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Oh Mother...! The Father Chronicles

65 Years Ago Today, My Dad Wrote This:

A Letter from Overseas-1944
A Letter from Overseas-1944
Taken June 18, 2009 with Canon PowerShot A550

In three days’ time, my father will have been dead for a year. I have a hard time believing that.

Sometimes, it feels as if he’s been gone forever. Other times, I hang up the phone mid-dial, when I remember that he won’t be there to answer whatever question I wanted to ask him – usually about World War II.

I didn’t ask him enough questions…

A while ago, I wrote here that I was going to publish all the letters Dad wrote home to my mom. I’ve since had the chance to read them, and truthfully (surprisingly), they don’t make great blog-fodder.

Instead, I will publish just this one – which my mother has given to me to keep, as it seems to have just a little bit of everything in it. It’s very strange to read my father’s words while he was courting my mother (while my mother was courting somebody else – gasp…!); he sure was a tease – I can just hear his voice when I read this.

Anyhoo… I’ve kept the syntax the way he wrote it – some sentences may need to be read twice to get the proper gist – but I’ve taken the liberty of breaking things up into paragraphs. I guess paper was at a premium, and he didn’t want to waste it.

He was training in England when he wrote this.

 

July 19, 1944
#1 C.O.R.V. C.A.O.S.

Dear Teacher –

I received your letter and pictures to-night so here goes for a start at least. I don’t know when I’ll finish this.

Say how do you manage those pictures anyway? That ‘close up’ of you alone looks like Dorothy Lamour. They were all very good and Thanks a million for sending them. Now I’ll have something to spend my spare moments at gazing.

There was a buzz bomb went over a few minutes ago and of all the jobs I had to doing. By the time I realized what it was and got outside it had gone past.

I thought it was a squadron of our own planes until it was right above us – one of the fellows here has had his camera ready for a couple of weeks intending to get a picture of one but they seem to be too fast.

They make a terrific noise and fly very low and fast. It is only a few seconds from the time you first hear them until they are gone out of hearing and at night look like a ball of fire in the sky.

This place seems to be charmed or something. There has been any number of them went over but none have taken a notion to stop here yet. The closest were a mile or so away and just shake the windows and doors.

Well I wouldn’t mind if I could get a couple of weeks leave on the Island now. I can imagine the nice weather you would be having there. I am kind of disgusted with the weather over here. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the winter and summer.

We had a few weeks nice weather the last of March and since it has been raining about three parts of the time. The fogs are beginning to start now & also the blackouts again.

I wouldn’t mind so much but through what nice weather there was we weren’t allowed any leave and by the time this course is over the fog will be so thick we’ll have to carry a shovel with us to make a way for us. Of course that shovel would be handy to have along for the B.S. too wouldn’t it?

This is a sort of gloomy letter I guess it’s the army blues.

I hear they are going to give the 7 day leaves soon (I hope. I have 16 days coming now). They have already lifted the ban on train travel & the 20 mile limit. Before we had to ride on the buses or hitchhike as the trains were supposed to be reserved for the evacuees. I guess all the small towns are filled with them now.

Bill (Ahem…* Sorry to interrupt: Bill is my mother’s brother) thinks England is O’K. eh? To tell the truth I like it a lot better than Canada too as far as army life goes. I’d sooner be in Canada just for the sake of being in my own country though.

The stuff isn’t rationed as much now as it was. We can get most of the things you can in Canada but only in small amounts and they use you more like a human than an animal.

With the odd bomb around and France not far away you’d be surprised the difference it makes to the N.C.O.’s & officers. There are very few A.W.L’s here. Fellows that were always away in Canada never think of going loose here.

For one thing there really isn’t anything to go on the loose for like Canada. No means of travel and no place to go or stay or eat if you did go.

Say I hope you don’t get tired of reading this monotonous thing supposed to be a letter and throw it away before you finish.

I had a letter from Edith, my sister-in-law last week. You should see some of the queer English expressions but I’m getting used to them. I suppose if I’m over here another year I’ll be completely “Limetized”. There is a Limey camp right near us and we see quite a few of them often.

Did you know Jack MacMillan from Cockburn Island? I met him in the canteen last week. He is here on an A.F.V. course. I had quite a chat with him. It almost seemed like going home.

Well I haven’t been out of camp for a month now. I think I’ll go on a “bender” at the wet canteen and then settle down for the duration of the course and get ready for trade test Bay. It is only 4 weeks away now. It’s nearly three months since I came here and it only seems about three weeks.

By the way don’t let Eiro tickle you too much (I HOPE). It makes me nervous and I’d hate to have to tell the instructor some day what is wrong with me. ha. ha.

Let me know how your pictures of you and Helen and you and Helen and you and you and Helen, turned out eh? If I were you I would move my shorts around and get all sunburned the same. That would feel too much like shaving only one side of your face (Of course I’m not you though).

How are you and the cows getting along in the mornings?

Well I guess I’ll close as there isn’t anything else I can think of. In fact there was nothing to write about in the first place: Write soon & long.

Love Matt.
XXXXXX
XXXXX

(over)

I’m getting so I can almost start an argument with myself eh?

A Doctor in Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee was called to examine the young wife of an elderly, deaf mountaineer. “Your wife is pregnant” he told her husband.

Mountaineer, hand behind his ear, queried, “eh”?

The doctor shouted, “I said your wife is pregnant.”

“Eh?”

Finally the doctor screamed, “Your wife is going to have a baby.”

The man walked to the edge of the porch, spat out a mouthful of tobacco juice, and drawled, “I ain’t a bit surprised. She’s had every opportunity.”

Excuse the writing. It is slightly worse than usual as there is a poker game going on, on the next bunk & every once in awhile somebody just has to step back & shake my bunk.

I would dearly love to know what “job” it was that my dad was doing when that buzz bomb went over. I don’t know if he started writing the next sentence without realizing he hadn’t finished the last, or if it was something a little embarrassing and he didn’t want to say. Perhaps, he was in the latrine…?

My mother still remembers writing to him about that sunburn she got, from laying for too long in one position. And how her father used to give the girls holy hell for going out in public wearing shorts. He thought it was shameful.

And I guess one might have to be a man to figure out how shaving one side of your face might feel the same… does shaving hurt like sunburn?! I wanna know.

Random Song-for-the-Day: “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” – Meatloaf

Categories
The Father Chronicles

Mein Kluben! Mein Kluben!

Image: Princess Louise Dragoon
4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards Emblem
Taken March 1, 2008 with Canon PowerShot A550

clipped from www.rcaca.org

Historical Sketch

On 26 January 1941, the Regiment mobilized the 4th (Active) Princess Louise Dragoon Guards.

This unit was converted to armour and redesignated 4th Reconnaissance Battalion (4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards) on 11 February 1941. The battalion was formed from personnel from 1st Canadian Infantry Division in the United Kingdom together with reinforcements from Canada in July 1941. On 08 June 1942, it was redesignated as 4th Reconnaissance Regiment (4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards).

  blog it

My dad was stationed in Belgium for his first gig during World War II. It was there that he contracted diphtheria and ended up on a wild back-and-forth middle-of-several-nights not-what-we-might-call-an-ambulance ride with two hot Australian chicks between Ostend and Amsterdam and a hospital ship that would (eventually) sneak him successfully to hospital for months of recovery.

He teased those nurses the whole time he was under their care – it’s a wonder they didn’t just dump him out on a back road somewhere. “Whad’ya wanna live in Australia for?! All ya got there is SHEEP!!” I wish I’d recorded his imitation of the insulted nurses when they retorted, “We’ve got cities and towns! Just like you’ve got!” My dad sure knows how to piss a woman off…

Prior to his grand contagious escape, my dad’s job was to “guard” an outdoor sports arena. He wasn’t guarding it from the Germans – they were being kept out of Belgium fairly handily by 1943-44 – but from the locals. This arena was where they would come once a day, lined up and dressed in their very best clothes, carrying any container from their pantry they could carry, to pick up food passed out by Canadian Army personnel off a truck. He said it was a strange sight – all these folks dressed up in their finery, waiting for a meal with cooking pots in their hands – even the kids. It was a little kid that made him realize that he didn’t have a clue what he was doing there….

Dad’s job during the daylight hours was to keep the people cordoned off while other personnel were unpacking the trucks and setting up tables and food, etc. Officers ate first, followed by infantrymen, and then the townfolk got their share. Sometimes, understandably so, I think, this made them a little impatient. It was up to my dad to be tough, cruel and frightening, and order them back beyond the barrier to wait their turns. My dad was 23. Ha.

He said, most times, all he had to do was wave his gun menacingly and growl and they would settle down. He growled because he couldn’t speak the language. He waved his gun because he didn’t know what else to do with it.

His gun was a bit of a joke, anyway, he said. It was a “sten gun”, jumbled together from metal pipes and “you wouldn’t recognize the thing as a gun at all, unless you knew what it was.” It worked, though; it was actually a formidable weapon, firing automatic 303 cartridges. My dad pronounces “303” as “3-aught-3”. He’s Canadian, you know.

Sometimes, at night, he would be assigned to guard a certain path into the sports arena – one designated for soldiers only, and he was to turn back all non-military personnel with no exceptions. Sometimes, locals would try to get by him with fake ID cards, crudely put together that had no hope in hell of passing for anything official. This part of the job was boring, and sometimes for a lark, my dad would pretend to be greener than he was, and be “fooled” by the most ridiculous-looking, fakest-looking card that was passed to him, and let the guy holding it through. He said that usually the guy would have a hard time keeping the surprised look off his face and continue down the path.

When I asked why he could get away with letting these people through, he said, “They weren’t spies – they were looking to shorten the food line for themselves, that’s all.”

One day, while standing behind the cordon between the food and the people, my dad started having trouble with one little girl and her family. He would shoo them back, and turn to keep an eye on everybody else, and when he looked back again, there they would be, sneaking under the cordon, that little girl, especially. Finally, he’d had enough.

He watched from the corner of his eye as the little girl snuck further and further, and then suddenly ran at her, yelling at the top of his lungs. Had he done this to one of his own kids in later years, it would have put the fear of the devil himself into whichever one of us he was yelling at, but this kid stood there and stared him down. He didn’t know if she was paralyzed with fear, or standing defiant, but he kept yelling as he slung his sten gun over his shoulder and bent down and hooked her up under the armpits with his other arm, stomped to the cordon and dumped her over it. There.

He didn’t have his back fully turned before the little brat was back under the rope. He picked her up again and put her back behind it. And she started yelling at him!

“Mein kluben! Mein kluben!” and under the rope she came again!

He drove her back again. This was not turning out to be a good day.

He finally had to resort to standing directly in front of the girl to keep her on her side of the cordon. The kid kept yelling at him. Then she started pointing and yelling. It took Dad a while to figure it out, but he finally realized what she was pointing at.

Back behind him, at the spot that he’d pulled the little girl off her feet, were two little wooden shoes, embedded in the mud. He’d yanked her right out of her shoes.

Now, my dad loves kids, and even at 23, he had a soft spot for them. He felt really bad. He finally waved her under the cord to rescue her shoes, but he kept a snarly look and growl handy, so as to save face.

At the end of the war, my dad went back to Belgium, and into a little shop. He bought a pair of small wooden shoes. When I was growing up, he kept them locked in a file cabinet in his den. Every now and then when I was very small, he would bring them out to show me – he even let me put them on and walk around in them once in a great while. They hurt.

He never told me the story about why he bought those shoes until just this year. He doesn’t know where the shoes are now – possibly packed away in a box in My Brother the Trespasser’s barn or basement. I wish he still had them so I could have posted a photo.

Another odd thing…. I’m not sure if Dad is remembering “Mein kluben” correctly, or if it was a slang term. I can’t find it anywhere in Dutch or German pertaining to “shoes” or “clogs” or “wooden shoes”, but that’s what he swears the little girl was yelling. Anybody out there have an inkling…? I’d love to know.

* * *

P.S. Y’all can uncross your cramped little fingers and toes, now. Thank you sincerely. I start the new J.O.B. some time next week. 😀

Random Song for the Day: “Pipeline” – Anthrax

Categories
The Landlady

For Mushy – I Think We’re Wearing Her Down…

Joycie, Rex, and Ruby – 1928

Hey, a picture is a picture, right? Ruby dug this out especially for me to post here. That’s her on the right, sitting behind her brother Rex, on their tricycle – doesn’t she look like a little devil? And I’ll bet Rex dropped Joycie on her head off that trike about 30 seconds after the shutter clicked. Not that he did drop her on her head – just that he probably did. Just sayin’.

Rex is the brother of Blackberry Summer fame. Ruby hadn’t told me much about Rex up to this point, so when she presented me with this photo, saying, “There. I wonder what that Mushy fella will say to that?”, I asked her about him.

Rex was about 18 months older than Ruby. She was about three in this photo, so he’d have been a little over…. five maybe? He had asthma and it plagued him all his life. When he was eight, it almost killed him because of a Scarlet Fever vaccination.

They didn’t have a doctor in Northland, so every year or so, one would come in by train and stay a few days, checking up on people and taking care of any emergencies that might crop up while he was there. The rest of the time, Northlanders most likely were doctored up by midwives, veterinarians, and God Himself.

On the last day of an annual visit, if there were any school kids of the right age, the doctor would innoculate them all one after another, just before he jumped back on the train out of there. The kids would all be lined up, and with the midwife assisting, the doctor would stick them all, assembly-line fashion, no questions asked, no names taken. Prick, prick, prick, prick, pack up and go home.

Rex had asthma, but the doctor didn’t know that, and he didn’t bother to ask. If he had bothered, he’d never have given him the shot. Five minutes after the doctor left for the station house (which, ironically, was where Rex’s dad was, being the section foreman, after all), Rex went into convulsions. The quick-thinking midwife scooped him up and ran for the station house, where the train was just pulling in, and Rex’s dad watched the doctor save his boy in the nick of time.

When I asked Ruby what the doctor did to save him, she said she hadn’t a clue, just that it had been close. She also laid dollars to donuts that the doctor never gave another shot without asking a kid’s history first.

Rex survived, though, and grew up to work for his dad on the railroad, which kept him employed until World War II. He tried to sign on, of course, but his asthma did that idea in. He ended up working as a time-keeper for a chain-gang of POWs for the duration of the war, at a camp further up the ACR.

The POWs he was in charge of were mostly Italians. The were a friendly bunch, and the Canadian government treated them very well. They may have been called a “chain-gang”, but not a one of them wore a chain. Where would they go if they ran? Into the Northern bush to starve or freeze to death? No, they weren’t that stupid. Better off where they were, where they were housed and fed fairly comfortably, considering, and each and every one of them worked hard, Rex said.

In the evenings, some of them built tiny little ships, with masts and sails that were squished magically through the necks of whiskey bottles and glued down. The masts, sails all furled up, would be stuck to the ship with rubber cement, and laid flat on the decks with little strings attached to the tops of them. The tiny dab of rubber cement stayed flexible long enough that when the whole works went through the bottle neck, the strings could be pulled gently and the masts would stand up straight and the sails would unfurl. Rex said it was a great thing to watch. By the end of the war, he owned three ships in bottles, and had them ’til he died.

A lot of those POWs applied to stay in Canada when the war was over. We must have been pretty decent people back then, I guess. Who would choose to stay here otherwise, and freeze for six to eight months of the year?

Random Song for the Day: “Belgium or Peru” – Cuff the Duke

Categories
Oh Mother...! The Father Chronicles

Whole Lotta Rockin’ Goin’ On…

Dad's ipod
…in the Nursing Home, that is.
Taken February 16, 2008 with Nokia 6275i Cameraphone

Yeah, so my dad bought an iPod. My Brother the Trespasser picked it up for him, set it up and showed him how to use it.

Dad spent about three hours playing with it and yelling at us what a “great rig” it was. The volume was so high that I could hear the lyrics from across the room. Every now and again he’d ask if it was his or my brother’s, and did I think he ought to get one for himself? Give him a break – he’s 87.

He may have his days where he can’t remember what happened five minutes ago, but he has no problem with what happened 65 years ago. He told me the “Cabbage Story” again, at my request.

That was a big ship we went Overseas on. Everybody had a job they had to do, and I ended up doing prep work in the galley. You never saw such a big space, either. There’d be fifty soldiers working down there at once, getting the meals ready.

We’d be peeling potatoes, or cabbages, or brussels sprouts. Those little buggers are hard to peel – I still hate brussels sprouts to this day, don’t I, Maude?

Mother: I guess so.

Dad: You’re darn right, I do! I hated having to peel those things. We’d be down there for hours at a time, hunched over, peeling vegetables – it got pretty boring. Now and again we’d get up to shenanigans, like the time that big Mulatto fella almost stabbed me to death… closest I came to getting killed during the whole war.

Mother: Well, what about when you spent all those months in the hospital with Diphtheria?! That nearly killed you!

Dad: Well, there’s a big difference between dying of Diphtheria and getting stabbed to death by a big Mulatto fella, now, isn’t there?!

Mother: I guess so…

Dad: You’re darn right there is!

Me: So how’d you nearly get stabbed to death by a big Mulatto fella?

Dad: I hit him in the head with a cabbage.

(at this point the conversation pauses… as it does every time he tells me this story, because neither of us can stop laughing for a bit…)

We were bored, see? And we got up to a game of catch. We were supposed to be peeling cabbages in our group, and the outer leaves come off just as easy when you toss a cabbage twenty feet across the room to the guy on the other side. I suppose we could have peeled them faster if we hadn’t been fooling around, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun, I guess.

Anyway, I was tossing cabbages back and forth with this other guy, and the cabbage we were using for a ball was pretty much peeled, when this big Mulatto fella come walking in between us, just as I heaved my cabbage across the room. Smacked him right upside the head with it.

Cabbages are hard, too, when all the fluffy stuff is peeled off. He was a big fella, though, and even though it smacked him pretty good, it didn’t knock him over. He turned and looked at me and I knew I was gonna pay for throwing that cabbage.

Then he snatched up a knife and started walking toward me, and I knew I was a dead man.

Mother: You’ll notice he’s not walking around dead about now…

Dad: You shhhh – ush!

Me: Yeah, Dad – how’d you get outta getting stabbed to death?

Dad: I don’t know. He just stopped about half-way and put the knife down. He didn’t even say anything, just walked away. Maybe he thought better of it, or figured I wasn’t worth a court-martial. Anyway, he didn’t stab me to death, so that’s good.

Me: What’d you do then?

Dad: I went to my bunk and changed my pants.

And don’t forget to enter The Big “Extra Copy” Caption Contest!

Random Song for the Day: “Friend is a Four-Letter Word” – Cake

Categories
Oh Mother...!

Jimmy Prentice & the Radio

Philco_Radio_1941
Philco Radio, 1941

Jimmy Prentice was somewhat of a local oddball, to hear my parents talk. I don’t know if he actually had a home, or not. My mother talks about how sometimes, just before dinner was set to be “lifted”, Gramma would be looking out the kitchen window, and say, “Better put another plate on,” and they knew Jimmy was walking across the field.

He’d come in and have dinner with the family, and afterward, off he’d go with the men to do the afternoon chores. They had a farm of dairy cows – help with the chores was welcomed, and well worth a meal or two, even during the Depression. More than likely, Jimmy would be in for supper that night, too. And then for breakfast in the morning…

He’d stay on a few days (or weeks), help with the farm, eat with the family, sleep wherever there was room. Then he’d mosey off across the field; to the next farm, maybe, or into town.

One winter evening, during the War, Grampa opened the door to a very, very sick Jimmy Prentice. Flu was a pretty serious thing to come down with back then, and Grampa put him right to bed. He was sick for a long time.

Gramma and Grampa fed him up, cleaned him up, generally took care of him for the duration. No way would Grampa turn Jimmy out. Not because it was winter on the Manitoulin. Not because Jimmy had the flu. Nope. Jimmy Prentice had a radio.

Now, Grampa wasn’t necessarily against technology, but in the early ’40s, with farmhands and livestock to feed, not to mention 8 kids (minus Bill, who was overseas fighting a War), purchasing a radio was not high up on his list of priorities, to say the least. They got “The Family Herald” once a week for the War news; what did they need a radio for?

Family_Herald
The Family Herald

The Family Herald would be read cover-to-cover by Grampa, the day it came. Then Gramma got her turn, and then it was passed around the household until everyone had had a chance to read it through. Sometimes, clippings would be mailed out to a sister or an Aunt. By the time the next issue came to the farm, the last would be in tatters, most likely relegated to the outhouse, where it was read again, and reread, and then “recycled”.

Letters from Bill (and he wrote to everybody from overseas) would also be passed around. Sometimes the letters were delayed, or lost altogether. News was shared. As worried as they were, the family knew that last month, at least, Bill was alive.

And then… Grampa discovered that the War News could come every supper-time, if somebody turned Jimmy Prentice’s radio on. Meals became sombre affairs, quiet, other than the static-y voice coming out of that little box on the sideboard. No one dared make a peep, for fear Grampa would shout them back to silence. World War II got closer to home.

Of course, over the next several weeks, Jimmy Prentice got better. Pretty soon, he was taking supper at the table, listening to the radio, and then, slowly, out helping with the chores again. Eventually, he decided it was time to mosey over the field to wherever it was he would go; the next farm, maybe, or into town. And, of course, he took his radio with him when he went.

Supper was eerily silent for the next few days. Grampa was out of sorts without the static-y voice on the sideboard. Withdrawal. They all missed Jimmy Prentice’s radio. The Family Herald was days away yet, and the news in it would be “old” news. Bill seemed farther away than ever, and World War II might never end…

And so, one day, Grampa came home with a radio of his own, and everything seemed that much better. The world was smaller again, and if it – the world or the War – should finally come to an end, he would be among the first to know.
spacer50x104
“There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow
Just you wait and see.

There’ll be joy and laughter
And peace ever after,
Tomorrow
When the world is free.

The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again,
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow
Just you wait and see.”

Not-So-Random Song for the Day: “The White Cliffs of Dover” – Vera Lynn