With the War begun, we shift away from general WWII history and back to the specific experiences of Law Chantler. A few more pages of exposition get us from Canada to England.
Some of the information here comes from records I was able to access at the Cambridge Armory, the headquarters of the former Highland Light Infantry of Canada and its current incarnation, The Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada (which it has been known as since merging with the Scots Fusiliers of Canada in 1965). On my initial visit to the Armoury, regimental historian Sgt. Lance Harrisson provided me with a very delicate piece of paper that had last been updated in 1943, which detailed my grandfather's military qualifications and the dates of his enlistment, transfer to the HLI, and departure overseas. I took away a photocopy of it, which is pictured here. This was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with the regiment, which I'll write much more about as this blog progresses.
Much of the information in this scene, though, comes from Law's 1943 diary, which will continue to be the main source of research throughout the rest of Part One of Two Generals.:
Sunday March 7
This is my last night with Marg before I go overseas. May all my memories of her be indelible.
Monday March 8
Left Camp Borden 3:30
Tuesday March 9
Arrive New Jersey 9:30 during a black-out and took ferry to the Docks of No. 4, harbour No. 4. Skyline very impressive even during black-out. Boarded Queen Elizabeth 11 P.M. Also saw the Normandie on her side by adjoining pier. Bedded down 12 to a stateroom.
Occasionally I'm asked why the HLI of C shipped out of New Jersey rather than Halifax, Nova Scotia, as many other Canadian regiments did. The answer is simple: New Jersey is less than half the distance from southern Ontario than Halifax is. (I think sometimes people forget just how big Canada is, and how close and easily crossed the U.S. border is for many/most of us.)
The wedding photo at the bottom of page 12 is based on my grandparents' actual wedding photo, which for a long time was the best of only a couple of pictures I had of Jack Chrysler. I would eventually come to possess many more, but that's a story for another post.
The anecdote on page 15 about the pull chain toilet comes not from my grandfather's own experience (that I know of) but from a humorous article I encountered in the pages of Aldershot News, a WWII-era military newsletter for soldiers stationed at Camp Aldershot, Nova Scotia (not to be confused with Aldershot, England, the home of the British Army, where my grandfather was stationed for much of his training...repetition of place names between Europe and Canada can get confusing at the best of times). Unfortunately, I can't find the issue number or author's name in my notes to properly cite either one. But it was written shortly after the arrival of the first Canadian troops in England, and contained a number of funny observations about the resulting culture shock on both sides: the smaller size of English trains, the cost of dining out, the relative informality of Canadian troops, and this funny description of a bewildering first encounter with British toilets. A few people have questioned whether middle-class Canadian officers born in the earliest days of the Twentieth Century would really not recognize a Victorian era toilet, but I thought it was a fun bit that efficiently (and visually) deals with the idea of cultural difference in a single page, and also provides a rare laugh in a book that's going to go to some dark places. It's something that turned up in the very earliest days of my research for Two Generals, and was part of every draft of the story that ever existed. Because what book couldn't use a good toilet gag?
The scene on page 16 was inspired by something I was told by my Uncle Bill about fellow officers not being able to remember either of my grandfather's given names, opting instead to call him "Joe". The story checked out: elsewhere in my research about the HLI of C, I saw him referred to as "Lt. J. Chantler" at least once. Some things just stick.
A slight change was made on page 16 between the first and second printings of the book. When Law and Jack salute their company commander, they originally used the palm-down naval salute that has been standard across the Canadian Forces since 1968. On the release of the book, though, a few people were more than happy to point out that in the WWII era, Canada's army and air force were still using the traditional, palm-out salute we associate with the British army and air force. (You can read an official history of Canadian military salutes here.) Fortunately, there's very little saluting depicted in Two Generals, but where there is, I patched in new hands in the correct positions for the paperback edition. If you own one of the hardcover first printings, I'm sorry to say you have a version that's slightly less historically accurate than other printings.
Although most characters in Two Generals, big and small, are based on real people, I tried to name as few of the background characters as I could get away with. The reason for this was mostly logistical: once you identify a real, historical person -- who may have living descendants or may even still be living themselves -- you've got to research that person and make sure you're doing their depiction justice. And without a team of researchers backing me up, there just wasn't going to be time to do all of that. I had my hands full just with my grandfather and Jack, so I needed background characters who could just walk on, do their small parts, and walk off, without sending me down needless research rabbit holes. All of which is to say: though he isn't named, the senior officer in this scene is Captain Vince Stark, who will appear again a few times in the narrative.
Capt. Stark's great-nephew contacted me through the original version of this blog back in 2013. I love to hear from descendants of members of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, and am glad that Two Generals has given some of them a way to connect with and share their family history. I'm proud to say that the great-nephew is now the owner of the original art for this page, as well as a few other pages on which Stark appears.