I learned a valuable lesson from an anonymous veteran about writing history.
While preparing to write White Ensign Flying I decided it would be in my best interest to have some writing credentials when the time came to approach a publisher.
One of the resources I pursued was to write an article for the local newspaper, The Trentonian.
Each year on the first Sunday in May is the commemoration of the Battle of Atlantic. Two weeks prior to the memorial I submitted a lengthy article to the newspaper explaining the Battle of Atlantic, the relevance to Canada’s history, the importance of attending and honouring our Canadian veterans who fought on the sea.
To my surprise the newspaper printed my article word for word, it took a full page in the Friday paper. The paper was generally available by noon each day and at 12:10 my phone rang. When I answered a gruff, powerful voice asked, “Is Roger Litwiller there?”
After I stated “Speaking,” the next statement from the caller took me completely by surprise. The deep voice changed and became angry, “You don’t know what the %#* your talking about!”
I thought to myself, great I don’t even have a copy of the paper and already I’m getting complaints. Politely I asked for the gentleman’s name. The reply I received was similar in tone to his first statement. “You should have done your %#*@#$research! You wrote the first convoy to leave Halifax in WWII was in September 1939 and your wrong! The first convoy to leave Halifax was in December 1939. I know your wrong because I was in that convoy!!!” He then stated, “I puked my %#*@#$ guts out the entire %# *@#$ trip to England.”
The gentleman’s last sentence gave me a clue to his complaint. I submitted the article knowing I had done my research carefully and thoroughly. I knew the convoy he was talking about.
Calmly I asked, “Sir, are you Army?” He immediately replied, “Your %# *@#$ right, I’m Army!”
I then explained, “Yes Sir, you are absolutely correct. The convoy you were in was the first Canadian convoy of soldiers and left Halifax in troopships in December 1939, under heavy escort of the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy. The first convoy of merchant ships carrying material, fuel, supplies, etc. left Halifax under escort of the Royal Canadian Navy in September 1939.”
When I finished my answer there was an awkward silence, I waited for the unknown caller to reply. Then with a changed voice, I heard, “Fine then.” Click.
The telephone call was over as abruptly as it had started. I never learned the name of the veteran and despite his tone I am truly grateful for his call.
He taught me a lesson that day, when you write about history you had best do your research, thoroughly, completely and ensure the accuracy of what you are writing, because inevitably you will have to answer to someone who was there!