By Zack Noureddine
The research process behind an Algonquin author’s latest historic Canadian effort proved to be an experience he will never forget.
English professor, coordinator and author Nathan Greenfield spent the last three years exploring, writing and editing for his book, set to be released later this month, titled The Forgotten: Canadian POWs, Escapers and Evaders, 1939 – 1945 – an eye-opening journey which took him to Europe and back.
“The title tells you exactly what the book is about,” said Greenfield. “It is the stories of war heroes that were forgotten.”
Much like his previous book, The Damned: The Canadians at the Battle of Hong Kong and the POW Experience, 1941 – 1945, it depicts the accounts of Allied prisoners of war in a historic, chronological order, but from the European theatre of the Second World War.
“Like [The Damned,] the research behind The Forgotten is extensive in the sense of portraying what these men – captured Allied soldiers of the Second World War – endured,” he said. “Their experiences are just as important as they are dreadful – very.”
“To respectively bring the emotional reality [of their stories] to life required a great deal of effort,” he continued. “Much of the detailed accounts of the allied captives were actually found here in Ottawa.”
Greenfield accidentally came across 500 letters, all written in French by Allied airmen during the war, while studying the archives of Saint Paul University three years with Father Andre Dubois three years ago.
“I read them all, thoroughly,” he said. “Learning of [the allied airmen’s] journeys was obviously a very emotional experience. These men were fearless, absolutely fearless. They had to be.”
While the letters provided Greenfield with the in-depth accounts of the allied prisoners of war, he used his connections within the religious community to discover more.
A man named Father Phillipe Goudreau helped Greenfield learn of the soldiers who escaped the from Stalag Luft III prison during the “Great Escape” of 1944 – an event which he talks about in the book among many historic escapes.
Greenfield’s intuition led him to the outskirts of Weimer, Germany, where the Buchenwald concentration camp stood between 1938 and ’45.
He recalls the visit to the camp’s archives and memorial as being a very emotional moment leading up to the beginning stages of the book.
“It was four years ago,” he said. “Before my wife and I went to leave, I knelt down and picked up a stone to place on an oven as a commemoration to the Allied air men.”
The camp was one of few Nazi German operations which held Western Allied POWs, including three Canadians who were executed before the war’s end. Greenfield speaks of them in The Forgotten.
“I started mumbling and my wife asked me what I was saying,” he continued. “I told her I was saying the prayer to the dead in Hebrew, a prayer I had long forgotten before that day. It all came back to me in that emotional moment. The experience was shadowing, it took days for us to recover.”
Greenfield is currently working on a collection of letters, all in French, to release in the coming year.
For those anticipating The Forgotten’s Oct. 22 release, Greenfield will be holding a book launch at the HMCS Bytown and a Brew, Books and Food on the 28 at the Clocktower Pub in New Edinburgh.
The Algonquin Times will be on the scene.