The White Ribbon


While war often destroys families, and can tear nations apart, sometimes it forges something entirely new.

And the Second World War recently created a new kind of family here in Killarney when, after more than 60 years, two unrelated Manitoban men – connected by a common grief ­– developed a love not unlike that of father and son.

For local retired farmer and mechanic Lavern Tufts, now a sharp and lively 94 years, the friendship he holds with Richard Clark of Carman, Manitoba, has created a rich and vital connection to his past.

That’s because Tufts, who served in the war as a scout car driver with the Lord Strathcona’s Armoured Regiment #51, Trooper-Army, shared part of his memorable and dangerous service years overseas with a fellow driver – Clark’s father.

And while Tufts fortunately made it out in one piece, and eventually returned to Canada, Richard’s father, Cecil Scott Clark, was not so lucky.

But the stunned wife and young son he left behind never recovered from their loss.

“My mother never really talked about him,” said Richard Clark. “I think she was mad at him. I never saw the letters that my dad had sent her. I only had a picture of him holding me, when I was just a baby. One thing that does stick out in my mind was when I was around four. We lived in a ramshackle house in the north end of Carman. She worked on an assembly line in a chicken processing plant, and it was a Sunday night. Mom and I were sitting at home, and all of a sudden there was a knock on the door, and Mom started to cry. She knew that he was gone.”

All the letters Clark had written from the front to his wife disappeared, and even after her death in 2006, Richard found little record of his father’s history.

“Mom was very bitter, and maybe she turfed the letters,” he said. “I honestly think now that she was just trying to forget, and put everything behind her. We didn’t talk a lot. And yet my mom worked so hard, and I never wanted for anything. I don’t know how she did it.”

The quiet, empty pages of his father’s life left him wondering about his dad for years.

That was until a strange twist of fate allowed him to finally come to know his long-lost father – over six decades later.

A photo discovered in the pages of a captain’s diary, a writer researching a regiment’s history, and a Killarney farmer and mechanic who has luckily lived sweetly into his 90s were the clues that led to Richard Clark solving the mystery of his missing dad.

“When I was 20 I enlisted in 1942, at Winnipeg, and went overseas in January, 1943, to England, for basic training,” said Lavern Tufts. “That’s when I met Cecil, in June of ‘43. It was in Hove, near the south coast, when the sergeant pointed at us and assigned us to be Scout Car Drivers. He was a few years older than me. Everybody liked him; he was just that kind of guy. We were the best of friends. That same year Cecil and I and some other guys travelled to Algiers, in North Africa, then east to Phillipville, and then across the Mediterranean to Naples, in an old tugboat. We got our scout cars in Naples.”

A scout car was a special 4WD vehicle, a little like a tank, with an automatic transmission, said Tufts. It had six forward gears and four reverse ones, and was armoured, and the driver looked out of a small window.

“There were no guns on the top, but we had a Sten gun inside, and a personal weapon,” said Tufts. “But that handgun was useless, because we never had any bullets for it.”

The pair also found they were each short of a second man.

“We were supposed to have a wireless operator, but by the time we got to Italy they took the operator out, because they were short of men,” said Tufts. “I had to learn to drive one-handed, with the radio mike in the other hand. We followed the tanks in our regiment. ”

In the coastal city of Naples, the pair joined up with around 800 or 900 soldiers.

“This is where we got our new equipment for our first battle, in Ortona,” said Tufts. “That lasted for about a month. We were more or less holding Ortona. But it was so muddy no one could move. Communications were poor, the equipment for the guns was too small for the tanks, and we were always changing radio frequencies, because the Germans were picking us up.”

As scout car drivers, the two men were responsible for things like checking rivers for crossing and fording locations for troops, doing night patrols (sometimes only by moonlight), and to check on their regiment’s own artillery.

“And there were always prisoners to bring back,” said Tufts. “They didn’t travel in the cab – they were out front, in the headlights or the sunlight. We’d walk them out for maybe a mile, and then we just let them go. We had taken their guns, and they just ran away.”

Clark and Tufts also managed to have the occasional R&R in Italy.

“Some nights we would go out and have a party,” said Tufts. “We didn’t get a lot of leave, but we did spend a weekend in Rome once. There were five of us, and we stayed at the Canada Club in Rome, run by the Canadian Army. It was just an old hotel, but all the staff were there. We had white sheets, and Cecil sat up in bed and said: ‘Tufts, this is the first night you and I slept in a bed, with white sheets, in two years.’ The girls in the hotel took all our clothes, and washed them.”

And then they bumped into a very famous man.

“We went to the Vatican City, and a tour guide there asked us if we wanted a tour,” said Tufts. “We were in a kind of compound, and the guide pointed up to a balcony, and said that was where the Pope lived. Just then the Pope came out. He asked the guide, did we want to go up and see him? So all five of us went back into St. Peter’s Cathedral, which was huge, and went up the stairs, and ended up in the Pope’s office. We were probably scared stiff, and we didn’t know what to do, so we saluted him. He welcomed all five of us, and hand clasped each of us in turn, saying something that might have been a blessing, and thanked us for coming. He knew we were from Canada. Afterwards we thought about it, and realized that it was quite unusual and historical to have met the Pope. He gave us a medallion, with his picture, and Pope Pius 11th on it. I still have it somewhere.”

In January of 1945, the two found themselves near Coriano Ridge, and still in Italy. By now the edge had turned on the Nazis.

“When the Germans retreated, they always blew up a bridge, or a road, or created a blockade,” said Tufts. “Usually there was a white ribbon strung across the road to warn us when this happened, and to detour you down the side bank somewhere. There was a deep river, and the bridge had been blown out. Cecil and two passengers were in the scout car, and it was dark, and the ribbon was gone. Maybe some local woman had taken it, because they had nothing by then, not even cloth. They drove straight into the river, down through the rocks, and two of them died on the way down, including Cecil. It was pretty shocking. It was a very bad day for all of us. We missed him. The one survivor, a sergeant, was able to tell us what had happened.”

In the ensuing years, Cecil’s son Richard, now eight, left Carmen with his mother, Nettie, to live on Vancouver Island for a couple of years, serving as a carer for an elderly lady.

Two years later they returned to Manitoba, after Nettie’s father contracted tuberculosis, and was moved into the Ninette Sanatorium.

“Eventually we moved to Plum Coulee, where her parents were from,” said Clark. “Her dad died, and she worked in the local grocery store, and then she worked in construction camps, and I lived with my Granny Martens. I learned Low German from her.”

Richard Clark went on to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sandra, and later became postmaster in Carman.

Eventually he did find a copy of his dad’s New Testament Bible, and five war medals. But he never learned much more about his late father.

That was about to change.

Back in Killarney, senior citizen Lavern Tufts had received an unexpected telephone call.

“A man called Patrick Johnson phoned me around seven years ago,” said Tufts, a resident at the Royal Legion Plaza. “He was looking up information about his uncle in Winnipeg, and came across a photo of me. It was stuck in a diary, belonging to someone called Captain Payne. In the photo, I was looking into a German Tiger tank. On the back he had written, ‘Trooper Tufts – My scout car driver from Manitoba.’ He went through the Legion records, and found me in the Killarney Legion, and that’s when he phoned me. He said he might write a book about the Lord Strathcona’s Horse, and part of the book was to be about scout car drivers, and what we did in the war. I even wrote a bit for him for the book. And while I was talking to Patrick, I brought up Cecil, because he was a great friend of mine.”

In 2008, Johnson, an architect in Toronto, visited Winnipeg, still on the hunt for information. He had arranged to meet up with three veterans there, as part of his research.

During his time there, he also happened to meet a cousin to Cecil Clark, and asked him if he knew of any relatives in Carman related to the WW II scout car drivers.

The cousin told Johnson about Richard Clark, and the net began to draw tighter.

“Patrick phoned us, and asked us if we had pictures to contribute to the book,” said Clark. “We forwarded some photos and information to him, and then two weeks later he phoned us back, and asked me to sit down. He said he had found someone who was a survivor from the war, who was a friend of my dad’s. It was a good thing I was sitting down, because I would have fallen right on my butt. He told me about Lavern Tufts, and told me there wasn’t any time to waste, because he was pretty elderly. I said ‘Holy shoot’. I phoned Lavern two days later, and we met a few days after that, in December of 2008. I was so darn excited that I don’t remember what was going on. Apart from getting married, it was the happiest day of my life to meet Lavern and his wife Celia. It was a blessing.”

That’s when the stories really began to unfold, and the puzzle pieces of his father’s life – and death, for lack of a white ribbon – were finally pieced together for his son.

“I learnt so much about my dad from him,” said Clark. “I had always wondered about my father, but never with any urgency anymore, because I didn’t think there was anyone around who knew him. Certainly not anyone who would have known him like Lavern did. It had been nearly 70 years. I probably know more about him now than my mother did.”

The two families continue to meet, although Celia sadly passed away last year, and the stories from those long-ago days of World War II still keep coming, they said.

“We get together two or three times a year, and we go to lunch, and sometimes we go to the farm, where my daughter lives,” said Lavern Tufts. “It’s pretty wonderful. The connection we have is like nothing else. It’s hard to explain.”

For author Patrick Johnson, these strong feelings come as no surprise.

“It all started when I began researching the history of my uncle – my dad’s favourite brother – who was killed in the war,” said Johnson, who has interviewed over a hundred veterans and their families over the past few years. “He was a tank sergeant with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse, and I wanted to know more about him, as all families do.”

So when he realized the explosive connection between Tufts and Clark, he lit the match.

“I had already contacted Mr. Tufts, and knew, based on a photo he provided, that he was friends with Cecil Clark during the war,” said Johnson. “After a number of months searching, I was able to locate Richard Clark, son of Cecil. After he acknowledged that he never knew much about his father other than what his Mom had told him, I thought, well, here’s a great opportunity to give back. So it was only natural for me to pass on Mr. Tufts contact info, and the rest is history. I was so pleased, and thrilled, and honoured to have been able to connect the two. They have been close family friends ever since.”


SCOUT CAR CONNECTION – World War II scout car driver Lavern Tufts (right) has a special bond with Richard Clark and his wife Sandra (middle and left) because of the great friendship he shared with Richard’s father, scout car driver Cecil Clark. Mr. Clark died tragically in Italy in 1945, and Mr. Tufts has helped Richard to finally ‘know’ his lost father over the past eight years through their amazing connection.



NEW UNIFORMS – Scout Car Troopers Cecil S. Clark (left) of Carman, and Lavern G. Tufts (right) of Killarney are shown wearing the newly issued canvas “Canadian Armoured Corps” shoulder titles during the summer of 1943. The two Manitoban men met in England during World War II, later serving in Italy, and became the best of friends.


DEAD TIGER ON THE HIGHWAY TO ROME – Scout car driver Lavern Tufts of Killarney is pictured here during World War II on the side of a highway north of Rome – with a dead Tiger. The enormous Tiger Tank belonged to Schwere Panzer Abteilung 508, and was likely blown up by its crew for lack of fuel.

G. Patrick Johnson’s book, ‘Push On: A Photographic History of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) 1936 – 1946’, came out in 2015, and features around 1,400 wonderful photographs and many stories from the regiment’s years – including an anecdote written by scout car driver Lavern Tufts.

Author Patrick Johnson can be contacted for more information about purchasing his book, or to share information about Lord Strathcona’s Horse, at: