Alson Hoffman had been married just three months when he joined the Canadian Army in September 1942. Assigned to the pay corps, he was sent to France in September, 1944, as Allied troops pushed the Wehrmacht back across Western Europe. He served in several hospitals, staying on until early 1946. Throughout his time, he kept a diary and took numerous photographs.
In one of his most vivid entries, he described a visit to Paris in November, 1944 with some fellow soldiers. He wrote about window-shopping, relaxing at a sidewalk cafe and taking in a show at the Folies Bergère music hall. He also enjoyed an American Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
“So ends a glorious two-day leave in Paris,” he concluded, “but still wish I was home with wifie.”
Trans-Atlantic telephone connections were difficult in those days, but Mr. Hoffman kept in touch with his wife, Marg, via mail and telegram. He sent home mementoes, including an embroidered souvenir hankerchief he bought in France.
Mr. Hoffman began his journey back to Canada on Boxing Day, 1945, travelling through Belgium to England. In London, he made what may have been his first phone call to his wife in a year and a half: “Was good to hear her again but was so excited that I forgot half of what I intended to say,” he wrote.
A few days later, he set sail for Halifax from Liverpool. His final diary entry was written on a train somewhere west of Truro, Nova Scotia.
“The women of the town gave us each and orange, then had supper in diner: steak, beans, potatoes, ice cream,” he wrote. “It sure is good to be back to civilization and it will be a long time before I leave this continent again.”
The final line of his journal proved prophetic: he lived to be 90 years old, dying in 2003, and never returned to Europe.