Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dad Remembers... by Barbara (Ruth)

My Dad turned 83 this past summer, and, as many of you know, suffers from vascular dementia which has robbed him of much of his ability to communicate and share his stories. Fortunately my Mum took it upon herself, several years ago, to capture some of his favourite memories. He wrote them down and she typed them up and had them bound into a little spiral book for my sisters and me. This morning I was thinking of Remembrance Day and how it is so special to him, and so I thought I would share his story on this subject. It ends rather abruptly, but I think it paints a colourful picture of the associations a small boy had with wartime in Canada in the 30s and 40s. This one was written about ten years ago I think. Enjoy.

During the recent run-up to Remembrance Day, I took a trip into the city via the GO train. There was a good-sized crowd of various origins and ages riding in with me. I like to observe people. This day I noted that not many were wearing a poppy on their lapels, or anywhere else for that matter. It bothered me that such a lot of people would not think to wear a poppy. Certainly there were lots of opportunities to get one - the volunteers were everywhere. I got to thinking about what makes me take a great interest in the Great War and WWII.

Growing up in Moncton, New Brunswick in the 30's was a happy time for me. It was also a relatively uncomplicated, even simple, time. We had lots to eat, but it was a tough time for many people, generally in the big cities. The Great Depression lasted from 1929 until the start of World War II in 1939. So there were large numbers of men riding the railways from one end of Canada to the other, always searching in hope of finding a job and a square meal. It was quite common for a young man, poorly dressed, to knock on our back door, looking for something to do to earn his keep. Mother often gave them food, but never a job as we had none, not even chores, to share.

My Grampy and My Dad, circa 1930
It was peace time. Yet WW I was still very much in most people's minds. After all, it ended in November 1918, only ten years before I was born. There were lots of veterans around, wounded ones, too. There was always a parade to remember November 11, and the end of that war. I could name several of my Dad's chums who were killed, and about a dozen more who were close friends of the family who were overseas in the Great War. It seemed that everyone who could, came out to stand along the street and cheer as the "old sweats" - as the veterans were called - marched by.

When I was old enough to begin to be aware of Remembrance Day, I knew that there had been a big war and a lot of people had got hurt. But the veterans got to wear medals and a navy blue beret and to march in parades with bands! The parades were very coulourful. It was great fun to watch, and we all went to the city cenotaph and listened as an official read out the names of the people who did not come back from the Great War. Most churches read out a list of their members who had made the supreme sacrifice.

I was a Cub Scout in those times and we always would be in the parade too. It was great fun, especially if the band was close by. We Cubs always wondered why the spectators were leaving as the Cubs and Scouts came along at the end of the parade! I learned that most of us were never shown how to march, so we were a pretty rag-taggled group. You could count on your parents to stay until you went by.

My Great Uncle - Steadman Henderson
Until the 1939 war, the biggest parade I had ever seen was for the funeral of a local soldier, Colonel Boyd Anderson. I remember going with Aunt Jean to watch the procession. It was very impressive - flags, dress uniforms with all the medals, horses, swords, and a gun carriage drawn by horses that carried the coffin of the colonel to the cemetery. His horse came right next to the casket. It was a most impressive event, and it seemed a long time before the parade went by at a Slow March. The colonel had been well known in Moncton. In fact, a large group of women, including Aunt Jean, were members of the Boyd Anderson Chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (always referred to as the IODE).

World War I officially ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. I was always aware of that. Both my Dad, and his brother Steadman, were in the war. Dad was only in it during 1917-1918, when he learned to fly, but not in time to go overseas. Uncle Stead however, was a captain in the 145th battalion (Infantry) and was gassed in the Battle of Ypres in France. He was lucky to recover and ended the war in England in the Forestry Corps supplying wood for the trenches.

1939 came along and suddenly there was talk of another war! Men in the local barber shops discussed it. People stopped in front of the Transcript offices on Main Street to read the headlines posted in their windows.

Twenty-one years had gone by in which there was plenty of unrest, unemployment, and not much hope. Farmers seemed to have had an easier time than city folk. But we had spent a lovely summer at the cottage in Shediac. The weather was perfect, and I spent most days at Hamilton’s farm. I remember Bobby and Harvey and I were hoeing turnips, thinning and cultivating, when we got to discussing world affairs. What about the Communists and Stalin? What about Hitler and Sir Neville Chamberlain?

This is post wartime, but I like this shot of Grampy, Aunt
Evelyn, Grammy, and Dad. This is at the cottage Dad
mentions in Shediac, New Brunswick.
On Sunday morning, September 3, 1939, we were playing croquet on our lawn at the cottage. Mum and Dad, Gordon and Evelyn, the Hutchinsons, the Harrises, were all in the game. Our window into the cottage was wide open, and the radio was on. Suddenly we were alerted to a special announcement. All talking was hushed as we gathered around the window. Great Britain had declared war on Germany, because Hitler had ignored a non-aggression pact with Poland. The Canadian Parliament was recalled to consider their action. So the game on the lawn ended. The bigger game was about to start.

One sunny afternoon when I was in Grade 6 – Miss Robertson’s class – we were suddenly deafened by the sound of a number of aircraft roaring overhead. The teacher had to stop talking as the noise increased. My friend and I were able to identify the aircraft as friendly North American Harvards, a training plane that was soon to be found all over Canada as the principal craft for training fighter pilots. The Harvards that caused the excitement in our class were on their way to the newly constructed #8 SFTS at Lake Burn at the Moncton airport. From then on, Air Force blue was the predominant colour on Moncton streets. There were five air schools sited in the region. The population in Moncton probably doubled, almost overnight. That was the end of the Depression in Canada.

There was also a naval station just across the river from Moncton – RCN Coverdale. It was thought to be involved in navigational training, and it wasn’t until the end of the war that we learned their staff was responsible for breaking codes of the German submarines so that many ships were saved from the U-Boat menace.

Like many folks in Moncton, we found ourselves providing, in a small way, a home away from home to some of the airmen who stopped in camp waiting to be assigned to their next draft. Ours began one late fall night. We had just sat down to supper when the doorbell rang. Dad got up and went to see who it was. He was gone a few minutes and when he came back he told us that he had given a young airman directions back to camp. Mother said, “Maybe he would like to come in for supper.” Dad hurried out to the front door again and called to the young man to come back, and he did. His name was Tony Pierce, and he was about 22, from Hownslow, England. Tony visited with us several times before he learned to fly, and he spent time with us in the summer waiting to go back to England asa a Sergeant pilot. Meanwhile, his father wrote to my Dad to say “thank you” for looking after Tony. Tony stayed in Fighter Command and rose to be a Squadron Leader, I believe, and went on to serve in the RAF after the war. My family looked after almost 100 more men during the war. Sadly, most of them were killed or wounded on active duty.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful, Ruth. Thanks for sharing these lovely memories. Your dad is just a few years older than my mom, and she has talked about her childhood memories of wartime too. It's always worth writing the memories down so they're never lost.