Highlands & Islands

Canadian's war-time letters reveal good times and heartache

Pat Hennessy, middle, with fellow Canadian Forestry Corps personnel Image copyright Melynda Jarratt
Image caption Pat Hennessy, middle, with fellow Canadian Forestry Corps personnel in Scotland

A Canadian author has drawn on more than 300 letters written by her grandfather to help her tell the story of his experiences in Scotland during World War Two.

Melynda Jarratt says the letters provide accounts of good times in Scottish Highlands, but also hint at the stresses the war put on loved ones at home.

Jarratt's grandfather Pat Hennessy was a farmer and woodsman from New Brunswick, Canada, who joined the army in 1940 when he was 56.

He joined the ranks of the Canadian Forestry Corps and was sent to Scotland where corpsmen, all skilled foresters, logged Highland woodland for the Allied war effort.

Skilled in the kitchen, Mr Hennessy served as camp cook with the corps' 15 Company while it was stationed for five years near Beauly, west of Inverness.

'Loving grandfather'

Jarratt, who has previously written about war brides and whose new book is called Letters From Beauly, says his hundreds of letters home were found in her family in 2008.

She says: "As one letter turned into another the impact of the war soon began to manifest itself in Pat's life in Scotland - but also on family life back home in Canada and on the people he started to meet in Scotland.

"I kept on expecting to run across something that would shock me or at the very least change my view of this man who I had always believed to be a sweet, loving father and grandfather.

"I guess the biggest surprise is that my opinion of him did not change. He was exactly as I had always remembered him.

"He was a devout Catholic, a loving father to his children, a professional cook who took his job very seriously and a friend to all who met him. That did not change one bit.

"If I was surprised at all it was at the extent of his curiosity, of his yearning to learn and to explore Scotland, England and Ireland."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Hennessy's wanted to join Canadian soldiers for D-Day but was rejected because of his age

Mr Hennessy's time in the Highlands brought him into contact with World War Two hero Lord Lovat, who lived at Beaufort Castle, near Beauly.

The clan chief and his wife, Lady Lovat, invited Mr Hennessy and other members of the forestry corps to join them at their castle to celebrate Christmas Day in 1941.

Later in the war, Lord Lovat gained fame for his actions at D-Day.

As he led troops ashore at at Sword Beach in France on 6 June 1944, the clan chief instructed Glaswegian piper Bill Millin to play the bagpipes. The action is recalled in the 1960s war film The Longest Day.

Mr Hennessy also sought to sign up to join the Canadian army at D-Day but he was rejected because of his age.

'Slips of heather'

Jarratt says her grandfather's letters show that he "absolutely loved" Scotland.

She says: "It's evident from moment he arrived there in April 1941 that he is going to take advantage of every opportunity to see the countryside, meet the people and make the best of the gift he has been given.

"The letters are filled with wonderful descriptions of the people he is meeting who are so good to him and who are becoming like family to him as the years pass by.

"He describes the flora and fauna in a way that just makes you feel that you are at his side - and the little slips of heather that he included in the letters brings the moment to you ever so close.

"On the other hand, the letters show he definitely missed his family in Canada and that comes across in the frequent references to his sons and daughters who are growing up in his absence, graduating from school and leaving the family farm to join the military themselves.

"He tries to discourage them from joining up but it's all to no avail as events in Canada take on a life of their own. After a couple of years of pleading he gives up, accepting the fact that there is little he can do to influence his children's decisions from the Highlands of Scotland."

'Made me cry'

Jarratt adds: "There were a few letters that brought a tear to my eye: one in particular is when he is talking about the marriages that are taking place between the forestry corps men in 15 Company and local women from Scotland.

"'Some successful, some not' he says. Then, as if in passing, he says 'my own marriage hasn't been very happy but we shall not talk about that'. It made me cry to read that."

Image copyright Supplied
Image caption Author Melynda Jarratt said the letters told of happy and hard times in war-time

Jarratt says that as a child she was aware of tensions between her grandparents. Writing the book gave her a fresh insight into not only her grandfather's life, but that of her grandmother.

She says: "I think that she was very unhappy and she had her reasons which come across in my book.

"She had dreams too and they were unfulfilled. She was artistic and creative. She loved to paint. She wanted to be a milliner and run her own shop.

"But there was no time for that as a farm wife with nine babies born one year after the other. She also suffered the loss of three children and that couldn't have been easy."

She adds: "I think my grandfather would have loved to stay in Scotland but there was no way he could given the times and the expectations of him - both back home and in Scotland.

"I know some men did abrogate their responsibilities back in Canada but not my grandfather. He dutifully returned and accepted his lot in life.

"It must have been very hard to come back to Canada after five years in Scotland. I suppose that was the experience of many Canadian soldiers."