Talking with Maurice, a WWII story by guest @ScottTheWriter

 

Image courtesy of  stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today please welcome author and journalist Scott Bury to the blog as he shares the inspiration for his latest non-fiction work, Army of Worn Soles, the true story of his father-in-law, Maurice Bury, a Canadian citizen drafted into the Soviet Red Army during WWII.

“Can you imagine what it’s like to look into a man’s eyes and have to kill him?”

What can I say? Nothing.

And all I can think was how lucky I felt to have been born in Canada a generation after the war, to have escaped even the call to go to war.

I am sitting in the kitchen of Maurice Bury, the subject of my latest book, Army of Worn Soles. My girlfriend (now wife of 33 years), Roxanne and her mother are in another room.

Army of Worn Soles - FULL RESOLUTIONMaurice has told Roxanne and me stories from time to time: about eating fish-head soup because that’s all the food there was; about soldier marching until their boots wore off, and then having to wrap newspapers around their feet because the Red Army could supply no more boots to its men.

One of my favourite stories was about how, when Maurice was in the Ukrainian underground, the “boys” would sneak into the rail yards at night and switch the destination cards on the sides of the boxcars. It seems more of a prank to me than any serious military action.

“You don’t understand: the card on the side of car tells the railway men where the car is supposed to go. When we switched them, the supplies would go to the wrong place, so the fighting men would not have what they needed.”

I do not appreciate how serious that was until years later, when I read William Craig’s Enemy at the Gates, the story of Nazi Germany’s disastrous siege of Stalingrad—disastrous for both sides, and ultimately Germany’s high-water mark, its furthest reach. There’s a brief mention of how German General Paulus sent repeated urgent requests to Berlin for more ammunition, reinforcements and warm clothes as the winter set in; what arrived was a boxcar full of condoms.

I have heard snippets of Maurice’s story from Roxanne, too: that her father had been in a German POW camp and had escaped. Sitting in the kitchen, I want to know more about this and everything else Maurice did in Ukraine, Russia and Germany between 1941 and 1945. I want the whole story from beginning to end.

With the dishes cleaned and put away, I sit across the kitchen table from Maurice and ask him about fighting. As usual, though, he doesn’t start at the beginning, but with another anecdote from near the end of the war.

“We were on the train to Finland in 1944. We were nervous, because we knew the Finns were tough fighters. They beat the USSR in the Winter War in 1941, and in 1944 the Soviet Union attacked them again.”

“Why?”

“To gain back the land they lost in 1941, of course. The Finns came close to Leningrad, and were helping the Germans.”

This is new to me.

Maurice sits back in the kitchen chair. “They were tough fighters, the Finns. Very tough. But before our train got to the front, Finland capitulated. The war there was over, and we were sent instead to the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.”

I ask a stupid question: “What was it like?”

He’s leaning back, looking relaxed. But his eyes burn into me. “Do you know what it feels like to be ordered to kill another man? Can you imagine what it’s like to look into a man’s eyes and have to kill him?”

We’re quiet for a while. There is nothing I can say. When there’s enough moisture in my mouth to speak again, I ask “You were close enough to see the enemy’s face?”

“We had to put the bayonets on our rifles and jump into their trenches,” he answers. His hands are moving, miming the action, I guess, of affixing a bayonet to the end of a rifle.

“Why?”

He shrugs. “Orders. You obey the orders, or you get shot. That’s the army.”

He tells me about marching across the Baltic countries. “It was easy fighting. The Germans surrendered, retreated. Sometimes, they left behind some of their toughest fighters, the real fanatics who would never give up. They were dangerous.”

“How did you deal with them?”

“The Red Army had special shock troops with better weapons, better training. They would go ahead, surround the Germans and destroy them.”

“How did the people there feel about getting rid of the Germans in favour of the Soviets?”

He shrugs again. “What’s the different?”

That makes me think. What was the difference? Foreign soldiers in charge of your country, your town, your own home—did it matter which country they came from? And in eastern Europe in 1945, the Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Czechs and people of so many other countries traded Hitler for Stalin. The question became, which would be worse for each of them?

That conversation would became the beginning of a decades-long, intermittent research project into my father-in-law’s experience in the war. I learned some shocking things, some details that I never dreamed of before. But more importantly, I learned just how deeply culture influences your understanding of history, and how the generally accepted version of the history of the Second World War is incomplete and slanted in favour of the successful governments of the West, particularly of the US and UK.

Maurice always challenged me to question my own assumptions, and even though it made me uncomfortable at times, even though it burst some illusions about the righteousness of many people I had been taught were heroes or admirable people, the good guys.

And that’s just one reason why, ten years after his death, I still miss Maurice.

About the Author: 

Scott BuryScott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia. He is also the current President of the authors’ group, BestSelling Reads.

His first published novel was The Bones of the Earth, followed a year later by the erotic comedy One Shade of Red. Other published fiction includes two related short stories, “Dark Clouds” and “What Made Me Love You?” His first published fiction, “Sam, the Strawb Part,” is a short story; all proceeds from its sales go to a charity for children with autism-spectrum disorders.

His latest book is Army of Worn Soles, the true story of his father-in-law, Maurice Bury, a Canadian citizen drafted into the Soviet Red Army just in time to face the German invasion of 1941, Operation Barbarossa.

Scott Bury was born in Winnipeg, grew up in Thunder Bay, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University. He has two sons, two cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. You can read more of Scott’s writing at Written Words and Scott’s Travel Blog, and on his website, The Written Word. Follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

Why The Time Traveler’s Wife and Nutella Is A Perfect Combo

I have been tagged by the lovely folks over at Sweatpants & Coffee for a blog hop featuring books and chocolate. Check out their recommendations here and then scroll below for mine.

“I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.”

~ Henry DeTamble

I had heard much hoopla – both positive and negative – about this book, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, when Houghton Mifflin released it in 2003. I tend to listen more to word of mouth rather than critical reviews (which I typically find stuffy and overblown), so I asked my own trusted non-book club of sorts: my mom, two sisters, and niece, avid readers all.

  • Mom: Loved it!
  • Older sister: Meh.
  • Younger sister: Good-ish.
  • Niece: Fabulous.

Two to two. As the middle child, it fell to me to be the tiebreaker, once again. Sigh. Of course it did.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Settling into my favorite cozy black and white velvet wing-backed chair (purchased on clearance at Pier 1 years ago for just this purpose), I settled in with my favorite chocolate: Nutella.

Duh.

First Date. (Henry is 28, Clare is 20.)

It is obvious that I’m hooked from the very first page, because when Clare meets Henry for the first time, she already knows him and he’s never met her before. It takes place in a large library (The Newberry) where he works (historian). History! Books!

I mean.

Give the title of the book, this makes sense. Of course, it makes no sense, but if you are the type of (geek) reader that I am, you have placed yourself in the hands of the writer. And Niffenegger is deft. The back and forth can be a tennis-match like, I won’t lie. Keeping track can be a bit exhausting. (That’s the biggest complaint I have read about the book.)

The Time Traveler’s WifeSo, don’t. Don’t keep track. Let it go and enjoy the damn story!

It’s gritty, sad, filled with gorgeous language, a moving story, a plot that skips along, some (non-explicit) sex, punk rock music, longing, intense love, humor, and time travel (which is kinda sorta explained – a DNA chrono something — but not really and I’m okay with that).

Here are a few things I’ve gleaned from multiple readings:

  • The book is FAR FAR FAR better than the movie which, while I loved the cast, was a sappy, boring love story and didn’t do this master work justice AT ALL. Don’t waste your time. I’m so sad about it I can’t even tell you (no grittiness, no punk, no fighting, really, no Ingrid!). Come on.
  • Clare’s name is spelled without the typical ‘I’ (as in Claire). This may be me, but I found her to be an extraordinarily giving person, so I think that the author did that purposefully, leaving the ‘I’ out to subliminally make us know from the beginning that she would give everything she had to Henry (my mom says I’m crazy).
  • When Henry travels, he is naked wherever he lands. When he meets Clare as a child, (he’s older, she’s younger, eventually they meet in middle), people complained that it bordered on pedophilia. Given that I have my own experiences with childhood sexual abuse, I personally didn’t have any issues because, a) it fit with the story and, b) he never once made any kind of untoward moves, and was unbelievably uncomfortable in that situation.

He has no control of where he lands, which leads to wildly humorous and many times, inappropriate, albeit often hilarious, situations (naked in the library quite frequently ‘Oh, that’s just HENRY,’).

  • These are not perfect characters and some complained that they are stereotypes: Henry drinks, hard, fights and steals (mostly to survive); Clare waits and waits and waits some more, then has a baby. I can’t disagree.

But she also has her own career and becomes a well-known artist, making her own money. See, here’s the thing: it’s a BOOK. It’s a love story. She’s very feminine. He’s very manly. Is that a bad thing? If he was girly and she was manly, chances are this story would have been very different!

But now, I know, how absence can be present, like a damaged nerve, like a dark bird.

This is one of only three or four books I go back to again and again. I recommend it on a cold and rainy night and I promise, if you get past the dates and times and read the story, you too will fall in love. Add some Nutella (or you favorite chocolate), and you’ll enjoy it even more!

Broken by guest @Nikki_Blue1

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Four years ago, my life was picture perfect. I was a suburban housewife with two beautiful children who wanted for nothing. The house was perfect, the cars were perfect. Hell, even the dog was perfect. It seemed as if I had it all, but on the inside, … [Continue reading]

The Worth of Self by guest @DelSheree

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being open to sharing our stories connects us to so many others and creates a bond we didn't know existed before. Today I'm grateful to be sharing this post by author DelSheree Gladden as she opens up about her story. I think there is a moment … [Continue reading]

Announcing The #NoMoreShame Project

nomoreshame

In January 2014 bestselling author Rachel Thompson and therapist Bobbi Parish started a Twitter Chat for survivors of sexual abuse called #SexAbuseChat. As survivors themselves, Rachel and Bobbi wanted to create a forum for all survivors to share … [Continue reading]

#MondayBlogs Giveaway July 2014

MB-FINAL-LOGO-KLM

Since I created #MondayBlogs in late 2012, even I'm shocked at what an amazing success it has become! Thousands participate each week, generating more than 5,000 tweets! And it is because of all of you that we can say that with a lot of pride … [Continue reading]

Writing Our Pain by guest Kathleen Valentine (@Kathleen01930)

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writing is its own sort of therapy. Writing the hard stuff is one of the best things a writer can do. Today please welcome Kathleen to the blog as she shares her story of writing out the pain.  Throughout my career as a writer I've dealt with some … [Continue reading]

Taking Out The Twitter Trash

ID-100182943

One of the many benefits of having written Broken Pieces is the support I've received from other CSA (Child Sex Abuse) survivors. So much so that I created a private, secret Facebook group (up to 50 mostly female members now). It's our private place … [Continue reading]

Goodreads Giveaway, Baby!

Broken Pieces paperback

In December of 2013 my first print book was published. Now you can win a copy of the Broken Pieces paperback on Goodreads! Goodreads Book Giveaway Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson Giveaway ends June 30, 2014. See the giveaway … [Continue reading]

#MondayBlogs Giveaway June 2014

MB-FINAL-LOGO-KLM

Since I created #MondayBlogs in late 2012, even I'm shocked at what an amazing success it has become! Thousands participate each week, generating more than 5,000 tweets! And it is because of all of you that we can say that with a lot of pride … [Continue reading]

Rape Made Me a Feminist by guest @SbethCaplin

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Please welcome author and blogger Sarahbeth to the blog today as she shares her story of rape culture and feminists.  I was raised by a strong woman: a mother of two who was also a full-time nurse, and later a full-time college professor. She … [Continue reading]

3 Types Of Messages To Ignore On Social Media

ID-10067466

If you're going to be on social media, hopefully you've learned that it's about connection and interaction, sharing interesting content, networking (hate that word), and building a fan base. What about when it's not, though? What about when it's … [Continue reading]

#MondayBlogs Giveaway May 2014

MB-FINAL-LOGO-KLM

Since being created in 2012 by Rachel Thompson, #MondayBlogs has become amazing success and it is because of all of you that we can say that with a lot of pride and a big ol’ smile! As a thank you to all you wonderful #MondayBlog tweeps, we launched … [Continue reading]

Fly Away Girl by guest @TruthisHers

Image courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Please help me welcome author and fellow cohost of #SexAbuseChat, Bobbi Parish to the blog as she shares her experience with sexual abuse and how this fly away girl overcame.  When I was a little girl I used to draw. A lot. My sister and I had … [Continue reading]