The Red Triangle

It was Helen’s first time volunteering at the Red Triangle social club since Harry had gone overseas. She felt strange going there, a place that held so many memories of their time together.
As she entered the kitchen to get a tray of soft drinks, she was greeted warmly.
"Oh, here she is, we were wondering when you’d come back Helen. Let’s see your ring," Mrs. Gibson said.
            Embarrassed at the attention, Helen held out her left hand to display her sparkling solitaire diamond. She was glad to have such a tangible reminder of Harry.
Glancing around the tables, she saw the same old crowd. Some of those men never get shipped out, they’re on permanent detail at Rockcliffe, she thought.  It wasn't fair, why did Harry have to leave?
"Don't worry dear, the war will be over soon, and he'll be back before you know it,” Mrs. Gibson said reassuringly. “After all, the Allies have taken Italy now, so it won't be long before the rest of Europe goes too. We’re gaining ground."
            Helen bit her lip to stop the tears, and hurried out with the tray. All she could think of was how handsome Harry had looked when he used to come up to the counter and ask her for a drink. They had enjoyed themselves so much here. Even then, in the back of her mind, she knew there’d be a time when things would be different. Now was that time. She realized that she couldn't enjoy herself without him.
Social clubs for service personnel were common
At least it wasn’t a dance band tonight, but a series of musical numbers and skits. The RCAF Review’s 15 piece orchestra was setting up. How she wished Harry was up there on the stage.
When Helen went back to the kitchen for refills, Eleanor said, “I hear you finally got your release from the civil service.”
“Yes, it took a long time. At first they wouldn’t let me go, because of staff shortages, then after I put my request in writing, and went through an hour of questioning, they finally approved it. It seems that it’s easier to get in to the government than to get out.”
“Why on earth are you leaving such a good job, Helen?” Mrs. Gibson had overheard the conversation.
“Before he left, Harry asked me to move to Toronto, so that I could get to know his family and the city. That’s where we’ll be living when he returns.”
“Well, we’ll certainly miss you here, won’t we girls, especially with the Victory Loan drive on.” They all nodded.
                  Helen just wanted to crawl through a hole, she felt so sad. She returned to the main room.
The music was nice, but after the umpteenth corny skit, she decided to go home. If she hurried, she could catch “Swing for the Services” on the radio. Then she would end her evening by writing Harry.

Ottawa, Oct. 9, 1, 16 & 19, 1943[compilation]
My darling Harry,
We had a hectic night at the Triangle. We were so busy through the supper hour. The girls all tell me I’m different there now my eyes don’t even rove around! They just couldn’t look like you did when you came up to the counter, no kidding.
            Have you been on any more trips, Harry? Guess you’ve been to Wales and back by now. The trip from Toronto to Ottawa would seem short to you now. There was another big raid on London this week eh? They must never feel safe over there. Have you seen an air raid shelter? They are starting the broadcasts from the Beaver Club [at Canada House in London] again. By the way, are you still going to broadcast from Albert Hall[in London]? Have you played for many dances? You needed practice more on that type of music, didn’t you? Duke Ellington is coming to the Aud. [Auditorium] next month, also Cab Calloway I understand. Don’t you wish you were here? The show “Du Barry was a Lady” [movie with Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and Gene Kelly] with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra is on at the Capitol this week; am going to see it I think.
            I mailed a small parcel to you today; it’s rather hard to make up a box when you can’t bake anything [because she lives in a boarding house], and it’s impossible to buy candies or cookies of any kind. I will try to get my other one away to you next week. It seems so early, but you don’t need to open them until Christmas! 
Wonder what you’re doing tonight – maybe one of those lassies over there is taking up your time!! They tease me and tell me I can expect that. Well, maybe it’s true and I’m selfish, but I’d like you to be all mine no matter how long we’re separated. Do you think that’s unreasonable? I may go out some, Mabel and I went to a dance last night, for a bit of diversion at the time but you are constantly with me in thought. Hope you can say the same darling. All couples seem to step out these days on each other, but I’d rather stay old-fashioned. It doesn’t seem to make any difference even if they’re married or not. I feel I can trust you more than anyone I’ve ever known anyway, darling, believe me.
            You’ll be getting tired reading the same old lines all the time dear, but I just start and end the day thinking about you, I can’t help it. Believe me no one ever affected me like this before. Hope nothing ever happens between us. Why do I always say that? There’s such an uncertainty linked with everything these days.
            Wasn’t that terrible about the loss of the St. Croix*? There’ll be a good many unhappy homes, when you think of only one being saved.
            I don’t like saying “Goodnight” to you on paper, but I know it doesn’t take as long [i.e. as it used to in person]!! Be good to yourself; hope your cold is better and just remember, I’m always waiting for word from you and waiting for you to come back.
With all my love, Helen.
P.S .I’ve nearly finished my second sock, and turned the heel all by myself! Wish I could find some fine yarn to knit you a dress pair. You don’t like them heavy, do you?

*The HMCS St. Croix was hit and sunk by torpedoes from a German U-Boat on September 20, 1943 while escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic

Back in Bournemouth

The RCAF band travelled by train from Wick in northern Scotland to London in the south, playing for the soldiers and civilians at military stations. On any given evening, they would play a concert, followed by a dance with either the full band or the smaller dance band.  Because Harry played alto and tenor saxophone, in addition to the clarinet, he often did double duty.
After a month of travelling, the band was finally back in Bournemouth. Bill, Smitty and Harry were warming  themselves around a small fire in the grate in one of the larger hotel rooms at the Atherstone where they were staying.
RCAF dance band, Harry Culley 3rd from right
“It’s good to be back home again - we’ve probably seen more of this island now than those who were born here,” Harry said. “If I travel again when I get home, it’ll have to be for a very good reason.”
“Brr - I didn’t realize it got so cold and damp here,” Bill said. “It’s only November. What’s it going to be like in January?”
“I don’t know, I hope not as cold as Canada. They don’t have furnaces here, just those little gas heaters,” said Smitty, rubbing his hands together.
“We’ll have to find more wood, or else come up with a load of shillings to feed those hungry heaters.” Harry was always worrying about the money.
“Smitty, did you wear that shirt for the whole 30 days we were gone?” Bill liked to bug him.
“Yeah, so, what’s it to you? Saves on precious time, time that could be spent doing other things, like writing in a diary or reading the complete works of Shakespeare, if you’ve ever heard of him.”
“It’s bad enough when they pack eight of us into those tiny train compartments. Now that we can spread out a bit, and breathe some fresh air, I don’t want to smell your fragrant aroma.”
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do some laundry before we leave for London on Saturday,” Harry suggested. “I have 30 pairs of socks to wash. And Helen’s knitting me another pair, but I probably won’t get them till Christmas.”
“How many letters did you get yesterday?” Bill was envious.
“Eighteen, plus the parcel. Oh yeah, does anyone want some cookies or fudge?” Harry passed around the tin.
“Wow, those are good, considering they’ve been in transit for a couple of months. Does Helen have any friends who might want to write me love letters or send me food?”
“I don’t know, Bill. They’d have to be pretty desperate to send you anything,” Harry teased.  “But I’ll mention it to her in the next letter. She’s pretty cheesed off at me right now. In her last letter she said she hadn’t heard from me in over a week and thought I must have another girl friend. I better keep writing as often as I can so she doesn’t go off with someone else. Anyway, she’s leaving most of her friends behind and moving to Toronto.” 
“Oh, here’s everybody,” Bob said, opening the door. “Does anyone want to hear the new V Disc by Captain Glenn Miller*? I picked it up in London.”
V-discs held 6.5 min. of music
“Sure. What’s on it?”
Stormy Weather and Stardust by the Army Air Forces Training Command Orchestra. St. Louis Blues is on the flip side.” Bob read the red and white label on the 78 rpm.
As they listened, Bill said, “Maybe we can convince Steve to let us play those songs. Harry you could take the alto solos.”
“We’d have to play them by ear. I haven’t seen a new piece of sheet music since we arrived here two months ago. Well, I better go and start on a letter to Helen. She’s threatened to stop writing if she doesn’t hear from me soon.”

*The Glenn Miller band was one of the most famous big bands entertaining troops at that time. Miller broadcast and recorded many popular songs of the day, such as Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo and In the Mood.

Bournemouth, Oct. 25, Oct. 29, Nov. 4, 1943, compilation
Dearest Helen,
I can’t imagine why you haven’t had more letters honey, unless I’ve been writing things I shouldn’t and the censors have held them up. Anyway I hope you’ll try and understand and I promise to write more often. It makes me feel pretty rotten to know that you have to wait so long.
I’m very happy to hear that you are going to Toronto at last. I think the change will do you a lot of good even though you mightn’t have as many friends. Still if you have to live in a city you might just as well live in a big city. That’s what I always say anyway. My mother hopes you will get some place close to her.
Of course you’re just fooling when you ask me if I have another girlfriend. Still I guess it’s only natural to wonder a little bit when you don’t receive mail when you expect it. However you don’t have to worry about me (as if you didn’t already know that). I think there are enough Canadians to look after all the girls over here anyway. They seem to need it! As far as I’m concerned women don’t interest me over here in the least because Smitty doesn’t bother with them and there are thousands of things one can do besides dancing (which I don’t care for anyway).
I’ve taken that rebuke about not writing to heart and will try to do better in future. I wished I could have been there to wish you many happy returns of the day darling with a big kiss [on her birthday on October 8]. I hope you will forgive me for not remembering the exact date. I hope you like the flowers. I also forgot to sign my name on the card so I thought I’d better tell you who they’re from. Don’t doubt for a minute sweetheart that you are always in my thoughts.
We went into a tea shop about 3:30 this afternoon and ordered tea. The waitress asked us whether we wanted high tea or low tea. Right away we were thrown for a loss. So we had to ask the difference and found out low tea was tea and buns and high tea was tea with chips and bacon which is the national meal over here. For variety you can get chips with sausage that never saw a pig. The Canadian Clubs in London and Bournemouth serve excellent meals for service men, especially the Legion where we stay when in London and the Salvation Army. Even very aged ladies are serving out tea cakes at their parish canteens. It’s wonderful to watch them toddle around as busy as bees.
Well Darling I’ll have to close for now as the boys want me to sit in on a euchre game. Goodnight sweetheart and take care of yourself until I see you again.
All my love darling, Harry.

Farewell to Ottawa

Helen was glad that the farewell party at the Department of Munitions and Supply was over. Lois had cleared off the desks and served out the cake she had made for the occasion. Helen didn’t like being the centre of attention, especially when people kept asking her uncomfortable questions, such as why she was leaving and when she had last heard from Harry.
Helen (left) & Lois (right)
She especially felt uneasy when her boss Mr. Lauson and Bobbie in shipping had insisted that she kiss them goodbye. She did it reluctantly, thinking that she wished she’d been kissing Harry instead. Helen looked down at the gold bracelet and matching brooch that were her going away gifts from the office staff – very generous, considering she’d just been there two years.
Passengers were gathering on the platform for the 3 p.m. train to Toronto. She was waiting in line for the baggage tags for her trunk and suitcases. She’d carefully wrapped the tea cup and saucer from the girls at Mrs. Nesbitt’s house. She just hoped that her dishes didn’t get broken on the train ride to Toronto.
She looked up when she heard her name being called and saw Eleanor, Mabel, Lois and Ibby running towards her.
“Thank goodness you haven’t left yet,” Ibby said.
“We just had to come down and see you off,” Mabel was out of breath.
“We’re going to miss you so,” Lois hugged her and started crying. “Where are you staying tonight?”
“I’ve booked a room for three nights at the YWCA – I’ll just take a taxi from Union Station.” Helen was trying to sound confident, but it was all she could do not to cry also. She felt sick at the thought of leaving them all, unsure of what the future held.
“Just remember, Helen, if you can’t find a job or a place to live, come out to Halifax with me and join the CWACs*.
Helen (right) & friend
We’re leaving Ottawa next week – everything’s taken care of – your work, room, board, uniforms, plus you get paid!” Ibby had spent the better part of the last month trying to get her and Lois to enlist. Helen still had the brochure in her purse. But she knew Harry’s views on that subject. He didn’t want her to join up. She wasn’t sure why exactly. Maybe he thought it was too dangerous or not lady-like. At any rate, she was on her way to Toronto, let the chips fall where they may.
  *Canadian Women’s Army Corps
Ottawa, Oct. 26, 30, Nov.5, 1943 [compilation]
Darling Harry,
I am sitting here waiting for the transfer to come for my baggage; with rather an uncertain feeling as to what the future holds. I’ve had a hectic day, dashing here and there, and they had a farewell party for me at the office. They presented me with a lovely gold bracelet and brooch to match, and I was so pleased, as you know jewellery is something I very seldom buy for myself!! Can you feature me having to kiss some of the men goodbye? Well, I did in a very formal way, just because they considered themselves very good friends of mine!!
            I received a nice cup and saucer from the girls at the house [i.e., at Mrs. Nesbitt’s boarding house];
Helen (right) & Ottawa friends
something I like too. Different people have asked me why I’m moving to Toronto instead of the West[i.e. Saskatchewan, where her parents live], sometimes I wonder myself!! You may not hear from me as often for awhile until I get organized. Sometimes I wish I were in the service so I wouldn’t have to worry about a place to live, a place to work, etc., but I’m afraid I’d get so accustomed to it that I couldn’t be independent afterwards. Ibby is leaving  Rockcliffe this weekend as they’ve finished their course. They are having a big dinner at the Chateau [Laurier Hotel in Ottawa] before they leave. Both she and her sister intend to go to the East Coast. She said she was sure if she could talk to Lois and I  for an hour she could convince us we’d like it if we joined. We would both go against all who knew us if we did, but still there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it, I guess. They hope to both get overseas eventually – her sister is engaged to a Lieutenant over there.
 [Later] It was a lovely day for travelling, and I enjoyed my first half of the trip, then the queerest, lonesome feeling came over me, and I began to think about you and cried a little. I wanted you so much at that moment; you were a part that wasn’t there and yet I had a feeling that I was doing what you wanted me to.        
            So long, sweetheart. Write. 
All my love, Helen

Bournemouth, November 16, 1943 [excerpt]
Darling Helen,
Received your air letters written 26th and 30th also an airgraph when we came home yesterday.
            It was nice of the office staff to give you those nice things but you might have expected they’d want something in return. There’s always a catch in those kind of gifts! Oh well, I don’t blame them I guess!
            I suppose we’ll be quite busy around Christmas time; which will be pretty lonesome. The holly bushes will be coming out in berries pretty soon I guess; but there are still lots of flowers around growing in gardens: some roses too!
            Well darling I hope you are settled by now. I’ll bet Mrs. Nesbitt will miss you around there.
            I don’t suppose this letter will excite you very much but I don’t seem to have much on my mind at present as the bridge players are getting quite loud. I am looking forward to a feed of crackers and cheese some of the boys received in a package tonight.
            I haven’t opened your gift yet so I guess I can keep it until Christmas. I’d like to send you something nice honey but we’re not allowed to send money or anything through the mail so I guess you’ll have to be satisfied with flowers!
            Well darling I’ll close for now and run over and mail this right away as much as I hate to leave this fire. Does that prove how much I love you or doesn’t it!
            I wish this damn war was over!
            Well good-night darling.
All my love, Harry

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