Don Kemsley was my father. He was born in 1924 in Picton, Ontario, lived in Toronto during most of his working years, and retired back to Picton, where he died in 2009. He joined the Canadian Navy in 1942 at the age of 17, and served through the end of the war in Europe as part of the Navy’s Combined Operations group. He saw action as a gunner during convoy escort duty in the north Atlantic, participated in the landings during the invasions of Normandy and Sicily, and travelled to many other European and African locations during the war.
I grew up hearing his stories of the war, and loved how he could often give his recollection of a place — from Glasgow to Cape Town — when I was visiting those places fifty years later. Those stories often included some escapade (going AWOL and stealing a Jeep in Sicily, for example, or how he lost his front tooth in a fight with an air force guy in London): although he undoubtedly saw many horrors of war, many of his memories were about his comrades in arms and the times that they had together. He maintained ties with many of the Combined Operations group until his death, although their numbers had dwindled significantly as they all reached their late 80’s or early 90’s.
In October 2010, when cleaning out papers at my mother’s home, I discovered a journal that he wrote in 1944: a tiny leather-bound book that could be carried in his pocket wherever he went. The daily entries begin on January 1, 1944, when he was home on leave, and end in September of that year, although that was not the end of his service; I don’t know if there were earlier journals, nor why he stopped writing when he did.
This blog recreates his journal on a daily basis, starting on January 1st, 2011. He was 19 years old during the time of this journal, but had already seen almost two years of combat.
I am also blogging my grandfather’s WWI journals, which cover his entire period in uniform from 1916-1919.