No Longer a Boy: World War 2 Reflections From a Choir Boy

“Okay Lord I’ll do it, but remember, this was your idea not mine.”- Rev. Stan Whitehouse

stan-whitehouse
90 year old Stan holding a portrait of himself in in younger years as a Minister with the Anglican church in Toronto, ON.

Stan Whitehouse was only sixteen years old when he enlisted in the Reserve Army in 1942, and by 1943 he was finally a member of the Active Army. He was a Boy Enlistment in the Royal Canadian Engineers during World War II. He never did end up overseas after training to become a Photogrametrist in Halifax.  This skill involved making maps from aerial photographs and conducting photo interpretation, but when that was no longer a need in Europe for his specific qualifications he was given the opportunity to volunteer for the Pacific Theatre. (That was a “theatre of war” between the Allies and Japan) He entered into training to become a Combat Engineer at Camp Petawawa, Ontario.

He recalled that he had a good Lieutenant while training for the Pacific, but one day the military replaced him with a “real nerd”. He and his buddies had a hard time taking leadership from this new command leader and figured that if they followed this guy into battle in the Pacific they wouldn’t have much chance of survival. So when he would command them to march left, they would march right; if he asked them to run they would walk and they truly gave him a hard time of it. The mess hall overlooked the training yard and the Officers witnessed what they had been doing, in reality they could have been put in “the slammer” but nothing was ever said. It was soon after that they got their preferred Lieutenant back because of their mutiny. He and his buddies were fearless in a sense, they were after all only between the ages of seventeen and nineteen.

When he expressed the desire to enlist, his mother had made only one request from him. She had lived through The Great War in England and she experienced the first ever air raids the Germans conducted. There was such an intense fear and surprise at the first bombing that his mother describes running toward the door in a mad-panic and running straight into it. So she was familiar with the horrors of war, and her sixteen year old boy was seeking to head right into it. She said to him, “I’ll let you go with our blessing if you promise me one thing. Don’t start drinking.” Stan figured this was a good deal so he took it and in his 90 years he proudly exclaims that he never so much as “blew the foam off the top of a beer”. He would sit with his army buddies while they drank beer, and he would sip his coke. More often than not, it was him who would put his buddies to bed after a night of drinking.

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His Soldier’s Service and Pay Book from his days during WWII. When Stan first enlisted the first thing he was expected to do was draft a Will. He still has a copy of it in his pay book from the war. 

After the war Stan came home and found employment as a motor mechanic but he could never shake the thought that he was being called into the Ministry. He had attended church as a boy and was a part of the choir, and he really had no problems with the church but he knew that he wanted no part of becoming a Minister. As time went on the thought of ministry wouldn’t leave him until finally it was the first thing he thought of when he woke and the last thing he thought of before he fell asleep. He described his younger self as “shy with an inferiority complex”. So one night in sheer desperation he knelt down on his bedroom floor in his parents’ home and prayed aloud, “Okay Lord I’ll do it, but remember, this is your idea not mine.”

Stan could never see how it would even have been possible for him to attain the necessary schooling in order to even become a Minister, as he had only received his grade 10 education. But he soon found that doors were opened to him that he had not been able to anticipate. There was a bridging program available to war veterans that allowed him to complete his high school education, and within six months he had completed high school and was enrolled in Wycliffe College on The University of Toronto Campus. The major hurdle he had to overcome was his fear of speaking in front of other people but he soon found that he rather enjoyed it.

Stan was ordained after 6 years of University and served in the Clergy for 40 years, with the majority of his ministry in the Toronto Diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada. When he retired, he moved to the County and would periodically take services within the United and Anglican churches in the Prince Edward County and Quinte Regions.  He admits that he misses it quite dearly.

But his days in the war were never far from his heart, and he has many stories about the “collateral damage which is much a result of War. [sic]”

As I reflect upon the business of Remembrance Day observances I do so with a great deal of despair and no small measure of remorse, mindful as many are, of the intense degree of suffering and sadness that War brings into the world, both for those directly involved in combat…and the incalculable multitude of others across the broad spectrum of life for whom war becomes a life changer for civilians…  ~Rev. Stan Whitehouse

He shared a story about a lady he knew named Mrs. Bartlett. During World War I her husband had lost his life as a result of being gassed, and she was left alone with three young boys. It was rather difficult to manage in those days but she got by the best that she could by working as a cleaning lady in the Parliament Buildings in Toronto, ON. When World War II broke out all three of her sons enlisted, two in the Navy and one in the Army. Of her three boys only one returned. Mrs. Bartlett was made a Silver Cross Mother but it was little comfort. The tragedy she had suffered through with The Great War continued with the conclusion of the Second and she felt that loss the rest of her days.

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Stan still has his dog tags from World War II. They hang on a special hook in his home and he figures he will give them to his son one day.

And then there was the mother whom Stan met while serving in the Toronto Diocese. She wouldn’t regularly attend service but once a year on Remembrance Day. Her son had been an air crew member who was listed as missing in action. Over the years until her death she never stopped hoping for his return and she would keep the light on every night so that he could see the door should he turn up.

And then there was Marjorie, a friend of Stan’s, who married a pilot. Just after their honeymoon of two weeks he was sent overseas. For two years she was at home worrying and waiting, and he was ultimately killed while flying a mission.

These were the examples of the immeasurable suffering that has haunted Stan since his days in the War. He figures the ones who were killed in battle were the lucky ones. The ones who were left behind had it far worse. This is the reason Remembrance Day was started, and as time marches on there are few left who do remember.

There is a war monument in Kohima, in the Capital of Nagaland, India commemorating the Battle of Kohima that bears a saying, When you go home, tell them of us and say; For their tomorrow, we gave our today.” John Maxwell Edmonds. 

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A photo of the War Monument in Kohima.

Stan didn’t ever get to serve overseas but he thinks of this monument when he thinks about those who died for our Country whether by land, by sea or by air. To him it expressed fully the sacrifice of those who gave up everything.

His contribution at home as a clergyman after the war was what soothed his soul. The people who had lost loved ones to the horrors of war had shared their heartbreak and their tragedy with him and he was able to comfort them, in whatever measure he was able.  And he took on his role with the utmost reverence and care. He said, “As a clergy you have the privilege of being admitted into the private lives of people, especially if they come to trust you. And they will only trust you if you gain the reputation of being a person who will keep that which is shared in strict confidence. [sic]” (emphasis mine

He concludes with a more subdued, yet happy memory. His fondest associations with war and the things that meant so much to him was the camaraderie that he had with his fellow soldiers. The business of living together and sleeping together–and dying together if need be– was a unifying experience. The social barriers that might have otherwise separated them, were overcame by the shared experience of war. They had become one. It was a feeling that he has missed all these years.

 


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