I've been looking forward to writing this letter as I finished up your excellent novel, The Chaplain, earlier this month. As you might imagine, it was such a rare and exciting adventure for me to "set sail" with your Uncle Jack for parts unknown. It's been a great honor and privilege, and I will most definitely be adding the book to the "4A Library" (a prison block) next week so that all 800+ men on the yard can freely check it out for one month at a time.
Let me share my thoughts now, and it's amazing to me that I have this opportunity to actually "speak" directly to the author of such an interesting (and educational) historical novel. Before reading your book, the only thing that I had heard was that there were some atrocities by the British at some point, apparently during the two years after the Canadian Regiment left as you pointed out in the "Afterword" (when the criteria set out by Saint Thomas for a "Just War" were overlooked).
From the start, I was very encouraged and inspired in the faith by your Uncle Jack. The great public support for the Royal Canadian Regiment and how young men were urged to become missionaries to "win the world for Christ" inspired me right here in my prison cell to do the same with the men in prison whom God puts before me. You must be incredibly proud (as I am) of Jack's desire to "do the right thing" and volunteer himself at the last moment, leaving the consequences to God. You included the hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers," when the men were giving voice to the coming battle. We have that hymn right here in our "All-American Church Hymnal," but I've never learned to sing it; now I will.
When Jack couldn't sleep, he picked up a copy of John Bunyan's classic, THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, which had been a comfort when he had served on the Labrador coast. I smiled when reading this as John Bunyan wrote that book while he was in prison, and I first read it right here about a dozen years ago. Many times I pulled out my World Atlas to familiarize myself with all of the towns, cities, and coastal regions mentioned in THE CHAPLAIN.
Jack's persistence impressed me, and he had no idea what he might be facing (in battle) when he finally was given permission to go. The fact that his roommate onboard the ship, Capt. Forbes, was an atheist and "didn't need God to make him happy" hit home with me because my first cellmate here likewise had an "I don't want to hear about God" type of attitude. How interesting it is that Jesus taught us to "love your neighbor as yourself," and then He puts us next to a neighbor who challenges us to obey that very commandment. Thanks to you, I was introduced to the islands of Cape Verde and St. Vincent, both unknown to me before.
It was a poignant scene for me when Jack walked into the church in Bloemfontein to pray, admitting that he was "angry at the Savior" over the injustice of it all: the bad water, enteric fever, the way the suppliers were treating the men, the killing and maiming in war, et cetera. I appreciated the honesty in how you wrote Jack's self-realization that "yes, to be angry at Christ is horrifying" (but it was the truth!); I empathized because I, too, was "angry at God" when I lost my entire family at the memorable age of 21 when everything in my past and future was so promising, bright, and blessed. I have often written to people what a mistake it is to be "mad at God" and to "push away from Him" when we experience great tragedy. We should do the exact opposite. My father's older sister, Betty, passed away four years ago in Ohio. It was Aunt Betty who taught me (in response to the above) that the question for us is not "Why me, God?"; rather, it should be "Why not me?". This question can be tough, and thought-provoking, but something that Christ taught us to ask ourselves.
Finally, I sure enjoyed the extensive "Acknowledgements" section at the end of your book because you mentioned the fascinating research that you did, reading archives and even holding some with those white gloves. Hearing about your discussions with cousin Ted brought many smiles since I am blessed to have seen him in photos along with his fava beans, cabbage, and wood-splitting. It was very, very endearing, and romantic that you dedicated this novel to Joan.
For the remainder of my life, Paul, I will never, ever forget reading The Chaplain in the fall of 2013 right here in Cell 16 as it took my mind and heart far away from this prison and made me think a great deal about you, your Canadian family, ancestry, and about an entirely different period in history not well-known to most Americans in my generation. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for this unforgettable experience. It was a great pleasure to get to know your Uncle Jack during such a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience for him. It was also inspiring to hear about your plans for the next three years with The Gunner, The Hero, and The Inheritor to take you right up to your 85th birthday. I'll be praying with you for your upcoming book signings in the next few years.