The hospital staff arrived on January 24th, 1944 at the unnamed port somewhere in Scotland. From there they were transported down to southern England where they received further training and assignments to various hospitals. Here is the next section of the story as I have written it so far.
Arrival in Scotland/England
They put us on a train from Scotland down towards London. It was a five-hour ride and I have never seen such blackness. When I was in Canada I thought of blackouts but did not realize how black the night really is when all lights are out. It was like traveling at sea. There was nothing and the stars were bright because there was no light to block them. As we traveled south we stayed in various Canadian Hospitals. The first one was No 10. Several soldiers met us at the train and Robbi, Ruth, Betty and I were thrilled to meet them. They put us in “lorries” and when we finally arrived at the hospital we had a wonderful chicken dinner with French fries. We had so much fun chatting up the boys but we were all exhausted from lack of sleep on the ship so we all went to bed and had our first really good nights sleep in several weeks.
The next day we got to ride in lorries again into London. They were open as it was warm so we got to see much of London during the ride to Victoria station. I loved England at that point. The flowers, the greenness, and it was so clean. It looked like everything was scrubbed every day. Most of the city looked intact but there were some pretty terrible parts where nothing seemed to be left standing. That was when I began to understand what this war was doing to people. But the people we met and most of what we saw were just like in the movies.
We took another train from Victoria Station to No 13 Hospital in Hampshire. From there we would be sent to join our assigned hospital. Robbi, Ruth, Betty and I were hoping to stay together. We had been together for the last year and hoped to continue to the same hospital. The food at No 13 was fabulous. I realized that much of our food in Canada was being sent to the troops which explained shortages at home and the abundance of food in England. At least we had good food. The English citizens were suffering from shortages. It’s a wonder there wasn’t a lot of thievery going on.
We were only at No 13 waiting to find out where we would be assigned. I hoped and prayed that I would get sent to a hospital that would eventually be sent over to the continent. That was my goal to get over there where the action was.
We had stayed at No 13 only a few days and then all of us girls were sent together to No 8. No sooner were we there and settled that we decided to head for the mess for something to eat and it happened again. I forgot to tell Jean before about sitting in the mess at No 13 and having a MO (Medical Officer) come over and look at me and say – “Are you an O’Connor from Kingston?” That time it was Capt Harrison, he graduated with Misty and the other was Maj Ev Raynor, who graduated in 35’. This time at No 8 it was Tommy Tweddell and Joe McManus. By then I figured I must sure look a lot like Dad and Maurice or maybe these guys also knew the girls also. But we must all look-alike since they would come like shots in the dark from across the room with the same question.
We traveled by ambulance from No 13. It was about a 50 mile trip. We stopped at an Inn for coffee and inside were about forty flyers sitting around a huge fireplace having breakfast. An old, old room with wonderful furniture. They said “Come on in Canada” so we had coffee and toast and chatted. Their station was right across the road. But the comparison is so great. Imagine a restaurant like that is Canada. Everything is so picturesque. Every house no matter how small has a hedge and a gate around it.
We had a wonderful time here because there were so many men. Some of the lads that were on the ship were in the camp and they call me to go out to shows which were free and on base there is entertainment every night. One evening the Can army show was performing. Just one Division of it and it was wonderful. The lads were so lonely and wanted to hear all the news about things back home that we were happy to accommodate them.
Those first weeks were filled with getting to know the country, and getting semi settled since we thought we would be moving again soon. At that point we were living in little cottages and had a batman to take care of our needs. It was great having the fires going and our buttons shined. We had wonderful meals in the Mess. In the cottage we had a kitchen and bought things to have a snack at night. We also got milk once a week which was a treat after none on the ship coming over. I missed it so much.
By Feb 9, 1944 Robbi and I had our first “leave” since arriving two weeks ago in England. It was so much fun. We went up by train to London and checked into the Grosvenor House Hotel. It was right near all the theatre’s and restaurants. We were enthralled with everything. The first play we went to see was Wendy Hiller in Cradle Song. It was wonderful. I just love theatre and being in London seeing a play was beyond my wildest dreams.
After the play we went back to the tea and dance. We just started towards our table when two attractive Majors got up and invited us to their table. They had been over there for nearly four yrs and were so thrilled to meet Canadians who had so recently seen Canada. They were Westerners – and you know those western gentleman and for the next two days they entertained us beautifully.
Sat nite we went to a club for supper and dancing. Two flight lieutenants came over and said they thought they had met me in Toronto. It was a scream. They hadn’t but they sat down and talked. They were all eager to hear as they say ‘good Canadian’ voices. London was top heavy with the likes of us, both Americans and Canadians every where you looked. Sunday morning Maggie was going to church with me so they came along. Then we went to the Strand Corner House for lunch. It was very good and an orchestra played. In the afternoon we walked, went through Hyde Park and listened to the soap-box orators, then we returned to the Hotel and went to the supper dance in the Officer’s Club.
The names of these two wonderful entertaining men were Maj Vernon Slate and Major Dan Woodside. The latter turned out to be a brother of the CBC news commentator Wilson Woodside and he was staying at the hotel so he joined us for supper. He was very interesting. He had a sore throat and had to broadcast in the morning so we painted his throat for him. It was so funny the two of us “nursing” him.
The air raids were something else. When I first arrived at the hospital it was like wondering what this would be like but the first one came and I woke up out of a dead sleep and it was pretty upsetting. All the noise of the Ack-Ack guns. They are so loud and noisy. But once I was there a little while I did not even hear them if I was sleeping. The others were horrified that I slept right through. You know me – always loved my sleep and nothing gets in the way.
But back to London, there were parts there that looked like they had barely been touched but then we would walk into an area that was just gone. It is so sad that they have had to put up with so much. One of the fellows we met said he wanted us to see something so he took us down into the underground in the evening and it was filled with people who had been bombed out of their homes. Talk about Dickens. They lived in the tunnels at night and got up and roamed the streets or went to work or school in the morning. People were packed solidly into the tunnels for the night. It was eye-opening for me. I realized then that I was living in a dream world. This was their home for the duration of the war. It broke my heart to see them living like that. From that day on I tried to watch more carefully and to understand more.
Another interesting thing was seeing buildings that looked like nothing was going on in them. Vern and Dan took us to this one place and we wondered what we were getting ourselves into but then we went through a door and it turned out to be a lovely restaurant. They had covered up the windows both inside and out so no light would escape. Once inside it was fabulous. We had drinks there and it was living in another world. I loved London and the warmth of the people and how much they cared and were thankful that we were there.
One evening shortly after we got settled Jack Latimer came over to see me. He had heard that I was assigned to No 8 and he was stationed not far from us. We had a great chat and catchup about old times in Kingston. Max Malone also turned up quite quickly and wanted to be remembered to Dad and the “boys”. He was working at the hospital with us so it was great fun seeing him. Just like being at home with all the familiar people around.
That was Pat’s life her first few weeks in England. I will be adding more about this time. In the full story that I am writing I am using as a vehicle her telling this story to her sister-in-law who is keeping her company and nursing her while she is very sick with cancer. Telling the stories is good therapy for her and puts her back to happier times in her life. I have not added dialogue yet to the story but plan to continue to work on it over the next year. I appreciate feedback so don’t hesitate to make comments. I also have been researching the fellows she meets along the way since some of them ended up having illustrious careers as doctors or as part of the military.