- One Family's War: The Wartime Letters of Clarence Bourassa, 1940-1944
This volume consists of letters written by Private Clarence O. Bourassa, of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, to his wife Hazel from March 1940 to July 1944, when he was killed, aged thirty, in the Battle of Normandy. Their letters are charged with passion. The Bourassas freely and uninhibitedly express their love for each other, a startling contrast to the repressed prairie couples of 1930s Saskatchewan portrayed in the short stories and novels of Sinclair Ross. Clarence and his wife, practising Catholics intent upon keeping their marriage vows, were tormented by the separation the war forced upon them. Ironically, Clarence's main reason for enlisting was to take care of his family. He wrote, 'After all, you and the kiddies are all I have, and, frankly, that is the only reason I joined the army . . . so that I would get away from Lafleche [Saskatchewan] where I was going to hell, and to give you and our boys a decent living' (8). He soon came to regret his decision and tried to obtain a transfer to the home defence force and, later, when he was stationed in England, to get the local [End Page 365] member of Parliament to pull some strings to get him back to Canada, but it was all to no avail.
This is not to say that Clarence did not believe in the justice of the cause for which he was fighting. After the Dieppe Raid, in which he took shrapnel wounds, he wrote, 'That is what a soldier has to go through to hold up rights of humanity, and by God we are doing it' (412). Even so, his main concern was always his family. He and his wife continually exchanged photos, noting the smallest change in each other's appearance. One night, Clarence sees the Big Dipper in the night sky and imagines that Hazel can see it, too. He constantly reiterated how much he missed her, and how, when he had the chance, he would gather her into his arms and never let her go.
Despite a certain amount of repetition, the letters are compulsively readable. Although Clarence had little in the way of a formal education (unfortunately, the editors do not tell us much about his life before he signed up), he was a natural writer and an independent thinker. He called things as he saw them, rather than just repeating the clichés uttered by those around him. He had an artistic side, painting signs for the regiment and playing the euphonium in the regimental band, as well as the saxophone in a dance orchestra. The latter was a cause of anxiety for Hazel, who feared that he was drinking liquor and meeting women. He assured her that he had no interest in women apart from her and that he was drinking very little, if at all. One has the impression that she did not totally believe him.
People were drawn to Clarence, and he was continually being invited to the homes of English people for meals or to stay at their place when he was on leave. Percy and Dorothy Starbuck, of Gravesend, were particular friends, and letters from Dorothy to Hazel have been included in this collection. Dorothy confided that Clarence told her that he had a premonition that he would not survive the war. He never said this to Hazel; indeed, he always insisted on quite the opposite. He knew how difficult it was for her to raise their two boys on her own, and he did not want to add to her worries.
Clarence's letters reveal the complexity of the emotional life of the Canadian soldier. It's too bad that we do not have Hazel's letters, too. From the glimpses we have of her, it is clear that her letters must have been vivid and interesting. The editors do a commendable job of presenting Clarence's side of the correspondence. His punctuation and spelling mistakes...