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  • One Family’s War: The Wartime Letters of Clarence Bourassa, 1940–1944 ed. by Rollie Bourassa
  • Claire L. Halstead
One Family’s War: The Wartime Letters of Clarence Bourassa, 1940–1944. Edited by Rollie Bourassa with an introduction by Will Chabun. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2014. ix + 603 pp. Illustrations. $34.95 paper.

Contrary to its title, One Family’s War should not be mistaken for a mere wartime family history. As a collection of intimate letters written by Private Clarence Bourassa to his wife, Hazel, between 1940 and 1944, the book speaks to Canada’s war and the experiences of thousands of Canadian soldiers. His participation in and record of the Dieppe Raid provides unique insight into Canada’s military history. Clarence joined the South Saskatchewan Regiment in early 1940, taking war as a chance to “get away from Lafleche” and to give his family “a decent living.” He quickly reflected a sense of regret while philosophically questioning warfare and continuously wishing to return to his wife and two sons. Capturing the emotions felt by so many, Clarence’s letters reveal the banality of war: the boredom, discomfort, loneliness, and longing for good food and endless supplies of cigarettes. His deep homesickness seeps into almost every letter as he longs for “home,” which he defines not spatially but by proximity to his family. Separated from home, Clarence reveals his conceptualization of Saskatchewan and Canada which often drew on the sensory experiences of sights of landscape and the sound of quiet.

Readers of all audiences are sure to enjoy and find merit in this collection. The book illuminates life on both the Canadian and British home front, British civilian hospitality, a loss of innocence, Canadians overseas (much akin to Jonathan Vance’s Maple Leaf Empire), and the ways in which soldiers’ wives fought their own war. For the researcher, student, or simply the interested reader, this collection has an endless supply of richness waiting to be discovered. That it is edited by none other than Clarence’s son Rollie, who is featured in so many letters, provides not only valuable insight into the correspondence but added nuance to the narrative. Readers are reminded that it is those left behind who bear the loss. In 2012 the Bourassa family sojourned to England and France to visit Clarence’s final resting [End Page 155] place. The new edition, with a postscript, records their journey, which carries its own meaning and significance. One should not be intimidated by the lengthiness of the book, for the reward is great. Clarence’s letters are sometimes deeply treasured, sometimes uncovered like hidden treasure. One Family’s War acts as a stark reminder of the value of individuals’ preserved narratives and personal documents. [End Page 156]

Claire L. Halstead
University of Western Ontario


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pp. 155-156
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