Shiftwork in the Motor Division
Helen wasn’t supposed to work the evening shift at the TTC that night, but Ruth’s husband was in town on a weekend leave from Sault Ste. Marie and Helen knew that if she were in that position, she would want someone to fill in for her.
When she arrived in the office, Edith commented on how nice her hair looked.
“I’m trying a different style, wearing it loose, instead of up.” Helen was a little embarrassed. “I’m not sure if Harry will like it, but I’m sending him a photo to get his opinion. He does seem interested in all these little details.”
“You sure do miss him, don’t you?” Edith said.
“Yes. I’d give anything to see him once a month. Ruth doesn’t know how lucky she is.”
Helen got to work adding up the minutes and hours from the drivers’ schedules and trying to make them balance. Standing for a long time on the cement floor at the wicket was hard on her feet. She did ask her boss Mr. Brown to get the cashiers some high stools, but so far, they hadn’t materialized. At least she only had to do it one week a month, the rest of the time she spent doing stenography, typing, and answering phones.
|(l to r) Helen, Kay and Edith at the TTC|
The drivers came in at the end of their shifts – they said they’d been delayed because of the major snow storm and a parade up Yonge Street launching the next big drive for the Red Cross.
“We were held up at least 20 minutes, so everyone is off their schedules,” Barry moaned. “Don’t tell the boss.”
“Don’t worry, he went home at 4:30 p.m., so he doesn’t need to know,” said Helen. She didn’t get along with Mr. Brown as well as she had with Mr. Lauson in Steel Control. However, she did try to keep on his good side, like when she went out to get his lunch the week before, riding on the St. Clair streetcar with the Inspector. Now and then she saw his sense of humour, but as a rule, he was very reserved.
They worked steadily until 8 p.m. when the hubbub finally died down. She took her supper break and spent the time trying to figure out her finances. She’d just received a windfall in the mail the day before - $85 from the retirement fund from the Office of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa. But new this year, she’d have to pay 5 percent income tax on her salary of $1,400 a year. It comes in one door and goes out the other, she thought. She wanted to make sure she was putting enough away in her savings account for when she and Harry started their lives together.
Toronto, Feb. 23, 1944
On Monday I received your letter of the 2nd and 3rd - you tell me much more than you did at first and are becoming a good correspondent, no kidding! You did say once that you couldn’t write letters; it must be the practice you’re getting.
This week I’m on the evening shift, 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., so this is being written in the early morning hours. I can write better at night than in the daytime. It has been snowing; the trees are all capped in white and it’s a beautiful night. It seems funny for me to be around in the daytime, but I seem to always find something to keep me busy. I want to go downtown, maybe Friday and your Mother may come with me, as I have to shop around for a coat again. The only thing is on this shift, one has no night life; if you were here that would really go hard on me. Yet the other girls don’t mind in the least.
We have the radio on part of the time while at work, and I try to listen to it when I’m doing about sixty words a minute. Gee! I don’t know if I can even go that fast now or not. Anyway, we heard Guy Lombardo and Tommy Dorsey. It’s only a small radio but we can get all the stations. By the way, they played that piece I can’t forget – I bet you don’t know what it is.
|Helen's pay stub|
I told you about getting $85 back from my retirement fund, didn’t I? I’m banking what I can as I make it too honey, just like you are. There’s no reason why we can’t start in where we left off is there?? I’m just wondering, like everybody else just how much my last 5% of income tax will be. It has to be in by April but the forms aren’t out yet.The deduction is $10 more on my salary here than in Ottawa. I must say you are well paid for travelling around; more than you expected, isn’t it? Then too, as you say, the experience really means something to you.
Darling, I don’t see how you can ever find time to think about me or yourself, unless it’s when you’re on the train. I keep repeating the last three lines of this letter over and over and over again, and praying that we’ll always be the same.
Bye now honey. My love always.
Spending Time with the Cousins
Spending Time with the Cousins
It didn’t take Helen long to create a support and social network around her, even though she’d just been in Toronto for three months. She made friends easily, and she connected with relatives in order to help her get through the time while Harry was overseas.
She was lucky that her four cousins, the daughters of her fathers’ brother Art, were in Toronto, all working. She and Georgie, who was about her age, became good friends and spent a lot of time together.
“What a lovely apartment you have here,” Helen said as she took off her coat and entered her cousins’ flat.
“Yes, we were lucky to find it, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room,” said Georgie. “We have to eat in the kitchen, but that’s alright as we’re not always here at once, with everyone on shifts. Billie and I share a bedroom, and Glady and Donny share the other. It’s good that we can split the rent four ways.”
|(l to r) Donny, brother Jim, Glady, Billie & Georgie|
Helen’s cousins Billie (Arabelle), Georgie (Georgina), Glady (Gladys) and Donny (Donna) were from Craik, Saskatchewan, about 150 miles south of Thaxted where Helen’s family lived. The sisters all worked at the Inglis Small Arms factory, Billie as an inspector, Georgie in the lab, while the other two were on the manufacturing line.
“We’re so glad you’re in Toronto now too,” Georgie said. “Funny how so many Saskatchewan girls have come east.”
“Well, I guess it’s because of all the work here,” said Helen.
“Ted is the only one at home now, helping Dad on the farm,” said Glady.
“He’s the youngest, right?” asked Helen.
“Yes, our father was so happy when Ted came along, after five girls. That’s why three of us have boys’ nicknames. His wish finally came true,” said Billie.
“Have you heard from Harry lately?” Georgie asked.
“Yes, I got a couple of letters this week. They seem to take about two weeks now, so I’m happy. Oh, and he sent me a photo of the dance band in the lower gardens in Bournemouth – here, I brought it with me. Harry’s on the right, and that’s his good friend Smitty.”
“Oh, Smitty’s cute – maybe I could date him when he comes home,” said Donny.
“He’s only 21, so a little older than you are,” Helen said.
“Well, let’s eat. Helen and I are going to the Art Gallery after supper, and it’s only open until 9 p.m.,” said Georgie.
Toronto, Jan. 12, 21, Feb. 17, Apr. 23/44, June 11 compilation
You have certainly been good to me the last few days; yesterday I got your letter of the 6th and today your postcards were waiting for me. That letter was a month coming by air mail; it must have been waylaid somewhere. I found it so interesting, and I like to feel that I know a bit about what you’re doing and seeing. . .
Tonight I went from work to my cousins for supper – they work in Small Arms; one in the lab and the other as Inspector. We talked, looked at pictures, ate, then Georgie and I went to the Art Gallery, where they had this exhibition of fine art; proceeds in aid of the Merchant Marine. There were some marvellousGeorgie and I are great company for each other, and I’m glad, but I wish they lived closer by.
My youngest cousin (she’s about seventeen) was telling me about her date with a First Lieutenant to go to the Royal York last night. She was so excited. The last time I saw her, she just couldn’t stand the sight of boys.
Darling, it makes me so happy to know that after you’ve been around so much you can sit down, read my letters and remember the little things we’ve done. Yes, I’ve thought about that day too; we were really alone out there but not for long. We walked so far, and talked about a lot of things. We could do that now; well, even thinking about it brings a strong feeling back again. We didn’t succeed in that regard here, only about a half hour before train time, and how quickly it passed! The future must bring us together always just as you say. There will likely be things to stand in our way but we will have to overcome them.
We had a very busy day, and my feet are tired from walking after standing all day. Otherwise I’m feeling all right, and have escaped the cold, which everyone else seems to have. My cousin has a terrible one, but that night work just about gets her down as she has two weeks at a time, but they won’t after this month. The four of them are so happy-go-lucky, and think I should be more that way. You agree with them I guess don’t you? I could never take anything lightly somehow. They have lots of boyfriends and go out a lot.
Friday night Kay [from work], Georgie and I went to the Navy program. It was very fine and lots of variety. Ross[Harry’s brother who plays trombone] was in the second row; we finally caught a glimpse of him and he recognized me. Their Glee Club sang a few numbers before intermission. They played “Springtime” which I like, a cornet trio and the last number was “Musical Switch”. They had a Sports Programme which was very comical. Your Grandmother was there but I didn’t see her; there was a large crowd. It was over around 10:15 and Ross went to the Queensway after that. We came back to the Varsity on Bloor and had lunch, then from there I went to work.
No, I don’t exactly worry when you don’t write, as I keep thinking there’s one on the way, and I try not to imagine things. I just have to retire now honey, before I go to sleep in this chair. This week has certainly gone by quickly. I must be at home on Sunday night at 8:30 to listen to the broadcast.
Well, sweetheart how quickly the minutes fly when I’m occupied with thoughts of you! I shall be waiting, always waiting – you can depend on that. My best love, Helen.
Bournemouth, June 30, 1944 [excerpt]
I picked out several pictures of the dance band taken on the “Canada Day” Tour and will send you some when I get them.
The fellow who sleeps next to me seemed quite interested in Georgie [Helen’s cousin]. He’s very good looking, dark, and single. He plays bass.
All my love, Harry
Toronto, Aug. 2/44 [excerpt]
My Darling Harry,
. . .I was talking to Georgie awhile ago and mentioned that I was giving Bill her address. Our surnames are the same –[i.e. Reeder] her address: 17 Lansdowne Avenue. Telephone La. 8233- how’s that? She’s very anxious to hear from him . . .
Love and kisses, Helen
Leading up to D-Day
Leading up to D-Day
That spring, the band travelled around the Midlands by train playing Victory Loan dances and living like gypsies out of their kit bags. Harry wondered if his three shirts could last a month and they did – he thought Helen would be proud of how he could wash and iron his uniform, no matter how difficult the conditions.
|The band during their tour, Harry Culley on right|
After living in the barracks on 15 different stations, they were glad to be back in their hotel in Bournemouth, especially now that spring had arrived.
“I think this is the most beautiful spot in England, it’s so fragrant with the tulip and cherry trees in blossom,” Harry said to Smitty on their way over through the lower gardens for rehearsal.
“Is that a cuckoo that’s been singing like mad all the way along?”
“Yep - sounds just like the clock.”
Looking over the calm waters of the English Channel, they could see that the beach was still cordoned off with barbed wire and the middle section of the famous Bournemouth pier was missing.
|Bournemouth pier seen through barbed wire|
“Do you think the pier was bombed earlier in the war?” Harry asked.
“No, I heard that the citizens blew up 60 feet of it themselves so that no invaders could use it as a landing,” Smitty said.
The stage at the Pavilion Theatre near the channel looked the same, and most of the band was already there, setting up.
“If we have to play the “A Train” one more time, I think I’ll be sick,” Ossie grumbled, as he put his clarinet together.
“I wish they’d send more music over for us, don’t they realize we need a change now and then?” Harry said.
|Smitty (left) and Harry on Bournemouth Beach before D-Day|
After the rehearsal, Steve tapped the music stand.
“I know we’re all exhausted from that last tour, and you guys did a wonderful job - the officers at Warrington said you sounded great, but I’ve just got word that we have to clear out again.”
At that announcement, there was a collective groan.
“I know, I feel the same way. But I’m sure you’ve noticed how many more troops there are in the city now, and they need our billets. I think it will be just be temporary, if you get my drift. That’s all for now. I’ll let you know when I get further details.”
As Smitty and Harry made their way back to the Atherstone Hotel on Tregonwell Road, they saw some kids climbing all over an American tank in the square.
“I have a hunch something big is going on. All the American and the Canadian armies coming in at once,” Harry observed.
“On a clear day you can see straight over to Normandy,” Smitty said.
“I’d have thought they’d be leaving from further east, around Dover – it’s a shorter crossing from there.”
“And much more obvious to the Germans.”
“I’m sure glad we’re in the band – things could be so much worse for us.”
“You’re not kidding.”
“Well, whatever it takes to end this abominable war.”
Bournemouth, May 3, 1944
My Darling Helen,
Well here I am up to my neck in packing, trying to stuff into kit bags the things collected over a period of eight months; and what a headache it is. I just received 900 cigarettes and two parcels of tin goods and candy from home which certainly doesn’t make it any easier. . . .
We’re moving to a station outside of Gloucester on Friday. Al and I took a walk through the park tonight for one last look at the scenery and it certainly was beautiful. The tulip trees are out now . . everybody is feeling sorry for themselves around here being posted to a station [as opposed to boarding out in hotels]. It’s certainly hard to leave here though as you couldn’t find a more beautiful spot [than Bournemouth].
I believe we’ll have other compensations to make up for our loss of living out; we should eat better for one thing. Talking about eating; four of us went out Sunday to scrounge a bacon and egg dinner off the nearest farmer we could find keeping chickens. This was in Riston near Warrington. We hit two and had three eggs and bacon. We were willing to pay them you know but they wouldn’t take anything for it. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like that and will probably be the last time. I was hungry, but not that hungry.
Gloucester, May 5, 1944 - Here I am writing from a barrack room on a station outside of Gloucester. We left Bournemouth this morning early and what a job I had carrying all my belongings! We didn’t have to walk very far so I didn’t get too weary, thank heavens.
|The RCAF band in barracks|
We certainly are spoiled for this kind of a life. Cots without sheets after sleeping in feather beds are quite a let down. The mess hall is a good fifteen minute walk and the ablutions – wow! Well we’re still travelling anyway; the 12-piece dance band is going up through York to play a dance tomorrow night and will probably be back sometime Sunday. We have no cupboard space whatsoever, only two pegs so I’ll have to leave everything packed up. I hope nobody steals anything.
Tues. May 16, 1944 - I know this travelling puts an awful strain on my disposition especially when we have to stand outside a railway station for two hours waiting for a transport that should have met us. We do enough waiting at strange stations without being treated like strangers at our own station. Well darling, that’s the only gripe I’m going to put into this letter, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m browned off, because I’m not really.
Travelling is getting increasingly difficult by train as they are taking some of the runs off I see by the paper and we nearly always miss connections, due to trains being late.
|View from the train on the outskirts of London|
No sooner did the dance band get back from a place near Bournemouth Saturday night than we had to pack off to Liverpool Sunday afternoon.
June 7, 1944 - We haven’t had a minute to ourselves since we started this “Canada Day” tour last Sunday. . . .We arrived in Cambridge at noon Monday and there too the mayor treated us to luncheon. We also did a parade around town . . .another concert on one of those antiquated bandstands and also a dance.
When we awoke the next morning we were told the news that the whole world had been waiting to hear for months [i.e. about the D-Day invasion.]
June 12, 1944 - I hope you are getting at least some of the letters I have been writing. Now that the second front has started maybe they’ll let the mail through as usual.
On June 5, 1944 about 500 boats left from the quay at Poole, just west of Bournemouth, and from many other ports along the south coast, travelling across the English Channel to invade Europe. On D-Day, June 6 the Allied forces landed on the French beaches at Normandy for what was called Operation Overlord. Throughout the summer, they pushed deeper inland, steadily unsettling the German stronghold, resulting in the eventual liberation of Europe.
Harry didn’t know exactly what was going on, and even if he did, he couldn’t write about it in his letters, as any reference to troop movements and locations was censored.
|Reminder at the bottom of letter from Harry|
Even though he was writing faithfully, Helen hadn’t had a letter from him for about a month, and was getting quite worried.
Toronto, June 7/44(excerpt)
I’ve just been sitting here looking at old pictures and reading old letters, and realize that after not seeing you for over ten months, I still think just as much or more of you honey. I’ll be so happy when I receive a letter from you again. I’ve waited only two days longer than three weeks, but oh! it seems months for me. Surely it will be coming through soon.
|Allied troops landing on the beach at Normandy on D-Day|
I heard the big news [about D-Day] about seven o’clock yesterday morning, and I just couldn’t sleep after that. There just wasn’t anything else on the radio all day. They told us the news was received very quietly in London. The general comment was “That’s good”. I phoned your Mother about ten and she didn’t even know about it; she said they didn’t have the radio on before they went to bed. When I went to work yesterday afternoon the men were talking about it and keep us back from our work for an hour or so. We didn’t hear the King’s speech at three.
. . . Kay just got another letter from her Merchant Marine. She waited five months for the one before that and told me last night that I might have to wait that long. I said I wouldn’t write then but she assured me I would.I’ve been sitting here a long time writing this darling but enjoy doing it if I know you are receiving them. As you will conclude from what I’ve said, I’m still missing you and loving you and will until I can have you with me again, and always after that. Bye, Love and kisses, Helen