Book tells tale of two heroes who refused to cooperate with Nazis and died horrific death

Unlikely Soldiers


Unlikely Soldiers is one of the best historical books I’ve ever read and it left an indelible memory. I think about these two brave, young Canadian men at this time of year.

An assignment at the London Free Press a decade ago was to interview the author of this book, Prof. Jonathan Vance from Western University. He spent two years doing research for his book, published by HaperCollins.

Ken Macalister was a Rhodes scholar and Frank Pickersgill was a doctoral student in classics at l’Université de Paris. They both became double agents for the Resistance in France.

Pickersgill had previously worked as a freelance journalist for several newspapers back in Canada for a time.

With Britain’s Special Operations Executive, the men could have chosen any job in Ottawa during the war effort, Vance told me, but they chose the most dangerous.

Parachuted into France in 1943 with false identities, they were captured by the Nazis, tortured and sent to Germany.

Vance said they suffered appalling abuse but refused to reveal anything to the Nazis.

Pickersgill and Macalister were hung on meat hooks and their bodies incinerated.

“The thing that is most important about Remembrance Day, when the moment of silence comes, is to have a person’s face to think about. If these two guys can provide us a focus for remembrance, I’m delighted with that,” Vance told me.

Lest We Forget.


Letters remind us of pain of war

Allen Olimer
Allen Olimer

I have just received a great gift from a man related to the Olimer side of our family by marriage.

Thanks to Clark Hooten, I have precious letters my uncle Allen Olimer sent home from the front lines during World War II.

He was killed in August, 1944.

There is also a letter from Allen’s sister-in-law Violet, writing to let her family members know of his death. It is truly heartbreaking.

In reading the letters, I wonder if we have really learned anything about the horror of war?

The rhetoric from politicians and other world leaders leaves little doubt that the two world wars are fading from collective memory and the generations that fought in these wars can no longer convey the pain.

We must remind our leaders, every chance we get, that going to war is not an option.

From my great-aunt Vi to relatives in Bracebridge Ont.: “We just had some terrible news. Allen was killed in action Aug. 8. Further information when they have it. It is almost too much to bear. I would have phoned only I did not want to upset mother. Well there is not anything to say or do. Love Violet.”

Canadians remembered for freeing Dover

Canada has a special place in the hearts of residents of Dover, England.

It’s been 70 years since the shelling of Dover ended during World War II – thanks to Canadians.

On Sept. 30, 1944, the Toronto Star headline read: Dover’s 4-Year Ordeal Ended by Canadians.

Canadian army commander, Lieut.-Gen. Crerar was sent a note of thanks by the people of Dover after the capture of Cap Gris Nez meant the German shelling of the town had ended.

Other towns along the shore joined in the celebrations and thanks.

“In Folkestown, townspeople danced in the streets and also attended a thanksgiving service in the centuries-old parish church,” a newspaper article states.

And earlier this month, on Sept. 14, the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin Dover held a commemoration and thanksgiving service on the 70th anniversary of the capturing of the guns.

Here’s a program from this year’s service at Dover, courtesy of a blog reader, which I’m so pleased to be able to show you.



The operation at Cap Gris Nez near Calais was costly.

Lieut-Corp. John Elton Fuller, of Brantford, was killed when his Highland Light Infantry of Canada unit stormed the area.

He helped to silence the big guns that fired on Dover for years.

His body was laid to rest in a military cemetery at St. Englebert.

For more about Fuller, you can visit the Virtual War Memorial  online. Here is the link:

There are plaques which commemorate the Canadian efforts, including one that has armoured plating from one of the German long-range guns used at Calais.

“The 84 rounds recorded formed part of the 2226 shells fired from these batteries at the harbour and town of Dover during the period 1940 to 1944. The gun was captured by Canadian forces in 1944, and it was they who presented the plating,” it reads.

Of course we all remember the war song, The White Cliffs of Dover, and townspeople hid in caves there during the shelling.

Can you imagine the joy of residents there when they realized the shells would no longer fly and they could freely go about their day?

From the same blog reader, comes a copy of a transcript from the diary of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King from Oct. 1-2, 1944.

It reads: “I went for a walk after waiting to get the morning news at 9. It told of the capture of Calais… Something that filled my heart with joy. It should beget a lasting gratitude of Canada in English hearts and homes for generations to come. I took the little dogs for a walk to the far gate – a beautiful morning, cold & fresh – invigorating.”

Such an important part of Canadian history, yet how many know the story of the Canadians and the capture of the guns?