First newsletter of 2021
Before you read any further, I want to say "Thank you!" for being part of my monthly newsletter community.
I appreciate the chance to use this newsletter to share with you new and important (and interesting) stories about the contribution of Canada's Jewish community to the world's military history, both then and now.
When you write to me by email about a particular story or a photo I've published in a newsletter, it brings me great joy! Despite the pandemic requiring us to practise social distancing, we can still have a conversation, albeit in a different form.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, all of my previously scheduled public lectures and talks around Canada were immediately cancelled or postponed. At first, I was terribly sad and frustrated.
These public events have been the best method to sell copies of my book "Double Threat", as well as bring this untold story to audiences who do not know that 17,000 Canadians of Jewish faith helped defeat Hitler and rescue the survivors of the Holocaust.
But the most exciting part of my public events has always been when folks share their own family war stories. Sometimes these people are the actual relatives of men and women who I have researched. Wow, do those moments ever give me goosebumps!
However, like many of you, I was able to pivot and completed most of my talks online, via Zoom or Google Meetings. I am grateful to all the groups and organizers who invited me over the past 10 months, and to those who have me booked for 2021.
Aug. 6, 2020 Virtual JCC webinar on Women in WWIl.
Now that we have all learned to "unmute" and to "put the questions in the chat", it has actually been fascinating to participate in these virtual events. The 2020 Remembrance Day ceremony put on by B'nai Brith and the Jewish War Veterans of Canada Toronto Post, was an important public service. We should do it again next year, as well as a live event.
For the RAF Museum and RAF Associations in the U.K, it was an honour for me to introduce the son of F/L William Henry Nelson, Canada's only Jewish Battle of Britain Ace, as my guest. He was in London, England, and I was at home in Canada. The power of Zoom made it possible.
Bill McAlister, London, England, Aug. 14, 2020 via Zoom.
But let's get back to you.
Thanks to your support, in 2020, we had the most readers ever visit and read stories on my website. The top three stories you liked the best (from my newsletter) were:
If YOU would like to suggest a topic for an upcoming newsletter, please get in touch.
Now, I have a mystery for YOU to help me solve. Please read on.
Help me find the family of Paul A. Sklut.
A Vancouver Jewish soldier killed in 1944 in Belgium.
A Belgian tour guide and historian, Niko Van Kerckhoven, wrote to me recently.
Van Kerckhoven, 50, and his teenaged son, regularly visit the graves of the Canadian soldiers who were killed liberating his town, called Wommelgem, during the Battle of the Scheldt.
This was the Canadian campaign in the area surrounding the crucial port of Antwerp in the fall of 1944. It cost over 6,000 Canadian casualties to take it, including that of Jewish volunteer Pte. Paul Sklut.
Von Kerckhoven has found photos of nearly all of the Canadian "boys" whose graves he visits, but not Sklut's. As he writes to me, "I'm quite desperate, You are pretty much my last chance for a picture!"
The son of Niko Van Kerckhoven places a flower at a Canadian war grave in Bergen-Op-Zoom cemetery in Holland. (submitted photo).
Paul Sklut was the son of Russian Jewish parents, and the family lived on Ferndale Avenue in Vancouver. It was a short walk to Britannia High School, where he was in the cadet corps, before he graduated.
Sklut's name was often mentioned in the Vancouver newspapers for he played competitive tennis, and also gave piano recitals at a venue on Granville Street.
Sklut was studying at UBC when he was called up. He had just turned 19 on April 15, 1943. His two brothers, Harry and Donald, were already in uniform, with the army and the RCAF respectively. Sklut qualified as an Infantry Signaller in Kingston, Ont., then shipped out for England in July 1944.
He was sent to France on Sept. 11, 1944, now attached to the Calgary Highlanders. He was sent into action on Sept. 26.
Twelve days later, he was dead.
"Many of them were just arriving here in Europe when they were thrown in this terrible battle of the Scheldt. I know the area well," Van Kerckhoven writes. "Many of the replacements died due to lack of training and experience. They really were used to plug the gaps in the infantry, although they were specialists by trade."
Sklut was wounded on Oct. 8, 1944 and brought to a Canadian medical station that the RCAMC had set up inside one of the 19th century forts near Antwerp, known as Fort 2, in Wommelgem. Military records confirm this happened.
Field medical card of Paul A. Sklut. (Library and Archives Canada via Ancestry.ca)
Canadian medical personnel with the 18th Canadian Field Ambulance received Sklut at 13:00 hours. He was in really bad shape: he'd already lost his right leg at the knee, and his left leg and knee were fractured. He also had shell wounds in his chest and abdomen.
By 14:00 hours, Sklut was evacuated to the 21st Canadian Field Dressing Station, and, then, still in shock, they took him to the 9th Canadian Field Dressing Station, where he died at 16:30 hours.
He was 20 years old.
Locals buried Sklut with other foreign soldiers, about 40 of them, mostly Canadians, in the civilian area of the Candoncklaer Hospital Cemetery in Wommelgen. Later their bodies were reinterred at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Bergen-op-Zoom, across the border in Holland.
That's where my Belgian correspondent visits Skult's grave. De Kerckhoven is a member of his local historical society in Wommelgen, known as "De Kaeck".
He would like to find the Sklut family, and a photo of Paul Sklut, to tell them their relative has not been forgotten.
Grave of Pte. Paul Sklut in the Bergen Op Zoom war cemetery, in Holland. (Photo courtesy of Niko Von Kerchkoven)
Please help this lovely man as he continues to carry out a mitzvah, although I am not sure he is aware of what that word means. (I will explain it.)