By BERNIE BELLAN Over the years we’ve had many stories in this newspaper chronicling the stories of brave Jewish men and women who served in various armed forces over the years.
It’s one thing to read history books that describe wars, it’s another thing to read personal accounts of what it was like to be in an actual war.
Recently we were contacted by Peter Leipsic, who asked us whether we’d be interested in seeing correspondence from around the time of World War II which tells the story of his own father, Barry’s, experiences, serving with the Fort Garry Horse, a mechanized unit of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Among the artifacts Peter has in his possession are a number of letters written by Barry to his parents, Louis and Nell Leipsic, along with newspaper clippings describing some of the action in which Barry Leipsic was involved.
I note, after having read Peter’s own account of his family history in the Jewish Foundation Book of Life, that his mother, Yvonne, met her future husband in London, England, when Barry Leipsic was stationed there during the war. In Yvonne’s obituary, the story how she happened to meet Lieut. Barry Leipsic is told: “She recalled her blind luck when during the Blitz, due to a local fire, she was forced to spend the night at the hotel. In the morning, she discovered her entire apartment building had been leveled by a direct hit. It was at about this time that she was introduced to Barry Leipsic, a dashingly handsome 25-year old Lieutenant from Winnipeg, stationed in England with the Fort Garry Horse Tank Regiment. Yvonne and Barry were married in 1944. Like so many war brides she immigrated to Canada, to its winters and remoteness; a world even more foreign than anything for which England might have prepared her.”
While Lieut. Leipsic remained in England, Yvonne Leipsic – like many a war bride, came to Canada on her own. According to Peter’s account in the Book of Life, however, his mother, who was born in Vienna, was “accustomed to culture and refined living, and found adjustment to Winnipeg difficult.”
What Peter also told me was that his father was badly wounded during the war. Barry Leipsic lost his left eye, part of his right ear, and was also wounded in his left hand. Yet, according to Peter, his father never dwelled on his war wounds. In fact, he was prone to taking out his glass eye and playing with it – to the amusement of his children and later his grandchildren.
What follows are excerpts from letters, newspaper clippings, and telegrams, that give an insight into the character of Barry Leipsic – someone who grew up in a well-to-do Winnipeg family, yet who joined the Canadian army early on in World War II.
Here is an excerpt written to his mother in September 1939, when she was visiting in New York and Barry was in Winnipeg:
“You will be happy to know that your son is going to serve his country and the Jews. Yes, I have enlisted in the Fort Garry Horse (mechanized)….I was going to wait until you returned home but after giving it due consideration and thought I decided it would be easier for both of us, doing the good deed while you were absent. It will be a year before we are fully trained and equipped and by that time the war should be over. Please don’t think I enlisted just for the thrill or “getting away from it all” spirit…I do honestly believe that every Jew able to serve should do so at this time. In fact it is going to be very uncomfortable for a good many Jews if a good percentage do not enlist….
“Please wish me luck in my new vocation.”
“All my love to you darling and hurry home”
First enlisted as a corporal, it wasn’t long before Cpl. Leipsic received his first promotion – to sergeant. Here are excerpts from a letter Barry Leipsic wrote to his parents in June 1940, informing them of his promotion, during his training at Camp Shilo:
“Dear Mom, Dad, etal,
“A pleasant and somewhat expected surprise came today. Major Halpenny called myself and another Corporal into the Orderly Room and in a very solemn voice informed us that we were promoted to Lance Sargeants. Financially that means another 25 cents per day, we have the same standing, perform the same duties as sargeants and are addressed as sargeants. However, officially it does not take affect (sic) until tomorrow when it appears on regimental orders, so as to play the safe side better write me still as corporal.
“The reason for the last line is one can never be to (sic) presumptious (sic) in this army and here’s the reason why. It seems quite likely that we will be leaving camp tomorrow, as to our destination, that is yet to be seen but I am positive we will not be leaving Canada, it is even rumored that we might go to a prison camp at Fort Frances or Hudson, Ont. To guard alien prisoners, however that is only a rumor. Just as soon as I have anything definite I will let you know. This afternoon our advance party left, and all stores are being packed, kits inspected for shortages etc and above all the rumors are flying like bats in a haunted house. There is nothing official as yet and I suppose we will only know definitely when we get on the train.
“There is nothing at all to worry about and remember that I will let you know when anything further takes place.
“Until then I am your devoted son.
Included with the artifacts Peter Leipsic has in his possession is this amusing bulletin that was posted at Camp Shilo in June 1940:
“ATTENTION ALL YIDS
“A large piece of Versht and two loaves of rye have been received by Bdr. Herb. Ludman, of the 20th Anti-Tank Battery.
“All Yiddlach are cordially invited to have dinner, today, at the 20th Battery Orderly Room tent at 1230 hours today, (8-6-40).
“Let’s see you there!”
“C.C.Y.S. “Canadian Corps of Yiddish Suckers)”
The Fort Garry Horse was part of the Canadian group that landed at Normandy in June 1944. Members of the Horse fought their way across France, into Belgium, Holland, and finally into Germany.
In a clipping that Peter Leipsic has in his possession, an account written for the Canadian Press on August 2, 1944 describes some of the action encountered by the Fort Garry Horse in an article titled “Garry’s Heavy Barrages Stop Nazi Panther Tanks”:
“LONDON, Aug. 2—(CP Cable)—Two tank experts of the Fort Garry Horse, a Winnipeg regiment, told a press conference here Tuesday how Canadian tanks on the Normandy front are dealing with crack German Panther units.
“Capt. Harry Sleigh of Winnipeg said the Panthers are met by laying down a concentration of high explosive and Canadian tankmen had been highly trained in this type of fire.
“On the Caen front eight days ago, he said, the Fort Garry formation’s supply vehicles got within 200 yards of the tanks and 200 percent of the normal supply of ammunition and fuel were brought up within easy reach in order to keep up the fire.
Lieut. Barry Leipsic, Winnipeg, said German anti-tank weapons were good, particularly their 88-M.M. gun. He described the Canadian attack on Carpiquet airfield July 4 when battleships firing from the sea assisted the artillery barrage and tank-supported infantry to break through.
“Lieut. Leipsic, whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Leipsic, reside at 186 Dromore ave., joined the F.G.H. in September, 1939. In August, 1942, he graduated from the officers’ training centre at Brockville, Ont. He spent a short time the following November on leave here and then went overseas.”
It was in February 1945 – and by this time Lieut. Leipsic had been promoted to Captain – that Captain Leipsic was badly injured in battle. Yvonne Leipsic was first notified by telegram that her husband had been wounded, soon to be followed by this letter:
“Mrs. Yvonne L. Leipsic…
“Confirming my telegram dated today I regret to inform you that your husband, Capt. Barry Leipsic, has been reported wounded 10 FEB 45. “No particulars of the nature and extent of his injuries have yet been received, but I can assure you that any further information received here regarding your husband will be communicated to you immediately…
“(L.S. APPLEFORD) Major”
That letter was subsequently followed by this communication, on March 2, 1945:
“…I am directed to inform you that the following additional information has now been received regarding your husband, Capt. LEIPSIC, Barry, of the 10th. Armd. Regt.
“The diagnosis of your husband’s wounds is as follows: “Gunshot Wound of the Right Ear, the Left Eye and the Left Hand.”
“(L.S. APPLEFORD) Major”
Capt. Leipsic had been in charge of 19 tanks in Holland at the time he was wounded. He was hit in the head by machine gun fire. The bullet passed through his left eye, coming out his right ear.
Finally, on August 8, 1945, Captain Leipsic, who was now back in Winnipeg, received the following letter:
“Dear Capt. Leipsic:
“I have noted with regret that it is necessary for you to retire from the Canadian Army by reason of wounds sustained in action. Mere words may not seem of much value to you in these circumstances but you should not leave the Army without the assurance I now give you that your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed or unnhonoured.
“In the activities of this Nation I am sure due credit will be paid to those who, like you, carry with them into their civil life visible evidence of the highest patriotism. You are fully entitled to cultivate an inner sense of pride in your achievements and your honourable service in war for your Country’s need and for civilization’s salvation.
“I close with the hope that you may profit by the security and happiness in your civil life which you have done your utmost to earn and do truly deserve.
“(A. E. Walford),
Following the war, Barry Leipsic reentered the family business of Aronovitch & Leipsic. He and Yvonne had two children: Peter and Richard. Barry Leipsic died in 1983.