Shifting Workplace

With the military men gradually returning from the war, working women realized that a number of them would have to give up their jobs. Many workplaces had policies that service men had first priority, with women being let go. And there were also rules that stated when a woman married, she had to leave her position.

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“You writing Harry?” Kay asked Helen as she entered the lunch room.
“Yes, I thought I’d grab a spare moment to let him know that I’m thinking about him.”
“I guess the men will all be heading home soon – they’ve been letting the women go here one by one, starting with the drivers and clerks. I’ve noticed quite a bit of tension around. It’s just you, me and Connie left here. I wonder when we’re next?”
“Well, not many of the men know shorthand or typing, so we should be good for awhile.”
“Let’s hope so. I’ve got my mother to take care of - I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m laid off,” Kay said. “Do you know when Harry will be back?”
(l to r) Kay, Helen & co-worker at TTC
“No, I think it will be some time yet. I read in the paper yesterday that there are 200,000 men and women to come back. At the rate of 25,000 a month, it could take eight months for everyone to come home,” said Helen.
“Is there some kind of point system?”
“Yes, I believe each soldier is assessed according to their length of service, type of duty, and other factors. For instance, the POWs are a higher priority than the band members.”
“Do you know what Harry’s number is?”
“I think he said 84 in one of his letters, but I’m not sure what that means compared to the others.”
“Oh well, let’s hope it’s not too far off.”

Toronto May 18, 1945
Dear Harry,
Today I’m writing you at noon hour, as it is pay day and nearly everyone has gone to the bank, but I don’t always need to cash mine the first day I get it!
I made a few snappy remarks [at work] this morning, and the chief clerk said he guessed the mail had been held up again. That wasn’t called for, but I laughed it off. Quite a number of fellows are coming back to their jobs here, as drivers, and clerks. Three airmen were in this morning. Then the two new clerks we have are back from overseas. There are only three of us girls left, so I hope they decide they still need stenos, as I’d rather stay here than be transferred to another Division or Head Office, as it might mean a decrease in salary.
            Honey, I can’t say this all in one breath without asking what you’re doing and all that. I know if you are informed of anything new, you will tell me quickly. [i.e. when he is coming back.] Don’t keep it as a surprise please. This is one time when I want to know much beforehand. They tell me the months will go quickly, but my own little idea is that they will drag, but maybe not too much, what say darling? It’s hard not to talk about it a little bit, as it seems foremost in everyone’s thoughts. So long sweetheart, time’s up. If I were to hear your voice now I’d feel all funny, I know it.
 Yours with love. Helen 

Moving Again

Over the three years they’d been in the RCAF, Smitty and Harry had become close friends, almost like brothers, tolerating each other’s foibles with respect and good humour.
Once again the pair found themselves moving into a new room together after being evicted from the Meyrick Park mansion because their landlady’s London friends were about to arrive to spend the summer months vacationing at the beach in Bournemouth.

            *          *               *

“From rags to riches in one jump,” Harry moaned as they lugged their bags up four flights of stairs to the tiny room.
“I wonder how many more times we’ll have to move before we finally go home?” Smitty asked.
Christchurch Rd., Bournemouth
“Just think, I carried everything off the boat including my clarinet and now it takes four trips. We’ll have to get a taxi tomorrow to bring the rest of it.”
“And we’ll have to throw out a lot of stuff before we get on that ship,” Smitty commented, looking down at Harry’s box. “You know, you could get rid of those letters.”
Harry glared at him, so Smitty knew better than to pursue that line of thought.
“Quite the Bohemian atmosphere,” Smitty observed, changing the subject, as they dropped their kit bags on the floor.
“I guess it isn’t too bad for 15 shillings a week, but I hope the roof doesn’t leak,” Harry said, moving over to the turreted window. “Look – you can see Bath Hill Court [the RCAF headquarters] from here.”
“Yes, being on Christchurch Road has its advantages -  we’re quite close to everything – the rehearsal hall, Town Hall, the Pavilion. Well, we’d better get down to the food office if we’re going to have anything to eat for supper.”

Bournemouth, June 3, 1945
Dearest Helen,
Yes, sweetheart, we’ve got a room, we looked at it a couple of weeks ago but held out hoping for something better, but something better didn’t turn up. It has one good point anyway – we can see Bath Hill Court from the window (that’s RCAF HQs) and it’s about five minutes from where we rehearse. Oh yes another good point – it faces south and is light and airy! I hope there aren’t any bats in our belfry!
Royal Bath Hotel, RCAF HQs in Bournemouth
I have to get rid of a lot of stuff before I go home. No darling, I didn’t tear up your letters. I have every one of them since Halifax. Smitty thinks I’m crazy – maybe I am – about you. I did away with a lot of Christmas cards from two Christmases ago though there’s no room in the place for anything. He says I have a mania for collecting things.

[June 7/45 Thurs.] Smitty and I just came back from the food office where we registered our change of address. What a mob of women were there! Fortunately a clerk took pity on us and allowed us to break the queue. I felt like a heel for doing it, but we’d be silly not to. I sure feel sorry for English housewives with all the red tape aimed directly at them. We had to change our grocer, butcher and milk man because you have to deal where they tell you you know and besides, the old ones were too far away anyway. We can now get ½ pt. of milk each morning and a shilling’s worth of meat a week apiece which is double the meat ration civilians get. They say things will be better next autumn though. There are more cars on the road now that the basic ration is 1 gallon a week. I think we’ll like our new room honey as the people who own it seem very nice and seem willing to cooperate. We were invited downstairs last night and the husband played the piano for us.
We filled out a form this afternoon; they want to know our preference as to service [after the war], whether occupational in Germany, the Far East or Canada. It took me a long time (a split second) to make up my mind but I said I preferred service in Canada to the rest and a discharge thrown in. Only one guy volunteered for service in the Far East and that’s because his Mother-in-law is waiting for him with a battle axe!

[May 29/45] Darling, as soon as I hear even the slightest rumour of our going home I’ll write and let you know. My number is 84 but I don’t think we’ll be sent home individually. I’ll wire you as soon as I find out anything definite. What’s your phone number darling? I might even phone you. Wouldn’t you be surprised? Yes sweetheart the time does drag terribly and always has. How else could it be away from you?
I’m always thinking of you sweetheart and always shall.
All my love darling, Harry xxxxxx

All Things Canadian in London, July 1945

The Personnel Reception Centre no. 3 band was in London for several days of parades and concerts to celebrate Dominion Day and Canada’s involvement in the war. The mood in the city was much more festive and relaxed than it had been during the dark days of the war.
The band led a parade of army, navy and air force personnel on Monday, July 2, 1945 starting from the Wellington Barracks, passing by the Duke of York steps where the Honourable Vincent Massey*, Canadian High Commissioner, took the salute. They finished at Westminster Abbey where there were Protestant services and Westminster Cathedral, where there were Catholic services. Newsreels of the parade were shown around the world.
Dominion Day Parade in London, Vincent Massey on right
The highlight of their visit was a large massed band concert near the RCAF Overseas Headquarters at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest public square in London, on July 3, 1945, conducted by Martin Boundy, the head music director of the RCAF. Photographs of this concert appeared in the Canada News Weekly and later in books about the war.
Located at number 20 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the RCAF Headquarters provided support to the approximately 85,000 Canadians who were part of 48 squadrons during World War II.

              *                     *              *
Several band members boarded the double-decker bus from where they were staying at the Knights of Columbus on their way to Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
“Look guys, we can finally see where we’re going! They’ve taken the netting off the windows,” Harry said.
“And we don’t have to worry about a stray V2 coming our way,” Bill said.
“Things sure are looking up.”
“Well, I hope Boundy isn’t too hard on us,” said Smitty.
“I’m sure it will be cacophony – all three bands thrown in together.” Harry said.
 “I hope it goes alright, with all the photographers, reporters and cameramen running around.”
Massed band concert at Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, Harry Culley fourth from right
“I’d like to see the newsreel of us on the Mall yesterday. The cameraman had quite a time keeping his balance on top of the Bentley as we marched by.”
“Likely the shots will be wobbly.”
As they made entered the square, they were astounded.
“There must be 3,000 people here. Can you believe it?”
“I guess the Londoners are so weary from the war that they’ll listen to anything!”

 * Vincent Massey was the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom for Canada, posted at Canada House. He later served as Governor General of Canada from 1952 – 59.

Bournemouth July 5, 1945
My Sweetheart Helen,                                       
Well, I suppose you will want to know all about what we did in London eh? They managed to keep us very busy on Mon., Tues. and Wed. Our band took the parade from Wellington Barracks Trafalgar Square & Cenotaph on Whitehall to Westminster Abbey. They took movies of the parade so you might see some of the band in the newsreels. We played at the opening of the Lord Tweedsmuir** Officer’s Club in Regent’s Park yesterday and while I was playing billiards in the games room a photographer from Canada News came in and took a picture of me making a shot! Needless to say I missed it and the ball was right over the pocket too. We had a swell supper just before we left with ice cream and fruit. I think it used to be his home in London, the S.A. [Salvation Army] are supervising it.
Monday afternoon after the parade they held a massed band rehearsal by the three bands, about 140 men I guess, so by the time 6 o’clock came around I was pretty tired. I went around the corner for a beer with Bill. Tues. morning we had another rehearsal and then played in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for a noon hour concert under the trees. Gosh it was warm in London and so close especially in the tubes.
They’ve taken the netting off the windows of the buses & tubes so you can see what station you’re pulling into now without peering through a hole.
            Well, sweet, two months since the peace was declared and still no word about when we’re going home! I suppose they won’t give us much warning when they finally make up their minds to send us but I’d like to have some idea that’s all. A few officers in the transient band volunteered for Burma and are going home right away so that leaves a job for me for three nights a week at the Westover [in Bournemouth]. It was originally an ice rink but was taken over by the RCAF and used as a dance hall. It’s not far from here and finishes at 11, so it will be better than jobbing all over the country side.
            So now we’re going to have a tin of sardines and go to bed; thrilling isn’t it? We’re getting used to the room now. We didn’t get back from London last night until after 11 and luckily we’re only a few minutes’ walk from the station. One of the boys lives farther out than we used to and as the buses stop running at nine he didn’t get home until after one as he was on baggage detail too.
            Well, sweetheart, I’ll close for this time as it’s getting late and we have to get up at eight. All my love angel. I’m always thinking of you.
 Harry xxxxxx

Toronto,  July 28/45     
Darling Harry,                         
. . . I wasn’t able to see the newsreel at the Tivoli, but I phoned Famous Players, then Paramount and was informed it would be at the Bloor next week, so I hope to see it. Your mother said I might jump out of my seat [i.e. if she saw Harry in it].  

Toronto, Aug.1/45  We went to see the newsreel Monday evening, and I just caught a glimpse of you. I was so busy looking you know how it is. I wish they hadn’t turned it so fast. They only showed it once, as the feature was long. I came directly home as I was quite tired.
            I hope you’re able to get that magazine. Is it a good picture of you?
 Love, Helen

**John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir was a Scottish novelist, lawyer and politician who was the Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940.

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