This is Gerald, or Gerry as he prefers, an alumnus of my high-school, Upper Canada College.
Gerry was born in Germany, but being a German-Jew, he soon moved to Holland in the years leading up to the Second World War. “My father was rather prescient”, he put it. Eventually, he came to Canada. For four years, he attended UCC, graduating in 1940. I was in the class of ’99. After a year at university, he volunteered for military service at 19.
“19?”, I asked in disbelief. With a smile on his face, he told me, “You grow up fast”.
He began as a commissioned officer for an artillery unit. Responsibility of the lives of many men under his command was something he didn’t want, but his knowledge of German, Dutch, and English moved him to a more preferable position as an interrogation officer. His superiors would send him co-ordinates of intelligence to gather, sometimes behind German lines, sometimes in a downed tank, and a private would drive him in a jeep to obtain the information.
From left to right, his medals are:
- The 1939–1945 Star
- The France and Germany Star
- The Defence Medal
- Canadian Volunteer Service Medal
- The War Medal 1939–1945
- The Service Medal of the Order of St. John
His proudest accomplishment is the Maltese cross he wears on his chest — The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, presented by the Governor General herself. Even though he’s a commander of the order, second only to knights or dames, he’s extremely modest about it. The framed award presented to him lies in a pile of assorted things in his bedroom.
I first met Gerry a few days ago, after finding out about him from the bi-annual newsletter published by UCC. The newsletter, called Old Times, is a way for alumni, called Old Boys, to keep track of the goings’ on at the College. There was an article about the school’s prized Victoria Cross medal collection being presented to the new Canadian War Museum here in Ottawa. These were the same medals I walked by in the front hall display case every day at school, too young to appreciate their historical significance. Gerry was one of the veterans invited to attend the presentation ceremony.
However, my interest in Gerry stemmed from a different section in the same issue of the newsletter, announcing a photo contest open to all past and present students. The contest seemed like a great project, not only as a way to practice my photographic skills, but to test myself as well. I would have to find a subject related to the school in some way. Gerry, being an Ottawa-area Old Boy, was my closest connection. Taking pictures of someone, let alone someone I had never met before, was a daunting idea, and I would have to step out of my comfort zone to do it.
After looking up his name in the phonebook and gathering up the courage, I called Gerry. He was happy to meet.
I’ll be submitting the second photo.
Update: Here are the results of the project.