Christmas Day at the Royal Bath Hotel, 1944

Christmas decorations adorned the elegant King’s Hall ballroom of the Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth - mistletoe hung in the doorways and over the white-clothed tables and ornaments sparkled atop the leaves of the potted palms surrounding the grand piano. The afternoon sun poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows, beyond which one could see the glistening waters of the English Channel. The hotel itself had not sustained any bomb damage thus far, but gaping holes were evident in the adjoining mansion belonging to the Russell-Cotes, the hotel owners.
For one day at least, the officers of the Royal Canadian and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and their dates would try to forget about the war. They would enjoy a turkey lunch, followed by a dance. 
Royal Bath Hotel, Bournemouth
The twelve members of the dance band entered, set up at the front of the ballroom, and got out their instruments and music stands. As they tuned up, the presiding sergeant came over to wish them a merry Christmas, then invited them to the bar for complimentary scotches and beer. Harry placed his tenor saxophone carefully down on the stand - he had just picked it up after having it repaired at Boosey’s Music Shop in London, and he didn’t want it to get damaged again.
The room started to fill up with happy revellers. As Harry and the others returned from the bar to start their set, they noticed three WAAF’s fooling around with their instruments. One young woman was banging on the piano, while the other two picked up the saxophones and waved them in the air, pretending to blow, while laughing uproariously. The woman holding Harry’s tenor hadn’t realized how heavy it was, and when she saw the musicians approaching, dropped it.
“Is this your saxophone?” she asked sheepishly.
“Yes, unfortunately,” Harry said, biting his lips, trying to contain himself. He looked at the instrument in dismay – one of the keys was broken.
 “I’m so sorry, I just wanted to see if I could get a sound out of it,” she apologized.
 “I think this sax must be jinxed. I guess I’ll send it back to get it fixed again, for the third time.”
“But what will you play tonight?”
“Well, luckily I brought my clarinet, so you’ll have to put up with that instead.”
“Oh, I love the clarinet – Benny Goodman is my hero,” she gushed. “See you guys later.”
“Man, what a bunch of dizzy dames,” Harry said.
“The blond looked pretty good to me, maybe I’ll ask her out tonight,” Smitty said.
“At least she didn’t damage your piano,” Harry grumbled.
When Steve arrived, they started on a medley of jazzed-up Christmas carols, including Jingle Bells and White Christmas. Harry whispered to Bill that it seemed very odd to be playing White Christmas in a room overlooking a beach and tropical trees.
As the sun set on the channel and the light started to fade, they switched to dance tunes and people gradually went over to the floor.
After awhile, Steve turned to face the crowd.
“We’re sending out this next number in honour of Captain Glenn Miller, who you all know, went missing over the Channel on December 15, enroute from Bedfordshire to Paris.*”
As the band played Moonlight Serenade, the mood in the room went sombre, each one thinking about those who had been lost and loved ones back at home.
Glenn Miller

*While travelling to entertain U.S. troops in France in 1944, the plane Miller was on went down in the English Channel, and neither he nor the plane were ever found. 

Bournemouth, Dec. 25, 1944
My Darling Helen,                               
Here I am sitting in front of the log fire again trying to organize my thoughts. We’ve been so busy since Wednesday sweetheart that I haven’t had a minute to myself let alone time for writing. We played at the Airmen’s Mess as usual this afternoon and had turkey afterwards. I’ve never seen so much kissing going on in my life everybody was running around with mistletoe on them, everybody seemed to have a good time.
            Well darling, I took a job for tonight. Christmas is nothing when you can’t be with those you love is it? Smitty is going out on a date so rather than sit here alone all night I thought I’d work. We’ll be going to Gloucester tomorrow for a week of barrack life. I suppose I’ll get plenty of rest there anyway.
Boy, am I full, we just finished some goose and Christmas pudding. I don’t feel like working now, but I guess I’ll have to.
            You haven’t told me what you bought yourself for Christmas from me, darling. I know it’s not the nicest way to receive a gift but at least you get something you want.
Well darling, I must get dressed now as it’s nearly seven.
 I guess you heard about Glenn Miller being listed as missing.
Good-bye for now sweetheart and take care of yourself. All my love, angel. Harry

Moonlight Serenade - Music by Glenn Miller, lyrics by Mitchell Parish

I stand at your gate.
And the song that I sing is of moonlight.
I stand and I wait
For the touch of your hand in the June night.
The roses are sighing a moonlight serenade.

The stars are aglow.
And tonight how their light sets me dreaming.
My love, do you know
That your eyes are like stars brightly beaming?
I bring you, and I sing you a moonlight serenade.

Let us stray 'til break of day
In love's valley of dreams.
Just you and I, a summer sky,
A heavenly breeze, kissin' the trees.

So don't let me wait.
Come to me tenderly in the June night.
I stand at your gate
And I sing you a song in the moonlight.
A love song, my darling, a moonlight serenade.

The End is in Sight

As the new year of 1945 began, things were looking up for the Allies. In early January, approximately 10 million Russian soldiers started moving west from East Prussia, advancing on Berlin. By the end of the month, they were within 50 miles of the city. The Germans were being surrounded on all sides, and ever since D-Day the previous June, had been continually losing soldiers and armaments.

Pub Night
In their new air-force issue overcoats, Harry and Smitty headed over to the Glue Pot pub for a few pints. The full moon shone down on the snow that hung heavy on the tree branches, as they walked through Meyrick Park in Bournemouth. On their way over, they stopped to pick up Bill at his digs. As they entered the pub, the warm air and friendly chatter of the locals greeted them.
“What’ll you have fellows?” the barmaid asked them.
“Pints of Guiness all around,” Bill ordered.  “Just got back from watching the latest newsreel. Looks pretty good, with the Russian army on the move.”
“Yes, it does, but look at what happened in London last week - a rocket destroyed several buildings around the corner from where we usually stay. Nineteen people are being killed there daily, according to the papers,” Smitty said.
 “Well, I think the end is in sight,” said Harry.
“I hear some guys are thinking of staying after the war, they think the work will be good,” said Bill.
 “And some guys are married to English gals - that would be an incentive to stay,” added Smitty.
“Hard to know what’s best, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. By the way, 
how’s your arrangement of ‘I Cover the Waterfront’ coming along? I think Steve needs it for the next dance,” Bill asked Smitty.
“It’s taking longer than I thought, I’m trying to work in a tenor solo for Harry here.”
“Please don’t, I have enough to practise as it is,” Harry moaned.
“I heard the Inkspots singing it on the radio last night – ‘I cover the waterfront, I’m watching the sea, Will the one I love, Be coming back to me?’*” Bill hammed it up.
“Well, my version will be less sappy and more jazzy.”
The Ink Spots, a popular group in the 1940s
 “I can see you guys are happy. How’s the beer?” the barmaid asked as she wiped the counter.
“Less watered down than up in Gloucester.”
“Well, we do try to carry on as usual. Will you have another round?”
“Sure, it’s a lot warmer in here than out there.”
“They say it’s the coldest winter in 50 years,” she said, pulling the taps. “Where’re you guys staying?”
“The Smiths on the other side of Meyrick Park. Our pipes froze last night – the way it’s going we’ll have to melt the snow for water like we do in Canada!”
 “Really, well you won’t catch me going over there like all those war brides.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad, we’re just pulling your leg. But we do have a lot more snow than here, that’s for sure,” Bill said.
“Well, it looks like the war won’t be lasting too much longer and you can all go home.”
“Let’s drink to that!” They all raised their glasses in a cheer.

*Popular song and jazz standard written in 1933 by Johnny Green with lyrics by Edward Heyman, inspired by Max Miller's 1932 best-selling novel I Cover the Waterfront

Bournemouth, Jan.23/45
My Darling,
I haven’t received a letter from you since the one you wrote me on the 5th, isn’t that terrible! They must be sending them over in rowboats or something. Everybody’s is the same too.
As you’ve probably seen by the papers, they are getting a bit of snow over here now. There was quite a blizzard in London on Saturday afternoon and there’s even a bit of snow down here but it’s going to slush on the roads now. To make it worse there’s a shortage of labour to deliver coal and a lot of old women are getting 6 shillings [not sure if that’s the right symbol] worth of coal in a baby carriage, which is 14 lbs. Isn’t that terrible! Our coal has run out but we still have lots of logs and coke.
Well honey, the only spectacular news around here is the Russians and the weather and the newspapers are filled with both. When we got up Friday morning we discovered the pipes in our toilet had frozen during the night and still are. Luckily they are the only taps that did freeze up so we can still wash and shave without having to melt the snow. It’s the coldest winter they’ve had here in fifty years and it’s about 10º out now, the ponds are frozen over and those who have skates are having a swell time, they say next month is going to be just as bad – brr. I hope our logs and coke hold out. We didn’t have any trouble in getting up to Gloucester and back but the Glasgow trains were held up eleven hours on account of snow drifts. They’ve cut down electricity and even the electric clocks are running slow – isn’t that funny?
Also the gas at certain periods and it takes about six hours to cook a roast! So whether you have a coal or gas fire they defy you to keep warm; and you think you have troubles! But don’t get the idea that I’m complaining or being morbid.
             Well, darling, Smitty and I called on Bill this evening and went over to the Glue Pot for a couple of sociable beers. Al’s working on a dance arrangement of “I Cover the Waterfront” and it takes up all his time. I’m reading a book on Wagner and his operas which is quite entertaining, so you see we manage to fill in our spare time all right.

            I don’t know what’s in store for us next week but I hope we’re not going anywhere until it gets warmer.
Well sweet, I honestly think this war is nearly finished; at the rate the Russians are advancing they should be in Berlin by the time you get this, but maybe I’m too optimistic; anyway it can happen so here’s hoping. Goodnight angel with all my love.
[Feb. 4, 1945] The news looks so good these days, it can’t last much longer. It looks as if it will go on until we take the last German town doesn’t it?
Well, darling, I do write the same old stuff and I don’t see how it can sound any different but I won’t stop writing when that is all there is between us. A year and a half seems a long time to us now, but it doesn’t count much in a life time does it? Well, sweet, I’ll close for now but will write again in a couple of days.  
Love, Harry

I Cover the Waterfront by Johnny W. Green / Edward Heyman

Away from the city that hurts and knocks,
I'm standing alone by the desolate docks
In the still and the chill of the night
I see the horizon the great unknown
My heart has an ache
It's as heavy as stone
With the dawn coming on, make it last

I cover the waterfront
I'm watching the sea
Will the one I love
Be coming back to me

I cover the waterfront
In search of my love
And I'm covered
By a starlit sky above

Here am I
Patiently waiting
Hoping and longing
Oh how I yearn
Where are you
Have you thought back time
Will you remember
Will you return

Will the one I love
Be coming back
To me


Helen was off just one day a week, and this one found her tidying up her room, doing laundry, washing her hair and ironing – she thought she might as well get it all done at once.
            Her cousin Georgie was coming over after supper and Helen was looking forward to it – they hadn’t seen each other since before Christmas. Helen laid out her fancy tea cups and tea pot on the tray and put the kettle on the hot plate to boil.
            Just then, she heard a knock.
“Hi cuz – how are you doing tonight?” Georgie peeked her head around the door.
“Come on in. I’m a little tired – I always am when I’ve just come off nights. At least I’m not on that shift again for another six weeks. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”
“That’s what I thought – but at Inglis* as you know we’re on nights for two weeks and days for two weeks, so I think I’m more accustomed to it now. Oh, guess what? I got another letter from Bill!”
“That’s good – I haven’t had one from Harry for awhile, but he did send me some snaps today.”
“Bill said the band just got back from Stratford and London, where there was quite a bit of bombing. In my last letter, I’d asked him about his personality, and he was trying to describe himself, it was quite comical.”
“What did he say?”
“Oh, that he was quiet, intelligent, and liked music – obviously, and that he had great plans for himself after the war.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound too bad to me – at least he’s ambitious.”
“I do like a fellow who enjoys a good time. Let me look at your band photos again – I’ll see if I can pick him out. What a nice album.”
“Ross and Elaine it to me for Christmas, and I just bought some white ink, so I’ve spent the last few days putting all his photos in order. Did I tell you Elaine had her baby on February 4?”
“No - how is she doing?”
“Fine, she just came home yesterday and the baby is  sleeping pretty well. They’re calling him David.”
“That’s nice. They must be very happy.” Georgie brought the album closer. “Let me see. Bill said he’s beside Les who plays the trumpet, so that must be him there,” she said, pointing at the photo.
“Here’s another one of just the dance band – Harry wrote on the back. Bill’s on the right playing bass. He looks very nice.”
“Hmm. I thought he’d be a little taller. Well, we’ll see what the situation is like when he returns.”
RCAF dance band, Bill Mordle (right), Harry Culley (3rd from right)
“Have you seen your sergeant lately?”
“No, he was just on leave for 30 days, and I haven’t had a letter or anything. Have you had any word from your brothers Helen?”
“Yes, Jim wrote to say that he and Murray are being posted to a ship in the Atlantic, where it’s been anything but quiet the last few days. And Ray’s fixing planes near Gloucester.”
As they continued pouring over the photos, Helen thought about how it had been a year and a half since she’d seen Harry and wondered how long it would be until the war was over.
“Oh, it’s 9 o’clock already. Let’s listen to the news.” Helen turned on the radio.
“The Western front continues their advance and the long-awaited offensive is on . . .” said the announcer. “And here at home, in an upset result, General Andrew McNaughton has lost his bid for a seat in Grey-Bruce County . . .”

*The John Inglis Company made weapons such as Bren machine guns, auto cannons and pistols for the Allies during World War II. After the war, they switched to appliances.

Toronto, Feb. 6, March 3 & 6, April 81945, excerpts 10 p.m.
Darling Harry,
I wasn’t expecting all those snaps – thanks honey. They are all arranged already in the way I want them in my album. As I was looking at them, I was thinking of the fact that you had handled them; it’s kind of a personal feeling. The one of you writing is cute, looks as if you’re having a time propping it on your knee. How you ever carried kit bags with all other equipment, is a mystery. I’m glad you got those of Shakespeare’s
Garden path at Shakespeare's birthplace
birthplace; isn’t the garden path pretty? it looks it. Oh yes, I picked you out of that crowd at the Liverpool Hall, but you aren’t in the other group of boys. They do look “well fed,” all right.
            Georgie came over on Sunday, she thought I had a grand collection of snaps and I think I have too. I wonder how a couple of those scenic ones would look enlarged. She had another letter from Bill; he was trying to describe himself and she said it was really funny. She was picking him out of each one of those pictures. She showed me those two snaps of Bill; one was taken with the members of the household where he stays and the other by himself. She liked them, but thought he was much taller. They all go for tall men. Maybe it was just the way he was standing, but he didn’t look as tall as you, is he?
I walked down to the street car with her for the exercise.
Jim [Helen’s brother] mentioned in his letter that they were asking for volunteers for the Pacific, and he doubted if they would get out of it. I hope they don’t [have to go], but we hear so many reports.  
            The election brought a slight change yesterday eh? Gen. McNaughton** can’t understand why he wasn’t elected. He was running for Liberal member in the Grey North county and was defeated by Conservative Garfield Case. It seems he had to win the election in order to have a seat in Parliament, but the Public aren’t for him now.
The news from the front still continues to be good.
Frank Sinatra just sang “I’m beginning to see the Light,” have you heard it? He’s on a new program now. I still prefer Bing though I think.
            Well, sweetheart, guess I’ll go to bed now; it’s the limit how the time goes by when you’re on my mind. It must be love – always yours. Goodnight xxxHelen.
**General Andrew McNaughton was commander of the Canadian army until 1943, then became Minister of Defence. 

I’m Beginning to See the Light by Johnny/James Hodges, sung by Bing Crosby

I never cared much for moonlit skies
I never wink back at fireflies
But now that the stars are in your eyes
I'm beginning to see the light

I never went in for afterglow
Or candlelight on the mistletoe
But now when you turn the lamp down low
I'm beginning to see the light

Used to ramble through the park
Shadowboxing in the dark
Then you came and caused a spark
That's a four-alarm fire now

I never made love by lantern-shine
I never saw rainbows in my wine
But now that your lips are burning mine
I'm beginning to see the light

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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