PoW Camp Diary Reunited with Family

We are honored to have IIGS Student, Julie McCahon, PLCGS, share this remarkable story with us. 

The WWII POW Diary

By Julie McCahon. PLCGS

Genealogy. Different dictionaries will give us different meanings. I like the Cambridge version the best. “The study of the history of the past and the present members of the family or families”, 1 Although we may not know each other or met face-to-face, something may connect different families.

While we traditionally consider genealogy to be connected through common ancestors, sometimes the skills we learn serve another purpose. I recently experienced this and made a lifelong friend.

My father served his country with the RCAF in World War II. These men all realized the possibility of getting shot down was extremely high. As many others, my father’s plane was indeed shot down over German occupied territory. And, like so many others, Dad was separated from his crew. Dad and one other member were the only surviving members of that crew.  After his initial arrest, Dad became a Prisoner of War held at a German Stalag Camp. There he reunited with the only other surviving member. As days passed, other prisoners arrived. Some of these men were from his same squadron. A relief for them to see a familiar face.

Frederick James McCahon before he left for overseas.

Time in the prison camp dragged. Each man tried to find something to take their minds off what was happening. One the members from Dad’s squadron (but not a flight mate) bargained for paper and pencil to keep a diary. His diary described the events that led to being shot down. He described his capture and subsequent imprisonment. He talked of the conditions of the camp, the dimensions of the camp, and daily activities. He mentioned his mother on her birthday, talked about his brothers and sister mentioning their birthdays, and his longing to return home to England.  The diary gave incredible insight into camp the POW experience.

As the end of war approached, the longing to return home was overwhelming. Upon the desertion of the camp by the Germans, the Russians moved in. Some of the prisoners took advantage and left thinking they were free. Others, like my father, remained and waited for the Americans to arrive. The man who wrote the diary left. He gave my dad the diary and told him he would collect from him later. Dad never saw him again and could not determine what had happened to him. So, when Dad was released and sent home, he brought the diary with him.

It had a special place in our home along with other war mementos, including all Dad’s medals. As we grew older, he sometimes talked a little about that time in his life. He shared the details of how he came to possess the diary. As we became adults, my sister showed great interest in it. She took it upon herself to transcribe the diary as it was getting quite faded. It always bothered her that his family did not have possession of an item that could mean so much to them. She figured it belonged with either the writer or his family. But we did not know how to find him.

Frederick James McCahon with his Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum hat.

Years later, after my father had passed away, I started taking courses with the International Institute of Genealogical Studies  and received my PLCGS post nominal, Professional Learning Certificate Genealogical Studies.  This allowed me to use the skills I learned to search for this man. I found his daughter and grandchildren. I initiated contact with the daughter, and we started communicating with one another. By using details in the diary, she was able to confirm this was indeed her father.

The question remained; how would we proceed? We decided to risk sending the diary through the mail. I received word last week she finally has this heirloom in her possession. She’s displayed a variety of emotions. To quote her, she was both, “excited and tearful at once,” when she finally held that diary. She commented on the familiar handwriting and said it was like listening to his voice again as she read the contents. It gave her a better understanding of what her father went through because, like so many others including my own father, he would not talk about that time.

Maggie with her dad’s pictures and diary. 24 Apr 2024

His daughter and I have exchanged many email conversations and discussed what these men experienced. We’ve gotten to know each other and shared details of our own lives. Knowing our fathers were connected in difficult times helps both of us. As she stated, “Thank goodness they had each other to lean on.”

These men may both be gone now, but their daughters share a bond. Genealogy provided the vehicle though we don’t share a drop of common blood. It’s been a very emotional but rewarding experience. Thank you the IIGS for providing me with the skills to make this connection a reality.



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