Category Archives: Canadian Army

March 23, 2015 – my baby’s birthday – the end of the battle for Falaise

Starting with the letter first tonight… August seems to be flying by because there were not that many letters. She was way too busy taking care of those poor wounded soldiers.

Lieut n/s P O’Connor
No 8 Cdn Gen Hosp.
BLA
Aug 17, 1944

Hello dears:

I shall try the ordinary mail this time because I want to send these clippings home of some of the lads.  Aren’t they wonderful? (no clippings in the envelop)

I have a day off today. The first since reaching Normandy.   Last nite it poured rain so I went to bed at nine o’clock and right to sleep and Kathie woke me up at one to-day and brought me my dinner so I feel like a million.   I am sitting out in the sun in my bathing suit now trying to get letters written.   I get so hopelessly behind.

Isn’t the news wonderful! Everyone is betting on it all being over next month.   I am so elated – imagine no more casualties, what a wonderful thing.   Dick says Nov 20 definitely.   Yes Dick and Norm are both married, didn’t I tell you. We three are just very good friends and I would hate to do without them.   The other nite I told them about not getting enough water, they were furious so the next nite Norm brought me five gallons in a “jerry” can to keep as an extra supply. Lib and I had been washing in the same water for a day and a half and they say there is really no need for it.   Poor organization or something.

I hear from Sheila a lot. I wish she was over here.

Have had a perfect time lately.  Was at a party at Teds mess the other nite.   A lot of the lads have gone now back to England and then home maybe.   They have completed their tour of operations.   Danny, Doug Lindsay, Andy MacKenzie and Bill Conrad.  I  will miss them.  They are all perfect people and great fliers.

Ted and Wallie Hill are going on leave the 20th for seven days.  They were over yesterday and took me swimming on my hour off.   It was marvelous!   They are moving soon also so we should all stay close together.

No 2 and 12 CGH’s have arrived and they are staying in No 7 and 8’s place as base hospitals because they are twelve hundred beds and we are moving up closer.   I am a little sorry to leave this happy spot but am always ready to be on the go and if everyone is going up,   That’s the place for me.   By the time you get this I should be there.

Kathie and I picked some long blackberry’s today. They were very good.

I am afraid I write to you in all my moods. I should wait until I calm down. Dick says I shouldn’t be a nurse at all but a war correspondent other than I would probably be put in jail for the things I’d write.   He said I should have been a journalist which I found very flattering when I consider the time I use to spend wishing to be one but not doing anything about it.  Oh well, I’m quite happy to be here in any capacity.

That G/C Bill MacBrien (St. Catherine) has a huge great dane called “Mike” who I adore.  He is as big as I am.

The children must be darling. I am dying to see them all.   I am praying that Jean will be well and fine and I am thinking about her often.  We had a lovely long letter form Connie.
Well, my pets be happy and good and all my love.
Patt
Now for my day……..

Many years ago I was pregnant with my last child.  Oh well, you might say, must have been pretty use to the process by then.  But the problem was that I had had two c-sections and one was a sudden event and the other was just a nightmare of complications.  I never seem to do anything easily.

So with this baby we had decided after hearing from other friends of ours about having Dad in the operating room we would see if we could do that.  Well, we did everything we were told to do except one thing – D went and spoke to the head of the hospital, the surgeons etc and they all said great, you can do that.  What they did not do was tell us that the people who run the ER are the anesthesiologists.  Not the OB-GYN..

I checked into the hospital the day before the scheduled surgery.  Went through all the nasty proceedures they put you through back in the old days and was settled down in bed ready to wait for the next day when we would meet our baby.  No ultrasounds in those days so we just figured it was either going to be Danny or Annie.  Then Mike Jakubowski walked into the room and introduced himself.  He was representing the anesthesiology group and informed D and I that if he was in the operating room they would not be there.  In retrospect we realized that the OB’s were using us to try and force the issue. The problem was that it was snowing out and what were we to do?  If I had been thinking straight I would have told them I was going home to decide what I would do next.  And maybe then I would have throught about my cousin John in Syracuse and called him to ask him if a member of his practice would deliver this baby.

As a result of all this upset we felt trapped, very upset and not in a good state of mind to be going through surgery.  And it turned out all hell broke lose after they put the needle in my back and rolled me over. I went into shock, the baby was in terrible danger and everyone was yelling about getting more people in there. Finally they did me a favor and put me out. I figured the kid was dead, they had been yelling for a pediatrician and another doctor etc. It was not the happiest day of my life and yet later I was happy when they finally showed the little guy to me and I knew he was breathing and okay.

The ped. and I both worried for a full year if he was going to be okay. He had been oxygen deprived for quite a while and was orange from all the blood he was swallowed.  Good thing Dan was positive and I was negative since if it had been the opposite he might have died from swallowing the blood. Happily he did everything ahead of schedule and when he turned one the doctor and I talked about how neither of us had said anything but had been watching him for deficits but none ever showed up.

Dan turned out to be the sweetest, nicest little guy and always there when I needed to be rescued.  I figure he is here for a reason and to do something special in life – not sure what that will be but he has always been special to me.

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my Danny Boy

Had a good ride home today. Lovely sunny crisp weather.  Glad to be home and back in my own bed.  Loved being with the kids in DC and will see them again really soon.

From the canadianencylopedia.ca  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/normandy-invasion/

The Normandy campaign finally ended on 21 August 1944, with Canadians playing an important role in closing the Falaise Gap and assisting in the capture of approximately 150,000 German soldiers. Now the pursuit of the enemy into Holland, Belgium and Germany could begin.

Total German casualties (killed and wounded) in the Normandy campaign were estimated at more than 200,000, while the Allies suffered 209,000 casualties among the more than two million soldiers landed in France since D-Day. Among those were more than 18,700 Canadians killed and wounded.

The Canadian War Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer, 2012. Image: © Richard Foot.

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March 15, 2015 – The rains keep coming – and the war rages on.

Had a tough night last night. Never went deeply to sleep.  It was a rough night for sure. Felt terrible this morning so slept in. Sinus still bothering me every morning. ;Guess it is time to call the doc before we head south.  Otherwise once I got up and got moving I got a lot done. Read the newspaper, ate breakfast, went for a long walk and got a bunch of work done on the computer for myself and N-CAP.  Then D and I watched the Union vs Quinipiac hockey game, which sadly Union lost so they are finished playing for the season.  Then we watched two episodes of the Killing which is such a good series. Oh, do we love Netflics. Can see how you could end up spending the whole weekend or day watching a marathon of some series.  Now I am watching Who do you think you are?  Love this show although I wish they would have some normal people on the show.  I don’t know if anyone could get us further back than we are but I will never have access to the kinds of help Josh Groban is getting.

In between all of this have been thinking a lot about Pat’s letters.  I am going to be going north and settling down to write a fictionalized version. Using her letters as the basis so most of it will come directly from the letters but then I am going to do research on the people mentioned in the letters and incorporate more about them in the story and the various battles and places.  After I do the research I need to do I will be able to find out exactly where they were.  Very excited about that.

Here is the letter for today now that Pat is in France and close to the heart of the battles.

#48
July 28, 1944

Dear Dad:
Congratulations, my pet about being a member of the Gyn & Ob Society.  I think it is wonderful but then you are anyway.   It was perfect getting your letter and one from Norah and Sr. Hughes. We don’t get mail often and it is lovely when it arrives.   Got Ferg’s parcel yesterday.   Say thanks to him and I will write him later.  Also I am going to send you a list of things I need or can use over here now that I know. Just send them anytime you happen to send anything and use my own money.

Kleenix
Cans (soup or fruit juice)
gum
jam and peanut butter
cheese
biscuits (fancy)
coffee (we can never get)
canned milk
fruit cake
mirror (could you send two very cheap ones, bit enough to see my face and collar etc. I broke the only one I had. We hang them in the tent on the poles)
(That is quite a list but you asked for suggestions and I don’t want everything together!!!)

And I need a good khaki trench coat.  I want one to wear over my battle dress in the fall and winter.  I thought Marye could try in on and have it hemmed and get Steacy’s to pack and send it.  But I want a good one, soft and complete with split up back, raglan sleeves etc. You know the type I have – always loved and it is one thing I can use later so I would be very grateful for that and it should really get here by the middle of Sept if you send it now.

I just read a long article on our hospital from a clipping from a paper (Can.) I wonder if it was in our paper and if you read it.  All about us going to war. Dreadful really but you would recognize the description of the house up north etc.

Well this is quite a good spot. Every time I look out of my tent some familiar person is crossing the orchard to see me.  We haven’t being going out, because we are standing by in case we start to admit so everyone comes over.  I never have a minute.  Went to bed early last nite and was just asleep when the air force and some army arrived so I had to get up.  Norm had been here earlier.  Came back from the front for a bath and dropped in.  Wonderful to see him but he had to get right back. Dick was in the other nite at twelve o’clock.  He was just passing through, next morning he flew back to England for a couple of days. The lads at the RCAF stations are here every nite. They take turns flying so there is always someone around.

Across a hedge from my tent there is an American camp. We are all jammed right in but there is lots doing, thank goodness because it is better not to ever think about it all. Things are pretty grim for the Canadians, wouldn’t you know they take the beating!   We never see a paper or hear the news or know what is going on. Unless like from Norm I get it first hand, otherwise we are isolated. P

PS. I didn’t notice this piece to write on. It is raining, rain every day but the tent is quite comfortable is a little damp. One of the boys made us a table for our basin etc. I am lucky though I have lots of warm sweaters etc. don’t need a thing, only the coat.

March 10, 2015 – Sister Reunion & Irish music

The title does not tell it all.  Was a wonderful day out. Warm, in the 40’s and lovely to be out in. I went to the town hall and opted out of them collecting twigs etc all spring and summer. They call it a fee, I call it additional taxes that I can refuse to pay.

Then I went to my chair yoga class and stretched out all my muscles that were sore from walking yesterday.  My dear neighbor Jo was there and next week I will pick her up and drive her.  She thinks she is the oldest person there.  When we moved here her daughter babysat for us and her husband stopped by and told us a lot of the history of our home since one of their daughters married one of the sons of this house way back then.  I rushed off to a meeting which was lots of fun. I love prevention meetings.  And then after making a lovely little gluten free pizza we headed off to the Capital District Celtic Cultural Association for a concert.  A trad group called Lunesa.  It appears most of them live in NY and the new guy in the group lives in Florida.  Don’t ask me how that works since I don’t have a clue. I suppose they could skype rehearsals.    Concert was great and we really enjoyed it. Went with friends Rich and Laura so that made it even more pleasant.

So that was my day and here are three more of Pat’s letters as they wait for the word as to when and where they will be going.  Must have been anxious times for all the military folks.

21 June 44’

Hello dears:
I got the parcel with the flannelette sheets. What a wonderful parcel. Thanks a million. Now I have enough things to do me forever so don’t worry about sending anything anymore. I will let you know in good time if I require anything. of course Kleenix I always need even though I use it much more sparingly than I ever did, but nothing else.   The magazines were perfect. I just pounced on them and I read the Register.   Very good “address” Frankie my love! after I read it I took it down to Padre O’Leary so he could read it and he was so happy to get it. He is a dear, doesn’t miss a trick but is a marvelous sport and we get along very well.
I loved Penny’s picture. Isn’t she sweet? I showed it to everyone and the gals thought she was beautiful. I always love to hear Maryes descriptions of her – I can just imagine her. Thank you Liz very much, she does you proud.

Had a box of Laura Secords from Cynthia Sims today. (V.A. D or O in Ottawa, remember) She is sweet, writes me all the time etc.

I was just going to start this to nite because I wrote yesterday but I seem as usual to get a lot written so will probably mail it.

Lib and I are staying in to-nite to recover from a 12 mile route march.   It nearly finished us as you can imagine.

Saw a movie the other nite “The Sullivan’s” it was marvelous and so sweet but rather tragic. I nearly died. it’s a true story about five brothers who went down on a ship in the South Pacific. But the story was a scream so real. maybe you saw it.

And oh yes, thanks for all the airmail forms. I was out of them and definitely we can’t have more than one a week now.

Haven’t had a letter fro ten days now. so hope you are all fine and having fun.   I suppose Marg will be down soon for her vacation.

Give everyone my bestest love and I do hope my mail is going through now.   Of course I am dying to hear about Sheila.   Every day I hope to hear from her because “times awaiting” if you only knew.
lots of love Pat

#37
23 June 44’

Hello dears:
Had a letter from Mother and one from Dad both were grand to get.   They took two weeks to get here, but it is wonderful getting them.

I have had a lovely week. Last week early I met a grand lad from Toronto, Paul Slathe? He was up here on a course so I have seen quite a bit of him and we have a marvelous time.   I hate to leave but c’est la guerre. I am getting used to this.

There is nothing new. I have recently written you so often. soon I shall be too busy to – I hope I haven’t got you spoiled.

I shall not be seeing Sheila – for awhile anyway, too bad eh!   So near and yet so far.  Oh well I kept hoping.

This will be very short but I wanted to get this off to you tonite.

I sent my two good travelling cases, my big trunk etc to kit storage did I tell you?  We are traveling very light these days.

Well, my pets must get to bed. all the children sound like great fun. I would love to hear Penny talk, see Michael walk, Mary and Brenda and of course my Fergie Joe. I bet he is having himself a good time on the farm.   I’m so glad Jeannie is feeling alright.   I know everything will be wonderful.   The place will be really an uproar when the Doherty’s arrive.
Good night and all my love,
Pat

27 June 44’

Dear Mother and Dad:

Last letter I wrote was so dull. Had nothing to tell you and this one there is so much to tell you. Such a beautiful spot. In peacetime it would be like Atlantic City, I imagine and we are having a grand time. I never think of the invasion because I’d be heart sick – so I just keep that far away from me.

Everyone here is very good to us like the other nite Lib and I and Mary Wright and Kathy MacDonald (they are the two Red Cross girls I was telling you about, they live with Lib and I and are very sweet) were having dinner at a perfect hotel complete with white linen tablecloth and serviette and after living the way we have been you’ll never know how grand it is to eat with the correct silver and take a lot of time and the food was marvelous – we had fresh strawberries and cream – (we priced some peaches the other day an they were 6 shillings for one, that is $1.25) which was wonderful and after we had coffee, the waiter brought us “sherry” with he said “a gentleman’s compliments and good luck wishes” and everything was paid for. We certainly appreciate gestures like that. Everyone is perfect to us.

Then we got a marvelous surprise. Robi walked in, she was looking for me, they are only a short distance from us.   It was so grand seeing her.  Polly McIlroy was with her, she’s a pal of mine too.

So yesterday Lib and Mary and I went over to see them and I had just arrived when girls came rushing out to me asking if I was Pat O’Connor so I said “yes” “well” they said “your sister is at “thirteen” dying to see you”   I just screamed of course and rushed to a phone booth down the street and got right through.  Isn’t that perfect.   She is only fifteen miles away so I am leaving in an hour to go over and I have a 24 hour pas so I shall stay all night. What marvelous luck!

I am not getting mail you see so none of her letters reached me and she was told wild stories about me so it looked bad for awhile but now everything is perfect. I don’t know if I can mail this but you will get it eventually. I’ll write and tell you all about the visit.  Sheila has Friday off so I hope she can come down here.   Dying for her to see this town.  It’s so lovely. Will tell you where sometime.    If she can’t I’ll go back to see her.

Hope everyone is well and happy and lots of love, Patt.

Information about Portsmouth where I believe Pat was waiting to go over. This comes from their D-Day Museum site on line.  i did some other looking on line and found that those heading for Juno beach did leave from  Southampton/Portsmouth.

Over the centuries, Portsmouth Harbour has witnessed the preparation and departure of many military and naval expeditions. None has been on such a scale and required such concentrated effort as Operation Overlord in June 1944.

Preparations for Operation Overlord led to restrictions on the movement of the people of Portsmouth. In August, 1943, Southsea seafront was declared a restricted zone, and on April 1, 1944, Portsmouth was part of the 10-mile deep coastal strip, from the Wash to Land’s End, closed to all visitors. By the spring of 1944 southern England was fast becoming a huge armed camp, as men, vehicles, stores and ammunition moved to their marshalling areas. Portsmouth was the headquarters and main departure point for the military and naval units destined for Sword Beach on the Normandy coast. Taking advantage of the natural woodland cover, the troops camped to the north and east of Portsmouth.

Looking down from Portsdown Hill there were so many ships and landing craft to be seen that it seemed as though it would be possible to walk from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight across their decks. The troops were sealed into their camps on May 26 so that the final briefings could begin. Then as D-Day approached, the men began to embark for the cross-channel assault from Southsea beach, the naval dockyard, Gosport, Stokes Bay and numerous other points along the south coast.

Southwick House, just to the north of Portsmouth, had been chosen as the headquarters for the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower. Terrible weather delayed D-Day by 24 hours, but then Eisenhower announced his decision to launch the invasion with the famous words – “OK, let’s go.” On the morning of June 6 the people of Portsmouth awoke to find the vast armada of ships had gone. The streets hitherto choked with military traffic were deserted. Simple messages had been chalked on the roads by the departing troops: “Thank you, Cowplain,” “Thank you, Waterlooville.” D-Day had come.

The following is a list of some key sites associated with D-Day in the Portsmouth area:

1. Southwick House: Here the Allied commanders, led by US General Dwight Eisenhower – the Supreme Allied Commander – decided that D-Day would be on 6 June 1944.

2. Fort Southwick: Tunnels underneath this Victorian fort housed the Combined Operations Headquarters, which co-ordinated and monitored the progress of the D-Day invasion fleet.

3. Christ Church, Portsdown: On 4 June 1944, the headquarters staff of British 2nd Army (which controlled the British and Canadian troops who landed on D-Day) held a service here.

March 6, 2015 – So war is about parties and flowers????

“Accept who you are without judgement or criticism”

Grand day today.  Took me some time to get up but eventually I did and called Judi to tell her I would be late meeting her for breakfast..  This not wanting to get up in the mornings is really getting bad..   But I got there and we had a great talk about her trip to her granddaughters birthday and she spent some time reminding me of why I do what I do.  And she told me a funny story about someone who drives us both crazy.   Well, drives just about everyone crazy. I am still giggling over it.  Then we went to our meeting which went well.  Great way to meet having some people in the room and a whole bunch of others on the phone.  Makes having a statewide meeting that gives everyone the opportunity to participate.  Then we all visited a whole bunch more and I got to spend some time with the folks from OASAS who I dearly love.  Then I went to try and find batteries for our phones. All three phones are not happy when I talk more than 10 minutes. They all die which says to me their batteries are all running out at the same time.  Such fun.  Could not find them in the store so will order them on line. I love both hardware stores and business stores like Staples.  What is that about?  Anyway, came home and was so tired I fell into bed until 5:30. Am I getting old or something? Like maybe sitting up until 1 am playing Suduko’s on my ipad in the dark and listening to CBC radio?  Okay, I feel like I am in 3rd grade all over again. Bad habits don’t go away, they just hide.

Anyway, here is tonight’s letters from Pat.

3 May ‘44
No 8 Cnd Gen Hospital

Dear Sheila,

This will be late for your birthday but I hope it is a good one and that Marye brought you something nice from me. I haven’t much to tell you because I wrote the other night.

Mon nite I had off so I went down to L……. and stayed all nite. The country is wonderful down in that district. We (Dick, Norm and I) walked for miles around the hills. The apple and cherry trees are in bloom and there are orchards full of them. Every little while we came to an old fashioned sty to get from one field to the next. The moon came up and it was as bright as day and very warm. The towns are very quaint, most of them are hilly and you can look up at the way they wind and there is usually a church bell ringing. Of course I could rave on for hours. We had a grand evening. I stayed at a small hotel – it had a perfect garden with magnolia trees, and a pool. I came back in the morning.

I have so much to do, this packing is dreadful. Every day they change their minds about what we can take and how much. I am storing all my civilian clothes and my blues, just taking one outfit of blues – our battle dress is perfect. Mine fits wonderfully well. I am trying get snaps taken so I can send you one. I love it. We go for drill every day. We marched for miles today with full kit on our backs in the hot sun. I didn’t mind it but I think it all is a little mad. I am coming off “nites” tomorrow morning so I can pack etc. I won’t go back on duty while we are still here and I guess we won’t be working this summer just training but I will keep you informed.

This letter is full of shop but I haven’t much more news than that. I hope you are having fun. Paul sounds perfect. Tell me all about it. Love to everyone. And many happy birthdays. Patt.

#22 — 6 May ‘44
#8 Cdn Gen Hosp

Hello dears:

Once again I am living in a ward with 26 other girls amid trunks and bags and boxes. I had to buy a smaller trunk the other day to take and store my big one full of my clothes. we had to get sleeping bags, convertible beds, bath tubs, kits with new tins, water bottles etc. I am living with Lib Madden and Eileen Hanson now. They are my best friends now that Robbie has gone. We look forward to the post-war days when Eileen lives in Kingston with Ed and Lib is in Napanee and I’m in Kingston. They are very sweet and it’s good to have them around.

I got Sheila’s “ordinary mail” letter today. I always love to hear from you – it will be wonderful if you get over. I get excited just thinking about it. Of course I want you way back nowhere near the thick of it, but I’d love you to see it all. And I’m so glad you are having fun, no one deserves it more and didn’t I tell you long ago that you would love it. Paul sounds absolutely perfect. I’d love to know him.

Did I tell you Robbie is going to be married as soon as her six months over here is finished. She met “Perk” the first minutes we were here – he is Senator Perkin’s son and very, very nice. Physically he isn’t terribly attractive being fat and not good looking but that does not mean a thing and Robbie being a complete snob happens to like all he has to offer – you know. family, security, money. I’ve told her all that and she agrees with me wholly but we also agree that we are as different as day to nite. I shall be bridesmaid – sort of exciting, then Eileen and Ed plan to be married soon. That will be perfect too.

Dick got his majority the other day and Norm and he came down my first nite off and we celebrated. Dick is coming down tonite and tomorrow I am going to L… (London) for dinner and evening. Should be fun but alas all will be over soon. Did you tell me you were saving my letters. I am not allowed to keep a diary for security reasons so I would like them as a sort of record later if it isn’t too much trouble. It shouldn’t be long now anyway till all is over. As soon as they see the RCAMC moving in they’ll be scared. Lots of love and kisses. keep well and I’ll be writing soon again, Pat

#23
12 May ‘44
No 8 Cdn Gen Hosp

Hello Dears:

A whole week of doing nothing and the weather is perfect. We stopped our drill etc. and are just waiting now.

I have a marvelous tan for so early in May. Each day we (Lib, Eileen, Hollie Sloan and myself) go somewhere. We either take the train or a bus or bicycles and go for tea in some little town. Everything is so lovely but I won’t rave too long. the rhododendrons are in bloom now and for miles the country is covered with their deep colour. Wisteria crops over the houses and there are so many other flowers, every shrub has a blossom of some description.

I took the train the other day to visit Peter’s grave. I told you I found it, didn’t I. I look some flowers. The Canadians have a beautiful cemetery, not like anything you see in Canada, just like a huge park and maybe because everyone buried there is young and like him that it doesn’t seem like a graveyard. I took a snap of the temporary cross at his grave. You would be amazed to see now many Canadians have died. I felt very badly and depressed.

Was at a party at the Officers mess the other nite and Allan Miner was there. He said to tell Dad he was asking for him. He said that Dad was remembered more than any other Queen’s man by the men who went through. He said each one remembered him individually as a friend – what a man eh! – you are – of course I agree heartily but they all talk about you for ages and keep reminding me not to forget to tell you.

Was over playing golf – at it – the other day – at a perfect club. we stayed for tea and the evening. Norm and Dick are down when they can. working terribly hard these days though.

No 4 CGH moved in last nite. Saw Helen Shanks for a minute. She brought it over you know and has her Majority. Haven’t seen the others yet. I am dying to hear what Sheila is coming with. Isn’t it wonderful.
We had some groups pictures taken the other day of the unit so well send them home for you to see and keep for me. We took some snaps also that I will send you as soon as they are done. In my battle clothes… Well dears, must go to dinner. Hope the weather is nice in Canada and you are all well and happy. love and kisses, Pat
The Peter she mentions was Peter McLaughin who Aunt Mary was in love with and turned down because of not being Catholic. He married someone else and then went off to war and was killed in action.  He was the love of her life they always said.   Majority means they were make the rank of Major.  Her father was an obstetrician in Kingston Ontario and also taught at Queens Medical School, that is why men were always coming up to her and asking to be remembered to her dad.  What I love is the comments they had to say about how great he was. We loved him very much and he was  wonderful but to hear that his students felt he was special says a lot more. 

March 2, 2015 – Meaningful Monday

My blood pressure must be up hugely in the last hour.   After several years of trying to figure out how to find a living relative of my Aunt Pats love of WWII I finally struck gold today. I am stunned and so happy. This evening I am going to have a conversation with a fellow from Edmonton who appears to be the Gr nephew of this fellow.  So, hopefully I will find out the rest of the story on his side and then be able to tell them about our connection.  I wonder if they already know.  Anyway, I will tell you the results later.

Here are two more letters from England.  I love the descriptions of the war torn areas and how those who had lost their homes were living and then contrasted with the “fabulous” social life and the fact that they got decent food to eat and went out dancing etc. Just hard to put two and two together.

Today was a clear bright sunny day and then I went outside and found that it was cold and windy and that wind just cut through me. So I returned inside and started reading a grant I am reviewing for a group I just want so much to get the grant. It was awful to read since they had not taken any of my advice. It needs a ton of work and part of me just feels like writing it up for them using their data and facts but putting it all in order. But they are not paying me and they have to do this. They have grant writers in there community who should be able to do this.  Time is running out. Then I started working on other things, such as my insurance appeal. They paid something incorrectly and I cannot just tell them to fix it, now I have to put everything in writing and send in an appeal. They are  a pain in the butt.  They told me it was Medicare’s rule but I checked with my medicare expert who informed me, no, ,medicare has no such rules. it is the insurance company… Darn them and I like this one so much, then they lie to their people in the trenches instead of just saying it is our new policy. LIers, Liers, pants on firer.

By the way for my cousins, at the end of this first letter there is something about Danny boy. Jean was pregnant at this time and I wonderful if they had decided it was going to be a boy?????  Sorry Maureen…

March 27, 1944 Part 2
Went up to London the other nite. Had dinner and danced and before we took the train we went down through the “tube” (the tube is the underground railway in London), you can get anywhere in a very few minutes by getting on one of the trains. Every station is well marked and they are very cheap – about 3 cents in our money, anyway, the man I was with wanted me to see the crowds of people sleeping down beside the tracks. All bombed out of their homes. It is the most pathetic sight, every nite they come in droves with their few possessions. There is no place else for them. I certainly appreciate my luck when I see such things.

I have decided to tell you about the raids. One of the M.O.’s told me if you tell your family then they know but if you don’t then they think you are keeping things back and they start imagining things. There have been more raids lately than ever before since the real blitz in ’40 and ’41. We are in no great danger. London gets most of it but now and then one or two get away from the squadrons and are lost so they unload their bombs wherever they like just to get rid of them. Every nite there is an “alert” if I am still up or not quite asleep I hear it but if I am asleep I never wake up. Everyone thinks it is wonderful because the noise is quite something. You can hear the thud of the bombs and the “ach ach” makes a lot of noise. The windows in the cottage shake – but this is about all. Nothing to worry about and nothing compared to what our fliers do to them. I was out with an air force officer the other nite. A grand lad. He was a navigator and had made three ops in one week. It was marvelous talking to him. Aren’t they wonderful?

Sat nite we had a big party in our mess. It was No 8’s second birthday and it was such fun. Charles Robinson (Margo’s brother) came over for the weekend so I took him and the chap I was taking. Charles is a darling. Saw Mac Brown and George Curry. They asked for Dad. The mess was all decorated and the orchestra was good and it was a great success. Well dears, I hope these get to you fast. With all my love, Patt.

PS. Tell Jean I sent her a little English wood for Danny boy. It is marvelous wool. Hope it gets there.
April 1, 1944

Here I am in the Northern Hotel in Aberdeen Scotland. Our leave started on Weds so Margo and I caught the train to London at 4:30 pm. We went straight to the theatre because the evening performances start at 5:45. We checked our bags and carried our haversacks for overnite. We were going to see the Lunts in “There Shall Be No Nite” we just got into the lobby of the theatre and ran straight into Capt. Joe Greenblatt (he was at the Rideau for a while with us.) He asked us to have dinner with him after the show, so after seeing it and it was wonderful if grim, we joined him and he took us to the Carlow Club where we had a marvelous dinner. “Fillet de mignon” that is the first I have had since I left Canada.

After we decided to go somewhere else and we were walking down Berkely St. in the rain when this naval officer passed by and he kept slowing up and suddenly he turned around and grabbed Joe G and it was Joe Clark 41” (Dad knows his uncle well and he was a pal of Bob K. and Ger R.) He recognized his voice in the pitch dark. So he joined us and we went to the Park Lane Hotel to dance and had a perfect evening.

Maggie and I were staying at the n/s club. It is really a lovely place even though I dislike woman’s clubs. It is the old Westair home and only for Can Nursing Sisters. The rooms are sweet, the beds marvelous, breakfast in bed, a gas fireplace where you drop a shilling in and it goes for hours. The food is marvelous because the Red Cross supplies it. And it only cost 5 shllings (1.25) a nite where hotels cost about 25 shillings.

So Thurs Joe G who was staying near us at the Junior Officers Club came over and had lunch with us, then we met Joe G and went to see “Panama Hattie” Bebe Daniels was the star of it and she still is wonderful. It was so funny. Ferg would love it, the music etc are perfect. After that we had dinner and danced at one of the Clubs the Bagetel where three orchestras play on a revolving disc. Very nice spot.

Fri. am at 10 o’clock we caught the train to Scotland. It was a very long ride even on the fast train called the Flying Scot. We didn’t get here until 11:30 pm. The trip was grand though. The scenery is so beautiful. Most of the way once we were in Scotland was along the North Sea, the coast line very rugged with very rocky coves where the waves rolled in and dashing over the rocks. The earth is red and the farms look very thriving.. Dad would love all the well laid out farming land. And of course the heather grows over all the hills and is very lovely.

We had to take our lunch with us because there is no dining car. Mother would have loved seeing me on the train with my parcel and sitting in a compartment with six other people. We had first class tickets but that doesn’t mean a thing. We were in third class because we were late. However it is quite an experience and a lot of fun. The day I left I had received Ferg and Connie’s box which was wonderful so I took along the package of cookies and the choc bars and we got sandwiches at the Club. Before I left I gave our batman the coffee because we get quite a bit and the privates don’t and I like to give Bill little things because he is so good to us. So he took it gladly and in a little while I heard him come back and call up “Sister, you missed the secret of this coffee” and he brought me up the bottle of jam which I pounced on. It looks so marvelous. So I told him when I get back I would make him a sandwich to taste it.

But to go on, we arrived in Aberdeen and to this perfect hotel, the rooms remind me of the Alpine, so we had a bath, a hot drink and sandwiches and went to bed and this morning we had a grand breakfast in bed and now I am writing this. I may not be able to mail them until I get back but you will get them eventually. I hope Dad had a lovely birthday today. I think I have told you before but I did pay for the dressing gown and did not get it so if you can get the money back okay and I will get one over here. Things are so expensive over here that I still can’t believe it. Dresses are 10 pounds, this is just ordinary ones. Suits are 18 pounds, movies are 5 shillings for the cheapest seats, dinners are 7 or 8 shillings for spam and cold potatoes and very bad coffee. Thank God I usually don’t have to pay for mine and I find over here the only time I have to spend money is on leave or your day off, at the camp there is nothing to spend it on. Will write more later and tell you everything. Love Patt

February 25, 2015 – The second big adventure

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. 

February 24, 2015 – WWII story of Pat O’Connor

My dear brother who is so kind to read this blog suggested that I start at the beginning as people might be confused about what this story is about and who it is about.

Frances Patricia O’Connor was the seventh child of Dr. and Mrs. Fergus O’Connor Sr.  She grew up in Kingston Ontario in this large family of little people – they were all short. – Under 5’5″. When she graduated from High School I don’t know if she went to any college or not but eventually she went to Nursing School at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston along with her sister Sheila.

In 1943 after graduating from Nursing School and working for awhile she joined the Canadian Army with the goal of going over seas to assist in the war effort and her personal goal was to get over as near as possible to the front where she really felt she could be of help to the forces fighting the war.  From the time she left on the ship going to England she wrote home on a regular basis and her family kept her letters.  When her sister Mary died several years ago the letters were entrusted to me since I am the cousin who is into genealogy and has been working for years transcribing old letters and documents so everyone could have copies.

Since I received many boxes of items from Aunt Mary’s apartment I slowly went through them all looking to see what we had there.  When I found Aunt Pat’s letters I started to read through them and was totally fascinated.  Because it was war she could not write exactly where she was or much about the fighting aspects but she did write a lot about the social life and the men she met, plays she saw, the quality of the food, her feelings about the people of each country where she was at the time etc.  I was totally drawn into her story.

My Mom had been very close to Pat since when they were young the three older girls in the family were each assigned one of the three younger girls to take care of. My mother was given Pat as her special kid.  Mom would get Pat up in the morning, get her cleaned up, dressed and down for breakfast. Then after school she would entertain her, take her out for walks and make sure they got to dinner on time and got her ready for bed.  My Grandmother had a busy active household and I guess this helped her out. My mom never talked about it like it was a chore. It made them very close and so when Pat died of cancer when she was 29 my Mom was very upset since it was like losing her first child.

My own memories of Aunt Pat are from one visit she and her sister Sheila made to us when we lived in Buffalo as children.  They arrived in their Army Uniforms and I was so impressed. They stayed in my bedroom so their uniforms were hanging on the back of my door.  I have this vivid memory of standing there and staring at those uniforms and dreaming of what I would look like in one.

After reading Pat’s letters or many of them, I decided to transcribe all of them and any more I could find from that time period and then put the originals in good acid free file holders and put them all in a binder and donate them to the Canadian War Museum.  Along with a copy of the printed out transcribed letters so that those doing research would not have to handle her letters but could read the copies.   My cousins agreed with that idea and that they would be available to future generations of family members if they wanted to see them or if they were put up on the net for all to see.

About this same time I began to realize that her story would make a great read as a book. So for the last two years I have been playing around writing out segments of the letters in story form as historical fiction since I have added some dialogue and written it at times as if I were her doing the telling.  I am still trying to figure out which would be the best way to approach the telling, 1. using the letters themselves edited to just tell the story; 2. Write it from a first person point of view with her telling her story after returning home or 3. write it from a story tellers point of view – third person.   So that is all yet to be decided.

My goal is to get this off the ground sooner than later and I may use this blog to start that process.  This is something I wrote a year ago about the beginning of her adventure. I framed the story with her telling her sister in law Jean about her time over seas and having her use the letters to jog her memory about the details.  I hope you like it.

The Beginning
In 1943 I graduated from Hotel Dieu as an Registered Nurse and after working there for a bit made the decision to sign up for the Army. They were in desperate need of nurses and I wanted some adventure. My deepest hope was to be sent overseas and to be as near the war front as possible. But in the beginning I was sent to the Ottawa Military Hospital. I guessed it would be the same as basic training for the new members of the Army.
I learned all the military protocols and it was not much different than working in a public hospital. There was a chain of command and as nurses we lived in a residence with the other nurses. We worked long shifts that rotated week after week from days to evenings to nights. We had dress uniforms, they were blue and if I say so myself I looked pretty darn good in mine. But for our daily work it was white nurse’s uniforms and hats. As I worked I constantly met people who had either studied under Dad at the Queen’s University Medical School or who were in Medical School with either Fergus or Maurice. Occasionally I would also meet some fellow who had dated one of my older sisters. I guess that is what happens when you come from a large family. It seemed everyone I met knew some one from 193 Earl St.
On our time off we picnicked, went on dates with some wonderful men and went home for long weekends or to our friends hometowns. Liz Graham had this well-to-do friend Cecil De Meara in Toronto who called me up one week and then flew down to take me out to dinner. He took me to the Chateau for dinner and then dancing at the Avalon and then to El Rancho to eat. Wow it was a great time. Jean laughed at my description of this oh so wealthy suitor. I assured her it was just another date. I did not want a serious relationship since I wanted to go to the war, to see the action. I have no regrets about not allowing myself to get serious about any of the men I dated. I had plenty of time, I thought, for a long term relationship. Jean just smiled as I told her this and we had a little laugh. She was so good for me.
Finally in the fall of 1943 the word came that we were being sent over to England and would be assigned to one of the Canadian Military Hospitals over there and might be sent to the war if needed. The months in Ottawa had been wonderful fun. While on duty we cared for the soldiers who came back from the war with various injuries. They told us their stories but it seemed so unreal. Many had been affected more mentally than physically but still it was hard to understand. I deeply desired to be there and see for myself what it was like. My family could not understand this desire in me but did not stop me from signing up or from going. I went home on leave just before leaving. Maurice as always gave me some of his advice. “Stay away from the married ones or the ones just out for a good time”. “Thanks” I told him, “I think I can handle that” My sisters were sure I would snag a doctor while over there and come back a war bride. “Nope, not going to happen” I assured them. I was not going to be husband hunting, I was going for adventure and fun I told them.
Back in Ottawa we were told what we needed to pack and how much we could bring with us. They said we would be outfitted with battle dress once we arrived in England but there were lists of what we could take and what items we might not be able to purchase once overseas such as tea, coffee, cigarettes, soap, nylons, cookies and other things. The family told me they would ship over items to me to see that I never ran out. But they also filled my trunk with so many goodies. I had at the time wondered if they would still be there by the time we arrived in England. I always enjoyed a good snack and a cigarette and sharing those with my comrades in arms would be normal.

In January of 1944 we left by train for Montreal, there we would change trains and go to Halifax and on to Debert for last minute training and then to our ship. I had planned to see my sister Eileen, her husband Bill and daughter Jane at the Montreal Train Station. I looked for them but then our train was called for boarding. We rushed down to get a compartment together. There were four of us nurses who were great friends traveling together and we did not want to be split up. We got settled and then one of the other girls came along and said Eileen and Bill were up top looking for me. I rushed from the train and started towards the steps. A conductor reached out and stopped me. “The training is leaving and if you are going to be on it better get back inside.” With Bill and Eileen and little Jane looking down from above I waved and jumped on the train as it started to leave. That was a close one.

The ride seemed to go on forever but we had a great time on the train. Everyone was so excited to finally be going overseas. Most of us had never been far from home before so this was going to be a grand adventure. Debert was the staging area for all troops preparing to be sent overseas. They went over all the rules with us, what we could say and not say in letters home, how to protect ourselves from gas attacks, and the “rules” of conduct. I know it was all to protect us and keep the enemy from learning things about troop position but it was like being in school again. There seemed to be thousands of us in Debert and I could not wait to get moving east.

We had heard how the people were shipped over on a variety of different ships and it turned out we were going on a British ship. It was not very large compared to some of the others that were in the port. The biggest boat I had ever been on was the one that take people on tours of the Thousand Islands and this seemed huge compared to that one. Once we were all boarded in Halifax the excitement grew and grew. We all stood on the deck as the ship left port. I stayed and watched until there was nothing left to see of Canada and wondered when I would ever see it again.

The staff on the ship was heavenly. We were served tea every afternoon, we sunbathed up on the deck during the day and in the evening there was entertainment in the lounge with coffee. It was more like a cruise than a ship full of army medical staff heading for a war. About January 14th we ran into a storm. My poor friends, Ruth and Maggie, were down below throwing up. We could not eat as the sea was so rough. I thought it was the most exhilarating thing I had every experienced. I spent hours standing on the deck watching the waves as high as sky scrapers tossing the ship like it was a feather. The sailors would come up and say to me “Miss, don’t you think you would like to come inside where it is safer?” I would laugh at them and just said “NO, I love it out here.”   They would keep coming and checking to make sure I was not swept overboard. I hung on and stayed there for hours. All I could think of was how much more fun it would have been if Marye had been here with me. She would have loved the dark wildness of the huge storm. It only lasted for two days but the winds howled and the waves were like mountains. Then as suddenly as it started it stopped. Ruth and Maggie, poor girls still could not eat. Both of them were sea sick the entire trip. Not me, I loved the entire experience. We were treated very well on the ship. We have tea in the afternoon and refreshments at nite and coffee in the lounge after each meal.

What I could not tell in letters was that we were escorted across by battle ships. There was always concern about our being torpedoed by German submarines. I think some of the nurses were really more afraid of that happening than the storm or the sea in general. I also heard from one of the sailors that during the storm a tug has been lost “the Adherent” it was a British ship that the storm just over took. I realized then that I probably should have listened to the crew who were worried about me. They knew better than I about the dangers. OH well, it was too late for that worry!

One day as I was lounging on the deck one of the sailors came long and pointed out some land to the south. I was so excited to finally see Ireland. Here I was so close and yet so far. One of my wish list items was to see Ireland and that was it, from miles away on a ship. They were neutral in the war so we were never allowed to go over. I enjoyed seeing it even from a distance but have always regretted my inability to actually put foot on the Old Sod and now I know I will never have the chance. Two days after that we docked in Scotland on January 24th.