred photo of Don Black and another soldier dressed appropriately in kilt and balmoral, tossing back a dram by the roadside after a visit to the Haig Distillery at Markinch.
Lieutenant Don Black arrived in Normandy some time after the events of June 6. He may have been involved in the breakout from Caen for he received a telegram somewhere “on active service in the field” informing him of the accidental death of his father, struck by a motorist as he stepped from a streetcar in Toronto’s west end. That was August 27, 1944. There are letters, pictures and souvenirs that indicate that he made his way through Belgium and into Holland, possibly taking part in efforts to clear the Scheldt Estuary. It was here that he was seriously wounded. A machinegun round entered through his inner right thigh, close to the groin, and exited the right buttock, miraculously missing bone and major arteries. He was exceptionally fortunate regarding the femoral artery because in the engagement, as he related it, he was captured by German troops. He might easily have bled to death but for fate or chance. He was liberated the next day by advancing Canadian troops then sent to the rear to a field hospital. His later recovery was in England. I recall him complaining about the injustice of losing his Colt automatic to his captors. Much later when he was re-supplied, all he was given was a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver. As a souvenir to bring home he said he would have preferred the Colt.
He once mentioned to me that he lost his Sergeant (and friend) the day he was wounded. He once told me the name and I have found the entry for Sgt. Skarott, David Albert – (Tor Scot R) in the Canadian Book of Remembrance, WWII, 1945, pg. 564 (left-handcolumn, second from bottom).
As lasting evidence of this, his right calf muscle was always much smaller than his left and on cold damp days, he would mention the ache and stiffness that remained.
The wound that day was a blessing. While he was at the rear in a field hospital, his company took a mortar round, killing several and wounding others. It might well have been him. Several letters exchanged between him and Captain Bill Drinkwater tell of how badly shaken the rest of thecompany were. Don Black insisted that his gear and cigarettes be distributed among his remaining “boys”. He was now safely out of the action.
There were two barely visible scars across his back, the result of a round that passed through his webbing and uniform, just grazing the skin.
One story that he told mentioned several broken ribs when his batman drove their jeep into the back of another army vehicle. He never said if this was in the early days in England or later in Europe. Nor did he indicate their state of intoxication.
He developed a life-long aversion to mutton, which they were served in great quantities, and to porridge in particular as it induced a reaction of hives.
When death mercifully put an end to the pain and indignity of the cancer that ravaged him, the Officer’s Association of the Regiment sent a contingent to the church service and a Regimental Piper played the Lament. His comrades, all as ramrod straight as age would allow and decked in their medals and ribbons, paid him his final honours.
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.
The Day He Came Home
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 handwritten date on the back: October 28, 1945. The day he came home.