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Date: July 22nd 1944
Ernest Hansell
Eileen Balmer

July 22, 1944

Box 1180,
Portage La Prairie, Manitoba
Mr. EG Hansell, M.P.

Dear Mr. Hansell:

I have your letter here regarding Harry. We received it and the photo yesterday. I can't express how very proud we are to have that photo, and deeply grieved too to know of Harry's misfortune. We wish to thank you sincerely for your thoughtfulness.

I guess I will start from the beginning, mentioning first of all that I myself am about 10 years Harry's senior. Our meeting was strange, yet not uncommon these days when we see so many boys around. Many or them very young as Harry was and quite bewildered about life in these war-harassed times. I first noticed Harry when he was returning from Winnipeg after a '48' and I, from a business trip, on the same train. Somehow or other we met again that same evening later on, in the bowling alley. I was bowling in a league and had just completed 3 games. He had stood behind us, looking on for quite a time. Then, he tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I'd bowl a game with him after we were through, as he was just dying to have one. At first I was going to refuse, then my better judgment came to the surface, and I consented, thinking to myself he was probably a little egotistic and wished to show his ability. However, - believe me, when I say, I soon changed my mind. We didn't even know each other's name until we had to introduce ourselves in order to complete the score sheet. He bowled 2 games that night. He was a grand sport, I found. And although I was slightly embarrassed, because he was so young for me to be with, and all my friends who were In the alley at the time were much older, and regarded me as if I were, to put it in slang, "robbing the cradle". I enjoyed my games very much. Afterward, he insisted on taking me to lunch and escorting me home. I was inclined to refuse, not because I didn't like him, but I felt being in the service, he had no right to spend what little money he had on me. But, Harry is your son so you know him better then I, and can well imagine his attitude to my saying, "no".

It was during our lunch that I learned much of Harry. I'm not flattering myself when I say I have considerable ability in reading human nature, and can assure you I made no mistake as far as Harry was concerned. He had a grand personality, and that doesn't develop without the proper background and bringing up. I was sure he had a good home and came of a good family.

At first he wasn't willing to tell me a great deal. He was rather shy so I didn't urge him. We talked on aimlessly, finding out a little of Harry's past. He told me where his home was, then rather shyly, that you were a minister and a member of the House of Commons. Immediately I wanted to know what denomination, and when he said, "The Church of Christ", I was amazed, for I am a member of that church, also, and it's been the family church all down through the years, as my father is a descendent of the Campbell's who first started our little group of worshippers in New England. This I told Harry and invited him to dinner Sunday and to church in the evening. He came. So began our friendship.

I don't want to bore you with details, but I can't seem to make my exposition any briefer, so I'll continue with the highlights of our acquaintance. Harry was a very sincere boy. He was so enthusiastic about his course and worked so hard. I don't know whether he told you or not, and I hope you won't think it out of place for me to tell you here that when Harry graduated from No. 3 B&G, he was called to the C.O.'s office. There he was offered a commission and a job an as instructor on this side of the Atlantic. And Harry refused it. You know Harry was so honest and out-spoken, no one could help but really love the boy, on my part - he was somewhat of a younger brother. He explained to mother and I, that, first, his heart was set on going overseas, and, secondly, that he was too young. He said he knew he could never instruct boys who were bigger end older then he. He told the C.O. this and asked that he be sent overseas. Harry was very clever. They again asked if he would reconsider, and still he stuck to, "no". So, he went overseas as a Sgt., that being his preference. And, he was happy! In fact, he was thrilled. It wasn't the thrill of youth either, he really wanted to go! He told us, "If l just get one crack at the Jerries, I'll be satisfied." Those are his exact words. Also, he kept saying, "I'll never come back, I know, I'll never come back, but all I want is just one chance. My sincere hope is that he had his chance, and was able to know that at least he realized, his one wish as far as his services are concerned, and, that, maybe, he's still alive.

And Harry was so alive, in every sense of the word. His eagerness and enthusiasm would have taken Harry a long way in this world, had he been given a little more time. He was a grand boy and everyone who knew him loved him. His classmates adored him. I know because I met several of them and they told me themselves. He had a way of making friends, and, more important still, of keeping them.

I think you'll be proud to hear this of Harry, Mr. Hansell. And I don't want to take any credit in this instance at all, although I was thrilled, to realizing what real willpower and good judgement Harry was able to display. It was regarding his graduation. The boys were all having a real party, liquor included, in one or the halls in town. The first few hours were to be stag, then they could bring their friends to the dance. Harry told mum and I about it, and said he didn't feel right about going and yet didn't like to refuse. We didn't coax him but simply told him to come to dinner after the Wings' parade and that we do something by ourselves in the evening. He did. He separated himself, and may I add, distinguished himself as a man, by leaving the throng and coming to, our house. Needless to say, we were proud of him. As he was extremely fond of skating, Harry and I went skating during the evening. In the restaurant after we met several of his buddies, feeling quite inebriated. They begged Harry and I to have a drink, but we both refused, and went on home. The next time he came in he was telling us about how many of the boys were so sick, still drunk, etc., the next day and that he was so proud that he had overcome the urge to be with them, and had come to our home instead. And, I needn't say, we were proud, too. It proves a person's character to have an instance like that occur when out alone in life.

Harry made ours his home during his short stay in P. la P. He would phone me if I was at work to see when I'd be home etc., and always said, "Oh, I'll go up and talk to your mother until you get there." Mother loved Harry, too. She has never forgotten him. And he so faithfully promised to write, but we never got a letter. We were sure something had happened to Harry because he always kept his word. We watched the papers, but never saw his name in the casualty list. We still keep hoping, but never any word from Harry.

Then we mentioned it to Mr. Leader, M.P., thinking probably he would contact you, which he did. And we are so glad, also very very sorry, at the news you sent us. However, we all have the tendency to cling, and so strongly, to the slightest hope, and allow me to say, mother and I hope from the bottom of our hearts that somewhere, Harry in safe.

I want you to thank Mr. Leader, M.P., if you see him, for his thoughtfulness, and I'll write him in a few days.

Now, I'll tell you briefly about myself. I am a radio operator at No. 7. Air Observer School here in P. la P., at present working in the Direction Finding Station, about a mile away from the field proper. Previous to my employment here two years ago, I taught school, for nine years, I might say, in rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Right now I am waiting for my call to the Navy where I placed my application in March. If I am called and pass my medical, I will be in as a wireless Telegrapher, as I love radio work and wish to continue my trade. I feel that we who work for these civilian schools, although we know we are doing a war job, are only on the outside, the border so to speak, looking in, and, that, if we are able, we have every right to be on the inside looking out. If our boys, and allow me to say the best of them, are suffering, why should we live in luxury, and especially if we are, single with no real ties. Of course, I'm not forgetting my mother, but she is a patriot, so you'll understand her attitude. My father was a farmer, but he passed on in 1928. I, myself, am the only one in the family.

I've no doubt you will be acquainted with the Rev. H.L. Richardson, who, at present, is our pastor here. We have quite a nice church building here with a fair sized congregation. Of course, like all other congregations, many members are away in the services. Mr. Richardson is a fine man, and a very, very hardworking individual, We like he and his wife very very much and are glad they are with us.

If, at any time, Mr. Hansell, you would like to stop off In Portage on your way back and forth to Ottawa, I say here, very sincerely, that we would be very proud to have you as our guest. I could tell you much more about Harry, but I hope I have given you an idea of how we feel about having met him, and I'm sure you'll be proud to know, if you will take my word for it, that he was a man in every true sense of the word.

If you let us know, we'll do our best to meet you, or arrange somehow to have you come to our home. Personally, I would like very much at some time to meet you and to talk. with you. Harry mentioned you so often, that I feel I almost know you.

I must close now, as I have rambled long enough, I'm sure. But, in closing, I would like to state that if we ever made any moments happy for Harry, mother and I are indeed gratified. My regard for Harry is deeply felt, and always in my heart there'll be a special corner for Harry. I'm very glad I met him, and our sincere hope is that some day he may return. In any event, we will always cherish his photo.

Yours very sincerely,
"Eileen Balmer"