Leave in Oxford
Leave in Oxford
The band members and other service personnel received regular leave, from a 48 hour or two day leave to a week or more, when they could relax in their rooms or visit nearby towns and cities. On one of their first leaves, Harry and Smitty decided to visit Oxford, about a two-hour train ride from Bournemouth. British families opened up their homes to the travelling military personnel and rented out rooms for a modest price. By 1943, the British people were very appreciative of the Canadians, especially considering the battering that their country endured throughout the early years of the war.
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Harry and Smitty were staying in different billets during their week in Oxford, but met up during the day to go sightseeing.
“So, how was your night?” Harry asked his friend.
“Wonderful – fresh sheets, sunshine streaming through the window, AND BREAKFAST IN BED!”
|Magdalen Tower & Bridge, Oxford, postcard sent by Harry|
“No kidding – what did you do to deserve that?”
“I think Miss Fairfax has always wanted to have a man in the house, and finally her wish came true,” Smitty yawned while stretching his arms.
“You’re getting too spoiled. Well, I enjoyed reading the morning paper, while sipping tea with my toast and marmalade and EGG.”
“Wow, I’m impressed – your first egg over here. I should be so lucky.”
“I think we’re going to be thoroughly British by the end of this war.”
“Oh, I almost forgot, Miss Fairfax has invited us both to join her tonight to hear the London Symphony play at the Sheldonian Theatre.”
“You don’t say. You must have charmed the pants off her. Don’t get any ideas.”
“No fears. She must be pushing sixty. She’s a piano teacher and I think she’s happy to have a real live musician stay with her.”
The two spent the day walking around the colleges and grounds of the historic Oxford University.
“Wouldn’t you love to come back here after the war to study?” Smitty asked.
“Maybe your marks were good enough, but I was lucky to scrape by Grade 12 and that was several years ago now,” Harry said.
“Let’s at least go in the Bodleian just to say we’ve been there, in case it gets bombed never to be seen again, like the cathedral in Coventry.”
As they entered the historic library and gazed at the stacks rising to the ceiling, Harry thought about how tragic it would be to lose all of those ancient tomes.
Bournemouth, Nov. 26, Dec. 2, 1943 [compilation, excerpts]
Well, we’re back in the traces again after a very charming visit to Oxford.
I stayed at the home of a war worker and daughter. It was a very nice home and naturally I had my own room. Her son is away at Cambridge. I got up in the morning when I felt like it (I’m always up before Al [Smitty] incidentally), then we went out sightseeing for the day.
They kept three ducks in the back yard and I had my first duck egg yesterday and also my first egg over here. I’d almost forgotten what they tasted like, no kidding.
Would you ask Mother how to make egg toast [French toast] as the lady in Oxford asked me to send the recipe.
I’m glad to be back though [i.e. in Bournemouth], to get down to work again.
Things aren’t as comfortable as when Lewis had this place [the former owner of the Atherstone Hotel where they are staying in Bournemouth] as the new guy is very short of cupboards and drawers and also the beds are pretty bumpy, but I suppose we’ll give him a chance anyway.
Well dearest I’m glad to hear you are getting along so well, I know I have nothing to worry about in regards to you and I’m living up to my end of the bargain too.
Will close for now honey. I love you as I always will. Harry.
Toronto, December 12 and 14, 1943[compilation]
Just finished reading your letters over again and thanks for the card which you sent of Christchurch. It was handed to me last night, along with your three pictures; your Mother got them yesterday morning. We think you are looking very well darling, much better than you did in Ottawa. It must have been your night life down here I guess!!
|Bandmembers on leave|
I like the one outside your house [at the Atherstone], you look so gay and young – maybe it’s because you haven’t a moustache! You’ll grow it again though won’t you? It was foolish of me to think you would change in four months, but then I’m always getting ideas like that.
We didn’t expect our parcels would arrive so soon but that’s better than being too late I guess. Seeing that you enjoy crackers so well, I’ll have to send some the next time, I was told they didn’t pack well and they took up so much room in the box so I didn’t bother putting them in.Your Mother does a good deal of baking on her rations, and everything is always good too! I guess Ross [Harry’s younger brother, about age 18] always knows where to find the cake tin when he comes home. Did that used to be a habit of yours? It isn’t hard to get Christmas cakes here [in Toronto] but at the time I sent your parcel, that was the only one I could find after walking up Bank and Elgin Streets [in Ottawa].
They never taste as nice as the home baked ones though. I sent Mother some raisins and currants, because they can’t get them there. There are more canned vegetables in the stores now too.
Oh yes, I told your Mother about that recipe for egg toast and she’s going to look it up for you. She laughed as it reminded her of the time you sent the shortbread recipe home. She’s going to show me the letter.
Yes, darling, I know in my heart that someday you will prove what you told me, and you say you are living up to it now, how perfect it is to hear that! I’ll do my best too, but it isn’t easy, and it never will be forced. It’s the will and the dreams behind it that makes things work out successfully, don’t you think so? We want our love to be strong enough that we’ll do anything for each other.
It’s time to leave you again darling. You know I don’t like saying good night any time, not even on paper. Won’t it be swell if someday we won’t have to? Hope everything is first rate with you, and my love is with you always.