Notes on Our Father’s War


Page 1 The opening paragraph was inspired by the Northern Lights shaped like an eagle’s outspread wings that appeared over Georgian Bay, Ontario on August 3, 1914, on the eve of the Great War. The phenomenon was reported in several daily newspapers around Georgian Bay.

Page 5 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain guaranteed to “lend all the support” in Britain’s power “against any action… which clearly threatened” the independence of Poland. A.J.P Taylor,   The Origins of the Second World War, London, 1964, p. 260. Long before the war broke out, the President of the U.S. Franklin Roosevelt urged the Poles and the British to stand up to Hitler because the President wanted a war in which the U.S. will “intervene actively on the side of Britain  and France.” Herbert Hoover,  Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and its Aftermath, edited by George H. Nash Stanford, Hoover Institution Press, 2011, p. 133.

Page 6 Alter caelum, alter mores, means other places (skies), other ways.

Page 8 Ribbentrop’s mistake that led to war is described by Dr Paul Schmidt, who was present as interpreter when Ribbentrop met Bonnet, the Foreign Minister of France. Schmidt has described the scene when he brought Henderson’s fatal note to the Chancellery on September 1, 1939. See Schmidt, Hitler’s Interpreter, London, Heinemann, 1951, p 158.

Page 10 “The end of Germany…” The prescient Admiral Canaris actually said this to Hans Bernd Gisevius on August 31, 1939 on the staircase of Army GHQ in the Bendlerstrasse, Berlin.

Page 13 Among British and Canadians in 1939, “That man” conveyed distaste for Hitler.

Page 16 Reference to Duff Cooper comes from Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, London, 1971, p 102.

Page 25 Muddy York was the nickname for Toronto dating from 1793.

Page 27 The passenger liner Athenia was headed for Quebec when she was torpedoed. Over 100 people died.

Page 33 (Klaus would rather run into a machine gun burst than obey a certain Hitler order): Order Number One was among many orders that prevented influential Germans from resisting Hitler. The orders were enforced by the extreme violence and threats of the Nazis against all opposition, and by the oath of personal loyalty to Hitler that soldiers were required to swear. Another order, under the guise of military necessity, camouflaged Nazi crimes from other Germans, and made it almost impossible for officers such as von Zollerndorf to conspire against the regime. The order reads:

1) No-one shall know about secret matters that do not belong to his own range of assignments; 2) No-one shall learn more than he needs to fulfill the tasks assigned to him; 3) No-one shall receive information earlier than is necessary for the performance of the duties assigned to him; and 4) No-one shall transmit to subordinate officers, to any greater extent or any earlier than unavoidable for the achievement of the purpose, orders that are to be kept secret.

Page 34 It was a recurrent theme of Hitler’s that the German Army had not been beaten in the field in 1918, but had been stabbed in the back by traitors at home, namely plutocrats, Jews and communists. See also the memoirs of David Lloyd George.

Page 35 For more on phytophthora infestans, see George W. Hudler, Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds, Princeton, 1998, p 43. This theory has been disputed by Bundeswehr officer Ernst von Heydebrand.

Page 42 Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939.

Page 44 The wolf note in a bowed instrument is unpleasant and may damage the instrument if stressed.

Page 58 Assemblies of the Reichstag were held in the Kroll Opera House after the burning of the original Reichstag building in February, 1933.

Page 65 Elsass-Lothringen was the German name for the region known in France as Alsace-Lorraine.

Page 72 Mackenzie King was Prime Minister of Canada, 1921-6; 1926-30; 1935-48.


Page 75 Hitler’s long memo is described in Hitler’s Secret Conversations 1941-44, Introduction by H. R. Trevor-Roper, Farrar, Straus and Young, New York, 1953.

Page 80 The war memorial at Vimy Ridge, commemorating a Canadian victory there in The Great War, was designed by Walter Allward of Toronto. Hitler may have been a soldier in one of the German regiments defeated in the battle. He admired the monument perhaps in part because, rare among war memorials, it emphasizes pity and sorrow, not glory.

Page 80 Lord Halifax, Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, had been in favour of a negotiated peace. Churchill’s play on words refers to Hitler’s bombs falling on either the English city Halifax, or on Lord Halifax.

Page 92 The locale for this imagined meeting was Edgewater, the house later bought by Gore Vidal. It is a few miles north of Hyde Park, Roosevelt’s family home on the Hudson River in New York.

Page 94 Congressman Hamilton Fish, an isolationist, despised Roosevelt for goading Hitler into war with the USA.

Page 96 (Germany collects royalties on aviation gasoline sold by the Americans to the RAF): from Gunter Reiman, Patents for Hitler, New York, Vanguard, 1942, p 5.This is only one small example of the ways in which American businessmen profited from the war, both by cooperating with the Nazis and by highly profitable trade with the British.

Page 100 Veni, vidi, vici, (I came, I saw, I conquered) said by Julius Caesar after conquering Gaul (France). The pun consists in the last word being replaced by Vichy, the city where the subservient French government of 1940 was allowed by the Germans to rule a small part of France.

Page 101 Reinhold Hanisch was a friend of Hitler’s when they were both poor in Vienna in about 1908-10. He was mysteriously murdered in 1938.

Page 106 Tripartite Pact–Mutual aid pact among Italy, Germany and Japan signed in Berlin in September 1940, then expanded to include Hungary, Rumania and Slovakia.


Page 121 What Churchill thinks about Vikings aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales is the author’s notion of a draft of a similar passage as published in Churchill’s The Birth of Britain, in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Dorset, 1990, p 108.

Page 132 Harry Hopkins carefully notes the words about Poland because he knew how important Poland was to Stalin. His motive in reporting to Stalin may have been benign, from the allied point of view–in order to keep the Soviet dictator aligned with the western allies–but it might also have been treacherously dangerous to the US and Britain. Hopkins has been accused, late in the 20th century, on some thin evidence from (originally) Soviet sources, of spying for the USSR during the war, endangering the security of the US and Great Britain.

Page 132 Inter arma silent leges – Between armies there is no law.

Page 159 Rudolf Hess, close friend of Hitler and number two man in the Nazi Party, had secretly flown to Britain alone in a Messerschmidt ME 109 fighter in May, 1941, to try to convince the British to make peace. He parachuted into Scotland near the estate of the Duke of Hamilton. The British locked him up, interrogated him, but ignored the purpose of his mission. He remained in jail for the rest of his long life.

Page 166 Lackeitel is a pun for Lackey-Keitel, signifying Keitel’s status as a lackey to Hitler.

 Page 182 A Landais is a native of the Department of Les Landes in Southwest France. Landais farmers invented stilts so they could work their fields in wet seasons: the stilts penetrated the soggy topsoil to the clay layer a couple of feet below the surface. Under the metayer system, a variety of tenant farming which survived here longer than anywhere in France, fields were necessarily small because the tenant could not afford more. The British General Montgomery terrorized Les Landes during the Hundred Years’ War. Gunfire damage from that war is still visible on one ancient chateau near Mont-de-Marsan.

Page 186 The Wehrmacht was still a horse-drawn army in 1941. More than 600,000 horses pulled guns and wagons over the frontier with Russia starting in June 1941.

Page 189 Churchill said on Feb. 22, 1915 to Lady Violet Asquith that he enjoyed the war, as quoted in Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War, Penguin Press, 1998.


Page 219 For more on Pastor Trocmé, see the author’s Just Raoul, Stoddart, Toronto, 1990.

Page 219 Glasberg is based on the real Abbé Glasberg, who saved Jewish refugees during the war.

Page 229 The Ligne de Demarcation delineated the larger part of France occupied by the Germans from the rest ruled by Marshal Petain on German sufferance.

Page 232 Hitler’s talk with the churchmen and the monologue afterwards is mainly from Schramm, Edited Detwiler, Hitler, the Man and the Military Leader, p 49. Some is from the Tischgesprache (Table Talk) edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper, New York, 1953. Both books recorded the actual conversation of Hitler. Many of the notes were made surreptitiously, because Hitler disapproved of the practice.

Page 234 Goldverehrung ˆgoldworship.

Page 254 Ryan is here quoting from William Butler Yeats.


Page 244 Sophie Scholl was a member of the German resistance group The White Rose.

Page 262 John Amery was the son of Cabinet Minister Leo Amery. He worked for the fascists during the war and was hanged in 1945 by the British for treason.

Page 290 Hitler Order 9.6.1942. File HW.1/043 Public Records Office, Kew, London. This was part of the Bletchley Park decrypts of Enigma traffic. It was posted on, the web site of British writer David Irving as part of his evidence in his libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, February 2000.

Page 292  Re Klaus and beatings by a schoolmaster. Such beatings were normal practice in the “schwarze Paedagogie” common in Germany at that time.

Page 299 Lili Marlene was a sentimental favourite with the German Afrika Korps. The British Eighth Army claimed to have captured the song in Tunisia. In May, 1943, German troops marching into captivity sang the song as they passed British troops marching the other way singing the song in English. The song was outlawed in Germany during the war because it was deemed to have a weakening effect on soldiers far from home and family.

Page 303 The background for the scene is taken from the authoritative Peter Hoffmann, in Stauffenberg, Cambridge, 1995, p 145. Hoffman writes, in part, that at such lectures: “[Stauffenberg]…would cover a blackboard with names of command headquarters and criss-crossing lines, creating a hopeless maze, step back to survey his work, and ask the audience whether they thought one could possibly win the war with this “command structure.” In recent years, wartime propaganda, and the belief, widespread in the years to 1944, in Hitler’s competent malice, has yielded to a more realistic view which allows for his arrogance, tempestuous anger, and reckless dilettantism, along with his unyielding belief in his mission to the German people. (See also Jandl, below).

Page 306 Tolstoy, War and Peace, Heritage Press, nd, Vol 2, p 116.

Page 307 “The scandalous Jandl…” Ernst Jandl, born in Vienna in 1925, caused a furore when he recited an anti-war poem at his graduation from a Wehrmacht officers‚ academy in 1944. He escaped punishment, joined a communications unit and served on the eastern front. He survived American captivity and later became a famous wit and concrete poet.

Page 312 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin, 1971, p 96.

Page 314 This trick of camouflaging the prisoners under dead mens’ names was used by Klaus von Stauffenberg. Quote from Dr Joachim Kramarz as cited in Baigent and Leigh, Secret Germany, Penguin, 1994, p 30.

Page 320 This poem, Verses for the Dead, by Stefan George was memorized and recited by Claus von Stauffenberg to his friends and helpers after the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944. Stauffenberg was the man who actually placed the assassination bomb beside Hitler in July, 1944. The poem also appears in a slightly different translation by Marx and Morwitz, The Works of Stefan George, Chapel Hill, 1974, p 398.

Page 329 Kerensky: Axel refers contemptuously to the Russian Alexander Kerensky, premier of the Provisional Government in 1917, often viewed as an indecisive weakling.

Page 347 The British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse was captured in France and interned as an enemy alien in Germany. He made a couple of amusing broadcasts for Joseph Goebbels, and was allowed some freedom during the war. Condemned by the British government for aiding the enemy, he went to the USA after the war. He was later knighted.

Page 350 Volkischer Beobachter. First national German newspaper, which had a peak daily circulation of about 1,200,000. It promoted Nazi views and was managed by Max Amann, Hitler’s World War One sergeant and later, literary agent.

Page 353 Axel and bombing Hitler: Many attempts were made on Hitler’s life beginning in 1938 but it is impossible to know now how many. Probably more than ten.

Page 357 This section from Eva Berck, Yonder the Bridge, Somerset House, Somerset, PA, 1991, Pp 184ff


Page 360 The bird missing her mate is from Catherine Parr Traill, Pearls and Pebbles, Toronto, Briggs, 1894, p. 66.

Page 373 The American P51 Mustang fighter mentioned by Goering was actually shot down near Aachen.

Page 375 The hall of mirrors image comes from Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich, Memoirs, Macmillan, 1970, p 291. Among the generals and high-ranking officers who killed themselves were Ernst Udet, Hans Jeschonnek, Erwin Rommel, Walter Model and Henning von Treschow. Later, Johannes Blaskowitz, Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

Page 396 The BBC broadcast typified allied reaction to news of the assassination attempt. British leaders were gratified that the top Germans were killing each other. The New York Times wrote, “Let the generals kill the corporal or vice-versa, preferably both.” No-one believed that the ideals for which the resistance leaders gave their lives were those for which the allies professed to be fighting. Axel von dem Bussche did survive the “bullet to the head” BBC announcement.

Page 403 Rouffignac: Richard Giziowski, The Enigma of General Blaskowitz, Leo Cooper, London, 1997, p. 227.

Page 422 Tiffies were British-built Typhoon fighter-bombers.

Page 425 432, various sources including Cordell Hull, Memoirs, New York, Macmillan, 1948, pp 1614ff; Blum, op. cit.; Churchill, The Second World War, London, Cassell.

Page 426 Re castration of Germans, see John Morton Blum, Roosevelt and Morgenthau, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1970, p 570ff. For George C. Marshall’s reaction to German threats against allied POWs, see Memorandum for the President, 27 January, 1944, in Box 164, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. See also Box 110 loc cit. Marshall’s words were  “…we could strike at the perpetuation of the German people by delaying the return of their men after the Armistice (sic). By such a procedure, we would punish large masses of people in whom family sentiments are strong.” Since healthy men remain potent until their seventies, Marshall is here proposing to threaten to keep all German men prisoners for forty to fifty years. This would have been retaliation if the Germans had carried out their threat to shoot allied airmen as war criminals for attacking civilians.

Page 433 Grant uses the word submarine in his poem: British and Germans all said U-boats, Americans said submarines, Canadians used both words.


Page 467-8 The anecdote about the distant early-warning chicken is taken from George G. Blackburn, The Guns of Victory, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1996.

Page 469 The Canadian army actually attacked an island in the Scheldt river at about this date, with the same purpose. I have introduced new elements, including the canoe attack.

Page 483 Many Italian-Canadians, like German- and Japanese-Canadians were interned although they were citizens born in Canada.

Page 501 The Speer/Hitler section is from Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich and other sources, notably Hans Bernd Gisevius. Speer has been criticized for writing a self-serving book, but it remains a notable source, especially for its portrayal of Hitler.

Page 502 Hitler was normally in the bunker at this time; I have changed the setting of this meeting for dramatic effect.

Page 507 Reichsminister Josef Goebbels was in fact producing a movie in April, 1945, as described, to reinforce German resistance. The Russians were attacking suburbs of Berlin as the actor-soldiers were performing on sets in front of the cameras.

Page 528 For a very moving account of one man’s journey during the mass expulsions of 16 million Germans from their eastern homes, see Hans Graf von Lehndorf, Token of a Covenant: Diary of an East Prussian Surgeon 1945-47, translated Elizabeth Mayer, Chicago, Regnery, 1963. The account of the boy named Gus whose aunt was wounded in the head, came from the author’s interview with Gus Schickedanz of Toronto, who escaped from the Russians in similar circumstances in 1945.


Page 609 The lines from T. S. Eliot read:

  • Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
  • Hard and curled and ready to snap.
  • From Rhapsody on a Windy Night.

Page 622 The three copies of Uncanny Tales that Joe Killsbear brings to Bernie were originally a gift from Bernie to Joe, while he was in prison in England for assaulting a soldier who called him a drunken Injun. Uncanny Tales magazine was published by Adam Publishing for a few years after 1940 in Toronto. It featured “homegrown tales of supernatural horror, science gone mad and robots that could crush cities.” Many of them were typed at warp speed by Bill Forbes and published under various pseudonyms. Forbes later became an editor of a trade magazine at Maclean Hunter of Toronto.

Page 623 Sirens were attached to the undercarriages of the Stuka diver bombers on the orders of Adolf Hitler, in order to increase the terror of their attack.

Page 624 Bernie Hallett is “…more or less in love with Catherine Parr Traill,..” who wrote, “In cases of emergency, it is folly to fold one’s hands and sit down to bewail in abject terror: it is better to be up and doing.” As Charlotte Gray observes in her biography of Traill, “This Canadian character type is a pragmatist who discovers her own strength as she overcomes adversity. Her stalwart figure has marched through the pages of some of the best known Canadian writers of the last one hundred years, from Ralph Connor to L.M. Montgomery, from Robertson Davies to Margaret Laurence.”

Her motto comes directly from Traill’s book, The Canadian Settler’s Guide.  And that character type.

character type which Bernie acquires partly from her, is “…the pioneer woman who displays extraordinary courage, resourcefulness and humour.” See Gray, Sisters in the Wilderness, Toronto, Viking, 1999, p 21.




Many histories, biographies and memoirs have contributed to this novel. For the astonishing true stories which inspired the characters of Clara (Dunsmuir) von Metternich and Tati (Miloslavsky) von Zollerndorf, see The Berlin Diaries of Marie Vassiltchikov: 1940-1946; The Past Is Myself, by Christabel Bielenberg; and Tatiana, by Tatiana von Metternich. See also the marriage announcement on page one of the Toronto Globe and Mail for September 26, 1939 of (Leila) Bridget Dunn, daughter of Sir James Dunn of Nova Scotia and Wilts, and Count Peter Charles Ferdinand Maria Wolff-Metternich. He was killed in action in Ukraine in 1941, and in 1944 she married Joseph Bromovsky. There were children from both marriages.

For some personal records of resistance contacts between people in Germany and England during the war, see Letters to Freya 1939-1945, by Helmuth James von Moltke. For an expert overview of the resistance itself, see The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 by Peter Hoffmann.

For further discussion for readers‚ book clubs


What impelled the German resistance leaders, especially Klaus von Zollerndorf?


Did C.O. Bannatyne see more clearly than others when he said in 1939 that it would be best for Canada and Britain to let the Germans and Russians fight it out like “bears tied back to back.”


Was Roosevelt acting in the best interests of the USA when he deliberately courted war with Japan and Germany in 1939-1941?


Do you believe that Tati and Clara did the right thing when they supported the German cause by working for the German Foreign Office during the war even though this was useful cover so they could save refugees and further the resistance?


Would the war have been notably shortened if Klaus’ bomb attack on Hitler had succeeded?


Would the British Empire have survived longer than it did if Churchill had negotiated peace with Hitler in 1940 after Poland and France had been conquered?


Considering that Stalin was according to many people a worse mass murderer than even Hitler, were the allies betraying their own ideals when they helped Stalin and refused to help Klaus, Peter and the other resistance leaders who professed ideals consonant with those of the Allies ?


Why didn`t Clara Dunn simply leave Germany when she could in early September 1939, instead of risking her life by staying to marry Peter? Why didn`t she urge him to leave Germany to live with her in Canada or England?


What enabled Clara to become indistinguishable from a born German in speech, manner, dress, deportment in such a short time?


Most young men in Berlin in 1939–and many young women– were charmed by Tatiana Miloslavsky. What do you think gave Tati such a strong appeal to so many people?


Do you agree that the bond between Tati and Clara is one of the strengths of this book? Why does this seem true you?


Several of the characters say witty things such as “Russian fiction reads like history because Russian history reads like fiction,” and “Canada is a government in search of a country,”    and “In marriage, love is no substitute for determination.” Are these intrusive and unlikely, or do they enliven the story in your opinion?


The author has said in other places that he grew up hating Germans. Are there traces of that early hatred in the book, or does it seem objective to you?


What did you think of Bernie Hallett`s loss of his Christian faith, and of his apparent recovery in Wanagami after the war?