John B. Le May’s private collection
J.B. Lemay has never turned his back on a souvenir — most timely of all, a bit of aging paper, torn from a Teletype machine 70 years ago.
The walls of the 91-year-old Second World War veteran’s dining room are covered in knick-knacks, including stuffed unicorns, commemorative beer bottles, plates and glass birds. They are all surrounded with fairy lights amidst an array of technological odds and ends, from rotary-dial phones and VHS tapes to a brand new digital camera and widescreen laptop.
He keeps his real treasures out of sight.
Those include old British newspapers featuring him on the front page, a liberated official portrait of German airforce commander Hermann Goring, a mint-condition Hitler Youth uniform with medals, the watch of a German soldier he took prisoner and autographs of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and President Eisenhower.
There’s a story behind each one, and even a great tale about the time he gave Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands (just three years old at the time) a ride around Vanier on the handlebars of his bicycle.
But that aging piece of paper is really special. It was May 4, 1945 and Lemay was with his Air Force squadron in Reinsehlen, Germany — not far from Hamburg.
He’d been overseas fighting the Germans since October 1942, having signed up on his 18th birthday — Aug. 25, 1941 — all 104 pounds of him.
He remembers that fateful May evening in 1945 like it was yesterday. Around 7:30 p.m., he was sitting on a canvas folding chair in front of his tent — next to the communications trailer, a German soldier’s helmet perched on a stick in the ground behind him, marking one of many places they buried the enemy.
Suddenly, an operator in the trailer called out — “The war is over!”
Lemay ran into the trailer and the operator tore the paper out. It read: ALL HOSTILITIES ON SECOND ARMY FRONT CEASE AT 0800 HOURS TOMORROW MAY 5TH.
“The second army front was all the allies,” Lemay says. “Almost no work got done after that. But, because there was no alcohol on the camp, the men just fired their guns for an hour. You laid low, you just stayed there — belly to the ground.”
Lemay keeps the bit of aging paper safely stored among hundreds of photos and documents, in clear plastic folders in the east-end home he’s shared with his wife for 48 years. He and Raymonde will celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary this fall.
Thursday he will proudly help commemorate the anniversary of that bit of paper, as an invited guest to Parliament Hill where he will help recite In Flanders Fields.
His torch held high.
Now you know why we are so proud of John…