Wednesday, September 14, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Service Record Revelations

Vernard and Helen Frank with their young son, James

      I've been waiting a long time to be able to write this post! If you're one of the regulars around here, you might remember a post I wrote almost a year ago called Genealogy Jam where I talked about my Library and Archives Canada quest to find out once and for all what my great-grandfather's service was during the Second World War. As I'm sure is the case in a lot of your families, we always knew he had served, but since he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences we never knew exactly where he'd been or even with what branch of the service. I had previously made an attempt to collect what information we did have during a video project for grade 10 history, but had very few concrete facts to work with. Now, being a historian with some better connections, I decided to go through the process of requesting his service records from LAC.

     I won't go into the process too much to spare those who already read the more detailed description, but it involved my proving his death within a certain time frame and sending away a request form describing my relation to him and the nature of the information I was looking for. There were a few different options for what could be requested, and I chose to go with the full package in order to find out as much as possible. Since he had been deceased longer than the 15 or however many years LAC requires before releasing the once-confidential documents, I was eligible to receive some paperwork that quite possibly hadn't been looked at since the 1940s.

     After waiting almost a full year, I was thrilled to find the large envelope with the LAC stamp in the mail. I looked through the stack of copied documents in complete disbelief that we were finally getting the answers to some lifelong questions, and also with the nature of some of the papers that were included. It almost felt like I was reading something I shouldn't have had access to! Our family went from having little idea of how he spent the war years to suddenly having his service number, rank, and a series of notes on his appearance and character written by army superiors who had interviewed him.
Vernard Frank during training
      I wanted to share some of the more fascinating excerpts from these documents with you this week, to show you the kinds of information that can be accessed in this manner and also to prove that the process is well worth the wait! In case you've missed some of the posts where I talked about what we do know about my great-grandfather, I'll include some of the basic stats that were included in the genealogy package:
Name of officer or other rank: Vernard Frank
If married, state a) full name of your wife: Mrs. Helen Frank
                                           b) present postal address of your wife: West                        Lorne, Ontario, Canada
 If married, have you been regularly supporting your wife? Yes
Have you any children? Names and ages: James Vernard Frank, 18 months
Is your father alive? If so, state name and address, occupation: Mr. William C. Frank (farmer), West Lorne, Ontario, Canada
Is your mother alive? If so, state name and address: Mrs. Margaret Frank

     By far, the most fascinating aspect of this package was his paperwork from the Personnel Selection Board. This is where they interviewed him on his personal and professional background to try and discern whether he would be a good fit for service, and if he was a stable person to recruit. Here is what Lieutenant E. M. Entwistle, Army Examiner, had to say about him:
     Hobbies: hunting and fishing, collecting firearms
This man's time is largely occupied with his work, his Reserve Army duties, a few movies, and some repairs on his car. On his holidays and at certain other times he goes fishing and hunting.
Baptist- fairly regular in attendance
Married Jan. 1941- one son- his wife may return to her father's home. Parents are living at West Lorne- 1 brother.
This man has a splendid physique. He has a frank manner and is quite interested in military activity. His intelligence is above average and he appears quite stable and has good assurance. He is quite anxious to serve in the Provost Corps if there is an opening (potential N.C.O. material)
     During his sixth week of training at Chatham, he was interviewed by Army Examiner Captain H. Small, who said:
     Good all around soldier, except he lacks expression. His work has been good.

     While he was in Petawawa, Verne started experiencing some hearing loss (though he didn't realize it at the time) and dissatisfaction at being trained as a gunner. Army Examiner Captain H. O. Bennett wrote this:
     A/L/Bdr. Frank completed the Junior N.C.O. course two months ago and since that date has been employed as a L/Bdr. Instructor in "E" Bty. He finds that he cannot stand the firing of a 25 pdr. and feels that he would be of little use as a member of a gun detachment overseas. No gross signs of instability were present during the interview. His appetite is good, he sleeps well at night, and feels generally in fine physical condition. His own suggestion is that he be trained as a driver and subsequently as a driver mechanic. His B-1 category "M" score of 156, garage experience and education all suggest that he would be capable of absorbing Trade Training.
Leaving for war

     According to his Occupational History Form, he enlisted in the Army at Windsor, Ontario on February 4, 1943. He described his highest level of education as being two years of high school, having left school at age 17, and at the time of his enlistment worked as an inspector at Kelsey Wheel Co. in Windsor. I found one section of this form to be of particular interest because of its specific relation to farming-- keep in mind the essential role that food production played in the war effort!
Do you wish to engage in farming after the war? NA
Do you feel competent to operate a farm? Yes
If so, in what kind of farming? Mixed farming
Were you born on a farm? Yes
How many years' actual farming experience have you? 3 Years
In what provinces did you have experience? Ontario
     In section G of that form (miscellaneous), he responded that he had not made any arrangements for re-establishment in civil life after discharge, and that his plans were uncertain.

     According to the Attestation Paper for February 4, 1943, he had previously served 30th R.E.C.C.E (Essex Regiment) from February 1941 until that point.

     As the records go on, there are a few more interesting tidbits:
-After enlisting at Windsor, he was transferred to Chatham, then to Petawawa, and after taking a few courses (during which time he was paid $1.40 per day), was sent to Woodstock for a Driver Mechanic course
-He completed the course, got five days' leave for Christmas 1943, passed his test for Driver Mechanics, and moved up to receiving $1.50 per day
-After arriving in the U.K. in early 1944, he spent more time taking courses and served as the rank of Gunner with the Canadian Army in Europe (that's where the records get fuzzy- step two is to trace the European portion of his service)
-He was discharged on March 14, 1946 with a CVSM (Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, the standard issue for those who served) and clasp
The medals (CVSM on the right)

     Finally, here's the CONFIDENTIAL summary of his character as recorded by a counselor upon his discharge:
     Frank is a tall, husky chap, raised on a farm, who has been interested in motor mechanics and garage work a long time and hopes eventually to have his own garage. His civilian experience has been largely augmented by army training and employment and from his record he apparently has been a thoroughly competent tradesman. Following a course at school in England, the chief instructor included on his qualification sheet the following comment: "A steady and conscientious worker who has made excellent progress in all branches and should be an asset to his unit". 
  Frank wants to get his mechanic's qualifications and then obtain garage job until he considers time and conditions suitable for obtaining own garage.
  If he fails to obtain employment as mechanic, will return to pre-enlistment job as wheel inspector in plant manufacturing car and truck wheels, swinging over into a trade of his choice later when suitable opportunity presents itself.
  Frank is a mature, sound thinking man, who makes his plans well in advance of action and who should do well in his long-term program. 
  Alternative employment possibilities are found in other pre-service jobs as salesman and as farm labourer.

     I hope this week's post wasn't too dull a read- I know how boring it can be to read about other peoples' family histories but I did my best to filter out the most interesting parts of this record! I'm absolutely over the moon to finally have these answers and to be able to pass them along to my grandpa and his siblings, and am as proud as ever to be a descendant of this hero. Looking back on his later years, he really did achieve all of the goals he had in 1946 and more, and I think of Frank Bros. Motors now as a wartime dream come true for him. A huge shoutout to Brady Hodge from the Personnel Records department at LAC for compiling this record. If you're interested in finding out how to receive war or any other records from LAC, please get in touch with me! It's my last year of having physical access to the archives, so I'm hoping to do as much as I can while I'm here. In the meantime,
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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