Turning Back the Pages: Some soldiers who returned home were never the same

By Colleen Palumbo

Here we are quickly approaching Remembrance Day.

This is a day that we come together to remember those service men and women who fought, and in many cases died, for the freedoms that we enjoy today. One of the things that we seldom talk about is the long lasting effects of war on many of those men and women.

This is very personal for me because my father was a veteran who served overseas and I was aware of some of the problems that he brought home with him. The following is an excerpt from a letter that my dad, Harold Rauch, wrote to the Canadian government trying to get disability for his hearing loss. It is personal and I would not have shared it here if he hadn’t given me permission to use it before he died. When you stand at the cenotaph this year, think of the soldiers who returned home but were never the same. They gave their lives in a totally different way.

“While attached to No. 7 General Hospital in Basam, Germany I was in a bomb blast in Antwerp, Belgium. I wondered how the cobblestones got to be where [they were] after the broken cement, brick and steel rained down, I sat up in the dust, choking, having trouble getting oxygen in. After this I felt something crawling on the left side of my neck. My right hand fingers told me it was blood, where from I didn’t know. My head hurt terribly.

Back at No. 7 when asked by fellow drivers how I got so dirty? They told me my left ear was bleeding, there was fresh blood, dirt and dry blood caked when they got me a mirror. On inspection I needed a wash and I needed a drink. I had a couple of sutures, washed, went and ate and got drunk after and was on duty the next day.

Next time I went to use the phone I found I couldn’t hear it. I got through the rest of my overseas stay, when phone calls were handled much as they are now. Some kind friends or fellow workers were my ears on the phone.

I made part of my living driving a school bus in the back country, driving gravel truck and rock trucks on construction, but I was limited – no telephone jobs and lower paid scab wages by fly by night contractors. My school bus I chose to give up when phones became part of the job.

I was driving truck in summer in Kicking Horse Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway, a two laner, making $1.25 per hour.

In 1956 – 10 years after I returned from overseas, I was filled with a million fears. I was filled of resentment, hate, and mistrust. I hated taking orders. This drunken thinking and belligerent attitude only got worse. I kept seeing drivers who had never been overseas get my share of the paycheque.

I took a job for the construction [of] the Spiral Tunnels. These tunnels were all timbered between 1908 and 1911.

The job was driving a four cylinder motor cab, hauling the crews to and from camp, and hauling timbers out and cement in. Ten hours a day, $1.35 hour, six days a week. When I arrived, I found that there was telephone duty.

I surrendered my A Class driver’s license for a regular one, the end of my trained driving career that the Canadian Army had given me.

After doing the 12 steps of AA and being able to do some sober thinking, I wanted to care for my mental, physical, and spiritual health.

In 1986, 40 years after returning home, I finally had become ready to return to civilian life as a useful and helpful citizen. Would I do it all again? Definitely no! What I went through over there? And after what I put myself through after. What I lost I had to lose to get back on track.

To be okay with my fellow man and the God of my understanding to be finished fighting, to have inner peace, returned self-respect and respect for others, being free of fears, just being able to look in the mirror with pride.”

After 55 years, dad finally had enough of his self-respect returned to him to fight his own country about his hearing loss – a loss that happened while fighting for his country. How many others were in similar situations?

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