Life on a Military Station

In the fall of 1944, the band was on another tour through the midlands to raise money for the war in the Victory Loan bond drive. While playing concerts and dances in the officer’s mess at night, and parades in nearby towns during the day, the musicians stayed in Nissen corrugated steel huts on the stations. 
The RCAF band travelled by train through the Midlands
These structures were common during the war as they could be put up and taken down quickly and provided accommodation efficiently. They were also used for other purposes, such as storing munitions. Sometimes their roofs would be covered with earth and grass so that they would be camouflaged from enemy planes. However, they were quite cold and draughty, and the men were feeling it as the weather started to take a turn for the worse.

                                                            *          *           *

“Barracks life is pretty boring, all we have to do is listen to the rain teeming on the roof,” Smitty complained as he laid back on his cot, pulling the thin army-issue wool blanket over him.
“I know, we’ve certainly been spoiled – living out in comfortable homes and being doted on by older women,” said Harry.
“So Mrs. Hart treats you well?” asked Bill.
“You bet, she gets home from work at 8:30 p.m., then she makes us tea and sandwiches, and we’re up yammering away till about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.,” said Smitty.
“She looks after us like a Trojan – she even does our laundry and irons our shirts,” said Harry.
“You guys certainly lucked out – it’s pretty much every man for himself back at the Atherstone Hotel, Bournemouth’s finest,” said Bill.
“Well it makes up for our lack of female affection,” said Harry. “Which reminds me, I should get started on a letter to Helen.” He dug into his kit bag for his pen, ink and airmail form.
“You two lovebirds should do what Les and his girlfriend do,” said Bill.
“What’s that? or dare I ask?” Harry wondered.
“At a predetermined time, they both go into dark rooms, close their eyes and concentrate hard on the other one who’s on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and they claim they can communicate to each other through their minds,” Bill explained.
“They sound like nutcases to me,” said Smitty as he lit a cigarette. “Good thing they found each other.”
“That reminds me – I haven’t had a letter from Helen’s cousin yet,” Bill said.
“Weren’t you supposed to write her first?” Harry asked.
“Let’s see her picture again. . hmmm... she’s a pretty good looker. Do you have her address?”
“Somewhere, I think in one of the letters from a few months ago – here’s a blank airmail, you get started and I’ll look for it.”
“Do you carry those love letters around with you everywhere you go?” Bill asked.
“Yeah, so, what’s it to you?
Band members writing letters home, Nissen huts in background
“Just wondering, that’s all, no offense,” Bill said.
“Harry’s sensitive when it comes to Helen,” Smitty kidded him.
 “It’s getting cold in here, does anyone know how to work the stove?” Harry asked.
“I could try,” Smitty offered, taking out his lighter and flicking it inside the heater. “I don’t know why it’s not catching.”
“Where’s Jonesy? He’s good at fixing things.”
“Did I hear someone call my name?” Jonesy said as he entered the hut, dripping wet.
“We can’t get this stove to go and we’re freezing to death in here,” Smitty said.
“Maybe the chimney’s plugged up, I’ll go have a look.” After checking the stove, he grabbed a broom, went back outside and climbed on the roof. He poked the handle down the chimney, and lo and behold, a heap of soot came pouring out the other end.

Gloucester, Wed. Oct. 18/44
My Darling,
Just a few lines to let you know I am keeping well and hope you are too. We’ve had so much rain up here that we’re all beginning to feel like ducks and we’ll be here all week and I’m sure I don’t know why because all we’re doing is playing a dance on Saturday night. . . .
[Oct. 5] Bill is writing to Georgie across from me and is having quite a time in the process. He’s been going to write for months but doesn’t know what to put in the letter. I’m sure I can’t help him much. I have a tough enough time with my own!
I’ve just been reading your letters over again darling, you see our mail is being forwarded on Saturday so I’ll just have to wait patiently until then to hear how you spent your holidays. I hope you had decent weather as that helps a lot doesn’t it? Did you take any snaps? I hate to keep bugging you about that but you know how I like to get them.
It’s very miserable here though, all one has for entertainment is drinking and I’m trying awfully hard not to do too much! Believe me I am. xx
            Smitty and I went to the Monk’s Retreat last night. You go down a flight of stairs to get in and it’s about 300 years old. It seems the monks had a tunnel from the Gloucester Cathedral to this underground chamber and they stored their beer there. Hence the name Retreat.  
RCAF band on tour
            Well sweetheart, how are you getting on? I wish I could see you tonight and tell you just how much I love you. I’ll bet it would be nice at the Old Mill[in Toronto]  tonight, just the two of us. I just wonder if you dream about us as much as I do angel.
What a drab existence barrack life is compared to the way we are living. We have two little stoves in the hut which Jonesy our discipe takes the greatest joy in keeping alight. Last night one of them refused to keep going so we figured the chimney (a pipe) was plugged with soot. It was teeming rain but that didn’t stop Jonesy from climbing on the roof and poking a broom down the chimney and getting half a pail of soot out of it. It went after that believe me. What language he called that stove! He sure is big hearted though and we all like him.
Well, darling, I’ve rambled on about myself as usual but I guess you like to know what I’m doing with myself. I sure like to know how you are doing. How long, Oh Lord, how long!
            Must close now sweetheart, much as I hate to. I don’t like hurrying away, especially from you, you know that! angel. I’d like to hold you in my arms and tell you everything I’ve been thinking while I’ve been writing this. All my love honey. Harry.
RCAF band playing in field at Innsworth Station near Gloucester

Victory Loan at Home, October 1944

Helen, Connie and Kay were looking forward to Wednesday night - the TTC’s Victory Loan fundraiser at the popular Savarin Restaurant and Tavern, 336 Bay St. in downtown Toronto.Fortunately, the young women were able to arrange their shifts so they were off that evening.
Money was still needed for the war effort, especially now that the tide was turning for the Allies with their troops moving steadily through Europe.
                                    *      *       *

The dining room was filled with brightly coloured streamers as about 250 people made their way to their tables.
“My, you’d think it was already Victory Day the way this room is decorated,” Connie commented.
“Well, the news the last few days is good, with    Canadians and Americans making significant headway,” said Helen.
“It won’t be long now,” said Kay, as they squeezed through the crowd to find a spot.
“Mind if we join you?” Helen asked the group sitting at one of the tables.
“Not at all, these seats are vacant.”
“Where are you girls from?” Helen asked.
“Head Office – what about you?”
“We’re in the Motor Traffic Division at Davenport and Bathurst,” she said.
“I’m Lillian, and this is Mary.”
As everyone introduced themselves, Helen noted how smart they all looked, a little different from the more casual get-togethers they’d had when she’d worked at the Department of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa.
“I think our bosses let us come because our department is working so hard on the drive – we went over the top last night,” said Connie. “Frank in our dept. sold $5,000 worth of bonds in two days to the drivers and the other staff.”
“And in our spare time we’ve been booking charter buses for the military bands to give fundraising concerts  around the province,” said Helen.
“So, do any of you have boyfriends overseas?” asked Lillian as she lit a cigarette.
“Helen’s fiancĂ© is in England, and my boyfriend is on the continent – I’m not sure where at this point, I haven’t heard from him in awhile,” said Connie.
“You know, I just heard the other day that 20,000 Canadians have taken English brides, and that it’s only about one in a hundred fellows who don’t go out on dates, even if they have girlfriends and wives,” said Lillian.
“Oh, don’t listen to her Helen and Connie – I’m sure most of the men are true to their sweethearts back home,” said Kay.
“Shh -  the head commissioner’s about to speak,” said Helen.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen – glad to see you all here tonight. We’re pleased at the good news coming to us from Europe – it won’t be long now until we’re victorious, especially if we continue to do our part here at home to support our boys in the forces. The Toronto Transportation Commission is doing all we can to raise money to ensure triumph – we’ll be sending around a memo next week with plans outlining scheduling for V-Day when that happy day arrives.  In the meantime, we have a full evening ahead of us. After dinner we’ll see the latest newsreel from the American 8th Air Force . . .”
As they all listened, Helen reflected on Lillian’s words, wondering about Harry’s faithfulness.

Toronto, July 18, Oct. 20 ,Oct. 24, Dec. 5/44[excerpts]
My Darling Harry,
Well if it isn’t Friday night again, and you’re due for another letter honey, but very little has happened since my last one.
            However, I can tell you I’m all right and still thinking about you an awful lot – every spare minute, to be truthful.
            Wednesday night I attended a Victory Loan dinner sponsored by the T.T.C. at the Savarin. There were about 250 there; six were represented from our office. After the dinner we were entertained by the usual speeches and newsreels. It was a very nice evening; I met a number of girls from H.O. and the other Divisions. Quite different from those parties held by the Steel Control in Ottawa!
You used to play at that Club, didn’t you? I remember seeing the picture of your orchestra, which you have in your room.
Savarin dance band, 1941, Harry on left (before he went overseas)
I’m waiting until after this pay day, and will pay cash for it [i.e. the bond]  rather than have it deducted monthly – that’s what I did last time.
Velma and Vivie [Helen’s younger sisters] were “Miss Canadas” last week and sold $15 worth of War Savings Stamps on a Saturday, which is fair for a small town like Melfort. I bet they looked cute as they almost look like twins. Jean (the oldest one) is sixteen today. A girl from home came up and spoke to me on the street car yesterday. I hardly recognized her as I haven’t seen her for years.
I’m told that there’s about one fellow in a hundred who doesn’t go on dates over there, and their girl friends or wives never hear about it. I would prefer to be told and if true, I’d do the same thing myself – I’m not kidding. It’s up to both to play fair, don’t you think? You know we didn’t say anything about that before you went away – we just seemed to take it for granted. Well, I’ve never two-timed you, not once, and unless you’ve changed, I can’t think you would either. Letters are proof anyway, and you’ve never let me down in that respect. Anyone could guess that with a glance at my file. Yes, you should almost be able to write a novel without effort after this.
Your Mother dropped in for a few minutes while I was working last night on her return from CFRB.  I couldn’t talk to her long though – she is looking well these days. Thursday is a busy day for them with the two broadcasts [one at CFRB and one at CBC]. Don’t you like the song “Someday I’ll Meet You Again” or have you heard it?
I hope you’re keeping fit honey. I’m trying to, and am also learning to take waiting in my stride, but it isn’t always easy, as you know.
Bye dearest. All my love. Helen xxxxx

Bournemouth, Nov. 30, Dec. 19/44 excerpts
My Sweetheart Helen,
I just received your three letters of 3rd, 5th, and 7th to-day at long last; the post office is working overtime here what with so many parcels and extra letters so there’s bound to be a little delay until after Christmas.
. . . . I suppose what you say about fellows going on dates is true, darling, but you must consider, before you class me with them, our different living conditions, which I think has a lot to do with it. How many of the chaps over here are living as comfortable as we are? I venture to say only the high ranking officers really. The only time I go out is when there is money involved [i.e. to play a dance job]  or very occasionally to a pub or show; you see we’re here [in Bournemouth]  so seldom that we like to take full advantage of  our good fortune – long may it last! I can’t really blame fellows that have been kicking the streets for years before D-Day to break out once in a while, it’s only human nature I guess.
            I don’t wonder at you getting those silly notions into your head sometimes darling but I know you don’t really believe them. It is awfully hard sometimes trying not to be impatient isn’t it?
Well, sweetheart, I hope that little explanation clears your mind of any little doubts you may have had concerning myself. I want our love to last forever and am doing all in my power to see that it does and I never had any doubts whatever that you were too. . . .
All my love, Harry

Someday I'll Meet You Again by the Inkspots (1944)

Someday I'll meet you again
Tell me where, tell me when
Someday I'll meet you again
And I'm yours until then.

Each night I'll wish on a star
That you stay as you are
You have my heart but my heart
Wonders when we'll meet again.

Honey, someday I'll meet you again
Please tell me where Darlin', tell me when
I know some day I'm bound to meet you again
And I swear by all of me I'll be yours until then

Each night I'll wish on a star
That you stay as you are
You have my heart but my heart
Wonders when we’ll meet again.

Parcels of Love

Harry’s relatives and friends and, of course, Helen sent many parcels to him, especially at Christmas time. They mailed sweets such as chocolates, toffee and fudge, fruit cakes, tinned food, cigarettes, tobacco, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, soap, hand knit socks, camera film and for the holiday season, liquor, if it was available. Harry also received packages from his old high school, Vaughan Collegiate and Eaton’s, where he was working before he signed up. Some parcels were lost at sea, but surprisingly he received most of them, sometimes months after they were mailed. The deadline for Christmas boxes was late October, so Helen was trying to get everything together before then.

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Helen slumped into her chair exhausted, dropping her  bags on the floor. She had just returned from the post office on St. Clair Avenue where they told her the parcel she was sending to Harry was overweight. She’d have to take some things out and repack it, which she wasn’t looking forward to.
The bottle of rum that Harry asked for in his last letter was the tipping factor – it made up most of the weight.
Just then there was a knock at her door.
“It’s the phone for you Helen,” said Mabel. “I think it’s Ida.”
She went downstairs to answer it.
“Helen, do you have any room for some fruit cake in your box?” Ida asked.
“I’m afraid not. I have to take out something as it is because it’s too heavy, not sure what at this point.”
“Alright, that’s fine, I’ll keep it for the next one. What are you sending him anyway?”
“Oh, the usual, a tin of chicken, some crackers, peanut butter, the socks I just finished, the fudge I made at your place last week and a bottle of rum for Victory Day which he thinks will come before Christmas – that’s what he asked for in his last letter.”
“Well, according to the latest news, Victory Day might be a while yet, however, we can always hope.”
“Oh, and by the way, he says he has lots of soup, hot chocolate, tins of spaghetti and sardines, so don’t send him any more for now,” said Helen.
“Alright. Glad he’s got enough to keep him going for awhile.”
“Not that I have any room in this one, but did you find out if we can send newspapers over?”
“No, I called about it last week, and they’re not allowed.”
“Alright – bye for now.”
Helen hung up and went back upstairs to her labour of love. 

Toronto, Oct. 20, Nov. 9, Nov. 24/44 excerpts
My Darling Harry,
Well, here it is Friday again - I’ve been working from 4:30 to 12:30 p.m. these last two nights as one of the men is sick. It has given me a chance to do a few things through the day – washing for instance and packing boxes. They are both on the way now – I had the second one all packed, decided it was rather heavy so took it down and had it weighed -  1 ¾ lbs. overweight so I began to unpack it. We do have our troubles too you see. You’ll no doubt receive numerous parcels -  better have a vacant corner in your room ready!

            Have you been at home these last two weeks? Not exactly quiet in the southern sections according to reports. Well, I hope they stay away from the extreme coast anyway. There is certainly heavy fighting going on these days – with many reverses. It will be hard going once the cold weather comes. 
Don’t think I’m always asking – but listen – how about another snap of the two of you [i.e. Harry and Smitty] with raincoats, hats and all? You have the film, so get Bill or somebody to take it the first sunny day.
We were glad to know you received a couple of the parcels, you should have the one I sent about that time too. We noted the things you have a complete supply of – so will not include them again. Just don’t hesitate to mention any little thing you like and know can be sent darling. Wouldn’t mind getting packed in a box myself, if when I reached the destination I could pop out and look at you – oh shucks!
 I enjoyed myself Wednesday, left here at 1:00 p.m. and went downtown. I was at a loss to know what to get Mother and Dad this year [i.e. for Christmas], finally decided on a wine-coloured Morris chair, when I found out it could be sent for $1.00 [out to Saskatchewan.] Eatons pay the expenses to Kenora. Now Ray [Helen’s brother in the RCAF] wants me to get them a present for him too.
Don’t I wish that was really a good night kiss of yours! Guess we’ll just keep them for a little while yet – but oh! I’m always missing you honey. Goodnight, My best love, Helen

Toronto, Oct. 24/44
Darling Harry
. . . It was announced the other day that there was a big fire in a Post Office in Montreal last Friday and a great number of Christmas parcels were burned. If you don’t receive my first one, maybe that’s what happened to it because I just mailed it on Thursday. I certainly hope you get it though.
Love, Helen

Mon. Nov. 20, 24, 30/44
My Darling Helen –
Wow – what a day this has been. I was practically buried under an avalanche of parcels this morning when I went down for the mail.
            I got three no less and everything was in perfect condition - even the bottle, thank heavens!
I think you need a well deserved rest from packing boxes darling – we have enough food now to last for months. Smitty received one but is expecting more later.
You should have seen the smile on my face as I came out of the post office. I think the queue of P.O.’s were a bit envious. I also received your letters of the 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th. Thanks for everything darling, I don’t know what I’d do without you.
Harry Culley
Al just walked in with two big parcels of food! Our cupboard is just bulging with fruit cake and stuff. I received a rum and honey cake from George [his uncle] yesterday; it looks real nice. We’ll be able to throw a big party here on Christmas if we can buy enough beer.
I also got two dozen chocolate bars (Neilsons) from Vaughan Collegiate, very nice eh?
I almost forgot about the snaps; they’re really swell. Oh darling, I love you so much.
            Well, sweetheart, I’ll have to close for now and get down to the sergeant’s mess where there’s never a liquor shortage. Bless ’em.
All my love angel – you sweet thing. Hugs and Kisses. Harry.

There is No Greater Love, lyrics by Marty Symes, music by Isham Jones
There is no greater love
Than what I feel for you
No sweeter song, no heart so true

There is no greater thrill
Than what you bring to me
No sweeter song
Than what you sing, sing to me

You're the sweetest thing
I have ever known
And to think that you are mine alone

There is no greater love
In all the world, it's true
No greater love
Than what I feel for you


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