I was in London this week for a conference, and couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Weymouth, which my dad wrote so much about in his journal over these past few weeks in June 1944. I loaded up the Dorset guide in my OffMaps iPhone app, then off to Waterloo station to board the train to the southwest. As I sat on the fast, comfortable train, writing this journal on my netbook, tracking my way on my GPS-enabled phone, I thought about how different life was then for him, and how different it might be now if he hadn’t been here 67 years ago.
Having been at this journal for over five months, and just passed a significant historical milestone on the 6th, it’s interesting to reflect on the feedback that I’ve received during this time. Yesterday, someone who I know online, but just met face-to-face this week, told me that he was reading it but found it almost too personal. I receive regular comments – many of them helping me decipher his handwriting – both from people I know and from strangers. Many others have said that their fathers (or grandfathers) never spoke about the war, and wish they had this sort of journal to remember them. I was lucky that way: my dad joined at the age of 17, fresh from a small town in Eastern Ontario, and saw the war as one adventure after another. Yes, he saw a lot of enemy action and didn’t make light of that, but the stories that he told were about the places he went, the men he served with, and – oh yes – the trouble they got themselves into. At the time this journal was written, my dad wasn’t yet 20 years old, but had been in the navy for two years and had seen a significant amount of action in North Atlantic escort duty on Corvettes. I wish that he had kept a journal for all of his time away, since I remember hearing so many stories that just aren’t in the brief pages that he left behind, which cover only January-September 1944.
Weymouth today is a normal little British seaside town, with very little trace of the military presence that must have been here on and off for centuries due to its strategic location so close to France. When I asked at the tourist office, the woman first denied knowledge of any sort of military monuments or museums – in spite of Nothe Fort practically looming over her office from across the harbour – but eventually told me that there were monuments to the American and British soldiers along the beach near the Jubilee clock tower. I walked along there and looked, but alas, found nothing. I like to think that he walked along some of the same streets during his shore leave as I walked today, probably ducking into some of the same pubs for a quick pint.