Duane Duff learned a little about John Hoosha through the grapevine when Duff was in college in Winnipeg studying to become a teacher in the early 1950s.
At the time, Hoosha was the campus dessert guy, known, among other confectioneries, for his mouth-watering rice pudding.
The odd thing was that Hoosha never sampled his own product – never eating a grain of rice from the end of the Second World War until his death in 1968.
Duff learned the details of Hoosha’s story while researching for his latest book, The Forces and the Faces: Round-the-World Tour with Canadians.
First published in July, it’s a collection of stories of more than 60 Canadians, both men and women, in the military services from 1939 to the present day, told first-hand from the veterans themselves or from their families and friends.
The stories cover training, war, peacekeeping and rescue missions from places as varied as Normandy, Somalia and New Orleans.
In Hoosha’s case, it’s the story of starvation and torture at the hands of the Japanese after the fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941.
For four years, Hoosha lived on little more than small amounts of rice – food he found contemptible later in life.
Hoosha never shared his experiences with anyone in his family except for his daughter Faye, who was born shortly after he departed with 2,200 other Canadian soldiers for duty at the former British colony.
After he was liberated in 1945, Hoosha told his daughter that the thought of seeing her for the first time was the only thing that kept him alive during his captivity.
This is not Duff’s first book on the Canadian military.
Two years ago, he self-published Waskesiu: Canada’s First Frigate, after interviewing some of the anti-submarine ship’s crew members. A second edition with more interviews was published last year.
Since his retirement, Duff, 81, has published several books about people’s personal stories, as well as autobiographical books about his growth as a student and teacher.
The latest publication, which he expects will be his last, was two years in the making – though he had some of the veterans’ stories on his mind for decades.
Many of the stories are from the Second World War – with collective memory fast fading as most of the surviving veterans are now in their 80s and 90s.
Among the stories are those of David Ewart of the Calgary Tank Regiment, First Armoured Brigade, who spent about 80 per cent of his time in Italy inside a Sherman tank; tail-gunner Renne Anderson, who got separated from his crew after bailing from his bomber and became a POW for a year-and-a-half (the rest of his crew escaped on foot and reached Switzerland); and Percy Smith, who was a crewman on Empire Viscount, one of only 10 ships in a 30-ship supply convoy to Murmansk, Russia that didn’t sink.
Duff interviewed Canadians involved in a number of post-war operations, including Gina Connor, a lawyer who provided legal counsel to the commanding officer of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar City, Afghanistan; peacekeeper Bill Roushorn, who taught other soldiers (and civilians) the art of downhill skiing in Cyprus; and Rob Purvis, who volunteered to fight with U.S. forces in Vietnam.
For the most part, they’re stories of quiet pride from people who served their country.
Irony was part of some experiences.
Wes Bowen told Duff the story of how he was rescued from drowning by Japanese-Canadian fishermen on the West Coast during an operation to confiscate their fishing boats.
Brian Stouffer, on board a Canadian destroyer in the Pacific, experienced a broadside collision that killed a grey whale.
Duff’s interest stems from his family’s background as he was growing up – three members of his family served overseas, and only two came home. (Duff had just finished Grade 10 as the war ended).
In 1942, Duane Duff’s family received a telegram stating that his brother Stuart, a crew member on a bomber, was missing in action in Europe. A week letter, a second telegram arrived informing the family that Stuart was in fact a prisoner of war.
Over a year later, he heard his father read aloud from the Toronto Star Weekly how 99 nurses had to abandon a ship that had been bombed in the Mediterranean. They later learned that one of them was Duane’s sister, Veldorah.
Less than a year later, Duane’s mother received a telephone call that her brother, Duane’s uncle Oakley Davis, had been wounded in Italy. A week later, a second phone call told them that the artilleryman had died – on the birthday of one of his young daughters.
The Forces and the Faces (436 pages) is available through Amazon at www.duffpublishing.ca, and is expected to be available at Surrey Public Libraries.