Lieutenant R. Azzie's Journal

24 janv. 45
Hello folks,

Today is the evening of January 24, and I have just received your letter from January 4. Poor old Mum. I was so surprised to read in your letter that you had not understood my cablegram. I couldn’t say much more than give you my overseas address. I hope that you at least received my letter shortly after the cablegram. I am as happy as I was the day I wrote that first letter, and I again wish the same things for you and pray for you to be well and to live in peace. It warms my heart to know that you are safe and sound after what I have seen here. Folks, every day—without warning— V bombs are dropped, killing hundreds of people and causing destruction all around. It makes me happy to think that I will soon do my little part to help fight the enemy and bring peace to the unfortunate victims of this war.

Live your lives in peace, and do not worry needlessly. Leave everything in God’s hands. If He wants me to return to you, then I will return. I will love you all the more and may know how to show it better. I will be a better man as well. Oh, Mother, how wonderful it is to travel; there is so much to see and to learn!

I am just back from a nine-day leave during which I travelled cross England and visited Scotland. I would like to keep going forever. But I am happy to be back in my little room tonight. I have a fireplace, and the charcoal crackles all night while I dream of you all. I love you so much. I hate to bother you, but Reine, could you send me the following items, as well as the muffler that my dear old mother knit for me. I wish I had had it with me these last few days.

I would like you to send me a small cheap lighter (not a Ronson) and any kind of small, trinket (5¢, 10¢, 15¢). We often need a light and our matches get wet. A little mirror to hang...

Also, I’d appreciate if you could find something that doesn’t break easily, made of some sort of glass, that I could use when I shave… not too big. And a few Gillette razor blades; every time you send me something, you can also add a few more and a couple of bars of bath soap. Did Mum find a picture to send to Utopia?

There are so many things we need here, but I only want what I need… maybe a small box of face powder for after shaving!

The food is good and I am fine. "Triumph without peril brings no glory!"

Dear old Dad, I can’t wait to tell you about my travels. Take care of yourself and, please, do not worry needlessly. Actually, I am doing the same thing here as I did in Canada. I got a nice letter from Georgette this evening. She had written me a letter in the past, but it never got to me. Send your letters air mail, because they take an awful long time to get here otherwise. I would like to go on a lot more, but space is limited here. I was very happy to hear that you had house insurance. How are the rentals? Georgette tells me it is very cold. Are they complaining about the cold? It seems to be cold everywhere this winter, especially when you sleep outside. I don’t know how long I will be here. I hope they will send me to Belgium or Holland instead of Italy. I think I’ll get my wish too. Travelling across France would be nice.

I love the mentality of the people here. The English are very spiritual. Englishmen are distinguished and always seem to carry a cane or an umbrella with them. English women are tall, thin and nimble; they have golden blond hair, and you can see them with their little baskets in hand when they go to the market. The English are interesting to listen to, very polite. I listen more than I talk. I saw that I had a lot to learn and to see. It is so beautiful, so wonderful… the monuments, the progress, the lifestyle and the unnamed commodities in English homes that are so useful. Oh my dear parents, you are with me everywhere I go. I love you more and more. Take care. Everything is fine here. Your baby sends you lots of hugs and kisses.

January 24, 1945

Raph

February 2, 1945
Hello Mom,

Everything is exploding around me. The sky is being shredded and the earth is opening up all around—what a clamour! Thunder! Shredding! This is war, and I am finally at the front. Tell Dad that even though terror sometimes grips us and brings us to our knees, I want to stay. I want to avenge those who fall at my side. I feel the need to continue as long as God will allow it. I have seen unspeakable horror. I have witnessed grown men dying, moaning, pleading and begging for help. I have seen long processions of women, old people and children trying to escape from their destroyed homes, under heavy artillery fire, naked and suffering, starving and trying to get to our side. I hope I never live long enough to see the same things happen in my beautiful little piece of heaven back home! Everything is shaking right now. The sky is opening up again!!!

Thanks to your prayers, folks, I miraculously survived an explosion that would have obliterated everything, including my entire platoon. Incredibly, the bomb that hit the building where I was did not explode! It is thanks to you, folks, and to Saint Joseph and my dear Mother in heaven that I am alive today. I am counting on you, on them… I can’t do anything myself aside from thanking you and continuing to hope as we march on. My morale is very good. I almost seem to be enjoying myself sometimes.

In my first mission, I took six prisoners! I was very happy. I may get the chance to change my socks tonight, after ten days of wearing the same ones. It will be so nice to be back home after all the atrocities I have witnessed. I didn’t think war would be as horrible! The morale of the troops is good, but each foot of land is defended and hard-won … We are fighting against very good soldiers here. We all have our moments of terror, but our time also comes, eventually…

But there is nothing we can do about the bombing … man is powerless against fire and brimstone...Life is beautiful, but war is hell! But God watches over us. I am thankful for that. I think of you. During the long nights, while I anxiously wait for daylight and the singing of the birds, I am with you always. Hugs and kisses.

Raph

February 23, 1945
Hello folks,

Or “good evening”, rather! I received your cablegram this afternoon. I didn’t even recognize your handwriting, Sol, but it was wonderful to read a few lines from you. It made me feel so much closer to you.

At this moment, I am with you, heart and soul. I am listening to the opera Mignon and the lyrics are bringing tears to my eyes: "Connais-tu le pays où fleurit l'oranger...le pays des fruits d'or..."

The singer is signing like Reine, and it makes me think of our living room, of vacation …: Solyme, Germaine and Reine singing "Connais-tu le pays"... I know. It is my knightly vigil, folks! The time has finally come. Tomorrow, I will awaken from this dream, but the nightmare will continue. But I will prove what I am made of. Tomorrow, under the God’s watchful eye, and with you in my thoughts, I will face danger and maintain hope. And I will hear you, dearest mother, whisper to me just as you did when my head weighed heavily on your lap: “Le voyez-vous, au sein de la bataille, le front radieux traverser la mitraille....l'ennemi fuit, tout cède à sa valeur...” [from the song Près d’un berceau] You see, mother dear, that I am hiding nothing from you. Tomorrow, tomorrow, if God is willing, I will survive this nightmare. I know that I can. I can because you taught me and showed me time and time again that I could make it through anything. Sacrifices, sorrow, pain… Contentment and joy in abundance… “Viens avec nous petit, viens avec nous, viens!!” [from a French song called Viens avec nous, petit!)

I hope that this letter will not make you sad and that you will have the strength and the confidence in God, who is allowing this to happen. If I had had the liberty and the material ability that I have tonight, I would have written to you every day. I beg you not to worry if you don’t receive mail from me regularly. We often want to write, we have so much to say, but our conditions are such that we are not ourselves and we lose our nerve: the cold, the humidity and every other little discomfort that dulls and deadens life. I hope to get all your letters, which are on their way. How precious they will be to me where I will be! My dear old parents, be well. Pray for me and wait for me. I love you more and more each day. You are all I have left. If you only knew how much I want you to be happy, how I would like to tell you how much I love you and how much I owe you.

Take care. May God bless you and protect you.

Your baby, who sends you hugs and kisses.

Raph

March 9, 1945
Hello folks,

Chocolate, tea, apples, etc. My boys received packages and everybody is sharing. And we hunkered down in a house last night and had chickens to cook. Unfortunately, they weren’t cooked by the time we hit the sack. I was the first to get up, and they were the first thing I thought of, but they had boiled dry. There was barely any chicken left either, because they had shrunk so much! As you can see, it is not all bad. We have good times as well. And the joy of those we liberate almost makes us forget our pains and our aching feet! We are back in Holland; these poor people have suffered so much! And they haven’t finished suffering. We often have to burn everything to the ground to chase away Jerry, who has been fighting tooth and nail. I am well, my dear folks, thanks to your prayers. Thank you. Tonight, I received a letter from Reine and another from Thérèse. I have been receiving your mail and am delighted. I wear the little wool vest and love it. It is wonderful. And the lighter works great. All is good. I am happy that you received the little clogs, and hope you will receive the rest. I will send another parcel as soon as I can. I hope it will get to you. It will include what I promised you, Sol. It is precious, but I doubt very much it will get there. It used to belong to a small Austrian officer that I shot myself. He was injured and lying face down in the mud. I took pity on him, so I stopped and sat him up against a tree and took away his weapon. After the battle, I came back to him and shared a cigarette with him. He couldn’t speak, but his tiger eyes turned Acadian blue as tears welled up. Poor man. We don’t normally have time to stop to tend to the injured. The stretcher bearers come up behind the troops to take care of them. Four of my “little guys” were injured in this attack. I love them all as if they were my children. And tomorrow will be like today, and the following day as well. Under the watchful eye of God, we go where He guides us. I like my life. Terror seizes us at times, but there are other times when we feel like we are flying. My men know me well now. They can see that I am exhausted at times, but when they see me singing and lively, eyes brimming with joy, they know we are preparing for action!

I think we will be able to rest a bit soon … it will be well deserved.

Take care, my dear old parents. Keep waiting and praying for me. You are my strength, my life, my hope. I will be so happy to be with you again. And you, my dear old Pop, as soon as we have a bit of time, I will try to send you a little money. Sol, I hope my parcels are getting to you.

Pop, I think of you day and night, and that gives me great comfort. Mom, I often find myself singing those old songs you taught me that I loved so much.

Bye folks!

Your baby,

Raph

March 15, 1945
Hello folks,

Everything is shiny and bright. There’s a song in the air. In this big beautiful forest where, just a short time ago, our men were fighting —and dying—bravely, we are now taking a much-deserved rest after winning a few battles. The sun is warm, the leaves carpet the ground, the birds are singing happily, and we are here! This setting certainly makes us want to dream … and we finally have time to do so! Last night, we had a mass, confession and communion. Father Hickey—one of Solyme’s friends—was here. He is a charming man, a major no less! How wonderfully peaceful it all was, especially after communion! The sun was slowly setting on the horizon as night gently enveloped us and six chaplains gave absolutions, sitting on stumps and on ammunition crates, propped up against trees, etc. In the distance, the bombing, and the memory of our last bombings. Everything leads to God. We must thank God again and again. Dear parents, I owe you so much for everything you have done for me and all the blessings and miracles your prayers have brought me!

We managed to chase Jerry out of the Rhine. I saw the Rhine river, and I saw the other side, where the bombs were coming from. We will cross to that side as soon as we have closed ranks, replaced the fallen and trained the new troops. Your will laugh when you receive my parcels. I wanted to send you something, anything I might have. In the future, I will only send true souvenirs. Sol, I hope you won’t mind wearing the German shoes I sent, even though a piece of shrapnel went through the toe. In the second parcel, there is a used Nazi flag, torn and dirty, much like the party! Mom should be able to repair it. There are also a few small insignia. In the first big parcel, there is German officer’s pack, which should be good for hunting. There is also a harmonica for Léonide Soucy’s son (in Saint Basile). He had asked me for one a long time ago and I was never able to find him one in Canada. It should be a nice souvenir! As for the utensils, I put those in without thinking! Did you receive small shoes for Bertrand and Peter-James? Tell me when you receive the parcels. I really regretted having asked you for cigarettes. They are hard to get in England, but we have as much as we want here. I smoke more than Dad ever has!! Don’t send me too many parcels. They either get lost or we don’t have time to do anything with them. Once in a while, it would be nice to get candies, chocolates and macaroons, as well as razor blades, but no canned goods…things that can be eaten quickly and easily. I’ve been really lucky here. I love it. I only had a revolver for a weapon, but I managed to get my hands on a German machine gun! Now, I can hit them with their own ammunition and fire at a speed they know well!!!

I hope that I will be able to take it with me when I go home. With the flag, I also included a few coins, a souvenir from the last war. The amounts show just how much inflation we have seen. The money has no value. Here in Germany, we use occupation currency. We have few expenses: stamps and a few other small items like that. I am very well and very happy. I hope you are well and happy, too.

Your loving son,

Raph

April 1, 1945
Hello folks,

It is raining today. Such a shame for such a glorious day! But we are happy and joyful and well. We are thinking about Easter and about the wonderful meals we have shared in the past, in beautiful surroundings, etc. Essentially, we imagine all of the things that might make you envious. But, my dear parents, we are good soldiers. We thoroughly defeated the Germans yesterday. We are hot on their heels, and we will celebrate heartily when all is done.

How are you doing, dear parents? Good, I hope! Tell me if that isn’t the case though, because I would rather know everything. This morning, I was finally able to wash up and shave on this side of the Rhine river … It should be really beautiful here, but when we have passed through an area, things are pretty ugly. In this area, the Germans have been hitting with a lot of ferocity… as have we!! I really like my men, as mischievous as they all are. I have a few souvenirs to send you from these last clashes. Did you receive the others? Sol, I will try to send you a German revolver. If you don’t want it, you can keep it for me or give it to Gaby as a souvenir. You can find ammunition for it at home (9 mm).

I am praying with you. Your prayers give me great strength and comfort, and they have kept me safe. My own prayers are too short and intermittent, and … well, it just isn’t the same as having you pray for me, dear parents, dear Sol, dear Reine. Will you do something to the house this spring? It would be so wonderful if I could visit for just one month. But I would miss a lot of fun here, and—like Dad used to say—we have to do well here and finish what we have started. Take heart, dear Pop. I am following your example. I am walking in your footsteps. People are starting to know me, too. Mom, I’m in good spirits. There is happiness and joy in all that I do.

I have not sent any souvenir to Georgette yet… I just haven’t found anything.

I hope to hear from you soon. I also hope to see you.

Bye my dear Mom and Pop, my sweetie Reine and my good old Sol.

Sending hugs and kisses your way. Your baby,

Raph

April 7, 1945
Dear old Mom and Dad,

I just received your parcel tonight. What a joy to receive something from you! It is so much better than anything else! It really makes me feel close to home! A box of chocolates, soap—I will need some the whole time I am here—razor blades, a mirror… Thank you so much!

I hope you know that I am always thanking my lucky stars that I have such wonderful parents! Your combined gifts have brought me countless blessings and, quite frankly, miracles. You were with me when we crossed the Rhine and fought night and day. In my company, I am the only officer left. Of those who came with me, I am the only one who hasn’t been injured. Oh, you are so good! May God bless you! I came close many times. Everybody over here talks about what a miracle it was that the cannonball that landed next to my chair didn’t go off. And there are many other similar instances as well! And I am happy, no matter whether I am tired, rested, dry or wet, hungry or well-fed … we have our hard times…yes, we have our hard times! In Emmerich, it was very tough. Here in Deventer, it is hell!! But my star is shining brightly. People seem to like me for my cheerfulness, my good spirits and my enthusiasm. I like the field, the powder, my life! I have covered a lot of country already. As you can see from the last city I mentioned, I am now in Holland, the country of dikes, peaceful and romantic windmills and wide plains, modest farmers with their wooden clogs, who laugh and cry tears of joy when we liberate them.

And we rarely have time to stop. We are continually pushing further. Nos pleurs coulaient mais notre oeil abattu..brillait encore lorsqu'on volait aux armes. [from the French song Te souviens-tu?] Those beautiful old songs proved to be so true.

If you see Georgette, tell her that I am tired but well, and that I will write to her as soon as I have a bit of free time. I think we will be stopping soon for a bit of rest. Sol, I have a nice Luger for you that I got yesterday. What a battle it was yesterday! What a charge! The commandant was charmed. And I was enthralled.

Bye folks!

Hugs and kisses!

Thanks for everything.

Raph

July 5, 1945
Hello Mom,

I just read your letter… it was so nice to hear from you! I am happy that you are up and at ‘em. As I read, I dreamed of seeing so many other people and places that you reminded me of. The sun is burning while I write to you on my lap. “Batman” just scolded me for getting sunburn on my back because I stayed too long out in the sun.

He massaged my back and said that I would be burning tonight and that it would serve me right.

We are in Germany, in Aurich. The camp is immense, buildings imposing, and everything is made of bricks. There are parks, water fountains, gyms, games rooms, sports fields, showers, etc. It’s for the German navy. With such an organization, it is not surprising they had such an army. Their supermen now wash floors and work in the camp, here. Their physical culture is to be admired; they are very muscular and physically fit. One wonders how we managed to conquer such legionnaires!

The non-fraternization policy has not been too hard to deal with so far, because we don’t go out much and there isn’t much in town anyway. At least nothing has caught my eye so far! It may be better that way anyhow. But the policy is ridiculous! It is we who are being punished, not the Germans, who couldn’t care less and who just laugh at us. They would be willing to make friends and cooperate. But if this non-fraternization policy lasts too long, they will end up being difficult and crazy.

There is a lot of work for us here to keep us busy: guarding, training, education (teaching school subjects and various trades to soldiers).

I am waiting for everything to be completely organized to see how things go. There is absolutely nothing to do right now!

I haven’t received Reine’s parcel yet. Did she send me cigarettes? Cigarettes are like cash here. I would gladly pay for them. Real currency here, in Holland, is practically worthless, and loses value every day. But with cigarettes, you can buy everything that you need if it is available. Tea is even better! So if you send me a parcel, you can include tea. We can get a little chocolate here I still love peanuts and other nuts. If I can get to England soon, I will send you all the money I have to repay Sol a little and maybe to pay for some repairs. I can’t tell you how much I would like to go home to see you all and to take care of all these little jobs.

Don’t fret, mummy dearest, if things aren’t going so well with Georgette. I haven’t forgotten, even though I have met plenty of charming beauties over here. Pop, you old ruffian, something tells me that I will get to hug you again soon. Take care, my dear parents!

Your baby loves you!

Raph

August 24, 1945
Hello folks,

It rains almost every day in this sad part of Germany. It is as sad as the souls of those who have lost the war and who ask us every day if we will be here for long, if it is true that Russia will take all of Germany and how they will keep warm this winter. They have no wood or coal. And they have very little food. It is already very cold here. Mummy dearest, would you be so kind as to knit me a nice sweater like the other one you made, which I seem to have lost. And Pop, if you send me something, could you add a few bulbs for my flashlight, too? Remember the ones I mean? A few bars of soap, some tea and coffee. But no razor blades. When I know more about where we will spend the winter, I might ask for other things as well. Right now, there is something falling from the sky that kind of looks like snow. If you could see these poor people, the old ones especially, and the thousands of very young children (the result of Hitler’s directives), half-dressed with winter coming, and nothing to keep them warm. I think there will be a lot of misery without us. What I have seen and experienced over here has taught me a lot, and it is impossible to convey it all in writing.

My dearest parents, I am so thankful that God has served you where you are and kept your from harm. My dear old Sol … Reine, wonderful mother that you are, and the rest of you, Germaine and Thé … and your beautiful grandchildren.

I love children more than ever, especially since I realize that I may never have my own. People know me very well over here, and the old people smile with tenderness when they see me surrounded by hoards of children! I am happy no matter where I am, and I am grateful for everything that I am given every day and for everything you have done for me. I regret not having been able to give you what you really wanted: being close to you. But if there is anything else, I hope you will let me know. I think of you every moment of the day, and I would love to be with you. I love you like crazy and send you lots of hugs and kisses.

Your baby,

Raph.

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