Frank Borland, better known as Jiggs, is one of just a handful of Second World War veterans left with a memory as sharp as his wit, and the drive to share his incredible story of heroism and sacrifice with others.
Talk to him, even briefly, and you’ll quickly realize how fortunate you are to have gotten that opportunity.
Now known as a war hero by many, Borland was born in the United States, but moved to Canada at a young age with his parents before joining the army to fight in the Second World War.
He now lives on a large farm outside of Bishop’s Falls with his family, and shares his property with a bird sanctuary, farm animals, horses, and the hordes of tourists that pass through daily.
During his time serving overseas in the Second World War, he was part of a reconnaissance division of 36 men tasked with scouting out enemy lines before a raid.
“You stick your fingers in a beehive, you know there’s bees in there, you just don’t know how many, that was the idea,” he said of his role. “All I did all day long was shoot.”
Randy Young is the president of Friends of Veterans Canada, a non-profit charity aimed at preserving the stories of Canadian war veterans for the next generation. Young is based out of London, Ont., but since 2008 he has traveled all across Canada and has interviewed hundreds of veterans, with the intent on making them available as video documentaries.
“This is my service to my country,” Young explained. “So 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 1,000 years from now, these stories will be here for our kids.”
When Young met Borland in 2010 at a Canadian Army Veterans (CAV) barbeque near Botwood, he immediately knew his story had to be shared.
“I’m with him ten minutes, and I realize I’ve got a great story here,” said Young. Young asked to go get his camera from his hotel room, but Borland suggested they meet again the next day to talk.
“I had to catch a ferry later in the day so I only had a few hours I could sit with him,” said Young. “And at the end of three and a half hours, I knew I had to get more about this guy.”
Two years later, Young has spent the better part of the summer fundraising to take Borland overseas this month, retrace the steps that made him a hero, and videotape the entire experience.
Borland was given the prestigious Legion of Honour medal from the French government for his role in saving Dieppe from an allied air raid.
“I want to spend 14-16 days over there, we’re going to fly to London, England, and take the ferry across exactly where (Borland) did. Then we’ll go to France, and to Dieppe and retrace his steps,” said Young. “If Jiggs remembers the things he remembers now without being there, you can imagine the memories he’ll have when he’s standing on the spot.”
Young estimates the trip will cost about $13,000, but said raising the funds has been a battle that has left him discouraged. He’s coming to Newfoundland this week to try his luck here, and hopefully raise the rest of the money he’ll need for the trip.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get him over there, even if that means standing on a street corner with a sandwich board,” he joked.
Liberal MP for Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor Scott Simms has already agreed to personally pay for the cost of Borland’s airfare, but Young said that only puts a small dent in the cost.
“Jiggs deserves this trip, and we can do that for him.”
In many cases, after nearly sixty years of trying to forget the painful memories, coupled with the effects of age on the mind, it’s no surprise that many veterans alive today are still reluctant, or unable, to share their experiences – but not Borland.
Borland still remembers the weather the day he became known as a hero.
“It was one of those quiet September mornings, Sept. 1, 1944, about 5:20 in the morning,” he said. “There was just a little bit of fog hanging over the meadows, and not a breath of wind.”
Borland then goes into great detail about the morning he saved the town of Dieppe, France.
“There was an air raid scheduled to flatten Dieppe,” he explained. “There were Canadian war ships standing by that were supposed to start shelling at 9 a.m.”
They had learned, however, from French resistance fighters that morning that there were no Germans left in Dieppe, they had fled overnight.
“We had to get that air raid stopped, and that wasn’t an easy task,” said Borland, adding the raid had been planned for a long time and wouldn’t be stopped without evidence. His group was then responsible for the dangerous task of verifying to the generals the claim that the Germans had indeed evacuated.
“At quarter to eight we got a message on the radio saying the planes were in the air on the way to Dieppe, but had been redirected to another target.”
Borland also described a detailed account of liberating the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He said the memories can often be a curse.
“There were times I’d ask myself if the smell would ever leave my nostrils, the smell of rotting bodies,” he said.
Borland said he’s grateful Young is putting the effort into making this documentary, and said he realizes the importance of passing stories like his on to the next generation.
It’s good, he said, in a way, that many of today’s youth have never experienced what he’s experienced, but also important for them to understand what hundreds of thousands fought and died for.
“It’s hard for them to realize the sacrifices.”
For more information on Friends of Veterans Canada, or to donate, visit their webpage at www.friendsofveterans.ca.