FULLY REVISED AND UPDATED
Winner of the Canadian Authors Association Birks Family Foundation Award for Biography
Finalist for the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
The investigation that helped Truscott get a new appeal.
In 1959, a popular schoolboy, just 14 years old, was convicted and sentenced to ha …
By Friday evening, a tumultuous week was coming to an end in Clinton. As much as they could, the children and adults in the PMQs around the air force station tried to follow life’s normal pursuits. Steve was looking forward to some fun and adventure over the weekend. Some fishing, some baseball, maybe another trip into the woods to work on the tree house. As the sun dipped in the horizon, Steve headed over to one of his favourite places around the base, Lawson’s farm — unaware that he was about to spend his last hour of liberty for the next ten years.
It looked like rain, Bob Lawson thought as he rushed to finish the evening chores — a godsend after the crop-scorching heat all week. Lawson was eager to get a little haying done. “If you start the lawn mower, I can cut the grass,” suggested his mother, Alice Lawson.
Bob was in the barn with the cows when he heard a loud, clanging racket. A fifteen-foot metal chain attached to the farm dog had somehow got tangled up in the mower and was slowly dragging the terrified mutt toward the sharp, spinning rotors. Lawson knew he was too far away to get to the mower in time. He caught sight of Steve rushing up the driveway to the farm. Fortunately, the mower stalled, and the chain stopped only a few feet before the dog would have had an unappetizing encounter with the rotors.
Laughing, the boy began to untangle the chain from the lawn mower. Still, the Lawsons felt that Steve was more reserved than usual. “Steve seems a little quiet this evening,” Alice Lawson told her son. Perhaps Lynne’s death had shaken the boy, Bob thought. The day before, Steve had dropped by the barn and appeared to be bewildered by events: “I heard they found Lynne in the bush,” Lawson remembers Steve telling him. “How did she get there?”
With the Lawsons’ dog safe from the marauding mower, Steve hopped on Lawson’s new Ferguson 35 tractor. “He loved being on that tractor,” Lawson recalls. “I would often let him ride on it. Steve was good with machines.” The lanky boy stood on the tractor’s floorboard, leaning against the fender, while the farmer rode across his land. When they got to the edge of the crops, Steve jumped off and perched himself on a large rock. For safety reasons, Lawson never let Steve stay on the tractor when he hooked it up to the harvester. As Lawson began haying, Steve rested on the rock, gazing out at the paths and trails where the children played hide-and-seek and picked berries. He saw the thick expanse of Lawson’s bush where only a few weeks earlier he and his friend Leslie had built a tree house.
“He was sitting on that stone, but next time, when I turned the tractor around and came back, he was gone,” Lawson recalls. “I guessed he had walked back to the barn.”
Bored, or perhaps anxious to get home for a bite to eat, Steve headed back down to the county road.
He never made it home.
At the Goderich OPP station, Inspector Harold Graham had made up his mind. Jocelyne’s story about a date and the phone call with the results from the laboratory analysis of Lynne’s stomach contents pointed the finger at the Truscott boy. “At ten minutes to seven, I had him picked up,” Graham said. He sent out Const. Donald Trumbley to bring in the boy — preferably without his parents’ knowledge. “I asked the constable to try and get him away from home.” The OPP cruiser pulled up to the gateway at the Lawson farm.
“Would you get into the car and come with me? We want you to read over your statement,” Trumbley explained, referring to Steve’s interview with Graham that morning.
“Yes,” said the teenager, without a moment’s hesitation. Looking back forty years later at that fateful moment, Steven explains that in 1959 young people had an abiding respect and trust in authority. “Back then when you’re fourteen years old, you looked up to the police. When they told you to get in the car, you got in the car,” he says. Steve never thought to question where Trumbley was taking him, much less to ask about his legal rights.
Trumbley pulled into the Goderich police post with his teenage passenger and took the boy into a small room at the back of the station. Steve had no reason to believe he was doing anything but signing a witness statement. The police did not tell him he was no longer simply a witness, that he had instead become their chief suspect. They did not tell him this trip to the station was, to all intents and purposes, an arrest. Certainly, they wanted his signature–but not just on a statement. What the OPP wanted from Steven was a confession and they were going to do everything they could to get one, even if that meant bending a few rules to the breaking point.
When Steven walked into that police station Friday, he was walking into what, in hindsight, can only be described as a trap, carefully planned and well executed by Harold Graham. Twenty minutes before dispatching Trumbley to pick up Steve, Graham had another officer, Sgt. Charles Anderson, obtain a search warrant for the Truscott home. Anderson then contacted Dr. David Hall Brooks, the chief medical officer on the base “and advised him of what we had planned to do.”
Graham had a very specific objective in mind — get Steven alone, without any interference from his parents. Years later, at a police convention, he boasted about his well-planned strategy: “I was well aware of the judge’s guidelines that it is preferable to have a parent or social worker present when you are questioning a juvenile,” he explained to his appreciative audience. “I was also well aware that it would be an exercise in futility, so I chose to disregard those guides.”
Graham’s was a bold admission of how far the police were willing to go to get their man, even if their man happened to be a fourteen-year-old boy. “Judges can always set their own guides for prisoners, they are not laws,” Graham said defiantly. And he was right. The Juvenile Delinquents Act in 1959 did not require the police to ensure a youth’s parent or guardian was present; today it is the law. Still, while Graham had not strictly violated any laws, he seemed to forget that the police had not told Steven he was a “prisoner” or even officially a suspect. At the boy’s murder trial three months later, the judge was unsparing in his criticism of the police’s tactics that night: “The ordinary safeguard should have been taken and he should have been warned. He was undoubtedly under arrest. It was clear he would never have been allowed to go.”
“Will you read this aloud,” the inspector told the boy as he handed him a typed statement based on Steve’s interview earlier that day. Steve read the text out loud and, according to Graham’s account, asked for only one minor change. He said his return to the school was not at 8:00 p.m., but closer to 7:50 or 7:55 p.m. “That was crossed out . . . and changed, and he said then it was correct, and I asked him to sign it and he did,” Graham said. Steven signed the statement at eight o’clock, ten minutes after their meeting began.
The inspector from the Criminal Investigations Bureau, a veteran of a decade’s worth of homicide cases, now had the boy exactly where he wanted him: alone in a room in a police station. Every police officer hopes they can crack a murder case with a confession, thereby saving the courts time and trouble. For the next hour and a half, Graham, assisted by Constable Trumbley, probed and prodded Steven.
Graham began by questioning his story of seeing a car at the highway. “I told him it was difficult to understand that because the distance was so great and I asked him if he was sure,” the inspector later recounted.
Yes, Steve said, he was sure.
Was he sure that he had seen Lynne with her thumb out at the highway?
Well, the boy said, he had not actually seen her thumb; he had seen her arm out.
Graham noticed a crescent-shaped scratch on Steven’s left arm. How did he injure himself, the police officer asked.
On a tractor in Lawson’s barn, came the reply.
Then Graham moved to the guts of the interrogation: “Have you ever taken a girl into Lawson’s bush?” he asked.
“No,” Steve said.
“Have you ever made a date to take a girl into Lawson’s bush?”
“Have you ever spoken to Jocelyne Gaudet about going into Lawson’s bush?”
“Were you at Jocelyne Gaudet’s house on Tuesday night?”
“No, I haven’t been to Jocelyne Gaudet’s home since last winter,” Steve answered, according to Graham’s account.
“Have you ever phoned Jocelyne Gaudet?”
“No, I have never telephoned Jocelyne Gaudet.” Steve said. “The only conversation I have had with her is in school.” It was a strange question. Had Jocelyne told the police about a phone call to arrange the alleged secret date? If so, the police apparently considered it an unreliable claim, for the police would never again mention a phone call to Jocelyne.
There is no official record of what went on for the duration of the ninety-minute interrogation. The two police officers were the only witnesses. Graham took only a single sheet of notes. Today, Steven Truscott remembers the first hours of his slow, steady slide into the abyss of incarceration: “They would take turns questioning me and calling me a liar,” he says of Graham and Trumbley. “One would come in and question you. He would leave the room. The other one would come in and he would say: ‘You lied. You did this, you did that.’ They keep questioning you and calling you a liar, and you just can’t believe what’s going on. In your mind, you can’t understand what’s happening. And all through the whole thing I stuck to what I had said.”
If the OPP inspector was hoping the boy would crack, he was sadly disappointed. “He steadfastly maintained that his statement was true in every detail,” Graham later reported.
Throughout his ordeal that night — and indeed, throughout all his forthcoming days in court — Steve never cried, at least not in public. Much like his mother, the fourteen-year-old held his emotions in close check. “I just wasn’t brought up that way — it’s kind of not the air force way,” he says today in reflection. “I knew I hadn’t done anything. I had nothing to be afraid of.”
That did not mean the boy was not scared out of his wits as he sat in a police interrogation room. Why hadn’t the police contacted his parents?
Doris Truscott was in a panic. It was 9:30 p.m. and there was still no sign of her son.
“Where is he?” she wondered. “He should have been home — it’s very seldom he’s late.”
Bob Lawson was baling his final load of hay for the day in his barn when a pair of headlights lit up the driveway to his farmhouse. As he walked over to the car, he saw Doris Truscott roll down her window. The farm was the only place she could think her boy might be this late at night.
“Have you seen Steve?” she asked. “It’s getting dark and it’s not like Steve to stay out late.”
“I saw Steve earlier, but not for a couple of hours,” the farmer informed her.
Doris was filled with a sense of dread. One schoolchild had already gone missing and turned up dead in the bush. Where in heaven’s name was her boy?
At the OPP station in Goderich, Graham had decided to take Steven to the RCAF guardhouse in Clinton. He ordered one of his men to find Steve’s father, Warrant Officer Dan Truscott. The police got Steven to the guardhouse on the base around 9:25 p.m. Ten minutes later, his father arrived “in a hostile attitude,” according to Graham. The inspector had kept Steven in custody — getting him to sign a statement and then questioning him about a murder — for two and a half hours without even informing his parents. But the OPP man could not grasp why a parent would be upset at the officers who had swept away his son without notifying anyone.
“The father asked me in a belligerent manner how and where Steven had been picked up,” Graham said. Dr. Brooks painted a slightly more sympathetic picture, reporting that Steve’s father “naturally was the anxious parent who wanted to know what had happened to his son and why he was there.”
For his part, the frightened boy felt relieved at least one of his parents was on hand. “My dad was there, so I figured, you know, he’s not going to let anything happen,” Steve says.
Dan Truscott immediately wanted to know if his son had been taken into police custody with his own consent.
“I asked him to get into the car to accompany me to read the statement and he got in willingly,” Trumbley reported.
Dan turned to his son: “Is that right, Steven?”
“Yes,” the boy answered.
Graham attempted to allay the father’s fears. “I told them that Steven had been brought in on my instructions and as a result of our investigation thus far certain suspicions had been directed toward Steven.” The OPP inspector explained he wanted doctors to examine the boy.
Steve’s father asked to speak with the boy alone and took him into an adjoining room. “I told him they were accusing me and calling me a liar,” Steve recounts. “It was quite clear they were trying to pin this on me.” Dan emerged from the chat with his son a few moments later.
“I refuse to allow Steven to be examined by a doctor,” he said. “Steven says you accused him of murdering Lynne and called him a liar.”
“I didn’t accuse him of murdering Lynne at all,” Graham replied. “I pointed out certain features from his statement that indicated he was lying. My only duty is to try to determine the truth.”
“Steven never goes out with girls,” his father reportedly said.
“We have information that he had a date with a girl that night,” Graham replied, referring to Jocelyne’s story of her rendezvous with Steven in the bush. “Will you consent to a medical examination of Steven?”
It was a pivotal moment. Ever the military man eager to do the right thing, Warrant Officer Dan Truscott was not one to question rules and regulations. He turned to his friend, Sgt. Charles Anderson of the OPP. “What do you think about it, Charlie?”
“I think you should consent to the examination,” Anderson suggested. “It looks bad if you don’t consent to the doctor examining Steve.” (Truscott could not know that Anderson was hardly a neutral advisor. Under Graham’s orders, he had already taken steps to secure a search warrant for the Truscott home, even before Steven was picked up. Lawyers would later convince a judge that Anderson’s comments were an unfair police inducement.)
In any event, it is doubtful that Dan Truscott could have wrested his son away from the police, even if he wanted to. “It was apparent to me it was unlikely he would get the boy home,” Dr. Brooks reported. In the end, Steve’s father bowed to authority; he turned to the OPP officers surrounding his son and agreed to the medical exam. Nobody asked Steve what he thought.
Initially, there was some question about whether Brooks should conduct the exam, but after consulting with the commanding officer, it was determined it would be better if an outside, civilian doctor performed the task.
The police asked Dan Truscott for the name of his family doctor. He mentioned that in the past, they had consulted a Clinton general practitioner, Dr. John Addison. Addison had briefly seen Steven twice in October 1957 for a urinary infection, and had treated Steven’s brother Bill for a threatened appendix.
Dr. Addison arrived at the guardhouse around 10:35 p.m. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, he had been practising medicine in Clinton since 1943. A stern-looking man with dark hair, a trim moustache and black glasses, Addison was well liked by the local citizenry. Presumably, the family doctor was supposed to be more dispassionate than Dr. Brooks, the military doctor working closely with the police. But Addison’s first move was to consult with the air force medical man. “I met Dr. Brooks first, who outlined a bit of the story that had transpired before as to why they wanted me to examine the prisoner,” Addison said later. “I had known . . . that this boy was the possible suspect of the rape.” Hardly a good start for a neutral observer.
“He accompanied me into the adjoining office,” Brooks said. “An examination of Steven then took place.”
Amazing people who have built our present and are shaping our tomorrow
Using the successful format of How the Scots Invented Canada, Ken McGoogan takes the reader on a compelling journey throughthe lives of fifty accomplished Canadians born in the 20th century who have changed—and often continue to change—the great wide world.
He discovers an ast …
As a young girl growing up in 1970s Afghanistan, Nelofer Pazira seems destined for a bright future. The daughter of liberal-minded professionals, she enjoys a safe, loving and privileged life. Some of her early memories include convivial family picnics and New Years’ celebrations overlooking the thousands of red flowers that carpet the hills of M …
On one late afternoon in September 1978, our family driver took me to the detention centre in Baghlan, where my father was imprisoned. My purple velvety trousers were brushing the dust from the unpaved road as we walked to the compound. I was holding the driver’s hand, forcing him to go faster. I wanted to see my father. For a child, whose world consisted of family — parents, a younger brother and a baby sister — not seeing my father for three days was a great deal of missing. I was three months short of being five years old.
At the prison, all I could see of my father was his face — striped with the lines from the shadow of the metal bars. He looked desolate. I wanted to hug and kiss him. But he was boxed in a small room. A thick wall, iron bars and several policemen stood between us. I was sitting on the ground, pushing my feet against the soil and crying, my trousers disappearing into a cloud of dry dust and hardly looking purple or velvety any more.
I shall never forget the angry voice of my father. “I didn’t raise you to cry on such a day,” he shouted at me. His words shook the compound. I stopped crying. Holding the driver’s hand, I stood embarrassed, head down, listening to my father. At times his voice grew thicker, as if he himself was going to cry, but he paused and continued. “You mustn’t cry,” he said. “You have to be strong and help your mother.” He told me to tell her that he was fine and that they had no reason to keep him imprisoned. He’d be home soon.
“Your ten minutes is up,” a voice announced coldly. There was a silent goodbye as my father shook his head. I had no tears, and my father faded from view.
I walked back to our car with the driver. There was a revolution inside me. I wanted to be strong, to break all those walls and bars and set my father free. I kept fighting the desperate need to burst into tears. My eyes were burning, much like my father’s. But his were inflamed with anger, mine with helplessness. I wanted to arrive home without tears, even though I knew my mother wouldn’t mind. She had shed many of her own tears in the last few days. I heard her cry at night, quietly in her bed.
That night I hated my mother’s sobbing. I wanted to scream at her “Stop it!” But I felt sorry for her. I knew she was crying from the pain of missing my father, and it was not the only thing. I also heard her talking to a friend in the living room as she described how men were verbally abusing her. She spent her days going to various government offices to see if she could obtain my father’s release. The governor of the city had told her she was “too young and beautiful to waste her life with a criminal” who was against the “rightful government.” A police officer had told her “there were plenty of men who would be happy to please” her. The principal of the school where she was teaching said he was going to report my mother to the “higher authorities” if she missed another day of work to follow up on my father’s case. But if she reciprocated his “keen affection,” she would be nominated that year’s best teacher.
* * *
My mother was not nominated any year’s best teacher, and my father was released after nearly five months in prison. “He had a brave lawyer and lots of luck,” as one of his best friends put it. It took me a while to grasp the gravity of my father’s crime in refusing to support the communist government. The full extent of its meaning did not become clear until later in my life. In some ways, to this day, the child in me still asks “Why?” Why was my father, who in his daughter’s view was a kind man and a good medical doctor, locked up away from us? Children see everything through the injustices they’ve suffered. In the perfect world that every child expects, this episode left a crack in the wall of my innocence.
Orders come from abroad, like death itself;
The guns are free,
So are the bullets,
And this year is the year of dying young,
The year of departures,
The year of refugees.
Qahar Ausi, 1989
At dusk, the downtown Kabul district of Dehe Afghanan is cloaked with grey clouds and grey smoke. The early spring rain has left dirt and water across the paved roads. For over a decade now the highways have not been maintained, and the potholes have become deeper, the city’s drainage system more derelict each year. It’s not cold, but we all hug our arms around our bodies as if shivering from fear. We all walk fast, very fast — hoping to get away from everything and everyone. It’s been ten years since the beginning of the war. Who started it? Who will end it? These days, we are so tired that we wish to forget. But is it possible to forget about war when minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day we feel that something bloody and terrible is about to happen?
The curfew starts at 10:00 every night. But there is another unspoken curfew that is imposed not by the communist government but by fear, a curfew that sets in much earlier. Which is why, at this hour, a cocktail of bicycles, motorbikes, pickup trucks, white-and-blue buses, red-and-orange minibuses and yellow taxis, all overcrowded, are merging into a river of traffic. People flood along the main road between the vehicles to reach the two bus stations. Vendors scream their hearts out in a desperate attempt to sell their apples and beans, spinach and meat. Fabrics are measured and cut at speed, four customers at a time. Even the clouds are racing over my head.
From the Hardcover edition.
The quest for responsible government took place in turbulent times. The "very strange" personality driving this quest, Robert Baldwin, comprises the stuff of narrative so compelling it seems at times less history than novel. Baldwin's intervention in Canadian history was momentous, and in thisaccount history is intertwined with Baldwin's enigmatic …
In A Chosen Path, Frank Oberle continues the amazing story of his remarkable rise from self-educated immigrant to national politician and Cabinet minister.
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“There was no sex in Ireland before television.”
—Irish MP Oliver J. Flanagan, in the early 1960s
The Globe and Mail’s celebrated critic John Doyle was born in the small Irish town of Nenagh in 1957; his father purchased the family’s first television set in 1962. By day, John was schooled by the Christian brothers in the valour of Irish re …
A Flickering Signal
On a blossom-bright May morning in 1961, my father took me to school. It was my first day at school and although it was just an experiment to get me registered, sitting at a desk and familiar with the idea of school, it almost unhinged me. I remember tears and laughter. My father, who sold insurance policies and collected premiums, had an inspector working with him that day. The two of them took me into the schoolhouse and they followed as a teacher took me to a desk. Grasping the situation, I looked up at the rafters and howled. Hot tears flooded down my cheeks, but nobody stepped up to wipe them away and murmur something soothing to me. I looked over at my father and the inspector. Dad was frowning, as if he wanted to help me but couldn’t. The inspector was laughing at my rage. After a pause, I stared up at the rafters of the schoolroom again, saw only pitch-black darkness high up in the criss-cross wooden beams, and howled once more.
Whatever else happened that morning is gone from my memory now. But this much I know–at lunchtime I legged it home. Out the schoolyard gate I raced, turned right and ran. Down Church Road, past the girl’s convent school, the high-pitched roar of playing girls ringing in my ears, then with a faster sprint past the arched entrance to the old jailhouse where everybody knew the Cormack boys had been hanged in 1848 for a crime they didn’t commit and their ghosts still haunted the old archway to mock the judges and lawyers who came and went, and turning right again but picking up a stick to clatter along the iron railings of the court house clang-bang-clang-bang to keep all ghosts away, running and panting for the sight of home. I raced across Wolfe Tone Terrace past the new houses with the doors newly painted in bright baby blue and yellow, catching the sun, with the scent of new-mown grass following me faintly from the court house grounds as I ran and ran and ran, heart pounding, looking for the gap in the stone wall that would lead me through long furrows of potato plants and beets to my own back yard.
I found the gap, climbed the big stones, stomped on small nettles growing there and raced in a straight line through the furrows to the gate of our yard. I wanted to call out, “Mam, Mam, I came home!” but I was breathless and stood there, panting. My mother was hanging out the washing on the clothesline and it took a minute before she noticed me.
“In the name of God, John Doyle, what are you doing here?”
“I came home.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, did you run across the whole town of Nenagh and tell no one where you were going?”
Mam sighed, took me inside, sat me in a sugawn chair – an ancient country thing made of battered old wood and hay ropes – and told me to keep an eye on my sister, Máire, who was sleeping in her cot. Mam went down the street to ask Mrs. Moylan, who was going over to the school to fetch her son Michael, to tell the teachers that I was safe and sound in my own kitchen.
Later, Mam stood me on a barrel in the back yard, and I helped her take down the washing. I was happy in the yard, a boy safe inside walls on a street inside an old walled town. From inside the walls of my back yard, and standing on the barrel, I could see the church spire asserting itself high into the sky while the tower of Nenagh Castle stood there beside it, solid as the past in which it had been built. Looking south toward Limerick, all anyone saw, always, were banks of grey clouds stacked on the horizon, usually obscuring parts of the soft-rolling hills of Slievnamon. It was a vista of greys, soft greens and subdued browns, a dull haze of colours from the clouds, the mist, the bracken and the brambles that seemed to cover the hills.
In the countryside around Nenagh, the people called the town “Nayna,” not the proper pronunciation, “Neena,” which was used in town. They said “Nayna” with a shrug and a ghost of an exclamation point beside it. They were amused by Nenagh, its old, insular ways, and they thought it was a peculiar place compared with the countryside.
I’d heard Mrs. Moylan say “God made Nenagh.” And I thought that was true then. I was getting on for nearly four years old and Nenagh was my world. First there was the walled-in world of our back yard and then the walled-in town of the winding streets, the castle, the church, and now the school. All of it was small, by any standard, but I was small too, and safe in its snug embrace. The streets and lanes were as familiar to me as my own knees and elbows. People would say “God is good” all the time, even if it was only because the weather changed and it stopped raining when mammies were going to hang out the washing on the line to dry. God made things nice and he’d made Nenagh nice.
All that afternoon, I played and hung around Mam in the kitchen. I practised lifting a ball with a small hurling stick and hitting it against one of the walls in the back yard. I raced up and down the furrows of potato plants, beets and cabbages, sometimes pretending I was being chased and diving down to hide. There was no fear of that. I could see my back yard from everywhere. If I wanted to see Sarsfield Street outside, I snuck down the alley and peered around the corner. Nenagh was all walls and alleys, a bound-in town and safe for a small boy who stayed inside his boundaries.
There would be nothing to surprise me on Sarsfield Street, anyway. If it was the first Monday of the month, it was Fair Day, when the farmers brought in their cattle and lined them along the street to buy and sell. If it was the last Friday of the month, it was the pig farmers’ Fair Day, and the street would be full of pigs, the air smelling heavily of dung until the county council men came and swept and washed it all away. On any day, Monday to Saturday, Willie Heaney, the writer for the Nenagh Guardian newspaper, would be cycling endlessly around the town, talking to people, taking notes about their doings. Around five o’clock on any day except Sunday, the men who worked at Mrs. Burns’s coal yard across the street would be walking home, their hands and faces blackened by the coal they’d hauled all day. Near six o’clock, the men who worked at the sugar beet factory would be cycling home in twos and threes, and if it was raining and they had no hat, they’d wear part of the heavy paper sugar bags on their head, cut like an army cap, to keep their heads dry.
From the Hardcover edition.
When award-winning journalist Andrew Clark found the file on Harold Joseph Pringle, he uncovered a Canadian tragedy that had lain buried for fifty years. This extraordinary story of the last soldier to be executed by the Canadian military -- likely wrongfully -- gives life to the forgotten casualties of war and brings their honour home at last.
The sun was up over Avellino. Light filled the small valley and fired the branches of the pine and chestnut trees that sprang from the mountains surrounding the town. Vineyards stretched across the Italian countryside, and occasionally a bird broke the silence of the morning quiet with its call. In a ruined castle above Avellino by the main road to Naples, a young Canadian soldier named Harold Joseph Pringle slept in his tiny room on a hard cot. During the Second World War, Canadian soldiers had used the castle to watch for smugglers and black marketeers bringing illegal goods from one city to the next.
At one time, tens of thousands of Allied troops, most of them Canadian, had been stationed in Avellino. By July 5, 1945, however, the war was over and the armies that had raged over Italy were no longer necessary. The Canadians were all gone. In fact, there were only thirty-one Canadians in the entire country. But there was one more task to perform before the final residue of the Canadian army could go home.
Shoot Harold Pringle.
A mile from Pringle’s cell, five Canadian privates dressed in pressed uniforms eyed their watches as they assembled outside their headquarters. It was fifteen minutes to six in the morning, but it was July, so the sun was already shining brightly. The brigadier appeared and gave a nod to a sergeant who was standing by. It was time to get going. The soldiers climbed into two jeeps and drove up the winding road.
The brigadier was a veteran of the First World War, and as they drove it occurred to him that the Canadian army had not executed a single soldier during this entire war. That was a change from the last one, in which 26 Canadian soldiers had been put to death. Over one million Canadians served in uniform during the Second World War, and 92,757 of these men had fought in Italy between 1943 and 1945. Of those, more than a quarter, 26,254, were killed or wounded. Canadians had fought in Japan, Burma, France, Germany, Sicily, Italy, Holland and Africa, and during this time some had fallen on the wrong side of military justice for crimes ranging from theft to rape to murder. Yet not one had been deemed to necessitate a military firing squad. It was, the brigadier thought, a situation that the Canadian brass in Ottawa and London could not abide. So, on July 5, 1945, he and thirty Canadians were to correct this imbalance by turning Harold Pringle into that singular casualty. Harold Pringle, whose name the brigadier had found so innocuous when he had first heard it, would be the only soldier executed by the Canadian army during the entire war. In fact, he would turn out to be the last soldier ever executed by the Canadian army.
The jeep rolled down the dry dirt road. One private whispered to his friend, “Do you suppose he will already be awake?”
Soon the brigadier’s party pulled up beside the old castle and the soldiers dragged themselves out. The brigadier was now shaking. As he and his men approached the castle, the guards who had spent the night outside Harold’s room stepped sheepishly aside. Inside, they found a chaplain from the British army who had been ministering to Harold. He had spent the night sleeping in the same quarters as the sentries. It was five minutes to six in the morning. The brigadier recognized the priest. “You know why we’re here,” he told him. “You can be on hand if you like.”
The men then walked silently past the chaplain to the door of Harold’s cell. The priest called out, “Harold, Harold, son. We are coming in.”
Harold was lying on his cot, clothed, and he began to awaken. He thought, I must have finally fallen asleep. An officer Harold did not know began speaking.
“Private Harold Joseph Pringle, His Excellency the Governor General in council . . .”
The chaplain laid a hand on Harold’s shoulder.
Harold felt a cold tingling buzz up the small of his back. He scanned the room nervously. “Harold, we received word from Ottawa,” said the priest. “They found against you. Your appeal has been denied. So it will be today, this morning.” Harold knew what “it” meant. By eight o’clock this morning it would all be over. Once he was dead, his guards and executioners could all go home. He would never go home.
As the words fell on Harold’s ears, he felt the priest’s hand on his shoulder. He heard the priest ask if he had any requests, any food he wanted.
“Do you want a bit of rum?”
“No, I never cared much for drinking,” he said.
The priest handed Harold a cigarette, which he took and lit. Harold looked east out his barred window and saw the blue Italian sky hug the green banks of the mountains that surrounded Avellino. It was just an optical trick, but the mountains looked surprisingly close. Harold could see details, small trees and shrubs on their cliffs. One of the privates gave him a sheet of army paper and a pencil. Harold sat at a small table, on which lay three prayer books, one volume of the New Testament, and the book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His wallet was also there, in it a few snapshots of family and old girlfriends; there was a tin box with his rosary, two medals (which would later be confiscated) and a mirror, badly broken. Harold inhaled deeply and felt the tobacco burn.
July 5, 1945
C5292 Pte. Harold Pringle
My Darling Mother and Father and Brothers and Sisters,
Well Mother Darling this is going to be an awful surprise to you all and I sure hope and pray that you dont take it too hard. But the papers have just come back from Canada....
From the Hardcover edition.
This album follows the history of Kingston from the founding of Fort Frontenac and the accompanying French settlement of Cataraqui in 1673 to its present-day incarnation as a popular tourist and travel destination. In addition to its fine military tradition, Kingston has also been the centre of commerce, shipping, industry, education, and governmen …