My father, Jim Alexander, served overseas with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment during WWII. He was one of four Hespeler boys to receive the Military Medal for bravery. The others were Fred Baker, George Edmonds and John Spencer. This recount of one of my dad’s war stories, is dedicated to their memory. (B.A.)
During World War II, my father was on active duty in Veen, Germany. In March, 1945, he was informed by his commanding officer that he had been ordered to England. He was to be decorated by King George VI.
Dad was a big man in the prime of life, in those days. As a corporal, Dad was in charge of his section. He continually refused promotion. Once a sergeant, he would have been expected to send his comrades into battle. He preferred to remain in his section, with the men he knew and with whom he had spent so much time. Fifty years later, those bonds were still tight.
Although greatcoats were sent to the soldiers when needed, Dad’s regiment, the
Lincoln and Welland, was engaged in heavy battle at this time, and was awaiting reinforcements and supplies – including large greatcoats. Before leaving Veen, Dad gave his greatcoat to his big Brengunner, who did not have one.
Upon arriving at the military training camp in Aldershot, England, Dad was immediately called up before the commanding officer, for not having his greatcoat. The Regimental Sergeant-Major at the base believed my father’s story, and took the time to contact the front for verification. The charges were dropped.
It was damp and chilly in Aldershot that spring. On leave for a few days before his audience with the king, Dad headed for a Red Cross Centre. There he acquired, from the hundreds at this depot, a big, khaki-coloured, hand-knit sweater, with a double collar: a style with which he was familiar. He could wear this under his tunic, sight unseen.
After receiving the Military Medal for bravery at Buckingham Palace, Dad returned to the front. He rejoined his regiment, was given a new greatcoat, and continued to serve his country. The sweater was packed away in his kit.
The war ended. In January, 1946, Dad returned to Hespeler. One of the first things his mother was glad to do for him was his laundry. While sorting through his clothes one evening, she picked up the sweater. She told Dad that she had knitted it. She asked how he had come to have it. Dad told her that he’d picked it out of a huge pile in Aldershot, at a Red Cross centre.
In her usual deliberate and quiet way, Grandma took a pair of scissors and snipped the back of the collar to reveal a two dollar bill, and a note written in her hand. The letter requested the recipient of the sweater to write to her, to let her know how he was doing. As many patriotic women had done during the war, Grandma had knitted socks and sweaters, and sent them to the boys overseas. It was a common practice to tuck money and letters inside these garments. Grandma continued correspondence for many years with some of the young men who received her handiwork. For some reason, Dad had not thought to look inside the collar.
What hands had directed this sweater, made by a kindly woman for a stranger, over thousands of miles, to end up in the hands of her own son? Perhaps it was the same hands that protected my father during three years of active duty; the same hands that guided him through all those horrors, and brought him safely home.