A bank note worth millions in memories

This story has its start on eBay.

It was there, a few years ago, former Wellander Bobby Morrison’s eye was snagged by a war-time 100-lire Italian bank note where the words ‘Port Colborne’ were inscribed.

With them, a name: Arthur Diwell.

It was one of 22 names scrawled on the note. Fifteen on its front, seven on the back, where Diwell’s was written.

Along with the 22 names were three sentences: Say Hello to the devils for me; Plenty of vino down there; Passport to Hell.

The signed notes are called “short snorters” says Morrison. It’s a term given to bank notes which circulated during the Second World War, signed by soldiers who travelled together.

“I thought the note would be nice to buy and send to the family as a memory,” Vancouver-resident Morrison said in an e-mail.

He has a soft spot in his heart for Canadian military history, which has become his hobby.

“Finding little bits of history here and there has been somewhat of a fetish, as anyone in this hobby can attest to,” he said.

His research tracked down one of Arthur Diwell’s descendants, son Bob. Through their phone chatting, Morrison learned infantryman Arthur Diwell had been killed in action at the Battle of the Fosso Munio, Dec. 20, 1944. That led to more research with Morrison ascertaining that 18 of the 22 names on the note were those of Perth Regiment members. The regiment fought gallantly in many battles in Italy, paying a high price in some.

“I paid $5 for that note, but there’s probably $5 million worth of stories in it,” he said.

Morrison, who grew up in Summerlea Subdivsion on Quaker Rd., a Veteran’s Land Act post-Second World War development, also learned Diwell had two daughters: Barbara and Kay, and wife Emma.

Recently, he made three large photocopies of what he has come to call The Perth Regiment Italian Lire Note as keepsakes for the three survivors.

Kay Diwell Boss, the youngest of the three children, did not know her father.

Born in July, 1944, she was five months old when he was killed.

“When he volunteered, mom just found out she was pregnant. She was not happy he’d volunteered,” says Kay, 69, a retired teacher who lives in Welland.

She also remembers hearing over the years her father felt obligated to serve.

“Apparently he’d said to mother that it was his duty,” Kay says.

Her eyes teared when she read the name on the photocopy of the short snorter.

“It’s like seeing him. A signature can be a powerful reminder.”

Kay will add her acquisition to a small collection of memorabilia she has. One, from late 1943, is a photo showing her mom and dad with brother Bob and sister Barb. Their father looks sharp in his military uniform.

There also are letters written by her father from overseas, she says. But Bob has them now.

“When mom passed, I got her hope chest,” she says, gesturing to a chest not far from where we sat. “Inside there was a big envelope and it was full of letters from dad. Mom didn’t talk about them, she was a very private person.”

She said her mother re-married following the war, but the children retained the Diwell family name.

The firefighting brothers, Charles and Henry Diwell, who served with Canadian Volunteer Firefighters in Britain, returned safely to Port Colborne.

Lowbanks resident Barb Diwell Roland says she was about three years old when her father was killed.

“I don’t remember very much from back then,” she says.

She was moved by Bobby Morrison’s thoughtfulness, however, saying it meant a great deal because he isn’t part of the Diwell family. She was touched by his effort in researching their history and making photocopies of the note.

Bob Diwell was five when his father was killed overseas. He is now 73, a longtime dairy farmer who sold his cows and grows cash crops now. That’s a wide chasm of time between yesterday and today, between the war “over there” and life here.

“But I remember him,” he said in a phone interview.

The Cayuga-area resident recalled his dad “liked playing hockey, he took me hunting and I still remember my hands froze. He was an everyday father.”

When Diwell went overseas, his wife and children moved from Port Colborne to Selkirk to live with grandparents on their farm.

“We were there about a year when he was killed. It was a terrible winter, a lot of snow. The snow was almost up to telephone wires. I remember seeing a guy on snowshoes coming toward the house.”

Bob Diwell says he told his grandfather of the sighting, but his grandfather didn’t believe him, at first.

As things turned out, the man on snowshoes was a messenger with a telegram. The telegram bore the news that Pte. Arthur Diwell had been killed in action in Italy.

“Mom was devastated, we all took it kind of hard,” Bob says about that moment. “You never think that’s going to happen.”

Diwell’s decision to sign up rather than wait to be called was tough for the family to understand, in a way, says Bob.

“He could have stayed here,” he says. “But mom always said he wanted to keep the country safe for us kids.”

This article was originally published Friday, November 8, 2013 in St. Catherines Standard.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

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