Those Bits of Paper
|Harry writing to Helen|
|Helen mailing Harry's letter|
They are having a hard time keeping their morale up during these last few months and are encouraging each other to keep at it.
I just took a few of your letters out of my billfold, you should see my file, honey. I shall have to get a bigger holder for them or something and they should be filed according to date, but oh! that would take me so long. I’ll count them though one of these days, just for fun. I hope you’ll be able to find room for all of mine when you pack up. ------
I just stopped to count them – 205 to be exact. That’s about two a week, so you have kept up a good record I must say, considering the fact that you dislike writing letters in the first place. But you did it for me and that’s wonderful. . . .
All my love dearest,
Thurs., Bournemouth Oct. 25/45
My Darling Sweetheart Helen,
Received your letters of 16th & 18th this morning and I must say I was looking forward to them during our stay in London. I have to laugh at you counting my letters darling. I think it would take me hours to count yours, but I have every one of them.Smitty says I'm silly to keep them because I never seem to have time to read them over again but all our love has been built up around those bits of paper and I couldn't bear to tear them up. I think I've done pretty well in writing two a week considering the hectic life we lead over here . . .
Toronto, Nov. 9/45
My Darling Harry,
I had a funny dream about you last night, honey, and I’m wondering how you are. Silly of me – I guess. There’s a slight delay in the mail again, it must be that post office over there. Sometimes they are post-marked four days after you mail them. There shouldn’t be much reason for that now, should there?
Letters are just as important now as they ever were. That was sweet what you said about our letters. We’ll bind them up, and read them over about twenty years from now – or would we enjoy doing that then? Anyway, it’s a nice thought. . . So long again, sweet, your love is always with me. Yours forever, Helen xxxxx
Good News & Bad News
During the war many British women contributed as part of the armed forces for instance in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs), or if they were from the upper classes, they volunteered their time doing charitable and humanitarian work. Lady Frances Ryder helped to organize a hospitality service whereby RCAF personnel could enjoy their leaves by staying in private homes in Britain. Between 1944 and July 1945, approximately 35,000 members of the RCAF took part in this program.
|RCAF dance band, Harry on right, Smitty on piano|
To acknowledge the work that Lady Ryder did for the Canadian soldiers stationed in England, the RCAF held a special Air Force tea dance in her honour at the Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth.
As the band was unpacking their instruments, Ken came over to talk to Harry.
“Are you feeling blue?” he asked.
“Here, this should make you feel better,” he said, handing Harry three letters.
“Wow! Quite a bonanza - from my father, mother and Helen – how did you get them?”
“On the way in, Jonesy told me to give them to you.”
Harry quickly scanned the letter from Helen, then tuned up. As they started to play, Harry found himself making a lot of mistakes.
“What’s up?” Ossie asked him between numbers.
“I can’t help thinking about Helen and how swell she is – I guess I shouldn’t have read that letter right before the dance.”
“Better keep your mind on the music, or Lady Ryder will be upset,” he smiled.
“You’re right – she deserves to be honoured - Smitty and I stayed at homes in Oxford arranged through her.”
When the dance was over, Steve announced to them in a low voice that they needed to report back at 10 a.m. the next morning for an important announcement.
“Great, maybe finally we’ll get some news about when we can go home,” said Smitty. “I’m beginning to think they want to keep us here indefinitely to provide free entertainment for all of their official ceremonies.”
“I know, we’re almost busier now than when the war was on – I’ve played 16 jobs out of 18 days already this month,” said Harry.
They all went home wondering what the news would be.
Dec. 8/45 Bournemouth
The axe fell yesterday and with it went my head! I’m being posted to Torquay on Monday with 9 other boys from our band, eleven men are going home in the very near future and 8 are staying here to play at the Westover. Bill and Smitty will be staying, naturally I expected to be staying with them but, oh no. There’s just as much dance work down there and they get paid for them but I don’t think they get a living out allowance.
Anyway, darling I have some good news for you – it’s only for six weeks and then I’ll be going home – isn’t that wonderful? Now you can start counting the weeks instead of the months! It’s all over on Feb. 1st according to Bounty. I sent the address to Mother to-day by wire. It’s “R” depot RCAF Torquay Band, England. Gosh I hate leaving here especially when I think of all the junk we have to take – we have to make a couple of changes to get to Torquay and it’s an 8 hour trip from here so it will be a tiresome day. Just one more unnecessary trip! Oh well, just six more weeks of it and Steve seemed pretty definite about it. He and the bunch should get home around Christmas or shortly after.
This is the coldest day we’ve had yet and it started to snow a bit this morning but it didn’t amount to anything; the channel looks pretty rough too. I wonder how it will be in February!! Well sweet, the way they’ve got those ships running I can’t see how it could be any longer than six weeks. There are less than 10,000 airmen over here now and they’re rushing them through here to get them home for Christmas.
So that’s the bombshell that dropped yesterday darling. The ones under 80 [points] had almost given up hope of any action being taken until after Christmas but they are happy about it now. We’re all getting together Sunday night for a final drinking party so I guess there’ll be a few of them staggering around. There’s only two of us that drink going to Torquay but I don’t expect to have any time free when I get there for that especially with Christmas dances coming up.
Well, sweetheart, you’ve waited a long time to hear something definite and according to this news I should be home a few weeks sooner than I expected and I sure hope they go plenty fast until Feb. 1st.
I’ll close for now darling and write when I get to Torquay. I’ll be seeing you soon, sweetheart. All my love, Harry xxxxxxxx
Building a New Britain
Harry was upset to be uprooted from Bournemouth where they had been stationed for the past two years and posted to Torquay, an eight hour trip west along the coast, 170 km away. He and nine others from the Bournemouth band had been victims of the military bureaucratic decision-making process. Harry’s good friends Smitty and Bill were not among those transferred.
Leroy, the bandmaster at Torquay, didn’t seem to need them, leaving Harry and the others confused as to why they were moved.
Torquay, Dec. 13, 1945, Labour Exchange
“Why on earth Steve sent us down here, I’ll never know,” Harry grumbled as they waited in line.
“I don’t think Leroy even knew we were coming – he certainly doesn’t have any work for us,” said Frank, the trombone player.
“I don’t know about you, but I can’t live on 3 shillings a day,” said Harry.
“Hopefully, we can get some other work here – the guy I was talking to at the canteen said there are lots of jobs around now.”
“Not at the post office though – I tried there yesterday and the local kids have that place all sewn up,” said Harry.
“Next!” said the official behind the counter.
“We’ve been sent down from Bournemouth and need some temporary work, if you have it,” offered Frank.
The fellow looked them up and down. “RCAF? I’m afraid it isn’t legal for Canadians to work in England.”
“I see,” said Frank.
“However,” he said, as he leaned over the counter, whispering. “I heard that the Twillings and Cranfields construction companies need help – you could try there – here are their addresses. If you have any trouble, come back here.”
The two headed off eagerly, and were hired on at the first place, at about 1.8 halfpenny or 35 cents an hour.
“Well, that’s good,” said Harry. “We start tomorrow, that’s better than doing nothing, and will harden up our muscles.”
|Oldway Mansion, Paignton|
“How about we take the rest of the day off and walk over to Paignton, to see the Singer Sewing Machine Estate*?” Frank suggested.
Dec. 15/45 [Harry’s birthday] Torquay, England
I’m almost too tired to write you to-night, darling, but I’m making a supreme effort. As you know 4 of us are helping Britain build houses for a week and we’re doing all the heavy labour. Two of us were mixing cement all day yesterday by hand and wheeling it up an incline on planks. Boy, is that ever tough on the arms & shoulders! I’m glad we only had a half day to-day. I wouldn’t have been much use this afternoon. I’m hoping the stiffness leaves my arms by Monday. It won’t do me any harm anyway and I’m really ready for bed by 9:30 because we have to get up by 6:30 a.m. Anything for a laugh eh? I never thought I’d use my rubber boots but ploughing around in Devonshire red clay makes them indispensable. It’s still very mild so a sweater coat and sweater is enough to keep me warm.
Well sweetheart, it’s been a full week since I heard from you last and I wonder when my mail is going to locate me?You’d think a week would be sufficient wouldn’t you? I’m sure you’re keeping well darling. It’s awfully hard for me to realize it’s only ten days to Christmas but I guess you and the family are in the thick of it right now. Little kids go around the hotels here singing Christmas carols for pennies but it’s hard to get the Christmas spirit in drizzly weather and away from the people you love.
Dec. 13, 1945 Yesterday we walked to Paignton – a suburb of Torquay – to the Singer Sewing Machine Estate. It’s taken over by the Knights of Columbus and is really terrific. The home itself looks like a palace and there is a golf course, bowling green and tennis courts on the estate. There’s a good service club not far from wherewe’re billeted and we get all the chocolate bars we need.
Well, sweetheart, I suppose I’ll be even lonelier this Christmas being away from the boys – and you of course! . . . Leroy is really pulling to get the ones he doesn’t need home as soon as possible in January and then there will just be the dance men left.
They’re getting ready to show a film here so I’ll probably stick around and see it, they show one every night here. I haven’t any one to have a beer with me any more, so I guess this will be a dry birthday this time.
Well, sweetheart, I must close now as I’m getting a bit sleepy. I hope you have a nice Christmas, darling. I might go down to B’mouth for Christmas if I get a chance and see Smitty and Bill. Be seeing you soon, sweet.
All my love, xxxxxx
Dec. 20/45 Toronto, Ontario
My Darling Harry,
The postman was about two hours late this morning, but he brought me your two letters of 11th and 13th so it was all right.
I was glad to have your recent report confirmed [i.e. about when he is coming home.] I was afraid you may have been misinformed as you had been a few times before. But it actually sounds good, sweet.
I can imagine how you feel being set down there [i.e. at Torquay], practically by yourself after having all the other boys around, but it isn’t a permanent move, so just take it in your stride honey. I doubt if Steve could give a logical reason for singling you out. It’s one big shuffle this time.
I hope they get those under 80’s off [i.e. those who have under 80 points, who have priority on the boats returning home], then it will be your turn. Just because some of them aren’t doing anything, that shouldn’t be a reason for sending them first. They can get busy and exercise their muscles like you are. By the way, how was it? You wouldn’t recommend it for an everyday job, would you? I bet you ate two meals in one after the first day.