Remembering Ronnie Egan

EGAN_RONNIE_WREN43-45_EIn 1942, 19-year-old Ronnie Egan read an advertisement that said, “You too can free a man to serve at sea,” and she knew the Royal Canadian Navy was the right place for her. She served in wartime Halifax and left an indelible mark on the city and the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service there. Historian and Centennial College professor Ted Barris offers a wartime glimpse of Wren Ronnie Egan.

The full tribute to Ronnie Egan appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016, edition of the National Post.


Canadian Enigma connection

IMITATION_GAME_POSTERSeventy years ago, Europeans sensed the end of the Second World War was near. VE Day arrived May 8, 1945. A generation later, historians and moviemakers are still discovering how Victory in Europe was achieved. At Bletchley Park, an estate just two hours from London, England, details of the Allied intelligence victory continue to emerge. Last year, the movie The Imitation Game depicted the secret world of Enigma, Alan Turing and war work at Bletchley.

In the March 2015 edition of Zoomer magazine, read Ted Barris’s account of the Canadian angle on the code-breakers who hastened victory.

9/11 Volunteer

Laurie Laychak seated on the bench dedicated to her husband David Laychak, who was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon’s southwest wall (pictured behind her).
Laurie Laychak seated on the bench dedicated to her husband David Laychak, who was killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon’s southwest wall (pictured behind her).

One day last summer, Laurie Laychak came back to the place where her husband David died. She visits the recently inaugurated cantilevered benches, Crape Myrtle trees and light pools of the Pentagon Memorial several times a month. Yes, it’s a pilgrimage. But she’s also on a mission. This day, the Laychaks’ daughter Jennifer has joined Laurie for the drive over. Just before her mother meets a group of travel journalists from Canada, Jennifer makes a painful admission to her mom.

“I can’t remember Dad’s voice,” the 20-year-old said.

The man who pushed back D-Day

On June 6, 1944 — 69 years ago today — nearly 15,000 Canadians joined the long-anticipated D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. They attacked overland, from the sea and through the air. The 10-kilometre stretch of Normandy beach which Canadians wrested from the German defenders that day was code-named “Juno.”

As those Canadians engaged the enemy in a fierce campaign that would, 11 months later, see the surrender of a defeated Germany, they had no idea that one of their countrymen had played a small but critical role in bringing D-Day about.

(Full story published in the National Post, June 6, 2013)

Veteran shares tales of two different tours of Italy


Veteran Harry Watts speaks to Wilson Avenue Public School students in Kitchener following his trip overseas where he served with the 5th Canadian Infantry Division, liberating Italy. Photo Peter Lee.

By Katie Starr

Kitchener-Waterloo Record

KITCHENER — Harry Watts’ trip to Italy 70 years after serving as a motorcycle dispatch rider in the Second World War was agrodolce — bittersweet.

Bitter because he retraced his footsteps, visiting a cemetery where 61 Canadian soldiers were killed in just two hours of battle.

Sweet because he met new friends and reconnected with old ones, sharing with them stories, memories and bottles of wine.

(Full story by Katie Starr appears in Kitchener-Waterloo Record, May 30, 2013)

Ted Barris writes Foreword to new book Syncopated: Black Stories

In a new book of biographies (compiled by author Ed Brown) about Black musicians in Canada, Ted Barris was invited to write the Foreword.

The star attraction was not in the house that night. While many others – the luminaries of the Canadian jazz scene – performed on stage, perhaps the country’s best studio and jazz concert drummer of the day was absent. In fact, it was because he was absent, that all the stars came out. It was in 1967 when Toronto-born musician Archie Alleyne suffered serious injuries in a car accident. He was not able to work … at either of his jobs.

“I didn’t have a car, so I had to carry my drum kit on streetcars and the subway,” he told my father, Alex Barris, back then. “I’d play from 9 at night to 1 a.m., get home with my drums by 3 a.m. and be up four hours later to go to my day job.”

Every Challenge Head On

Every Challenge Head OnIn November 2010, Jeff Jeffery, a former Halifax bomber pilot with 432 Sqn RCAF, Distinguished Flying Cross winner, and founding director/president of the Halifax Aircraft Association, died after a brief illness in Toronto. In his tribute, author and broadcaster Ted Barris reflects on the life of a one-of-a-kind Canadian.

The very last time his hands gripped the controls of a Halifax bomber overseas, his aerial combat days were well behind him. It was mid-September 1995. A long lost Halifax bomber – ditched in Lake Mjosa, Norway, more than a half-century before – began to emerge from its watery grave. A salvage team and its undersea equipment had successfully raised the sunken warbird for RCAF veteran Jeff Jeffery to witness.

“The first thing I saw was her wingtip, then her ailerons, then the tip of the outer starboard engine propeller … rising up out of the lake,” Jeffery recalled during an interview in 1997.

For the full story, click here.

Remembrance and revision

remembrance-revision-page1Canada’s wartime history was rewritten 13 years ago this autumn.

Not a lot of it. But three Canadian air crewmen listed as missing in action became war dead with names and a story Sept. 6, 1997. at day, an o -duty airline pilot led a salvage expedition at the crash site of a Second World War bomber, near Geraardsbergen, Belgium. Shot down the night of May 9, 1944, Halifax bomber LW682 took all eight crewmen to their deaths. German troops quickly removed ve of the bodies before the Halifax vanished into the mud, it seemed, forever.

For the full story, click here.

Photography courtesy Neville Palmer

Keeping pace

ZOOMER_PACEThe 90-minute hockey scrimmage at our local arena was over. In the dressing room, everybody peeled off skates, pads and sweaty long johns, baring egos and scars. We forwards called the goaltenders sieves, while they took verbal shots at us forwards for not backchecking. But one defenceman really had it in for me. “I’d ask for your money back, Ted,” he said. “That new pacemaker doesn’t have any goals in it.”

For the full story, click here.