Seeing The wartime "Little Coat" for the first time turned confusion into a passion to tell the story - guest blog by Alan J. Buick
Seeing the “little coat” for the first time - at the Royal Canadian Legion in Olds, Alberta in September 2004 - filled me with bewilderment more than passion. I asked a friend, who had come to hear my wife Carol and I play music that night, why this coat with Canadian Army buttons was displayed with all the wartime memorabilia; it was far too small for a soldier to have worn. My friend proceeded to relate some of the story behind its creation – it was a Christmas gift in 1944 from Canadian soldiers to a 10-year-old Dutch girl who had become a good-luck charm for them; she later brought the coat to Canada. It was then that my passion for this tale began.
The most powerful moment was when I learned that the little Dutch girl who wore the coat and the soldier who gave it to her were not only still alive in 2004, but married to each other!
I knew at that moment that I had an epic by the tail!
I contacted Bob and Sue Elliott - the Canadian soldier and the Dutch girl - who were at that time living in the Netherlands. The email address I'd been given for them failed, so snail mail was the only other choice. They replied and the journey began. These were Sue's words: "I have no problem telling you what it was like growing up under Nazi rule, but good luck when you get to Bob!”
She was right. Bob, like many veterans, preferred not to talk about the horrors of war; the recollections opened old wounds long forgotten.
Bob and Sue and I met face-to-face at the Olds Legion in Olds, Alberta in October 2005 to discuss the procedure for writing this book. This was a truly amazing day; just talking to these two wonderful people who had endured so much was an awe-inspiring experience for me.
I knew I didn't collect all the information I needed that day. The journey I had chosen was both humbling and difficult. I was dealing with 65-year-old memories! A good example of this was the day before my publisher, Deana Driver, was to send the manuscript off to print, Sue told me of the German soldier who visited with her family frequently. This information had to be included in the book as it showed how not all German people were evil.
At the close of our 2005 meeting, Sue asked me what she should do with her little coat. I said it should be in a museum, where it would inform future generations of the compassion and generosity Canadian soldiers had for the emaciated and spiritually worn-down peoples of the Netherlands. They contacted the Canadian War Museum, which promptly sent two representatives to the Olds Legion to carefully prepare this ancient garment for the long flight to Ottawa.
Prior to the official book launch, scheduled to take place at the Olds Legion on November 11, 2009, a pre-launch gathering was held at the Armoury Officers' Mess in Regina. As strange as it may sound and with fate in our corner, one of the officials from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands happened to be present that night, Hans Moor. We gave him a copy of my book, The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story, and he read it on his flight back to Ottawa.
A few weeks later, I was invited by him to attend a function at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa to honour the Canadian soldiers of World War II who repatriated the Netherlands. This was an amazing evening. There was I, a New Zealand farm boy, rubbing shoulders and chatting with Dutch Ambassador Wim Geerts and General Charles Belzille, retired commander of the Canadian Forces! A truly humbling and memorable experience.
I think my most touching moment on that trip was seeing "the child's coat" in its restored state and mounted in a beautiful glass case, complete with a bronze plaque briefly explaining what it was and what it represented. It literally brought me to tears. The War Museum staff had done an excellent job of presenting this wonderful artifact.
It is difficult to pinpoint any incident I told in The Little Coat book as being more significant than another but, if I were to pick just one, it would be when Sussie's family escaped on foot for two kilometres to the safety of the Canadian lines while under fire from German soldiers.
The Little Coat is a perennial story, a story of love and compassion, of terror and human relationships – a perfect gift for men, women, and children ages 10 and up, or even just because. Once read, you'll understand the gratitude the Dutch still have for Canadians today and forever.
This book captures the true compassion of the Canadian soldiers for the Dutch people in their darkest hour!
Editor's note: The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story was awarded Honourable Mention, 2010 Hollywood Book Festival. $4,500 from sales of The Little Coat has been donated to the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command Poppy Trust Fund. $1 from every book sold from 2013 on is donated to the Canadian War Museum, the new home of the 'child's coat' in this inspiring war story turned love story.