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Returning Home

Heroes Remember

Well I was on there, it was either overnight or two nights, I forgot which, I think it was only overnight and I was fortunate that I was physically okay except I couldn’t walk but I could get around with crutches so they were taking a bunch of the people in that condition and loading them on C 54’s and flying them home. So it turned out I got on the first plane load coming home. Again I was lucky. Interviewer: And where did you land? In San Francisco and they had set up Letterman Hospital there just for returning POW’s and the group I was with was the first bunch into it. In fact, I was the first actual returning POW to land in the States. Harry Atkinson beat me to Winnipeg but I stayed in Letterman for three days where he came straight on through so he got home a day before I did. I was kind of let down by the Canadian Army because in this Letterman, they had booths set up in every corridor in the hospital. They were staffed by I guess volunteer girls 24 hours a day, that anything you wanted except, I guess you couldn’t get liquor but if you wanted any fruit juice or anything like that they were right there just to hand it to you and meals, anything you wanted, and completely outfitted with American clothing. And then we got to Vancouver, got off the train and I forget the baracks we went to, anyway it was quite late at night when we got there. So a staff sergeant said, “Are you hungry?” Ya, we could use something to eat because we could always eat then. So he said, “I will see what I can find!” So he came back in a little while and he had a cardboard carton about this big full of stale cake and a jug of milk. We ate it anyway, of course, but just the contrast between the two was kind of startling. Interviewer: Where did you go from Vancouver? Straight through to Winnipeg. Interviewer: And what was the homecoming like? Well I, I guess had the biggest crowd of any because Harry Atkinson got in the day before and he kind of surprised everybody but by the time I got here a lot of people were aware. Actually, there were two of us, there was myself and a fellow from the Royal Rifles. He was going on through to Barrie, I think, and got off the train and the guards or police had to clear a path through the crowd for myself and my family to get out of it. It was the old CPR station. Interviewer: What was your reaction? I was kind of numb I think. I don’t remember it all that clearly and for the next week or two, I just dreaded to hear the phone ring because I knew it was going to be somebody that had gotten my name and could find my phone number and wanted to know about their relatives or their sons or brothers or whatever and so many of them I knew hadn’t made it and it’s not easy to tell people that.

Mr. Gyselman discusses being the first Canadian POW to be flown to mainland North America. He compares the generous welcome of the Americans to the austerity of the Canadian welcome. While happy to be home, he is troubled by questions about other people's loved ones.

Harry Gyselman

Harry Gyselman was born on February 11, 1920 in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. His father left the insurance business to farm, but went broke during the depression. After his father’s death, Mr. Gyselman worked odd jobs to support his family. Initially interested in joining the Air Force, he opted to join a friend who was enlisting with the Winnipeg Grenadiers. Mr. Gyselman was a truck driver during the battle of Hong Kong, and was in the POW camp in Niigata, Japan when the war ended. He has the distinction of being the first Canadian POW to reach mainland North America after the war.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
October 10, 2000
Person Interviewed:
Harry Gyselman
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
North America
Hong Kong
Winnipeg Grenadiers
Truck Driver

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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