In this debut biography, a Royal Canadian Air Force gunner’s daughter recounts his World War II experiences, including being shot down over Germany and spending two years as a prisoner of war.
When Albert “Wally” Wallace arrived at Stalag Luft III prison camp in June 1943, he was issued a “Wartime Log” book—essentially a blank diary distributed by the Canadian YMCA so that prisoners of war could record their experiences, sketches, or personal musings. Wallace left his actual book behind during forced marches in the winter and spring of 1945, when the Allies began closing in on Germany. But Trendos uses the log’s format to tell her father’s story, as she says, “in his voice,” compiling information from letters and camp photos he sent home, archived materials from copious sources, and many interviews with her father. (For convenience and consistency, she applied this technique to the period before Wallace’s capture, as well.) Wallace dropped out of high school after one year, and, by 1938, his interest in guns led him to join the Canadian Militia and then the RCAF, in which he became a gunner. After almost two years of training, he shipped out to England on the Queen Elizabeth. Meticulous details about specific guns, bombs, and planes fill the early parts of the text, and they may become a bit wearisome for any readers but military devotees. In mid-May 1943, he was shot down and became a POW in the camp made famous by the movie The Great Escape, in which 76 prisoners fled through a secret tunnel. At this point, the book’s story becomes more compelling as the tone of Wallace’s musings and letters gradually becomes dominated by a focus on his loneliness and frustration. The hunger, the cold, the isolation from the outside—all of this becomes palpable, and, page by page, readers will begin to experience just how long two years of captivity feels. The author augments the text with photos, maps, and reprints of documents and newspaper articles.
This book’s intensely personal perspective vividly brings a piece of history to life, but many readers may find it difficult to get through its military minutiae.