My mother Mary (Mama) in her 1944 German slave worker ID card photo, and Russell in his Royal Canadian Air Force uniform; 50 years later they met and discovered a connection through Allied bombing attacks on a German munitions factory.
“He bombed me!” Mama shouted, giddy with excitement. She was walking as fast as she could towards me.
“When I was in Schweinfurt, in Germany, he bombed me. Oh my God! Can you believe it? Russ bombed me.”
Russ Stonehouse walked calmly behind Mama.
“Well, I guess technically I did bomb your mother. I put those bombs on the planes. We were bombing Schweinfurt day and night.” Russ smiled at Mama. “But I had no idea your Mama was there.”
They continued smiling, two happy strangers who had just discovered they had a deep connection, like a distant cousin or a friend. Except this wasn’t a happy connection. They were connected together to something monstrous.
Mama and my stepfather, Tata, were visiting me and my husband, Neil, in the summer of 1995. Neil and I decided to have a bonfire. We invited Russ, his wife Verna and their two grandkids after we found out they were babysitting the grandkids at our neighbours' house.
By 8 pm, the bonfire was burning bright, flames leaping high into the sky. The grandkids were running around the fire. Neil, Verna, Tata and I were chatting, having a drink and keeping an eye on the kids.
We could see Mama and Russ sitting in deck chairs on the other side of the bonfire. The flames shot up periodically, lighting up the duo. Mama and Russ never moved. They had only just met, yet they were huddled together, deep in conversation, their heads almost touching.
Russ had been posted to England during World War II. He served five years in the Royal Canadian Air Force with Canada’s first Bomber Squadron overseas, Squadron 405. His job was to equip the Allied planes for their bombing missions.
In 1943 Mama had been taken from her parents in Ukraine by the Nazis. She was forced to become a slave worker at a ballbearing plant in Schweinfurt. That she survived the relentless bombings was a miracle.
Mama was so happy that night. She’d found a buddy. Someone who understood what she had gone through half a century earlier. Russ and Verna Stonehouse became a part of our lives from that day.