The story continues. We are now up to February and March of 1944. So much seems to be happening so quickly for the young women And a reminder. This is fictionalized history based on letters my Aunt Pat wrote home from WWII. It is written from the perspective of her telling her sister in law about her adventures three years after the war ended. She is very ill and telling her story takes her mind off her illness..
“I had forgotten but my letters had reminded me of something so I grabbed Jeans hand and gave it a good shake and told her that the sewing basket she and Connie had given me turned out to be the best gift I got when I left Canada. Boy that thing was useful. Tons of mending and I was the one with all the equipment so everyone in our house was happy for it. Jean laughed about always being so practical, their mother had taught her and Connie well.
All the time I was in England I kept thinking how my mother would have loved it. Although it was backwards in some ways compared to Canada it was like stepping into a novel or being in a movie we had watched. There were flowers everywhere. In January there were roses blooming. Everyone had a garden and the colors brightened up the gray days of winter. Hard to believe flowers in January. As the months moved into spring there were fields of flowers. My friends knowing how much I love fresh flowers would fill my room with them. They were so sweet to me. Margo especially would arrive home with an arm load of fresh picked flowers of every color and then fill the vases all over my room.
Hedges seemed to be a part of how things were done over there. Every home no matter how near the road or how small had a hedge. They just added something to the way they look. I always thought of Dickens books when I was out walking about.
We were in the south of England on these huge Canadian Bases. The best part was we could take trains almost everywhere. They came on a regular basis and we could be in London in less than an hour. Or we could take the train to a town 10 miles away to see a film. I fell in love with London. Every chance I had I was up there. It was quite a divided feeling when there. Some of London seemed totally untouched by the war but other parts were totally destroyed. My life was so easy and simple compared to the actual Londoners. There were very few of us woman compared to the number of men so our social lives were fabulous. Some fellow was always coming up to me saying things like “didn’t I meet you in Toronto?” I always invited them to sit down to chat, dance and meet the other girls but I knew we had never met. The fellows who had been over for 4 years or so were hungry for news from home and to hear a fresh Canadian accent.
I had forgotten about Jean and Connie’s Aunt Bessie who lived in England. It was such a silly little story. She was such a cute thing. I wrote her right after arriving and had signed my name “Pat”. She thought I was a young man and invited me down to see her. The letter from her was quite cute and I had pulled it out of my collection and gave it to Jean that day. We did have a little visit one time while I was there and she was a lovely woman. So kind and so much like Jean. She lived in a little cottage in Devon and when I visited her she brought out her best and had obviously used her ration tickets to try and give me a good meal. There were roses growing next to her front door and it was charming. So very “British” for a Scots woman.
Jack Latimer came by a few times. One day he took me all around the country. He wanted to make sure that I saw everything there was to see. Another evening he took me up to Woking to his former mess. We took the train and had a perfect evening. He took me to see the Packer family for a while. Very wealthy people he knew. Jack was waiting to be posted to a CCS so was not there for very long but while he was there we had a great time. He treated me like a Queen. Royal treatment always.
Joe McManus wanted to know about Mary. He insisted I tell him if she was as beautiful as ever so I assured him she was. I think he had quite a thing for her. I told him she was in love with someone and unavailable at the moment. Oh and I had forgotten the story about Max Malone. It was kind of sad actually. He wanted me to say Hello to John when I wrote Mary so I said “oh, they didn’t get married” and he wouldn’t believe me. Said “I’ve been writing Trenton for yrs giving my regards to Mary and your family, no wonder I never got answers back” Cute eh! Poor John being reminded to Mary after there terrible breakup. John never could tell him I guess that it was over.
At one point I met a very nice dentist from Toronto, I think his name was Ted. He was another one that took me everywhere. For Valentines Day we went to a marvelous party at his mess. We got carnation corsages to wear. All the English gals wore evening gowns (what a show, most of them looked like housecoats but they can’t help that.) but I sort of liked being in our uniforms. Three of us went there with dates he had set up for the others and the two of us. It was a “smashing time”. I am learning all those English terms. Such fun.
Before we went to the dance at the Mess there was a football game between Canadians and Americans and the former won. It was a perfect game and most of the players were Queen’s lads. Some times I felt like I was back at home. I was surrounded by men from either Kingston or who had attended Queens and knew Dad and the brothers or were friends of my sisters. Seemed like every where I turned there someone would be. It was nice and yet I think it contributed to some homesickness.
I had found in one of my letters to Bill and Eileen a description of how I was perceiving life in England at the time. Kind of interesting so I had taken it out to share with Jean. I told her to remember this since as the story moves along my feelings would change and yet in retrospect I can see how I was in some kind of a honeymoon phase at the time. I read to her “The hospital is perfect too. Everyone is very good to us. The food is marvelous. The hospitals get all the food. When you eat out at hotels or when in London the meals are terrible but here they are better than any place yet. There is no scarcity. This is a beautiful country and it is well worth seeing. London I love, it is exactly like the movies we have seen of it. The “cabs” and the “bobbys” and the “parks” and the petrol stations etc. Then the hotels which are very modern and beautiful. The whole place is top heavy with American and Canadian troops. More than you could ever imagine. Over here you realize so fully about the war. You see the blitzed sections and there is an undercurrent somehow. I thought when I got here that I would be content but I’m not. I want to move on again, get going. Everyone feels the same, it’s sort of like a machine going around in your head saying “let’s go, lets’ get it over” I think it is the talk and uncertainty and everyone dying to get back home, but not wanting to until it’s over. Very odd and hard to describe but it’s there and quite definitely and I hate to see what it is doing to so many people.”
The social life just seemed to go on and on. I believe they provided so many opportunities since there is so much homesickness and the constant underlying fear about the future. So we went to many parties. The week after the Valentines party went to a Unit “A” of the army show. They have five units who travel from post to post putting on shows. They are all great and even here at home it would be worth going to see them. The performers were all military but by the time we saw them there were practically professionals . There was a twelve piece orchestra and a few singers and actors. It was wonderful, and the lads just eat it up of course. Some of their jokes were a riot and you could see on the faces of the injured and recovering fellows that the laughter was doing them wonders. One of the jokes that particular night was ”she once was a soldiers sweetheart, now she’s an officers mess”. Everyone roared over that.
There were parties in the mess every weekend and often during the week. And the hotels and clubs in the nearby towns were very nice and the men were always looking for someone to go out with them so I had a very nice time. So I was never without something to do unless I was working nights and then it was me and my boys up on the floor. But I did not mind it since I saw how much they were suffering and I was able to help some of them with my stories about home and jokes I had heard at the various shows.
By mid February they had us out drilling every day and it was so funny. We were suppose to be serious but sometimes one could hardly stop from falling down laughing. What the well trained soldier shouldn’t do seemed to be our motto. All the lads would go by and roar with laughter so if nothing else we were entertaining the troops. We also had lectures in “gas war-fare” principally. This was all in preparation for going overseas so that made it a bit more exciting. It began to feel like we were closer to getting there. Bed-rolls, gas capes and detectors etc. were given out and carefully stowed away. The next step we were waiting for was receiving our battle dress. I was thinking that because I was so small it would not look too terrible. After all even in war I thought I should be the best dressed woman around.
When there were raids in London we could hear it all. On Feb 20th there was quite a raid over London. When we heard the “alert” I got out of bed (11:30) put on my raincoat and went out in the back yard. Maggie came with me, we could see the sky all lit up over London with fire and flares. Our cottage shook when the bombs landed and the windows rattled. Just like an earth quake but accompanied by a long rumbling sound. Later that morning about 4 a.m. there was another “alert” and then later we watched all our planes back from their jaunts. Hundreds of them went over and they made a lot of noise. As usual when things are happening I was up and watching it all. I think I must have been an adrenalin junkie. Even with the noise some of the others were back in bed at least it was warm in the house but not me, nope, out there watching all night.
Weddings seemed to happen often once we got over there. Again with so many Kingston folks there it was hard not to get invited. The first one I went to was Tommy Tweddell’s at the end of February. He had met one of the nurses from No 6 and they were married in a lovely simple wedding. They had the reception in our mess and the staff had gathered flowers, made a wonderful cake and other refreshments for them. It was sweet. That night we followed up in the evening with a party in the officers mess. Tommy’s bride told me that he wanted me there because I was from Kingston and an old friend. Nice of him to see me that way. Major Kenny came up for the festivities from NO 2 and it was so funny. He came up to me like his long lost brother or something. Big hugs and almost would not let go of me. Then Col. James showed up and again he came right over and hugged me and asked about all the family. On the other side Joe McManus and Max Malone just treated me like a sister and were always looking out for me at parties. I think they scared some of the fellows away with their looks. I just laughed at them since really now. But I guess knowing that I had some big guys looking out for me was a good thing.
The second wedding I was invited to was Betty Scott’s in March. That one was held at Hospital No 12. Major Kenny was there, had come up from No 2. He greeted me again like a long-lost brother. Then Col James was there also and he came right over to talk to me. They both asked me to give their regards to you, Dad. Joe McManus and Max Malone were there again.. Its really quite funny but over here if you have ever known someone before, you become great friends. I don’t know just how to describe the feeling.
Sunday I had off so Carl Shaffer (a lad from Montreal who takes me out a lot) took me to Farnborough to a movie, then we came back to our mess for supper. Then got a friend of his for Margo and we all went up to their mess and sat around and listened to the radio. That is real army life. You sit around with five or six or more men (because there are so many men compared to girls) in a cold, usually shabby room and everyone is in uniform and there is so much to talk about. The lads are so grim about what is coming. Carl and his friends are all Infantry and I look at them, so young and good –looking and full of life and I hate the war and yet it is all so exciting and I wouldn’t really miss it for anything. If it has to be. I do have a marvelous time. I go out every nite. The men I go with say the fun we have compensates for all the hard work they do. Of course, as I said before, there are thousands of them and that is no lie.
On Tues I went to a movie in Farnborough with Karl. You have to go by 6:30 p.m. or you don’t see it all. Everything starts early. Your evening is very short. It is very queer walking home though this huge camp, nothing but soldier’s barracks and training squares etc. for miles and it always amazes me that I am actually over here. The nites are perfect the moon is so bright that I don’t need my “torch” – how do you like that term?
Wed nite went to dinner at the Queen’s and danced afterwards. Thurs nite I was in a ping pong tournament if you can imagine. I lost of course but not too badly. Later went to the “Officers Club’ in Aldershot to dance etc. It is a nice spot. Friday afternoon went to a movie “Flesh and Fantasy’ it was very good. Later had dinner and came home early. Tonight, I am going to the Officers Club again for the usually Sat nite party.
The other nite Maj. Vern Slate called me from Brighton where he is (he is the man I met on the weekend in London) wanted me to go down for a party but I couldn’t make it. No time off. He is going down to Torquay when I go. Did I tell you I am going on leave March 30 for nine days!! Margo and I, so we are going to Torquay in Devon. It is the place to go and especially at this time of year – it is so warm. I am looking forward to it. I have a “folder” of the Palm Court Hotel where we are going to stay. I’ll send it to you right away so you can see where I am the first week of April. Guess who called me the other day from No 1 Neuro General not far from here. Maj Bob Daymond, isn’t it amazing. He was here with this unit for quite a while – Western crowd – anyway he is going to try and get over soon.
Over the last couple of years of looking up these folks who are mentioned in the letters I have found a few relatives of these folks. I was able to send to Major Bob Daymonds daughter in law a cut and paste of all the references to him. She was thrilled to have them. I have also looked up the various hotels they stayed at to see what they looked like etc. I think if this becomes a book I will be able to cut and paste in the pictures into each chapter and info on the various hospitals and towns. I am learning a lot about WWII as I go through this exercise.
Today was a so-so day for me. I was going down to paint pottery but ended up not going but then went to lunch with a friend and the lunch was very good. Love going into a restaurant I enjoy and seeing at the bottom of the menu – Gluten Free Bread available. I have a great grilled sandwich. good ham, pineapple and cheese. It was yummy.. and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. It is eight pm and I have not had a bite to eat since lunch so better eat now.. Then I went to the Pottery Place and am going back next week to make mugs for Open Doors Canada’s raffle baskets. They want three items so I figured that would be a good thing to give them. I will paint pictures of the school house on them and put the name of the school house there as well. Maybe the date too. If it were cheaper I would make them to sell at the school house but doing them myself it is pretty costly. Anyway. I got out a bit today which was good for me.
Enjoy the day.