Hart Devenney: The War Years

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The following article was researched and written by Richard Devenney. More contributors.

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Hart Devenney: The War Years (1940-1945)

Researched and written by Richard Devenney © R. A. B. Devenney on February 16, 2008

The War Years (1940-1945)

The family moved back to Ottawa for a few months getting all their personal affairs in order, and in January 1941 moved to Dartmouth, N.S. During the first half of 1941, Hart stayed in Nova Scotia at Dartmouth, and on March 5, Rena gave birth to a second son, Walter Donald, at Grace Hospital in Halifax. He has always been known as “Donald” or “Don”. Until Hart’s formal posting (which came through in May, to take effect in September), Hart provided a variety of recreation services to the massing forces - both enlisted men and officers - who were to leave from the deep water port at Halifax.

Eventually, Hart left by ship for the 1st Canadian R.C.A.F. Station Overseas at Digby Lincolnshire (near Leeds), and Rena and her two boys returned to Ottawa to live with her mother for the remainder of the War. At Digby Lincolnshire, Hart was in charge of the off-duty recreation and other programs of more than 2000 men and women.

The next year, 1942, Hart received a posting to the active R.C.A.F. service people in the Middle East. Taking a round about way of getting to the region, Hart and others got there by ship. It travelled down the east coast of North America, docking at Brazil, over to Durban, South Africa and eventually up to the R.C.A.F. and R.A.F. forces giving cover to the main Allied forces in North Africa, then Malta, right across into Egypt and Palestine, over to Italy. This posting lasted until 1944.

The author of this essay never understood, in any particularity, what Hart was doing on this posting until I was introduced in 1980 to a man named Harry Rowlands. He was then the Executive Director of the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society.

His first question to me was: “Are you related to Hart Devenney?” I replied, “Oh yes, he is my older brother.”(meaning, of course, Hart, Jr.). Rowlands said, “Oh no, couldn’t be, because I met him in the North African desert in 1943.” My reply was, “Oh that would have been my Dad. How did you meet him and under what circumstances?”

Harry Rowlands then related to me this story;

“Your Dad, Richard, played an unique role in our getting through that awful period of the North African campaign. As service people we served some three to for weeks very near to the actual “front”. We were always constantly on edge and on alert. It was a real pressure cooker situation. On a rotational basis all of us were then given a 3-5 day furlough after each 4 week period where we got to drop back 50 to 75 miles for some ‘relaxation’.

Your Dad was the person who ran the program for all of us on those furlough days - the volleyball games in the sand, the soccer games, the baseball games and later the card games, and even putting on the ‘latest movies’ which had been delivered to him from the highers’ up. He even had a truckload full of candy bars, cigarettes etc.

We loved him for it. In fact, one time, a few us had such a good time we wanted a whole day to be repeated. But when we got up the next day, we found your Dad had left to go to another site earlier in the morning. In the afternoon three of us, without proper authorization, crammed into a vacant airplane and flew to that other site, and did it all over again. We caught hell, but it was worth it.”

So I guess that is an example of what Hart did. At some point in 1944, when he was in Italy, Hart got transferred back to England. There he became a “Senior Supervisor” with responsibility for, and over, 34 regular Supervisors who were running the recreation programs for the masses of troops needed for the D-day invasion and the following continual move of Allied forces on to the European Continent. Until the end of the War, that is where he was.

He was discharged back to his civilian life in 1945, with a Certificate of “High Praise”. In his 5 years of war service he had set foot in 18 different countries.