An upcoming book recounts the longest battle of World War II, and it starts with a local connection.
From Sept. 3, 1939 to May 8, 1945, Allied forces– many of them Canadian– fought German ships and U-boats to resupply a cut-off United Kingdom. Battle of the Atlantic: Gauntlet to Victory, by Canadian author and journalist Ted Barris, seeks to tell the “human stories” of that six-year campaign.
Ahead of the book’s release this month, Barris will give a talk at the Haliburton Fish Hatchery Sept. 14 at 7:00 p.m., with a similar event in Huntsville on Oct. 21.
“What better than a nautical event at a hatchery,” says Barris.
Those human stories begin with letters from Haliburton-born Alix Masheter. Barris says Masheter was living in England when the war broke out, and painted a clear picture of the situation to her relatives back home.
“She wrote back to the family to reassure them, with the war looming and indeed on top of them, what life was going to be like,” says Barris. “Suddenly everything just stopped in my brain about dealing with the battles and the death at sea, all that stuff. What was this all about? It was about keeping Britain alive. This woman’s letter is dated Sept. 3rd 1949, the very first day of the war.”
According to Barris, stories like these tend to be glossed over in favour of the political or military movements of the war.
“It certainly set straight in my mind how to go about telling the story,” says Barris. “Keeping in mind that this is about the people who participated in the battle at sea, but also the people who were battling to stay alive at the other end of the lifeline.”
That said, Barris says the book has no shortage of military stories either. Never-before-seen interviews with several survivors from the sinking of Convoy HX 72– on route to Liverpool from Halifax– follow Masheter’s story.
“I had seven or eight voices of men all experiencing the same trip, the same disastrous convoy, the same survival of a tanker that exploded around them,” says Barris. “Nobody else has that kind of data, nobody can give you the pinpoint accuracy of those voices to show you the hell that convoy was.”
Admission to the talk at the Haliburton Fish Hatchery is $15, and reservations can be made by calling Yours Outdoors at 705-457-0459.
The Huntsville event is a “learn and learn” hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Huntsville Muskoka at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 232, Oct. 21 at noon. Tickets are $40, by e-transfer to [email protected].