Of Peace and Pianists

Smitty and Harry were walking home through Meyrick Park after seeing “A Song to Remember” at the Regent Theatre in downtown Bournemouth.
“I enjoyed the film, but I wonder how closely it depicted the life of Chopin?” Smitty asked.
“Probably quite a sentimental, romantic version – Merle Oberon as George Sand was a bit over the top, in my opinion.”
“I agree, but I loved the piano playing, even if the stars didn’t actually do it themselves.”
“Yes, it’s amazing how they can make it look so real. I liked the part when Chopin and Liszt shook hands while playing the Nocturne together, one with his right hand and the other with his left.”
“That was quite a stunt. Do your parents include tricks like that with their two pianos, four hands routine?”
“No, they’re pretty serious when they’re playing, and besides, their grands are end to end, so it wouldn’t be physically possible,” Harry said.
“Do they still perform regularly?”
“Yes, on the radio and stage. Their work really picked up after they got back from England at the beginning of the war. They were here for about two years, including time in South Africa. They went back home when it looked like war was brewing. Who would ever imagine that it would go on for six years.”
“Well, it looks like it’s nearly at the end, what with Hitler gone and Berlin surrendered, it seems to be all over but the shouting,” Smitty commented.
“I guess we can expect the big news any day now.”
A gentle breeze wafted through the elm trees as they left the park under the stone bridge and started walking up their street.
“Do you hear that? It sounds like a piano. Someone’s playing ‘Tenderly’ – that’s my mother’s favourite song,” said Harry.
They walked up the driveway in order to listen better.
All of a sudden, the music stopped, a door flung open, and a distinguished, grey-haired gentleman demanded to know what they were doing.
Smitty was the braver one. “We heard the amazing piano playing and wanted to get nearer.”
“Well, come on in and you can hear me playing it in the same room.”

Bournemouth, Apr. 28/45
My Darling Helen,                   
Received your two letters of 15th and 19th and am so glad mine are reaching you at last. It is provoking to think that they can’t keep up a regular service isn’t it? I mentioned it to the other Toronto boys and their wives were complaining about it too.
            Smitty and I had a funny experience the other night coming home from a show. We were walking past a terrific house when I happened to hear a piano so I stopped for a minute and it sounded pretty good. So Smitty said “Let’s walk up the drive where we can hear it better” so we did. No sooner had we got where we could hear but he [the pianist] stopped and came out and asked what we were doing there. I nearly died, but he immediately invited us in for a beer. He and his wife made us feel at home in no time and I asked him to play a few things for us. One of them was Marigold*.
Mother and Dad play it. He was playing on a Steinway grand which was in a room off the living room but he had another upright piano in the living room. He knows Carroll Gibbons** quite well and even plays like him. He said he recognized Mother when I showed him a picture of the two of them. So he invited the two of us back next week for a “jam session”!! How’s that for a novel way of meeting the right people?
             I’ll close for now dearest. Another Saturday night is here and no place to go. Wish I had a job. All my love darling, always and always. Harry xxxxxxxx
P.S. The International Ballet is here next week so I’ll be down to see them – you didn’t like Prince Igor eh? P.P.S. Bill is about the same height as I am only heavier. P.P.P.S. I love you.

*Marigold, popular composition by Billy Mayerl, an English composer and pianist.
**Carroll Gibbons was a pianist and bandleader who moved to England in 1924 and became popular by playing piano at the Savoy Hotel in London and helped to found the Savoy Orpheans, a jazz group, and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra

Lyrics by Jack Lawrence and music by Walter Groos

The evening breeze caressed the trees tenderly
The trembling trees embraced the breeze tenderly
Then you and I came wandering by
And lost in a sigh were we
The shore was kissed by sea and mist tenderly
I can't forget how two hearts met breathlessly
Your arms opened wide and closed me inside
You took my lips, you took my love so tenderly

Victory in Europe Day

Bournemouth, May 8, 1945
The sun streamed in through the bay window as Smitty opened one eye and reached over to the radio to turn on the news.
 “Prime Minister Churchill is expected to make the declaration of peace later today,” said the BBC announcer. “Stay tuned for the latest developments.”
“Harry, wake up, I think today’s the day,” Smitty shook him. “Listen.”
“The Canadian army in Holland is being repatriated after a successful liberation of that country.”
“Let’s go downtown and see what’s doing.”
They dressed hurriedly and headed out. As they walked through the square, they could see the shop owners draping Union Jacks over the doors and putting up bunting on the windows.
“Has Steve given any orders about our duties for VE day?” Harry wondered.
“Not yet, although likely he’ll have a parade cooked up.”
“Now that you’re a corporal*, we’ll all look to you for the inside scoop,” Harry kidded.
“Will you leave off already? It’s bad enough the ribbing I’m getting from the other guys, please don’t you start. I really don’t feel any different, but I guess I’ll get a little more pay.”
Norfolk Hotel, Bournemouth
They headed over to the Norfolk Hotel, across from the Bournemouth Daily Echo.
“If there’s anywhere to be in Bournemouth, this is probably it,” Harry said.
British, Canadian, and American service personnel and civilians crowded the ballroom, talking, drinking and smoking together in anticipation of the joyous news. The hotel staff was hooking up loud speakers to a radio in front. At precisely 3 p.m. the unmistakable voice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill boomed through the room.      
“Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing. . .”
At that comment, everyone cheered.
Buckingham Palace, VE Day, 1945
“This is your victory. Victory in the cause of freedom. In all our long history, we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their bit. None have flinched. . . God Bless You All.”
Someone started singing “Land of Hope and Glory” and they all joined in, laughing and crying at the same time.
“Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free, . . . Thou hast reigned victorious, thou has smiled at fate. . . Land of Hope and Glory, fortress of the Free, Hark, a mighty nation maketh glad reply; Lo, our lips are thankful, lo, our hearts are high!”
Slowly the band members left the hotel and walked back through the square and up to the Atherstone Hotel, where Les and Bill were boarding.
“What better time to break out my latest parcel from home,” Les announced, as they entered the tiny room.
He unpacked tins of Spam, cheese, cookies, and chocolate bars and offered them around.
Bill got out some rum and coke and they held up their glasses in a toast.
“To the end of this long, bloody war.”

*Corporal is a military rank on a higher level than a private who is paid more.

Bournemouth, Tues., May 8/45
VE Day 12 midnight                 
My Sweetheart Helen
This is the day we’ve all been waiting for. . . . It’s pretty hard to realize now that the war is over. When you consider that three years of your life have been moulded around wartime conditions and now all that is at an end. The news will seem pretty tame now won’t it?
VE Day 1945
. . . One of the boys who just received a parcel invited us over to his hotel to have a feed. . . .Well, after finishing off 5 tins of Spam I spent most of the afternoon lying in bed while the rest of them got to work on rum and cokes. I only had one drink believe it or not. I’ve never seen Smitty get so flushed in the face as he was this afternoon; he was almost purple!
            The landlady invited the ones who could walk down for tea and after that we all went over to the Bowling Green to see the boys who were playing. I didn’t stay long as it was unbearably close and sultry all night with low rain clouds, just like it gets in Toronto in the middle of summer. I walked over to the Pavilion to see the fountain with a POW who was with us and spent a few minutes looking at the constant changing of colours and patterns. It’s really pretty to watch, but we soon got tired of that and went down to the beach and sat down to get cooled off. There was a big bonfire going on the sand with hundreds of people around it singing old songs; they were using deck chairs as fire wood. There was another fire going up in the park.
It was getting late and my feet were getting awfully tired so I decided to head home, and was it dark! The only light to be seen was at the Norfolk Hotel and the people flocked around it like moths. They had floodlights on it and the violinist from the orchestra was playing on the balcony for the crowds. It sure was a feast for the eyes to see all those lights.
Well sweetheart space is running short so will close for now. I love you darling.
All my love Harry xxxxxx

Toronto, May 7, 1945
My Only Sweetheart Harry        
What a day honey! I’m still going around in a daze really. At present it is 9:40 p.m. and I am writing at your dining room table, after having seen the show “A Song to Remember” at Shea’s. I jumped out of bed at ten when I overheard the news on the radio in the next room [of the official surrender.] She [her landlady] said it was true, and I walked back and forth to compose myself or try to. It just happened I had the day off as I worked yesterday instead, wasn’t that nice. As I didn’t get a call in a half hour I phoned your Mother and she hadn’t even heard it. Your Dad was still in bed . . . Then I said I’d come down about one. To add to this, I received your letter of April 28th. It all made me feel the bridge wasn’t so far between us, and your P.P.P.S. on the bottom was so sweet. Oh darling! the thoughts of seeing you thrill me even though I know it will be three to six months. Even the air is different, no kidding.
. . . We were downtown in the mob and we sat on the steps at the City Hall until after three, to see if the official announcement would come, but apparently it has been postponed until tomorrow. At least King George and the other leaders are speaking then. We walked back and saw lots of gay people really doing the town and a couple of accidents, but they had calmed down a bit tonight.
            I told your parents about you meeting that pianist. Did you enjoy your second visit? That was swell. The news reports say the Canadian service men really did it up in London. Guess you won’t be there, will you? We just looked out the window and the fireworks are going off.
            My parents heard your parents’ program on Canadian Cavalcade*. I am excited darling. What will it be like when you come? All day tomorrow those thoughts will run through my mind. Here’s to us. I love you dear.
Always yours. Helen

*Canadian Cavalcade was a CBC radio show that featured duo piano team Harry Sr. and Ida (stage name Claudette) Culley who played live in 15 minute spots.

Fortune Telling

A few days after VE Day, Helen went over to her cousins’ apartment near Dufferin and Dundas streets to celebrate.
“I still can’t believe it’s finally over,” said Georgie, as she brought in the teapot and plate of cookies.
“Yes, it’s been going on so long, I was worried it was going to last forever,” Helen sighed as she sunk into the easy chair.
“It’s great to see the flags still flying and all the streamers in the shops.”
“I hung out two flags from my window to show that I’m doubly happy that it’s ended. It’s a good thing the celebration didn’t turn into a riot here like it did in Halifax. They say the damage was close to five million dollars. The papers blame the Naval Authorities. The sailors were always unpopular; they’ll have a terrible time now. I’m glad Jim and Murray weren’t there,” Helen said, sipping her Earl Grey.
“Murray, at any rate, was always out for a good time – I think Glady had her eye on him,” Georgie smiled.
“Too bad they’re cousins. Yeah, I worry about them both, being their older sister – I hope they don’t have to go to the Pacific now.”
“Have you finished your tea yet?  Let me read your tea leaves – hmmmm,” Georgie looked intently at the bottom of Helen’s flowered china cup.  “You will be seeing a tall, dark handsome man sometime in the next few months.” She looked up mischievously – “I wonder who that could be?”
Helen smiled, embarrassed.  “I’m finding myself getting quite impatient for Harry to come home, but I know it will be quite a while. Oh, did I tell you in the last letter he said that Bill is about 5’ 11”, the same height as Harry is?”
“That’ll do. He hasn’t written me since April though, but a certain Sergeant has been sending me quite a few love letters. We’ll have to see who gets home first!” Georgie laughed.
“I was reading in the paper today that it was almost like V.E. day all over again at Union Station the other night. One fellow was greeted by his wife, his eight sisters and his mother, and what a grand-looking group they were!”
Just then Georgie’s sisters, Billy, Glady, and Donny  came in from shopping and squealed at the sight of Helen.
“Oh cuz, we’re so happy for you – finally it’s over and your sweetie can come home.”
“Yes, I can hardly wait.”

Toronto May 16/45
Darling Harry,                         
I went over to Georgie’s last night and came home about eleven. As I put my hand on the banister, on the way upstairs, there your two letters were, dated 7th and 8th. I had been waiting to hear how you spent the big days . . . At the fountain and the beach – I would like to have been with you. No wonder the people gazed at the floodlights, after seeing darkness for so long. . .
            World affairs are far from being settled yet. The countries have so many differences and the big factor seems to be Russia. It is to be hoped the next big meeting will clear up matters quietly, or the result might not be pleasant.
            Georgie had one letter from Bill the latter part of April. She hears from her Sergeant Murray very often and is becoming more interested in him. She expects he’ll be home in July, as he’s been over three years. Anyway we agreed we’d have a night out – the four of us, either with Bill or Murray, whoever it happened to be. Is that all right by you honey? As for the date, that will be left open. Oh! he sent her some German money and she gave me some.
            I don’t know what I’ll say to you [when he returns], but the words will come straight from my heart. Goodnight dear, all my love Helen xxxxx


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