One of the first things you see when walking into the Wellesley Public Library is a thick binder filled with black and white photos and detailed captions.
The binder tells the story of librarian Sarah Richardson’s father, Squadron Leader William Mortimer Foster, and his experiences as a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War.
Flipping through the pages, the reader is taken back in time to the momentous period from 1939 to 1945. It takes you through Foster’s time in training in Trenton, Ont., through his time in the RCAF in England, details a dogfight with ME-110s, his capture by German forces after crashing his plane in enemy territory and his eventual return to England at the end of the war.
Richardson didn’t know about her father’s experiences in the war. It wasn’t until later in his life that she found the album, and he allowed her to look at it.
“He didn’t talk about the war at all, and he didn’t talk about being in a POW camp or anything like that,” she said.
While flying over Groningen, Netherlands on Feb. 6, 1945, Foster’s plane was forced to land, where he was met by a Dutch citizen named J. Aalmoes. The friendly local tried to hide him, but German soldiers found him and threatened to shoot and kill ten men if he didn’t give himself up. Nine hours later, Foster surrendered and was taken to Germany where he was held in Stalag VII until later that year.
Foster kept records of his time at Queen’s University, the summer before the war at Camp Borden in Trenton, and he had other albums that covered the rest of his military career. Once Richardson had a chance to go through the pictures and documents, her father started to open up, but not much.
“We talked about it a little bit, but I really think he put that whole year behind him,” she shared, adding that she had done a bit of research herself. “Stalag VII was built to house 10,000 people, but with repatriation, it had 70,000 people in there. You can imagine what that is like.”
Richardson is from a military family. Her grandfather served in the First World War, her older brother was in the Gulf War, and her younger brother also served, and now works with the reserves.
She says even those that don’t have a military history in their families are affected by war. Stories like her father’s need to be shared.
“It is important to talk to the kids about how really devastating war is. They haven’t really experienced it, but everyone was affected. Even the families of the Gulf War, my older brother was over there and when he came back, he wasn’t the same person,” she said. “War affects everybody even if you aren’t on the battlefield yourself.”
Part of sharing that story is having her father’s album on display, along with a piece of military uniform, and Remembrance Day-themed books from the library.
“Going through the books, you kind of felt like you were a part of what was going on, the devastation and the fact that he put his life at risk,” said Richardson. “When he went down, the fellow that went to his aircraft hid him, but the Germans followed. The binder tells the story, and my father was a very private person. I don’t think he would have wanted to burden us with what he went through.”