The bright red poppy on the lapel of a coat is a common sight across Canada every November. The poppy is worn to honour the men and women who have bravely fought to defend our country. November 11th is the day we take a moment to remember the sacrifices made by those who fought in war, as well as those who lost their lives.
During WWI and WWII the Canadian soldiers were usually very young when they were sent over to Europe, and it is hard to imagine how fearful they must have felt leaving their families and friends. One surprising aspect of these wars was the number of romances that blossomed during the time of such horrors, and there are many books and websites dedicated to wartime romances. My very close friend’s grandfather shared with her his story of love in WWII, and she has passed on his tale to share.
Escape From a War Zone
He was born Haroutoon Hatchadorian and he was born in Armenia in 1911. Tragically the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire began in 1915 in which 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives. Young Haroutoon’s father was killed and he, his older brother and his mother escaped Armenia into Greece. His mother was very ill and his older brother unable to care for him, so he was sent to live in an orphanage. The Canadian government and churches worked together to help the children of the war, and in 1923 the first 50 Armenian orphan boys were brought over to Canada. Haroutoon was chosen to go at the very last minute, when one of the other boys didn’t pass the medical exam. When he arrived in Canada his name was changed to the English name Harry Hatch. These boys were brought to Georgetown, Ontario and raised on farms to be farm hands.
The Beginning of WWII
In 1939 World War II broke out, and Harry enlisted like many young men in Canada. He was stationed at a barracks in Hamilton and began going to the local Armenian center to hang out. It was here that Harry first met Roxie Eloian. After hanging out with Roxie a few times he said he “really went for her in a big way. But I never mentioned any marriage or anything before I left overseas”. Harry was sent to England where he became a driver for the Army Generals. Not too many people knew how to drive or had a chauffeur’s license, but he had learned how to drive on the farm.
Love Letters Across the Sea
During this time he wrote love letters to Roxie back in Canada. Not just a couple of letters, but hundreds of them… enough to fill an entire suitcase. In these letters Harry told Roxie how he had fallen in love with her back in Canada and thought of her all the time. Unfortunately while Harry was driving around the generals he was also training for the raid at Dieppe France. The day came to depart to France and Harry was getting on the truck to go, when one of the generals pulled him off saying, “Hatch is too valuable a driver to us, he can’t go”. This act could have very likely saved his life, as the Dieppe raid was one of the most deadly operations for the Canadian soldiers, with a 68% casualty rate.
An Engagement Ring from England
Harry now knew he wanted to spend his life with Roxie and start a family. He wrote asking her to marry him, but didn’t receive a letter back. He wrote again, telling her “I know that it is hard for you to make up your mind, you don’t really know anything about me and I don’t really know anything about you – this is quite true… It is not that hard for you to say no and it is not that hard for you to say yes… but if you say no I am not coming back to Canada, I am going to stay in England”. After that letter he said “Geez I got a letter from her in no time soon and she said yes!” From England he sent her a ring-sizing card to get the correct ring size and then mailed her diamond engagement ring to Canada. She sent him back a photograph of her wearing his ring.
A Loving Marriage
In 1945 Harry was discharged from the army and came home to Canada. Harry and Roxie married 18 days after he arrived. They moved up into the mountain in Hamilton and had three daughters. Eventually they opened up a convenience store and billiards hall and worked side by side every day. They were married for 36 wonderful years before Harry passed away in 1982. Roxie lived for another 20 years and watched their grandchildren grow up.
It was an amazing life, and an amazing love story. How did Harry know Roxie was the one after spending such a short period of time with her? What was it about her that even after years of being away at war he couldn’t get her out of his mind? And was it just luck that Harry was able to escape both the Armenian genocide and the raid at Dieppe? These are mysteries of life and love that we will never know the answer to, and I think that is what makes this story so very special.