Leave in Oxford

The band members and other service personnel received regular leave, from a 48 hour or two day leave to a week or more, when they could relax in their rooms or visit nearby towns and cities. On one of their first leaves, Harry and Smitty decided to visit Oxford, about a two-hour train ride from Bournemouth. British families opened up their homes to the travelling military personnel and rented out rooms for a modest price. By 1943, the British people were very appreciative of the Canadians, especially considering the battering that their country endured throughout the early years of the war.

*            *         *
Harry and Smitty were staying in different billets during their week in Oxford, but met up during the day to go sightseeing.
“So, how was your night?” Harry asked his friend.
“Wonderful – fresh sheets, sunshine streaming through the window, AND BREAKFAST IN BED!”
Magdalen Tower & Bridge, Oxford, postcard sent by Harry
“No kidding – what did you do to deserve that?”
“I think Miss Fairfax has always wanted to have a man in the house, and finally her wish came true,” Smitty yawned while stretching his arms.
 “You’re getting too spoiled. Well, I enjoyed reading the morning paper, while sipping tea with my toast and marmalade and EGG.”
“Wow, I’m impressed – your first egg over here. I should be so lucky.”
“I think we’re going to be thoroughly British by the end of this war.”
“Oh, I almost forgot, Miss Fairfax has invited us both to join her tonight to hear the London Symphony play at the Sheldonian Theatre.”
“You don’t say. You must have charmed the pants off her. Don’t get any ideas.”
“No fears. She must be pushing sixty. She’s a piano teacher and I think she’s happy to have a real live musician stay with her.”
The two spent the day walking around the colleges and grounds of the historic Oxford University.
“Wouldn’t you love to come back here after the war to study?” Smitty asked.
“Maybe your marks were good enough, but I was lucky to scrape by Grade 12 and that was several years ago now,” Harry said.
“Let’s at least go in the Bodleian just to say we’ve been there, in case it gets bombed never to be seen again, like the cathedral in Coventry.”
As they entered the historic library and gazed at the stacks rising to the ceiling, Harry thought about how tragic it would be to lose all of those ancient tomes.

Bournemouth, Nov. 26, Dec. 2, 1943 [compilation, excerpts]
Darling Helen,
Well, we’re back in the traces again after a very charming visit to Oxford.
I stayed at the home of a war worker and daughter. It was a very nice home and naturally I had my own room. Her son is away at Cambridge. I got up in the morning when I felt like it (I’m always up before Al [Smitty] incidentally), then we went out sightseeing for the day. 
They kept three ducks in the back yard and I had my first duck egg yesterday and also my first egg over here. I’d almost forgotten what they tasted like, no kidding. 
Would you ask Mother how to make egg toast [French toast] as the lady in Oxford asked me to send the recipe.
I’m glad to be back though [i.e. in Bournemouth], to get down to work again.
Things aren’t as comfortable as when Lewis had this place [the former owner of the Atherstone Hotel where they are staying in Bournemouth] as the new guy is very short of cupboards and drawers and also the beds are pretty bumpy, but I suppose we’ll give him a chance anyway.
Well dearest I’m glad to hear you are getting along so well, I know I have nothing to worry about in regards to you and I’m living up to my end of the bargain too.
Will close for now honey. I love you as I always will. Harry.

Toronto, December 12 and 14, 1943[compilation]
Dearest Harry,
Just finished reading your letters over again and thanks for the card which you sent of Christchurch. It was handed to me last night, along with your three pictures; your Mother got them yesterday morning. We think you are looking very well darling, much better than you did in Ottawa. It must have been your night life down here I guess!!
Bandmembers on leave

            I like the one outside your house [at the Atherstone], you look so gay and young – maybe it’s because you haven’t a moustache! You’ll grow it again though won’t you? It was foolish of me to think you would change in four months, but then I’m always getting ideas like that.  

We didn’t expect our parcels would arrive so soon but that’s better than being too late I guess. Seeing that you enjoy crackers so well, I’ll have to send some the next time, I was told they didn’t pack well and they took up so much room in the box so I didn’t bother putting them in.
Your Mother does a good deal of baking on her rations, and everything is always good too! I guess Ross [Harry’s younger brother, about age 18] always knows where to find the cake tin when he comes home. Did that used to be a habit of yours? It isn’t hard to get Christmas cakes here [in Toronto] but at the time I sent your parcel, that was the only one I could find after walking up Bank and Elgin Streets [in Ottawa].
They never taste as nice as the home baked ones though. I sent Mother some raisins and currants, because they can’t get them there. There are more canned vegetables in the stores now too.
Oh yes, I told your Mother about that recipe for egg toast and she’s going to look it up for you. She laughed as it reminded her of the time you sent the shortbread recipe home. She’s going to show me the letter.
Yes, darling, I know in my heart that someday you will prove what you told me, and you say you are living up to it now, how perfect it is to hear that! I’ll do my best too, but it isn’t easy, and it never will be forced. It’s the will and the dreams behind it that makes things work out successfully, don’t you think so? We want our love to be strong enough that we’ll do anything for each other.

            It’s time to leave you again darling. You know I don’t like saying good night any time, not even on paper. Won’t it be swell if someday we won’t have to? Hope everything is first rate with you, and my love is with you always.
xxx Helen.

Christchurch, east of Bournemouth, postcard sent by Harry 
Arrival in Toronto
Rooming houses were common in Canadian cities before and during World War II. With so many men overseas, families often had spare bedrooms available. The rent money provided much needed income for women, many of whom were on their own due to widowhood or husbands serving away from home.
Upon her arrival in Toronto, after searching for several days, Helen found a room in a house on Winnett Avenue near Bathurst and St. Clair.

*   *     *

Helen looked around her new bed-sitting room – there was an easy chair by the window, a studio couch on the opposite wall, small bed, hotplate on a tin table, and a painted, chipped chest. Not as large or cosy as her room at Mrs. Nesbitt’s in Ottawa, but it would have to do for now. She might as well unpack her trunk and suitcases, even though she knew she couldn’t fit all of her possessions into those three small drawers and the tiny closet. Would she ever have a place of her own where she didn’t have to listen to strange voices downstairs, a radio blaring in the next room or the crying of other people’s children?
Now that she did have a place to live, she turned her attention to finding a job in order to pay the $20 a month rent to Mrs. McKinnis, her new landlady. She unfolded the flyer she’d picked up at Union Station – the Selective Service Employment Agency. In order to find a job she would have to figure out how to get there.
The next morning she made her way downtown. She was surprised to see a female streetcar driver on St. Clair Avenue – women certainly could do anything they want to now, she thought. The driver told Helen to sit behind her so that she could let her know what stop to get off at.
Helen in her new job at the TTC
Once Helen got to the agency, she was confronted with slim pickings. Most of the jobs didn’t pay the $25 a week that she’d earned in Ottawa at the Department of Munitions and Supply. She thought probably government jobs were higher paying than most. But there was one at the Toronto Transportation Commission - a vacancy at the Bathurst branch for a cashier and stenographer. Helen decided to go and see about it.
The manager asked her to write an IQ and stenographic test and they phoned her the next day to ask her to start work. She agreed and was surprised to learn there were 50 female drivers in the motor division – that meant they must be used to having women work there.  Maybe they wouldn’t be too hard on her while she learned her new job.
She couldn’t wait to write Harry to tell him all of her good news. She unpacked her pen, ink bottle and one of the airgraph papers she’d bought at the post office before she’d left Ottawa.

Toronto, Nov. 5 & 7, Dec. 10 1943, [compilation]
Darling Harry,
Believe it or not, I’m here at last and feel fairly settled after a hectic week. I haven’t even had a spare minute before to write you darling, that’s a fact. You will be almost a week without any mail, but hope you don’t mind too much. Mine hasn’t been forwarded yet either, and I’ve missed it terribly too. I just wrote Mrs. Nesbitt a note to give my address and have it sent down.
            Monday morning I went down to Selective Service for a position, about 9:30 and there were about twenty ahead of me, imagine! They didn’t give me much encouragement and said they didn’t have many positions at the salary I had been getting [in Ottawa]. I got an open permit and went to see a few of Mr. Lauson’s [her former boss’] friends but either the positions were taken or they were only paying $20 a week. Then I went to the Transportation Commission, there was a vacancy at their Bathurst Branch for a cashier and stenographer with a fair salary, but it entailed a bit of night work. I came home and thought about it, then went back the next morning and wrote an I.Q. and stenographic test, which wasn’t easy, but I must have passed, because they phoned and asked me if I wanted to start work Wednesday morning and I decided to take it. It’s quite a distance from downtown, you know over on Davenport, and the offices aren’t very large. The work is so different too; I was on cash all day today and found it a bit nerve-wracking. About every month or six weeks we’ll be on one week nights; I hope it doesn’t bother me too much. I just wonder how conditions will be here after the war when positions are so scarce now, but then I suppose there won’t be so many married women working.
Guess what I have in front of me now sweetheart – your gorgeous red roses [which he sent for her birthday]. Thanks so much; it was such a surprise and nothing could have pleased me more. Their perfume just fills the room. You are so thoughtful, aren’t you? Apparently you wired the florist at Ottawa and someone referred them to the Y.W. [C.A.]because that’s where I received the message asking for my address. I just cried because I was happy at the thought of what they meant, darling.
            I phoned your Mother Monday night; she wanted me to come up . . . so I went down Wednesday. Oh, darling, imagine the feeling I had going up those steps, and the memories! It was grand to see them again, and they made me feel perfectly at home (as you always said they would). Everything was just the same as it was that last Friday night, and I felt so close to you when I saw all your pictures around.
I’m in a bed sitting room; rather comfortable; I’m the only roomer. I can get my own breakfast, also my other meals but I expect I will eat dinner out. It’s a long way from downtown, but fairly close to my work, so hope it will work out satisfactorily. By the way, we get a book of tickets, so have free transportation. I phoned your Mother after I decided to take it. Immediately, she asked me which number, and told me you had lived at 16 before you moved to the apartment, what a coincidence eh? She told me to watch for the house that you played around for about sixteen years. I noticed it tonight; it has a red roof, with a white verandah and two big windows in front upstairs. Is that the way it used to be, or do you remember? This district has certainly been built up; your folks were saying when they built here there were only about three houses and the rest were green fields (where you used to play.)
I don’t feel so strange now that I know that! I get so sentimental, or do you think so? I can’t help it when I think about you, oh, how I want you to come back soon, darling!
I unpacked my trunk tonight and found that two of my cups and one tea plate were broken to my set, which made me a bit provoked as I had six of everything, but maybe Lois can get them for me again. I have to write them all in due time. Most of them thought it was strange for me to leave all I knew there. I haven’t slept much the last few nights, just the strain of everything as it isn’t easy by any means, but guess everybody does it at some time or another in their life.    
            All my suitcases are here in the middle of the floor – haven’t even hung my clothes up yet. Oh yes, I have a radio too; can only get a couple of stations but it will keep me from getting too lonely now that I haven’t a room-mate. Can you get Canadian stations there? I suppose not.
[Dec. 10/43] I’m listening to “Waltz Time,” some of the new numbers are nice. What kind of music do they go in for there at dances? Are jitterbugs ever in the spotlight? Yes, it’s a bit of a change for you to play dances too, instead of parades all the time. They are singing that song “For the First Time” – do you know it?
            I’ll have to wander around Queen’s Park one of these days and look for a particular spot. [i.e. I think where he proposed to her.]
            I must say “Goodnight” now sweetheart. Hope all is well with you. Your love is with me always. Be good.    
Yours forever, xxx Helen

 Bournemouth, Nov. 22, 1943
Dear Helen,
Your airmail letters of the fifth and seventh came today and I was so glad to hear from you again although Mother was keeping me pretty well posted on how you were making out [after moving to Toronto].  It certainly took a lot of spunk to do what you did darling and to think it was all on account of me! But then I guess there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other?
Glamour shot Helen had taken before she left Ottawa
. . . I’m sure Mother will be glad of your company any time you care to drop down but make sure there’s nobody else there if all you do is talk about me. It would be pretty boring for a third person to listen to you two talk about me all night!
I opened your gift tonight [her Christmas present to him] and I don’t care if you do scold me I’m glad I did you see I knew what it was anyway and as I was packing my things into a kit bag preparing to leave tomorrow I thought I might just as well have the use of it. But I didn’t expect that terrific photograph of you to be in there too. Just think what I would have missed for a whole month if I hadn’t opened it!!! You’ve made me happier than I ever thought possible darling and just the odd glance at it during the day will make me feel closer to you sweetheart.[Helen had a glamour shot taken before she left Ottawa]. 
All my love, Harry

Christmas, 1943

It was the first time Helen had ever worked on Christmas Day. She was glad her mother didn’t know. The most she had let them do on the farm was to milk the cows or feed the chickens, and cook dinner, of course. Other than that, it was a day off.
However, there was a war on and Helen had a job where the buses and streetcars had to run every day, holiday or not, so she just had to accept it. Plus, it was better to be working than sitting at home missing Harry.
It had been a busy day, just her and her friend Kay on cashier duty to count the money the drivers brought in after their shifts.
After punching out at five o’clock, she made her way over to Harry’s parents’ apartment on Isabella St.
“Merry Christmas Helen, would you like to have a little gin my dear?” Harry Sr. greeted her with a kiss.
“Sure, if you’re having some.” Helen made her way through the hall into the living room.
“Helen, this is my mother Mary Fernley,” Ida said, getting up from the sofa to give her a hug.
“Nice to meet you.”
“I’ll bet you’re missing Harry, especially today,” said the kindly looking older woman.
“Yes, I sure wish he was here with us tonight.”
“Can you turn down the volume Ross, I know you like Bing Crosby, but we’re trying to have a conversation over here,” Harry Sr. admonished his younger son.
“Supper’s just about ready Helen. You can sit there, in Harry’s old chair,” said Ida. “Little did I dream last year that there’d be a girl at his place. Harry can you please carve the bird?”
 “Let’s pull the crackers,” Ross said, sitting down, and at that, everyone got busy, donning their colourful paper hats and reading their fortunes.
“What does yours say Helen?” asked Elaine, Ross’ girlfriend.
“’Hope’ – I hope that Harry and I can be together next year!”
“Mine’s ‘success’ – I guess that’s good,” said Ross.
Then, they all fell silent as they tucked in to goose with all the trimmings, plum pudding, short bread and fruit cake.
“Ross, can you please pass the shortbread around, I’ve noticed you’re keeping it pretty close to you there, but I’m sure Helen and Elaine would like to have a taste,” Harry Sr. teased.
“Alright, but no more than one each!” Ross reluctantly handed over the plate.
After supper, Harry Sr. and Ross, who was a trombonist in a dance band, rushed off to work, as they had engagements at the Royal York and the Savarin Club, playing for the late diners. Ida, Elaine and Helen started in on the dishes.
When Elaine went home, Ida and Helen left to make the rounds visiting other Culley relatives by streetcar.

Toronto, Dec. 23 and 26, 1943[compilation]
Darling Harry,
Well here it is the day after Christmas and I’m feeling like my usual self, believe it or not! Can you say the same, I wonder??? Did you enjoy yourself? Were you playing Christmas Eve and also through the day? I didn’t like the idea of working yesterday either, and we were really busy as there were only two of us there. I left promptly at five, and supper was nearly ready when I arrived.
            Everything was so nicely decorated, I took a couple of snaps of the tree, also one of Elaine and Ross in front of it, but suppose they won’t turn out just because I want them to.
            [After supper] we called at Geneva’s and Ed’s[Harry’s aunt and uncle]  for a few minutes. Their little girl is sick; she said they didn’t have a very nice Christmas. Geneva asked about you and wanted to see my ring. They thought I looked like Betty too [Harry’s cousin].
            From there we went to Grace and Art’s[Harry’s aunt and uncle]  and his brother and wife, also your other grandmother and grandfather [Kate and Teck Culley] were there, all having a good time. Grace said she was so surprised when you received her parcel in a little over a week, and mentioned the letter and Christmas greeting they got from you.
I expected your grandfather to be a bigger man, but I could see he was quite lively all right!!
            We left around 11:30 p.m., and your Mother said the party was just beginning then.
Helen with flowers sent by Harry
Oh yes, she gave Elaine and I each a nice set of pictures – English rose-covered cottages. I’d rather have something I could keep; she said she thought I’d be trunking. It so happened that Elaine gave her a slip too, but she’s going to change it as mine fit her better. . . I appreciated my flowers[that Harry sent]  most though; they still look very fresh! I have them in a vase on the radio and they seem to say something every time I look at them. The best Christmas greeting would be from you in person honey, but I have to take the second best; and thanks very much for them.    I’m listening to Manhattan Merry-go-Round[on the radio]  and Thomas L. Thomas is singing “Dancing with My Darling,” have you heard it? Ross has three new Bing Crosby records.
Did you all get together and have a party as you planned? Have you any cake or treats left? It would have seemed more like Christmas to you if you hadn’t received your parcels so soon. You know how they urge us to mail early over here. 
            Darling why do I tell you all these little things that are probably very uninteresting to you? You are a part of me, that’s why and I want you so much, it hurts sometimes.
            So long sweetheart; I hope I hear from you this week, and I always pray for you.
My best love, Helen xxx

Bournemouth Dec. 27, 1943 Jan 6, 1944 [compilation]
My Darling Helen,
Just finished reading your three letters dated 19, 23, 26  for the twentieth time at least because they reflected just how I was feeling towards you. Christmas isn’t the same when you are not with the one you love. We found that out didn’t we? Well anyway, you weren’t alone in your loneliness like I was. Was my grandfather dancing around like a grizzly bear and did he kiss you? He gets quite frolicsome at times; you have to watch him.
I got two more Christmas parcels – 2 lbs. of candy from my aunt and a box from my school which was a surprise. In it was a very large pair of blue woollen gloves and candy and stuff. How did you make out for Christmas? We had a terrible Christmas Eve but we got over that all right. We travelled all night from Redhill [a town south of London] just to get away from it; we arrived in Bournemouth about 7:30 and we were playing for the airmen’s Christmas dinner at 11:30 so you see we didn’t get much sleep. We rested up on Sunday so we had a big party. Boy! What a party -  70 bottles of beer and several bottles of gin and lime for 14 of us. Needless to say I didn’t get too drunk. Even the S. A. [Salvation Army] boys were busy a week ago buying liquor for the bunch of us.
RCAF bandmembers celebrate Christmas at the Atherstone Hotel
            We took some pictures so if they turn out all right I’ll send them over.
            I haven’t had very much to tell you this time dearest as the dance band has been working very hard while the other guys lay around Bournemouth but we do have a good time amongst ourselves so that’s the main thing I guess.
            I managed to get a slice of turkey on Christmas. I thought you might like to know. I’ve got so much fruit cake it will last me all year I’ll bet. I’m waiting to hear how you made out.
            I hope it’s the last Christmas I’ll have to spend away from you dear. I guess it was very quiet for you.
            Well, I’ll try and make up for it when I come home. Well Darling, I really must close now as we have to get ready for the dance and will write again when I hear from you.
All my love,

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