We came in spastic, like tameless horses.– Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon
They were young and determined.
Inexperienced, but eager.
In Britain, Sprog means a child, a newcomer, someone with no experience. If you went up to somebody who was expecting a child in Britain, you might say, ‘Good morning, how’s the little Sprog?’
In the military, it meant somebody who was a rookie, and somebody who didn’t have any time in.
And there were many of them in Canada during the Second World War, training to be airmen, with an eye on Bomber Command.
Author Malcolm Kelly has chronicled the experiences of five Sprogs who spent a lot of their downtime during training in Penetanguishene, drinking and cavorting — growing up.
It’s a work of fiction, but is steeped in reality.
“I wanted to make sure that I had their music correct. I wanted to make sure that I had their films, the way that they spoke — which took a long time — so when I was doing the dialogue, it actually sounded like young men, kids, really, from back then and the way that they spoke, and the way they thought, and what they were, and what their love lives were like, which were mostly totally unsuccessful.”
It took Kelly 15 years to get it right, down to the bars they would have frequented, the streets they would have drunkenly stumbled down, the names of the stores where they would buy penny candy.
He had some local help.
“Art Beausoleil grew up in Penetanguishene. We started up at St. Mary’s Church and took me on this tour. And he explained to me where the two lumber mills were, and a mile down the road where the tannery was. And he explained to me about the three different hotels on the street and what all the different hotels were like during the war, ” Kelly told Barrie 360.
And there was flying officer Bob Middleton, who flew 33 ops and survived, who gave Sprog a read. He told Kelly it was remarkable that someone who did not live in that time had been able to recreate the lives of the airmen.
“Nothing is more important to me than that review, because it was from somebody who was there,” said Kelly.
Kelly is not finished telling these stories. A second book is in the works. “There’s so many people in Victoria Harbour and Port McNicoll and Elmvale, who went off to war and never returned. Those are the stories that I want to tell.”
And he will be telling some of those stories this Saturday, December 18, at the Midland Cultural Centre at 2 p.m. Tickets are available on the Centre’s website.
Sprog: A Novel of Bomber Command is available for purchase online.
Malcolm Kelly began his journalism career at the former Midland Free Press