Alice Dionne of Linden wants to share her father’s World War Two story because she has lived with the effect the war had on him. She believes her father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after he returned from the war in 1945, and that he was bitter POWs were not acknowledged as they should have been.
“They might not have made the ultimate sacrifice but given what they lived, that was often worse than being dead,” she says.
Her father, Andrew Darragh, enlisted with the North Nova Highlanders Regiment in 1942 at the age of 18. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, he landed at Dieppe and the next day, he and 102 others were captured by German soldiers. He was a prisoner of war for 11 months.
“Over the years, we’d ask questions but he wouldn’t talk about it,” Alice told me. “We only knew about four things: that he never received a [Red Cross] care package, being shot at in the box cars, the forced marches and being in front of a firing squad.”
One evening a year before he died in 2007, Alice’s father told her the story of his war experience and she wrote it down; those notes along with certificates and newspaper articles she has collected are now in a large binder.
Wanting to share her father’s POW experience, she read out loud the notes she made about his story.
About his capture: ‘They were in a box car for 28 days. They had a ten gallon drum for a toilet. This was in July during very hot weather. They were shot at. They went down to Bordeaux, France, sat locked in box cars...for 11 days. They were fed once a day, part of a loaf of bread. The box car in front of them was full of sergeants and officers and they escaped by ripping up the floor of the box car. The Germans were furious.’
About life as a POW: ‘From November 1944 to April 1945. They worked from 6 am to 6 pm along with the German coal miners. He was befriended by two German brothers who told him to sit. Whenever they saw the light coming, they told him to get up and work because it would be the pit boss coming. The only breakfast he would have had is if he had saved something from supper the night before. At night, they would get pumpkin soup, dog meat, and they would get one or two potatoes once a week. There were about 35 Canadian POWs and the Germans volunteered five to go in the mines. Dad was one of them. They had to go down 400 feet and there was hardly enough pit props and the roof was always falling in.’
About the night Andrew Darragh and three others escaped during a forced march (May 1945): ‘Towards the latter part of the war, when it became obvious the Allied troops were coming for the Germans, they marched the POWs out of Falkenau. They marched only at night and slept during the day wherever they could find a spot. They marched probably a week, he thought, then one night some of them just walked away...They were right at the border when they met the Germans who, when they found out they were POWs, let them go. They spent the night in a hay mow...’
The five escapees spent a few days at this farm, unable to eat the milk, pies, eggs and bread because the food made them sick. They listened to the sounds of machine guns and bombs and then a Sherman tank drove up to the farm’s picket fence.
This rescue by the Americans marked the end of the war as well. Alice’s dad was flown back to England and admitted to hospital weighing 100 pounds. He stayed there for ten days and when discharged, he went to stay with an English family Alice believes he met during the year he’d spent in England training for D-Day. After returning to Canada, to Cumberland County, he married Iona Read in 1946. Alice is the oldest of their four children.
“I’d like to have his experience recognized,” she says. “I just feel he suffered so much and we did, too, as a family because he couldn’t keep a job,” which she now attributes to PTSD. “We moved all over the place. I didn’t go to a school for a full year until I was in Grade Nine. I think Mum had a really hard time. If it hadn’t been for her devotion, they may not have stayed together.”
And that’s why Andrew Darragh’s war story didn’t end on May 7, 1945.