U.S. soldier takes his turn receiving a cup of milk given by an elderly French woman in Normandy.

“Behind their laughter is the dark curtain of sound, the guns miles away where our comrades labor at the day that never ends”

By Gregory Clark, August 5, 1944.


One of our little jokes over here is that we go racing all over Normandy looking for war while watching the time carefully so as not to miss the war news on our portable army radio back in our tent. It reminds us how insignificant after all is one man’s view of the war. I envy you the front page of your newspaper where, in a few bold strokes of black ink, the sum and the total for the day is set forth, while I, in Normandy, are only the little digits which often add up to nothing at all. Therefore, with your kind indulgence, I will set down a few digits and no longer pretend to be a chartered accountant. From our station a few days ago, a pilot did not come home in his Mustang, though his friends came away from the supper tent and stood at the landing strip’s edge, pretending they were looking at the fine sunset. But night came.

A few days later a flight lieutenant took his bicycle and in his battledress went, for a wander across these curiously Ontario-like byways of Normandy. He took the little roads to avoid the traffic and the eternal brown of the thrusting, shoving army. He saw fat cattle and great French farm horses as gentle as fawns. Then he came to a solitary traffic control soldier who looked lonely and the flight lieutenant slacked the pedal and let his leg down.

“Air force?” asked the traffic man. “One of your boys is lying up on the hill there.” The flight lieutenant pedalled up the hill and beside a Normandy cottage found a new heaped grave. There were five different sets of flowers on it, five different stages of withering revealing five friends, though the pilot, like a meteor, had come to earth amid this lovely verdant land. On the crude cross were the particulars. Atop the cross was a flying leather helmet. As the. flight lieutenant stood with his bicycle, looking down, out of the cottage came the woman of the house.

“I would like to take his helmet,” said the flight lieutenant.

“No,” said the woman of Normandy.

And there in the sun and the rain sits the pilot’s helmet, jauntily.

Rev. Father Norman Gallagher of Swift Current is our Roman Catholic padre, a young man of only 27. I have an awful time in argument with him, though I have been to Rome and he has not. Capt. Freddie Boyle is the auxiliary services’ officer and also a Catholic. Freddie’s large marquee tent is usurped by Father Gallagher for mass every day at 5.30 in the afternoon.

On the road, this being the Sabbath, Padre Gallagher, all full of saintliness, encountered Mme. Le Grand, who owns the big farm where our tents are laid. She asked the chaplain where he said mass and the padre indicated the large Knights of Columbus marquee and in his excellent Canadian-French foretold the hour. At mass that night were 15 of Mme. Le Grand’s family and friends whom she had gathered together, four of the party being very pretty young ladies. Padre Gallagher had one of the largest congregations of his R.C.A.F. experience.

Mme. Le Grand has many curious impressions. For example, she refers to the Germans and the Gestapo as though they were separate enemies. The Germans were nice boys who helped about the farm – the Gestapo were very bad men. She also has a perfectly clear impression of Dieppe as a reconnaissance in force, though the Germans drilled into all her people the idea that it was an invasion thrown back into the sea. We dropped leaflets from the sky a few minutes before our invasion this time. But the wind carried them back to the Caen area. None fell around here. And so the German boys, encamped on Mme. Le Grand’s farm, laughingly told her it was just another Dieppe and their officer loaded them into trucks and took them off toward Caen, where they would be in reserve.

“I was very proud,” said Mme. Le Grand, “that it was Canadians who came through my farm. My late husband always spoke very highly of Canadians beside whom he fought, at Amiens in the last war. He had always hoped that if any rich relative died he could visit Canada. No Germans being on my farm, the Canadians came through without any damage to my property whatsoever.”

P.O. H. T. Weenie is only three months old – but he has one hour’s operational flying to his credit already. He is a small, bad-tempered, brown dog belonging to Flt.-Lieut. Malcolm Brown of the City of Toronto squadron, though 23 other pilots of the squadron lay equal claim to him. It was in Mac Brown’s Spitfire, however, in contravention of K.R. air, not to mention the public health and quarantine laws of the Republic of France, that Ben – which is P.O. Weenie’s name for short – came to France. Right now he is chewing my artistically bagged, blue battledress pants and I am too old to be patient with pups.

Into our mess a moment ago, very pale and quiet, came F.O. Ron Knewstub of Winnipeg and F.O. J. L. C. Brown of Vancouver, who, none the less, have the honor to belong to the City of Toronto squadron. I angled up to them and asked them what was amiss.

“We have just been flown over from England in a Dakota,” said Ron Knewstub, a gaunt flier. “It was pretty grim.”

“Why, what happened?” I demanded.

“Oh nothing,” said Ron, “but I hate flying. I always get sick.”

I should mention that Ron and his pale, quiet friend Brown are two of the pilots of the City of Toronto squadron who, for months past, have gone out in their high altitude Spitfires that come off the ground like a bullet and whistle up to a height of seven or eight miles. There were not enough Spits for all the squadron pilots to fly their tooth brushes over to France so some of them had to be ferried over in that loveliest of passenger planes, the Dakota. No fighter pilot can travel with any degree of comfort behind another pilot.

“I felt I was going to be sick, said both Brown and Knewstub. “So I just looked out the window all the way over.”

After their harrowing experience of flying the channel in a Dakota along with 20 other passengers, they will take off joyously to seven miles high in their little canoes.

Well, there are the digits. In the tent under an apple tree in Normandy, so like an apple tree I know on Indian Grove in Toronto, I set them down, while the radio roars Charlie McCarthy and the front of the tent is crowded with my R.C.A.F. friends. Pilots, mess waiters, dispatch riders and lorry drivers at the long day’s end laugh uproariously at the little wooden bad boy, and behind their laughter is the dark curtain of sound, the guns miles away where our brown comrades labor at the day that never ends.

Editor’s Notes: Some of the abbreviated ranks are: P.O. = Pilot Officer, Flt.-Lieut. = Flight Lieutenant, F.O. = Flying Officer.

“K.R. Air” refers to King’s Regulation’s that were issued with regards to all R.C.A.F. regulations. These were regularly updated and were likely last issued in 1940 at the time of this wiring.