Publishing stories of fascinating Prairie People and Unsung Heroes

Welcome to the blog of Deana Driver - author, editor, and publisher of DriverWorks Ink, a book publishing company based in Saskatchewan. We publish stories of inspiring, fascinating Prairie people and unsung Canadian heroes - written by Prairie authors including Deana Driver. We also publish genres of healing and wellness, humour, children's fiction, and rural poetry. Visit our website to learn more about our books.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Belgium, Netherlands & a Special Lady - Europe Adventure Blog Part 9

Have you ever been to Belgium? It's beautiful.

I'm the Never Leave Your Wingman book. (Yes, you read that correctly - I'm a book.) My author/publisher Deana Driver and I, plus Deana's husband/publisher partner Publisher Al, were in Bruges in August as part of our wonderful European adventure (see my first blog). We only spent a day in Belgium because we had so many other wonderful places to visit on our agenda ... but what we saw was beautiful and enough to make us want to go back again.. Allow me to share some of the great sights and sites from this beautiful city.

Oh, hello, Publisher Al! Are you going to lead us on our tour of Bruges?
No? Good thing. I don't think you'd fit in this little tourist vehicle.

Bruges - or Brugge, as the locals refer to it - is one of several European communities that calls itself 'Venice of the North'. We were impressed by its canals, which are tranquil and lovely. These swans and other various birds thought so, too.


Here are some common sights in downtown Bruges:
Horse and buggy rides past quaint little shops...
...which sell Belgian chocolates...

...and Belgian waffles, of course. (Psst... the bananas topping that my author ordered contained grand marnier. Yummmm!)

Bruges is famous for its lace. Many shops sell it and many homes and businesses have lace curtains and/or needlework pieces that show the richness of the local culture...

...these items are all handmade. Gorgeous.

Oh, Publisher Al. Now those are super-sized fries!

After Bruges, we were anxious to get to Holland. 

We had some special plans for the Netherlands. Several special plans, in fact.

First, we wanted to get to the town of Groesbeek in eastern Netherlands before 5 o'clock that day.

This involved driving across a tiny one-way bridge (the crossings were controlled by traffic signs showing who must yield the right-of-way)...
...through a forest which had a sign warning of wild boars crossing the road. 
Now that's not a sign I've seen in western Canada. I've been told we do have wild boars in some areas of southeast Saskatchewan, but I've never seen a sign for them.
Then again, I am a book... so enough said about that.

We saw this windmill as we arrived in Groesbeek, Netherlands. We were disappointed that it was the only windmill we saw in all our time in the Netherlands, but we did see a lot of wind turbines in the Netherlands and several other European countries. Between those and many fields full of solar panels, we determined that Europe is far ahead of Canada in alternative energy sources.

So we made it to this - the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek - before it closed for the day. The man at the desk was reluctant to take the entry fee from my publishers because the museum was closing in an hour, but they convinced him to 'just take the money' and then point them in the direction of this important exhibit....
...a series of paintings by Calgary, Alberta artist Bev Tosh, called Canadian War Brides: A one-way passage to love. My publishers - who also published my friend The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story by Alan J. Buick - were so happy to see the exhibit that my author was like a little kid, smiling and jumping up and down with excitement. 

 And this was the panel that my publishers came to see.

Everdina (Sussie) Cretier was 10 years old when she received a little coat, made from a Canadian army blanket, as a gift from Canadian tank commander Bob Elliott and his crew on Christmas Day 1944. Decades later, Sussie/Sue and Bob reconnected and fell in love.Sue still had her little coat. She brought it with her to Canada and married Bob, her hero.

Although Sue is not technically a 'war bride', her story (as told by Alan Buick in my book friend The Little Coat) inspired Bev Tosh to create a portrait of Sue for her wonderful exhibit of Canadian war brides. (My author blogged about Bev's exhibit a few months ago, explaining that Bev used Bob and Sue's wedding photograph as the model for her painting.)
Each painting also has an accompanying  description of the war bride, and Sue's painting was at the end of the row, and the first one my publishers saw when they entered the exhibit room.
My publishers quickly pulled out the three The Little Coat books they brought with them (hiding them from me until just a couple days earlier, I might add), and they asked another museum visitor to take this photo of them with the exhibit.  
These are some of the other paintings and displays in Bev Tosh's exhibit, but Sue Elliott was the most important to my publishers, of course.

So we all went to bed very excited that night, and the next day, we were in for a very special visit. 

We drove to the nearby town of Rossum, going through the lock that Sussie Cretier-Elliott's family had crossed in 1944 to escape from the German soldiers to the safety of the Allied forces.

We drove into town and went to a seniors' complex - where we met this wonderful woman... 
...Sue Elliott, the woman who received that wartime gift of a coat from Alberta soldier Bob Elliott and his crew in 1944!
It was no surprise to us that Sue is just as feisty as ever. When we arrived, she apologized for her apartment being a bit untidy. (It wasn't, actually, but she thought it was.) She had just finished washing the bathroom floor, you see, because she can do it better than the people who are employed by the residence to do the cleaning, she said! What a character.

My publishers loved every minute they spent with Sue....  
...from the visiting and sharing of stories to the long walk we took around the neighbourhood.

Sue showed us where her late husband, Bob Elliott (the soldier in the story, who passed away in February 2013) used to go every day to sit and watch the ships and boats sailing down the canal. 

It is beautifully peaceful.

She took my publishers through town and showed them the shop where her father had his garage. The family's house used to be where the large window is on the first building on the right. Sue's brother Gerard runs the business now. 

Here, my friend The Little Coat looks back on the scene that author Alan Buick captures so well with his writing.

On our walk, Sue showed us some local vegetation. This was the first time my publishers had seen a walnut tree...

...and the first time they'd eaten blackberries off a bush. What's the matter, Publisher Al? Was that berry a little sour? If you look closely, it almost seems like Sue knew that when she handed it to him. Hee hee.

We had a lovely visit with the amazing Sue Elliott...
...but we had to say goodbye to her, leaving her with one of the three copies of The Little Coat book that my publishers had brought to Europe and set on the sand at Juno Beach. When we arrived home, my publishers put one of the two remaining copies (signed by Sue Elliott) on their bookshelf and gave one to author Alan Buick, along with some photos of their visit with Sue. Just as they surprised me with this vacation, they did not tell Alan ahead of time that they might be meeting Sue. Only her daughter Trudy knew of the possibility. (Thank you, Trudy, says my author.) Alan was pleased as punch with his gifts.

Anyway, back in Holland....

...we also drove to the nearby town of Alphen, to see the landscape of the area where Sue's family had sought safety from the Canadian soldiers. 

It was hard to imagine this beautiful land as it would have been during wartime.

Then we went to the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, which honours so many who fought and died in that area during the Second World War.

Row after row of headstones.

So we leave you with this thought... as Sue told us about her and her beloved Bob's story written by Alan J. Buick in The Little Coat book - "This book is a warning to never let it happen again."

We will not forget.

Take care.

(Next blog in this series.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Our European Adventure Pauses To Remember - Blog Part 8 - Juno Beach, Dieppe & Vimy

This is the Never Leave Your Wingman book speaking. As you may know, I am a true story about Dionne Warner, a seven-time cancer survivor in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada who dresses in costume and dances into her chemotherapy treatments, alongside her fun-loving husband/wingman Graham (who has also dressed in some pretty funny costumes, I must say). I've been blogging about the adventures I had in Europe this summer, after my author/publisher and her publisher husband took me along on their once-in-a-lifetime European vacation (read my first blog).

As Remembrance Day 2013 approaches, I'd like to use a good part of this blog to introduce you to a friend of mine, The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story book. My friend tells the amazing true war story/love story about a Canadian soldier, a little Dutch girl, and the coat that has linked them together forever.

In case you haven't guessed by now, my publishers are pretty sneaky at times... and unknown to me, they brought three copies (I'll tell you about all three later) of my friend The Little Coat along on our journey to Europe this summer. I didn't know about this sneaky move... and I didn't see my friend until we arrived here... the Juno Beach Centre, in Courselles-sur-Mer of the Normandy region of France.

My publishers all of a sudden pulled my friend The Little Coat out of their backpacks. And I was so pleased. It was the perfect place for him. The Centre houses the Juno Beach museum, which contains artifacts and films and tells some of the incredible stories and details of the Second World War. I was honoured to go into this building and onto the actual Juno Beach with my friend The Little Coat.

Before I move on in this blog, please allow me to tell you more about The Little Coat:  The Bob and Sue Elliott Story. This award-winning, bestselling book is written by Saskatchewan author Alan J. Buick. It tells the true story of Alberta soldier Bob Elliott, who was 15 years old when he enlisted in the Second World War. Almost four years later, on June 6, 1944, Bob landed on Juno Beach as a member of the 19th Field Regiment. That day would later become known as D-Day. 

Bob survived that horrid battle and advanced further into France and then into the Netherlands. At age 19, in November 1944, he was a tank commander fighting the German troops in the Netherlands when he met 10-year-old Sussie Cretier. Sussie's family had just escaped to the safety of the Allied forces, and this feisty little girl soon became a good-luck charm and adopted little sister to many of the men in Bob's troop. The soldiers wanted to give Sussie a Christmas gift, so they took a Canadian Army blanket and gave it to a seamstress in that Dutch village, asking her to make it into a coat for Sussie. The buttons for the coat came off the Canadian soldiers' tunics. On Christmas Day, 1944, Bob gave Sussie the coat on behalf of his crew, and teh Canadians soon left Holland to continue with the advance against the German forces. More than 35 years later, Bob and Sussie (Sue) reconnected and fell in love. She still had the little coat. She brought it with her to Canada and married her hero.

As my publishers and I and our friend, The Little Coat book, looked around the grounds of Juno Beach, we could only think of Bob Elliott and the thousands of others who fought and sacrificed so much for our freedom.

 We were overwhelmed by their strength, their courage, and their sacrifices.

The Juno Beach Centre grounds and museum share stories of those who fought that historic battle.

Walking down the path toward the beach, we wondered how many men had died in this spot.
How many lost their lives here in the service of their country?
My publishers set The Little Coat on the sand at Juno Beach, in an homage to those who fought... and to honour the late Bob Elliott, our hero, who passed away earlier this year - on February 15, 2013.

We miss you, Bob. Thank you for your service.

From Juno Beach, we drove further up the coast to the French port of Dieppe. We wanted to see this significant spot at which 907 Canadians lost their lives in a failed raid in August 1942, which later informed more successful attacks for the Allied forces.

These Canadians are not forgotten, though. The beautiful Dieppe Square honours the Canadians who died in that raid. 

This plaque commemorates the more than 1,200 men, most of whom were Canadian, who died at Dieppe during that failed attempt at liberating France.

Each year since the end of the war, on August 19, ceremonies are held in Dieppe to commemorate that battle and the loss of life. Unaware of this annual event, we arrived in Dieppe and saw the displays set up in preparation for these ceremonies. Fascinating.

From Dieppe, we drove inland, towards Vimy, France, where we were anxious to see the great Vimy Ridge Memorial site.
About 30 kilometres southwest of Vimy, we began seeing cemeteries in the Pas de Calais region. These are the final resting places of soldiers killed in the First World War.

It was quite moving, driving through small towns surrounded by farmland and seeing these beautifully kept markers of soldiers known and unknown who died in the service of their country. We saw grave markers for Irish, Welsh, English, Australian, and Canadian soldiers. There was even one German soldier's grave marker.... and that was only in the first couple of rows of this cemetery.

There were many, many cemeteries in this region, all well-kept and providing an everlasting tribute to those who fell in the First World War. We were particularly moved by this often-seen grave marker:
'Soldier of the Great War. Known to God.'

The above statue, in the village of Puisieux, France, also commemorates the fatalities of war, as does the statue below. It stands in the village of Ayette and remembers the children who died from 1914 to 1918.

Arriving at Vimy, France, we walked through the museum and along the paths on the grounds, which still show the crevices caused by bombs and mines from the First World War.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 was not one of Canada's most successful military achievements, but was significant for bringing Canadian forces together as a unified fighting force for the first time..
The Vimy Memorial site includes a piece of the trench from the war and memorials to those who served.

Signs warn visitors to not step over the electric fence because parts of the land, which has been donated to Canada by France for the memorial, contain undetonated explosives. 

The memorial is spectacular... from far away... 
...and up close.
Soldiers are honoured here by their names engraved on the memorial. Publisher Al touches the name of a J.A. Driver. He is not related to Al, but Al's grandfather did serve at Vimy.

Soldiers are also remembered here with gifts left by their loved ones. 
We will never forget.

One final comment in this blog commemorating those who fought for our freedom...

When we were at Juno Beach, my publishers set three copies of The Little Coat book down on the sand of Juno Beach., and they sprinkled a few grains of sand from that significant beach inside the pages of each of the books. 
Days later, they gave one of those special books to this amazing woman....

... Sussie (Cretier) Elliott - the 'little girl' who received 'the little coat' from Bob Elliott and crew in December 1944. 

But that's a wonderful story for my next blog.

In the meantime, please pause on November 11th to remember those who served and those who continue to serve today.