A love made by hand

February 26, 2010

Do you think war can lead to love? When we take a closer look, every so often touching stories emerge – some fleeting, some that withstand the test of time. One such story has made its way, nearly 60 years later, to the Canadian War Museum: the amazing tale of a wee little coat.

Once upon a time …

It was 1941 in the small town of Olds, Alberta. The fate of an intrepid 15 year-old Bob Elliott was sealed: he would lie about his age, be recruited by the Canadian army, and follow his brothers into war. By 1944, Bob was helping to defend the Allied line in Holland. The young Canadian was rocked by the aggression of war and misery of the civilian population, but a special encounter at the heart of battle touched him even more.

A precocious 10 year-old daughter of Dutch resisters named Sussie Cretier became enamoured with the Canadian soldiers who had come to defend her country. She bonded with their unit. Bob and his fellow soldiers found Sussie’s presence – along with her singing and laughter – a welcome remedy to the difficult reality they faced. Having impressed them with her youthful bravery, it wasn’t long before Sussie was allowed inside the self-propelled gun, even during combat.

In exchange for her joyful company, the Canadians often sent Sussie home with chocolate and chewing gum – prized treats at the time since her family, like most of the population, lived in poor conditions: hunger and cold were the staples of a seemingly never-ending war. But our soldiers were resourceful. One Christmas, Bob asked a village seamstress to fashion a small military coat out of a grey army blanket. The soldiers plucked buttons from their own jackets to adorn the gift. Sussie excitedly shed her old worn-out coat to proudly don this new military jacket, a symbol of the devotion and loyalty of her Canadian friends.

The war ended, everyone returned to their respective homes, and life began anew. Sussie and Bob each got married and raised families. An occasional note between them kept their shared memories alive.

And they lived happily ever after …

Cut to 1981. Sussie’s parents invited their Canadian friend to join the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. Bob Elliott, recently separated from his wife, took the opportunity for a change of scenery. Sussie, herself recently unattached, offered to show Bob around her country. During the visit, their platonic bond blossomed into true love. They married in 1984 and currently divide their retirement between Edmonton and the Netherlands, keeping strong the link between their two home countries.

So what ever happened to that little grey coat, you might wonder? After cherishing the garment her whole life, Sussie agreed to display it at the Royal Canadian Legion in Olds where it garnered lots of attention – even inspiring Saskatchewan author Alan Buick to write a book called The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story. And with all the continued interest, the Elliott’s finally decided to donate the coat to the Canadian War Museum as a reminder of the hard-fought battles for freedom. A hard-fought war it indeed was, but one that for Bob and Sussie was a source of support, of hope … and of love.

Keep the love going

Be sure to pick up a copy of Alan Buick’s book, The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story, on sale now at the Canadian War Museum Boutique and at our Cyberboutique. One dollar from the sale of each book will go to the Royal Canadian Legion.