Visit to the Falls

For those without vehicles, getting out of the city presented a challenge during the hot summer months. Two popular excursions at the time were taking the ferry
Cayuga steamship which travelled between Toronto & Queenston Heights
to the Toronto Islands and going by boat on Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls.
The Cayuga steamship travelled daily between Toronto and Queenston Heights on the Niagara Peninsula throughout the 1940s. The trip took approximately two hours, depending on the weather. Evening entertainment and refreshments were available to pass the time for the travellers.

                                    *        *        *

Reluctantly, Helen woke up at 6 a.m. when her alarm went off. She’d worked until 12:30 a.m. the night before, on the evening shift, and knew she would be tired, but she thought that the summer was almost half over and she might not get another chance to visit Niagara Falls. She’d been in the east three years now and hadn’t made the trip yet, so when Ida suggested the outing, she jumped at the chance. And she thought the fresh air would do her good.
            Looking out her window as she got dressed, she thought it was a bit cloudy and might rain, but they’d made their plans, so she quickly ate some cereal and toast and was out the door and down to the docks by 7:45 a.m., to meet Ida and catch the boat.
            They sat out on the lower deck by the railing so that they could see the water, but went inside when it got too windy.
Promenade deck cabin, Cayuga steamship
“I guess you and the boys have made this trip many times,” said Helen.
“Yes, we usually tried to go at least once a season – Harry and Ross really got a kick out of it, we’d usually do something different each time we went, like go out on the Maid of the Mist, or get our photos taken,” said Ida.
The sun gradually came out and the weather was totally clear by the time they reached Queenston. There was quite a crowd gathered and they had to stand up in the buses that took them to the falls.
            They gazed at the water rushing over the gorge, marvelling at its power of the water and breathing in the  mistiness of the air, standing silently, lost in their own thoughts, for several minutes. Then they went over to the park to eat their picnic lunch of salmon sandwiches, tea and cake that Ida had packed. Afterwards they wandered around the shops, buying souvenirs and postcards to send to Harry.
“Oh, I forgot to bring my pen with me, do you have one Ida?” Helen asked her.
“No, I’m afraid not dear.”
Helen (left) & Ida at Niagara Falls
“Oh well, I guess I’ll send them when I get home, he’s always sending me postcards of all the beautiful places he’s been, so now it’s my turn.”
            After supper at the Foxhead Inn, they caught the 6:30 p.m. bus back to Queenston Heights. A storm was brewing and fortunately they were on the boat before it was fully felt.
            The music started up on the main deck and as the passengers went over to the dance floor, Helen watched them dreamily, thinking about how she wished Harry were there with them. When the band played Night and Day, she thought about the words and how the meaning fit her feelings exactly. Outside, the rain teemed down and the lightning flashed off in the distance. The dramatic weather seemed to reflect her inner state – tumultuous emotions that only Harry could calm.
            To steady herself, she stopped at the refreshment stand to buy a couple of cups of coffee and brought them back to Ida without spilling them, despite the roughness of the water.
            It was close to midnight by the time they reached Toronto.

Toronto, excerpts July 2, August 23/44,
My Darling Harry:
Well we got back all right last night honey, but we were both very tired. I could hardly keep my eyes open on the street car. Your Mother wanted me to come up for the night, but I thought it best to come home.
            We arrived there [at Niagara Falls] about 11:30 a.m. and your Mother was starved so we went to the park and had our lunch, which she brought, then we walked around the grounds and gazed at the Falls. They are beautiful and fascinating aren’t they? It’s impossible to go near them on the Canadian side now and they’re even more terrific there. You could go further than the Park Restaurant at one time couldn’t you? I wandered down that far by myself after we’d had a rest in the park. We should have brought our birth certificates, then we could have gone across to the American side.
            I finished my film and tried to get another, but couldn’t, so only have three, and maybe they won’t turn out. The afternoon wasn’t long at all; we had supper at the Foxhead Inn, and began queuing up for the bus about 6:30 p.m. and had an hour’s wait, but we were on first, and enjoyed the ride back. The boat was late in and didn’t leave until 9:20 p.m. We parked ourselves on the upper deck – it was nice until the storm came up. I got a bit dizzy so walked around and watched them dance. It didn’t last very long though, so we went out again. It was almost twelve when we docked. We both enjoyed the day; I would have been more lonesome for you if she[Ida] hadn’t been with me. You were in my thoughts darling.
            Harry I just had a nice letter from Mary Gibson [Helen’s friend in the CWACs I believe], and do you know what? She said your band was there to greet them along with other Air Force personnel. She recognized you too, and said it was so nice to see a familiar face so soon, but she was not in a position to speak to you, otherwise she says, “I could have given him first hand news about his fiancé but I imagine you look after that pretty well yourself”. She has seen her Norman, who was just stationed ten miles away – also her sister. She’s very busy, but had a bicycle so is seeing the countryside. She might be stationed at the hospital where you were playing.
            Well honey, guess I better go now, as it’s nearly time to get ready for work and I’ll have to dig out my rubbers and umbrella.
            So long sweetheart, All my love and kisses, Helen.
Helen at Niagara Falls
July 21/44, August 12/44 excerpts
My Dearest Darling Helen,
Just received your very romantic post cards from Niagara Falls. How I wish I could have been with you dearest. I know just how tiresome that trip is too, especially when it’s hot!! Mother’s air letter came this morning dated 24th, exactly a week, isn’t that terrific!
. . . I received your five letters up until August 2 to-day and also the snaps sweetheart!! I’d like to give you a great big kiss for sending them. Those high cheek bones of yours do things to me. Pardon me for being nosey, but isn’t that the same dress you wore last summer? Mother’s looking well, isn’t she?. . . 
All my love, angel. Harry.

Late August, 1944 – Things are Looking Up

After being away for four months, the band was finally back in Bournemouth. They had been ordered to leave the city in advance of D-Day on June 6 to make room for the incoming troops.
Getting off the train, they carried their kit bags and boots through streets overflowing with rhododendrons to the Knights of Columbus, their temporary quarters. Each claiming a cot, they draped their belongings around their own sleeping spot.
“It’s good to be back in the most beautiful place on earth,” Harry said.
“Why don’t we go out and celebrate?” Ossie suggested.
“What did you have in mind?
“Let’s take all our leave rations and hit the shops over in Boscombe.”
The band travelled all around England during the summer, 1944
“Great idea!”
Several of them headed down to the main street butcher and each bought 2 inch thick beef steaks – twice the civilian ration for a week, then bought milk and Hovis loaves at the grocer’s.
“Let’s go back and get the B.W.S.O. to cook it up for us,” Ossie said.
“What a lift a bottle of milk can give you after being deprived of it for so long,” Harry said on their way back after drinking one of the two quarts he bought. “I feel like a million, no kidding.”
They handed over their groceries to the cook, then relaxed at the mess tables. Soon, dinner was served.
“This is the most delicious steak I’ve ever tasted,” Smitty said, savouring every bite.
“A good meal can sure boost the morale,” Harry said.
“So, how much do you weigh now?”
“149 lbs., with my boots on – the most I’ve ever weighed in my life.”
“Well, we all should get fatter now that we’re back in Bournemouth.”
“I guess we better check the newspapers and see if we can find more permanent accommodations,” Harry said pushing his plate away.
Band members listening to jazz, Harry on right
“I’m way ahead of you there,” said Smitty. “I picked up a Bournemouth Times at the train station. But there doesn’t seem to be much available – only rooms in the suburbs, which would mean standing in queues for hours and taking the bus four times a day, to get to our practices and shows.”
“I guess we’ll have to put an ad in ourselves if we’re to find anything half decent.”
“How about we do that tomorrow – it’s too nice a day to waste. Look at that view – the channel is beckoning.”
“You’re on – let’s go down to the beach.”
As they walked down the Upper Cliff road, they noticed that the barbed wire had been lifted from the beach so they could walk along the two miles of sand towards what was left of the Bournemouth pier. They could see the white cliffs of the Isle of Wight off in the distance.
“It’s hard to believe all those ships left from here,” said Harry.
“Yeah, that newsreel showed thousands of them going over to Normandy. It seems that many of them left from Poole and Weymouth, just over there.” Smitty pointed further west along the coast.
“Too bad we weren’t here to witness it all,” Harry said. “Do you ever feel guilty that we aren’t fighting on the frontlines?”
“Sometimes – I did get rifle training, but my eyesight was poor and when they knew I could play an instrument, they assigned me to the band.”
“I didn’t even try for combat duty – I knew my mother would have had a fit – as it was, she didn’t want me to join up. My parents had just returned from England before the war started and knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant scene. My being in the band was the most she could tolerate.”
“If we had gone to the continent, chances are you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
As they got closer to the Pavilion near downtown Bournemouth, they found a spot on the beach, and joined the other sun bathers.
 “Outside of those planes passing overhead and the almost continuous artillery practice, you’d hardly know there was a war on,” Harry said.
Smitty (left) & Harry
“Here, have a cigar – I’ve been saving them up for just this moment – to our safe arrival back in Bournemouth.”  Smitty lit both their smokes.
“I guess some things are getting back to normal, but it does make you wonder how long this war will last.”

Bournemouth, Sept. 7, 1944
My Darling Helen,
 I hope you will have more luck in finding a room than we are darling . . . We’re going to see about some furnished flats tomorrow and hope we have more luck.
            I played a job in Boscombe last night (a suburb of Bournemouth) and I was the only sax with three rhythm. Boy did I sweat! I’m working tomorrow night if I can contact the man. By the way I played alto and can still get a good tone on it so the tenor hasn’t done it any harm. I’m afraid I smashed up the tenor a bit when I threw it on the floor one night; it works with a couple of elastics though. 
            Well our leave is almost over – it seemed very short really . . . I spend my leisure time walking through the gardens here and along the sea shore when it isn’t too cool. That’s about all there is to do outside of shows and dances. I think we’ll be going to London in a couple of weeks for nine days to relieve the #1 band. The authorities seem to agree that London is now safe from any attack the enemy might think up. I think the Germans will be in for an even greater ordeal when the air force really starts to work on them.  
Well, sweetheart, I’m getting a little sleepy and all the other boys are in bed. It’s another day closer to the end of the war and you angel; that’s how I look at it. Good night sweetheart. All my love forever. Harry

Bournemouth, Wed. Sept. 13, 1944 
My Darling Helen,
I haven’t received a letter from you this week, I hope you’re not mad at me angel or are you busy looking for a room? Al and I found one in Winton, 10 minutes on a bus from the Square with a nice old lady who can’t seem to do enough for us. The room is very nice with two single beds and ridiculously cheap – 28 shillings a week with breakfast and dinner, we’ll have to rustle up our own supper at night as she’s working until 8:30 p.m. every week day. She didn’t want to take anything for the room while we were travelling but we talked her into taking a shilling every day we were on the road. One of the chaps got talking to an old lady who wouldn’t let him pay a cent for her room – how about that!
            Well darling, we’re going up to Liverpool tomorrow morning but will be back here Saturday night to play an officer’s dance and church parade Sunday; rather a busy weekend. We’re moving into our room on Monday and I think we’ll be very comfortable. We hired a taxi this afternoon to take our kit up and what a load it was.
            Al and I spent a very enjoyable evening just sitting on the sand watching the waves break while we smoked a cigar. Great life eh? Now that we’re in the money again it puts a new light on things in general. Now that I’ve saved £200 I’m going to do all I can to save £300.
            We’ve been doing a little rehearsing this week on some new music; we’re playing a show at the Regent theatre Sunday night for the boys.
            I really must close for now sweetheart; we have to get up at the ungodly hour of seven and it’s nearly twelve now so, I’ll be seeing you. All my love angel.

Visiting the Wounded

“I’ve never been in a hospital before, imagine that,” said Helen.
“I was only in once, when I had scarlet fever as a child,” said Ida. “Both boys were born at home.”
“Even when my brother spilled hot gravy all over me and I was burned badly, the doctor came to the farm and bandaged me up,” said Helen.
The two were on their way to Christie Street Veterans’ Hospital* to visit a young man Helen knew from Saskatchewan.
“Do you have the room number Helen?” Ida asked.
“Yes, Florence gave it to me,” she said, fishing it out of her pocket.
 “What did you say happened to him?”
“Well Florence wrote to tell me her brother Ray had been wounded in the Italian campaign and was sent here shortly afterwards. I think his arm was badly damaged. He hasn’t had any visitors – he doesn’t know anyone in Toronto, so she asked me to go to see him,” Helen said.
Walking down the long corridor, they searched for his room, when a kindly nurse offered to help. She took them to the lounge, where Ray was sitting up, with bandages over most of his body.
“Ray, it’s Helen from Tisdale, and this is my fiancé’s mother Ida Culley,” Helen explained. “Florence wanted us to come and see you. How are you?”
Ray looked at them groggily, trying to make out who she was and what she was saying. After a moment, he smiled.
“Not too bad considering.”
“From what Florence said, it’s amazing that you’re alive,” Helen said.
“Yes, the Gerries rained down pretty hard on us. I jumped out of the way just in the nick of time. My buddy wasn’t so lucky.”
“I’m so sorry. Is there anything we can do for you?” Helen asked.
“No thanks, they’re treating me pretty well here. How are things in Saskatchewan?”
“Fine, I guess. I’m working in Toronto now at the TTC, not far from here.”
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Ida said, spotting a piano on the other side. As she started to play, the patients sitting around the room perked up.
“Where is your fiancé stationed?” Ray asked.
“Harry’s pretty safe – he’s down in Bournemouth most of the time, but they do go to London regularly, so I worry when he’s there.”
“He’s one of the fortunate ones.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Yes, Rose back home, if she’s still waiting for me.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be so happy to see you again.”
Helen could hear Ida playing “An Hour Never Passes” and she fell silent for a few moments, as she listened to the beautiful melody.

* during World War II so many injured soldiers came to the Christie Street Veterans’ Hospital (also known as the Military Orthopedic Hospital) that it became overcrowded. As a result, in 1948, construction began on the new Sunnybrook Hospital.
Harry's Civil Defense Diary

Toronto, July 9, Sept. 5, Sept. 13, Oct. 22, Nov. 9/44[compilation]

My Darling Harry,
I just read your letter over again and listened to their [Harry and Ida’s] radio program, so now I shall write you a few lines. I was going to sit in the easy chair to do it but I always get too sleepy there. It’s a chilly damp night, hasn’t rained but looks like it – must be like the weather you’ve been having.
Last night the two of us went to the Hospital. Ray was sitting on the sofa so we sat with him for a few minutes then your Mother played and we walked down with him to see the first part of an entertainment show, left around nine and I went home with her for an hour or so. He was wounded badly, but his arm is all right. He seems very cheerful and isn’t suffering much now.
. . . Are you still up in Glasgow? You should like going there; at least it’s safe anyway. I bet you wouldn’t get over that episode in London for a few days. If you were actually confronted with it all the time, you would be accustomed to it like the boys in the fighting lines. I don’t know how they can have any nerves at all. Those robots [i.e. V-1 and V-2 pilotless rockets] are the most terrible menace yet; they [the Allies] seem to be doing all in their power to combat them though. I hope you don’t have to go back [to London] for awhile. Those poor people go through so much. 
On the news this morning there were reports of more bombings on the south coast – well, that starts me wondering. It’s impossible to keep up with current events the way our troops are progressing now – it’s great.
Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Churchill* just spoke on the air; thanking Canadians for their hospitality and speaking words of encouragement in both English and French. There will be much excitement at Quebec this week. So far, their plans have been carried out – if only the final phases don’t last too long.
My days are filled with just little things, and I’m not in a position to see something different as you are, although there’s lots in this city I have yet to see. I know you have influenced me in my interests, outlook and naturally, my thoughts – that fact just came to me dear.
Have you heard that song “An Hour Never Passes?” – it’s nice.
So long sweetheart, All my love and kisses, Helen

*The Second Quebec Conference took place in Quebec City from September 12 – 16, 1944, to develop the Morgenthau Plan for postwar Germany, other war plans, Hyde Park Agreement involving Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mackenzie King.

An Hour Never Passes by Jimmy Kennedy, performed by Jimmy Dorsey, 1944
An hour never passes but I think of you
An hour never passes but I miss you too 
Every day from dawning till the moon rides low
You’re beside me darling everywhere I go
An hour never passes, the clock never chimes
But I keep recalling those old happy times
Without my prayer for you in each lonely sigh
An hour never passes by.

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