Ms. Lois Tuffin:
"So many stories have arisen from the horrific events from the Second World War. But the unique and frank voice of James Lauder opens your eyes to a whole new view. From his detailed account of how the Dieppe Raid went horribly wrong to the tedium and camaraderie of a German prisoner of war camp, he resurrects a series of characters whose stories can haunt us for years to come.
He inspires you to laugh with the silly pranks and wordplay of a bored group of men.
He makes you ache for the simple human comforts that he missed while locked away overseas.
And he sickens you with the brutality of soldiers and the SS when they have the power to humiliate and hurt others during a dark time in world history.
Several of the portraits he shares stick with you:
• The beating of a Jewish woman who defies a member of the SS in public;
• The scene of a train station bombing where Germans and Canadians pulled together to save the injured;
• The hilarious misunderstanding of a daily greeting in a hallway at the camp.
From this book, you will see men at their best and their worst. There are times when you empathize with James and others when you want to slap him and his buddies up the side of the head for their racism and sexism. They lived in different times.
Every day, they aimed to survive just one more day. They kept hoping the war would end, always in the spring to come. Even knowing when they would go home, you live in suspended animation with the group that takes care of each other and mourns each death knowing how close they all are to meeting that fate.
Some chapters of Hard Tears and Soft Laughter are hard to read. But Lauder doesn't allow you to look away, since you never know where his memory will take you."
Editor in chief
Peterborough This Week
Ms. Sylvia Sutherland:
When I was a kid growing up in Penetanguishene in the early 50s we had a local hero. Only we didn’t know that because he never talked about what he did. Alfred Burke (“Affie”) Thompson was then a lawyer and, as his grandfather before him, mayor of the town.
In 1936, he had joined the RAF to learn to fly big planes. On September 9, 1939, one day before Canada entered the war, he was shot down over Germany, becoming the first Canadian taken prisoner of war. He spent the rest of the war in POW camps, longer than any Canadian ever. In March,1944, he took part in “The Great Escape”. After he was recaptured he saw 50 of his fellow escapees shot to death by the Nazis.
His wife Nora told me years later that he carried the demons with him the rest of his life. He rarely talked about what he been through. To Nora. To anyone.
Peterborough resident Jimmie Arthur Lauder’s father, James William Lauder, rarely talked about his time in a POW camp either. Instead, be wrote about it, dying in 1979 before he finished his memoir. Nearly 40 years later, inspired by a Remembrance Day service, his son took his father’s manuscript, war journal and drawings and completed the book, making only minor changes to the text.
Lauder was taken prisoner during the ill-fated August 19,1942 Dieppe Raid, spending the remainder of the war in a hospital camp in the German village of Obermassfeld.
“To me (Dieppe) was the whole damn war. I spent half a day trying to get into Germany and three years wanting to get out,” he wrote.
Hard Tears & Soft Laughter is the story of those years.
After the war, Lauder become a graphic artist. He could have become a writer. He had an excellent eye for detail, and a fine ear for dialogue. His book reflects both. It is at times immensely moving. At others gripping. At others funny. He takes us with him through it all. Through the crucifixion of a man, and the brutal beating of a young Jewish woman. Through the reading from Ecclesiastes to a dying friend who had marked the spot in the Bible with a shoelace.
With his book, Jim Lauder gives voice to that silent generation of which he and Affie Thompson and so many others were part.
Sylvia Sutherland is a journalist and was Peterborough’s mayor from 1985 to 1991 and from 1997 to 2006.
Ms. Nan Williamson
Wow. This book was a surprise to me: I don’t often read non-fiction, memoirs, or history, especially not accounts of war with lists of casualties, losses and, often, as well, an overemphasis on the “glory”.
I was hooked at page two.
Chapter 1 tells the disastrous story of the Dieppe raid and the knock-out punch of shrapnel that marked an end of James Lauder’s fighting. Three pages of masterful vivid writing. In fact, this memoir cries out for a movie from one cinematic scene to the next: we hear the sounds of groaning prisoners and feel the jerky sway of the boxcar that “chews at your bones, bruises your flesh, and makes the balmiest summer night seem… much too long… agony at its highest pitch.” We see, up close, a Jewish woman beaten to death surrounded by a crowd of Nazi onlookers.
The reader is exposed to many scenes in the POW hospital which British prisoners ran, under German command: close-ups of late night gatherings of friends drinking rotgut moonshine and sharing jokes but also grim views of the wounded. Christmas for these prisoners was “a day of joy and laughter” while unknown to them “the five chimneys of the crematoriums of Auschwitz belched smoke as the still-warm dead from the gas chambers were carried to the ovens. After all, it was not a holiday there. The Jews don’t celebrate Christmas.”
The drawings included reveal Lauder as a skilled artist as well as a man who saw humour in everyday goings on.
Lauder’s voice is honest not sentimental or maudlin: ”I was surprised to find myself not afraid of dying as much as I was afraid of how I would die. Afraid I’d look afraid when the firing began to cut us down…The possibility of death is a strange fear - fear of the scope of your ability- exciting, like the fear of your inability to appear worldly in the eyes of the first girl, you fumbled through the manipulations of seduction.” He tackles the question that must haunt many soldiers. In intense discussions with the padre, he asks “when is killing justified?’’ Is there “a time to kill”, as the preacher says?
Finally, right smack in the structural centre of the book beginning on page 133 of 266 pages, in Chapter 10, is a poetic meditation on time and memory:
“Any spring can be remembered and no matter where you are, April is a beautiful month. Barbed wire can fence you in but it can’t stop your senses from reaching out and grabbing the pleasures of spring. The warmth that comes with the soothing gentleness of the rain splashing a captive man’s face as he watches it turn the last bit of winter snow and slush back to water is equaled only by the sight of annual wonderment of the earth swelling and releasing tiny sprouts and tender plants from their winter slumber and let them grow tall and green again, even in the time of war. Much of the beauty of the sweet smell of the season is marred by the thought that your spring fever is merely the intensification of your fever to live…The warm sunshine strengthens your anticipation for a new life as you know the frozen wheels of the war machine will thaw, the fog bound skies will clear, and with the death of winter the warming ground will soon be firm and fit to carry on a better war. So, let the grass grow green and the vision of being free, grow with it.”
An engrossing personal account by a sensitive and thoughtful soldier. Thank you, Jim Lauder, for giving us your father’s story.
Mr. Kerry C.
What an amazing book! Written by a member of the Essex Scottish, James William Lauder, it gives a whole new perspective to what soldiers went through on this failed raid! You get to hear accounts of what they went through after capture and in their POW camp. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II history.
Mr. Harold Lauder
I always knew your dad was an accomplished artist. I never imagined that he was such a talented writer. Hard Tears and Soft Laughter is a family treasure that I will cherish.