Excerpt for ElderStory 2: Who We Are by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


ElderStory 2

Who We Are



Compiled and Edited by


Gordon A. Long





Airborn Press

Delta, B. C.


ElderStory 2

Who We Are





Published by

Airborn Press

4958 10A Ave, Delta, B. C.

V4M 1X8

Canada


Copyright Gordon A. Long

2017


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. The stories in this book remain the intellectual property of the storytellers, and no story may be used in any form without the storyteller’s permission. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of these storytellers.


ISBN: 978-1-988898-00-1

Smashwords Edition


Cover Design by Tania Mendoza


Cover Photo Vadim Ivanov 



Other Books in This Series:

ElderStory 1: Who We Were

Available at smashwords.ca


Coming Soon

ElderStory 3: More Tales – Fall, 2017



For the Families


This is a book of real stories about real people. ElderStory has requested that, wherever possible, storytellers get permission from people to use their names and stories. The stories remain the intellectual property of the storytellers. It is our hope and desire that no one will be hurt or offended by his or her portrayal in any of these tales.


For the Storytellers


These stories as published may not be exactly the same as the story you usually tell. It is the nature of folk tales that they change over time. You tell the story differently each time. People remember it differently. In the process of recording/transcribing/editing, things get changed, especially if there is translation involved. But the story is still your story, and it is a story that people want to hear.



Thanks To


John Lusted and the KinVillage Association in Tsawwassen


Morgan Gadd, for his expertise and support.


Staff, students and families of Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, especially Lisa Anderson, Ravinder Grewal, Jas Kooner, Kelly Mcquillan and of course Elaine Vaughan, who organized our sessions.

Staff, students and families of Surrey Central Elementary School, especially principal James Pearce, and Sean Austin, John Kovach, Kevin Larking and Grace Jackson.


Staff and residents at the Langley Lodge Care Home


Pamela Chestnut, Mona, Tania Mendoza and Mercedes at DIVERSEcity.



Introduction


The ElderStory Project came about in a very natural way. So many people deeply regret not making a record of their family’s stories before it was too late. And so those stories died with the people who told them.

Those of us on the Surrey Seniors Planning Table looked for a way to keep family stories moving down through the generations. It is good for children to know where they come from, who their families are. It leads to a sense of belonging and a stronger sense of self worth.

So we sought ways to enhance the telling of stories to keep family members and communities in contact with each other. And the ElderStory Project was born, with the intention of bringing the generations together through storytelling.

Our storytellers come from all walks of life, from all ages, from many cultural groups. Their histories originate in communities in rural Canada: in small villages in India and Iraq: in large towns and big cities around the world. But wherever they originate, the message always comes out the same. “Now we are here, and much though we love the places we came from, in this place we are happy.”

The Surrey Seniors’ Planning Table and DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society hope that you will enjoy these very Canadian stories.



Contents



Chapter 1. Dangerous Times


Chapter 2. Wars of the World


Chapter 3. Occupations


Chapter 4. Logging


Chapter 5. Daily Lives


Chapter 6. A Full Life


Book 2 Participants




Dangerous Times

1. Tom Brown – Thrown From the Car

My wife worked in New Westminster before we got married. She lived up beside us out on 72nd, and she would come out on the weekends to home, and Sunday night I would drive her back to New Westminster, where she stayed for the week. We were about half way in to Vancouver and there were some Americans up here, I guess one American and one Canadian, and they were racing.

I had a 1927 Durante at that time. I guess we were puttering along about 20 miles an hour. They were telling me afterwards they were doing over 80 miles an hour. And they ran right into the back of us.

Luckily, they hit hard enough, and it collapsed the car, and that bowed it out and shot us out the roof. The roof on those, there was iron up to the top, and the roof was canvas covered in the centre, and I guess it exploded away, because it shot the two of us out of the car and across the ditch, and across the fence into the pasture.

Lucky it didn’t hurt, although June had a sore neck for a long time, and I had a cut on my head. But when it first happened, I thought I was back overseas, because I’d tried that trick a few times over there, driving over landmines. Same thing. The explosion, I guess, makes you lose consciousness, because I don’t remember, and June doesn’t remember going over the fence. Because when I woke up of course with her, she was saying, “Why are we here? What are we doing out here?”

And then finally I came back to the road, and I had to get through the fence in the dark, and there was one light, not very bright, hanging on it, there was a red taillight quite far down because the car, I guess it shot in the ditch and it skidded down the road on its side.

The guys in that car were drunk because I climbed up on the car and all I could hear was moaning. I hollered down, “Are you okay? Is anybody hurt?”

“And the driver said, “Yes, we’re okay, we’re just stalled, leave us alone.”

I said, “You’re not okay, there’s somebody hurt down there.”

They said, “No, we’re okay.”

Lucky there was a house fairly close, and the owner heard the noise and he came out to look, and he came down finally and he had a light. It was dark and we couldn’t really understand what happened and what was going on. There was more confusion than anything else there.

2. Jack Lillico – Lost Needle

I was doing a big magic show on the third of January 1949 in a house in Shaughnessy. Claybourn was the name of the people. Claybourn Brick Mills, out in the Valley, you know. And they had a huge party that they wanted me to entertain for. So halfway through the act I did what I call swallowing needles. You take a length of thread and pop it in your mouth and drink some water, and you take these 20 ordinary steel needles and put them in your mouth one at a time and flip them back on your tongue and drink the water, and eventually you pull out the whole thread with the needles all threaded on.

I have to tell you how the trick goes because this night it went wrong. When you work this trick, you have a load in your left cheek with the points back and the thread running through in the front of your mouth. When you flip the needles back, they stick together as a lump with your saliva, and you roll it over to the right side. You can only work if for about 15 minutes and it gets agitating, and that warns you when to do the trick, half way through your show.

I was downstairs getting my cheque for the show and I took the needles out of my mouth, the single needles I’d put in. And I generally counted them, and there was one missing. I thought I’d swallowed it.

First of all when I discovered that I did this the two nurses came down dressed in white that looked after the kids in the home. They gave me bread to eat. Of course I could swear I swallowed the needle.

So I phoned Brock Fahrni, who if you know Shaughnessy hospital there’s a Brock Fahrni Building down there, and he and I owned a Star Craft boat together at the yacht club. I said, “I’ve swallowed a needle.” So I had to meet him at about 11 o’clock down at the General Hospital.

When we went down to the hospital, he got an esophagus specialist and they took X-rays, and they said, “We can’t tell whether you swallowed the needle or not because of the bread.” The recommendation was to go home and have oatmeal and castor oil.

I never had the castor oil. I ate enough of the cereal for seven guys. But we went back and vacuumed the place, but we never found the needle. I don’t know if it was a miscount, or what happened, or whether I swallowed the needle or not.

It was an embarrassing situation. You never work that in a kid’s show. You only do it for adults.

3. Gordon Long – Science Lesson

I was about 10 years old, I guess, and this is where I learned my first lesson about physics. Brian Anderson and I – Brian was the nephew of the lady that lived next door – we were playing one day down at the foot of their driveway, which is about a quarter of a mile from our driveway, and this was before Highway 16 was paved. It was pretty muddy in the spring, and we were unsupervised and young and stupid, and we were throwing mud at the wheels of the cars driving by on the highway, thinking this was all sorts of fun, but drat it, we could never hit them.

Because every time we’d throw at the wheels, by the time the mud ball got there, the car was gone.

Well, Gordon being the scientific type, I did some thinking, and I thought, “What I really need to do is throw the mud ball ahead of the car, and the car will get there and the wheel will get there just as the mud ball gets there.” Very intelligent.

I timed it absolutely perfectly, except for the altitude of my shot, and the mud ball that I threw hit dead centre of the windshield of the car.

The car came to a sliding halt in the mud. And I went pelting up the Palling road, which was the side road that went up into the community, and unfortunately Brian went pelting up the road to his aunt’s place.

I cut through the gravel pit and headed home, but unfortunately Brian went home and the owner of the car of course knew exactly where to go, and he drove up there. Brian told them it was me, so the guy drove across to my house, and by the time I got home, there he was standing in the yard yelling at my mother.

So I listened to that, and then I went up to another neighbour’s house and I played there for the afternoon, but sooner or later I had to come home. I got into more trouble for that escapade than I ever got into in my life. And it was all because I learned a science lesson.

4. Allan Brown – The Pickup

When they were logging above the road at the back end of the cut-block, trees that they couldn’t buck would break loose and come sliding down. They’d run right across their road and right across our road and sometimes take the road out.

The trouble is that you can’t always tell where it’s gonna go.

I went up the road in the morning to where we were blasting, and it was a fairly new pickup we had. I had a helper when I was drilling because he changed the steel. So I told him to take the crummy down and put it in the switchback and park it there. Usually he stayed there and had a coffee or something, but this time he came right back up. Lucky for him.

Finally the faller came down, and “Al,” he said, “I’ve got a little news for you. Take a look; your pickup is no more.” One of the big trees got loose and came sliding down right on top of the pickup and just flattened it. When they fall them usually they come down. If they happen to turn and get started and away they go.

It was a fairly new pickup, and the company I worked for wasn’t too happy about that.

5. Jamie Long – Dick Carroll Hill

The Dick Carroll Hill was the access into the Palling community from Highway 16, and it was a pretty steep hill. I used to like to walk up to the top of the hill and then I’d get on my bike and then I’d gun it down the hill, full speed ahead, with the cardboard-and-clothes-pin clickers on the wheels that went “dr-r-r-r-r” as I went.

So I’d go up the Dick Carroll Hill and I’d give ‘er, runnin’ down there goin’ “dr-r-r-r-r” all the way down. But I kinda forgot that there was traffic on Highway 16. So I went gunnin’ out right in front of a salesman. Boy, I’ll tell you he nearly clipped me. It was really close. And I only had a few hundred feet to get to my own driveway. I was goin’ so darn fast, and I go gunnin’ in there, and he came after me, and I went behind the house, and he was right after me. Boy, I’ll tell ya. He got ahold of me and he shook me like crazy, yellin’ at me. Oh, it was a scary darn thing. I never did that again, let me tell you!

Gordon Long

To add to that, when I was about 10 years old a friend of mine, Gordon Worthing, that lived in Decker Lake, rode his bicycle down their driveway and out on the road in front of a car and got killed. I was a pallbearer at his funeral, so I’m glad, if I have to say it, I’m glad it was him and not you.

6. Darryl Catton – Driving the Ambulance

After the military I went back to Ontario. I walked straight into a job as chief engineer at the hospital in Huntsville, Ontario. I had a little help from my father and some board members, and the administrator was a friend of ours.

So I did that for 13 years, and they came to me one day because the ambulance service in town, the guy had quit and they wanted someone to drive temporary, so they said. So they asked me if my men could drive ambulance, and the orderlies would be the attendants. So I agreed to that. That was a big handover, losing patients and everything else.

We didn’t have proper ambulances; it was just a truck they had made into an ambulance to keep the stretcher inside in wintertime. One of the first jobs we got was to go pick a guy up, and they lived on a hill. Now the ambulance attendants they were orderlies usually, but the local undertaker’s son was also an attendant. Now you’d never get away with the things we got away with. We weren’t qualified.

So I had to go down and find him, and they had a hardware store – that was another business – and get him over there, meanwhile the guy’s dying, you know. And we got over to this house, and it’s on a hill.

This is a true story. It sounds like I’m embellishing. I’ve told a lot of people and they don’t believe. You can tell in their eyes.

So I’m driving, and I just want to get back to the hospital.

Normally the operator, the driver, isn’t supposed to get involved, but you do. You can’t help it. So anyhow we go in and the guy’s out of it. We had to put a straight jacket on him. He’s flopping all over. We took him out and Bob, the undertaker’s attendant, pushed him in. The ambulance normally had a clamp on the side. You pushed them in on a stretcher, and there were clamps. But this is a makeshift thing we made up, so we just pushed it in. It was dark, and we were on top of a hill, and I ran around the front and jumped in and Bob goes in the passenger side and I hit the gas, and we were at the top of the hill. I heard a clunk and turned around and the doors flew open, and there goes the patient. It was pitch black. Luckily it was just a shallow ditch. So we’re out there with flashlights trying to find the patient. He was out of it; he didn’t know what was going on. He slid down into this little ravine, and we were trying to find him.

We got him and put him in the ambulance, and Bob got in and held on to him until we got to the hospital. Well, as soon as we opened the door, this guy threw up. You can imagine the mess. He just slid out. It was a small town, and we knew everybody. I talked to the guy later, but I never did tell him.

They had a party for me when I left the hospital, and I told the administrator, “I gotta tell you a story.” And I told her.

She said, “Darryl, I’m glad you didn’t tell me that at the time.” This was years later. “We coulda got sued.”

So I have a lotta stories about the ambulance. I could write a book alone about the ambulance. We didn’t have radios when we first started out. They’d phone in, and they’d just tell you where to go. Most of them were false alarms. I got fed up with them because you’re away from the hospital in a far house, and in a hospital that size you have patients where you have to be there at certain times. You can’t just walk out.

And you’re going way up in the park, up lakes in a boat in the middle of the fall and freezing to death, handling drunks, so I gave it up. So eventually they did get in an ambulance.

7 Sandy Long – A Winter Stroll

This was a visit to our neighbours that went wrong when I was very young. We were down at our new house at Palling, on Highway 16; it was just being constructed in 1949, and I think I was just turned three. I announced to Mum that I was going to visit the Carrolls. Carrolls lived about a quarter of a mile towards Decker Lake, east along Highway 16.

She wasn’t watching me, I guess, when I went out the driveway. I had said Carrolls, but I knew deep in my heart that I was going to Eklunds, about a half a mile west on Highway 16, so I turned the wrong way, going to Eklunds.

I walked almost a half a mile on the crust of the snow. It was late winter, and we had great access to the bush at that time of the year because of the crust that would form on the snow after a cold night with a previously warm day. Anyway, I got to Eklunds’ fences and cross fences in their barnyard. The house sat a little bit back from the highway, and of course I took the easiest way, which was a shortcut, and I got hung up in a barbed wire fence, and there I was, stuck.

Fortunately Carl Swanson Junior came along the highway in his old Model B Ford Pickup, and he spotted me out in this field stuck in the fence, and he came out to get me. But there was about three feet of snow and he was sinking through the crust. He finally got me free, and then apparently – I don’t remember this quite so well –apparently I ran away from him and he couldn’t catch me once he got me free.

But he finally caught me, kinda guessed who I was and took me back home. He figured I was one of the Long kids. I remember riding back in his truck.

8 Tom Brown – Crash on Vedder Mountain.

We were logging up at the top of Vedder Mountain, and my Dad wanted to move down to the bottom, so we loaded up in the evening in the back of the truck hauler, and progressed down the road. I guess it was must have been dark, and the driver stepped on the brakes, and the red tail light came on and it shone up through the platform. Alan saw the red light and he started screaming, “Fire, fire, fire!” because he thought it was on fire.

Jesse, the driver, heard him screaming, so he stopped the truck and came running back to see what was going on, to see the fire. I guess there was no brake; he just left it in gear and it started rolling forward. He ran back to get in, but Mum was sitting in the cab with our sister, Mary, who was quite young at the time, on her lap. It was straight over the bank on her side, so she decided she was going to get out the driver’s side.

So she was pushing and hollering at Jesse to “Take the baby, take the baby!” but he wanted to get in and drive the truck. Finally he got ahold of the steering wheel so that it ran into the bank and stopped, but that was lucky, because if it would have gone the other way, we would have all gone down the bank. It was pretty steep there, and it would have rolled a time or two, and it might have killed a few of us. I don’t know, but I was glad we didn’t have to try it.

Sandy Long – A Wild Ride

Some of those trucks Dad had. No brakes, time and time again. They were hydraulic brakes in those old Fords dating in the early ’50s. The four-ton, Dear John, was a ‘51.

(Ed. Note: Mum named all our vehicles. Dear John was the same bright green colour as a John Deere tractor. Also, a “Dear John” letter meant bad news. If a guy overseas during WWII got a “Dear John” letter, it meant his girl back home had chucked him over for someone else. The other truck was the Pink Elephant; that name speaks for itself. It was a 1950, I think. It was older and even less reliable. Mum had a sharp sense of humour, and she hated those trucks.)

The chains on the tires would break and the loose ends would whip around and tear the hydraulic lines off. So Dad fixed the brakes from time to time, but for large periods there were no brakes on the trucks.

I have to tell the story about Dear John when we were towing the mill down the Palling Road with the Caterpillar D-2 bulldozer. That was one of the near misses of my life.

Dad was working on his homestead, which was up at the back end of the Palling community, three or four miles back from the highway, and we lived down on the highway. He had been doing some cutting on his own property that winter, and then breakup came and he was done, so he was going to move his Bellsaw sawmill that was on a Model A truck frame. He could just tow it behind the bulldozer.

So he was walking the dozer down the public road with the sawmill behind it. And behind that, came Sandy at age 12, driving Dear John, and on the back of the lumber truck was Gordon and Sigurd Esplin. Sigurd didn’t drive. He was a fairly well off Norwegian fellow who just loved the work in the bush, and he loved the work around the mill, and when there was nothing much happening around the Decker Lake Forest Products planer, he worked for Dad. And he was helping us with this move.

And it was the boringest job, because Dad would be walking the Cat ahead and I’d be waiting, and then I’d start up, and I’d upshift, and I’d get it into second or third, and very quickly I’d catch up to Dad, and then I’d pull over and wait for Dad to get ahead a bit. Stop and go. Stop and go. Very, very slow.

And there’s a big hill called Carroll’s Hill on the East Palling Road coming down to a T-junction with Highway 16. I was a bit apprehensive about this hill because there were no brakes on the truck.

That’s right. No brakes on the truck and a 12-year-old kid driving. I knew what it was all about, but I was still apprehensive. So we got near the top of the hill, just starting to be a slight down pitch, and I thought, “I’d better downshift into bull low, so I can go down the hill on compression, and shut off the key if I want to stop.”

Needless to say, I missed the shift. And all of a sudden I’m in neutral. I’m revving it up, and I knew enough to double clutch, but I couldn’t get it back into gear.

“Turn off the key! Turn off the key!” Sigurd is shouting. “Turn off the key!”

But I knew there was no sense in turning the key off because I had no connection with the rear tires; there was no hold-back on the motor any more. So I put it in the ditch on the left-hand side of the road. On the right-hand side of the road there’s a real gulch, and I’d have killed somebody if I ran it all the way down to the highway.

But I didn’t. I put it into the ditch, and there was a berm on the other side of the ditch, and we stopped on top of the berm.

So I went down and told Dad. “I ran off the road.” I told him what happened.

“Aw,” he said. “You would have been all right in second.”

Which was true. I kinda knew I’d be all right in second, but I wanted to be safe. But I should have downshifted when I was on the level and then crept down. I made a mistake there. But that could have been fatal for somebody. As it was Dad just got into the truck backed it out on the road and went down the hill.

But if I’d left it for another two seconds I would have been in serious trouble, but I did the right thing, given that I’d made the mistake in the first place.

I was also on a much more serious runaway…I think it was Pat Ford with us. (Ed. Note: Pat Ford is the name of the logger. Dear John is the name of the truck. Which was a Ford. No relation, I’m sure.)

We were in Dear John; I can remember that as clear as anything. I was 8 or 9 years old. We were up past the main camp quite a ways; there was a road with a steep side-cut that went up a big hill, and then Dad had a tie sale at the top.

It was in the evening and we were coming down the hill with a full load of ties, and it was muddy, muddy, muddy, with deep ruts. The whole road was ruts.

Dad had been grinding along on a relatively flat area in the cut-block, and then he got out on the main haul road. The truck had a two-speed rear axle, so he up-shifted into high range. We broke over the ridge of the hill and started down and all of a sudden. “Kapink!” We already had no brakes, and we now had no connection to the back wheels. So when the compression came on instead of it lugging along through the deep mud it started to coast, and then it popped out.

So all of a sudden this truck’s running away, and it’s at night. Pat jumped out, and I’m the one in the middle of the seat. You shouldn’t really jump out, but he did. There were no doors on the truck at the time, and no fenders, because then you could see not to run into things in the bush. We had a full load, a couple of hundred ties on the back of this truck with no brakes.

Dad curved it into a brush pile on the down side of the road. The upper side was a cut bank, and if you went up there, you’d roll it. So he carved it and hit it perfectly, and we came to a stop. Pat came running up.

We walked back to camp in the dark. Dad said, “I think I know what happened. I think that two-speed axle didn’t shift right, and it popped into neutral.”

So we went back the next morning and he fired her up and put her back into low range and backed it out on the road again, and down the hill we came, no harm done.

Oh boy, oh boy, that could have been fatal, though.


Wars of the World


1. Joyce Schmaltz – Fish and Chips.

You have to be English to understand this. I was in the military police during WW II, and I don't know why but lots of times I had the same shift, the one where the boys were going off to Europe, and they would go through Waterloo station.

One night in the blackout with the bombs and everything I happened to be down there when I saw a friend that I'd been out with a couple of times, a British boy. His regiment was going.

"Oh, Joyce!" He comes and gives me a big hug and knocks my hat off and oh, my goodness, we had a fight to find my hat in the dark and everything. But anyway I found my hat, and we went into a corner and had a little kiss and a cuddle.

And he hugged me and he said, "I'm going to tell you something that I want you to remember all your life."

So I thought, "Oh, yeah, here comes he usual stuff about that he loves me, you know, and when I get back…"

So then he gave me another hug, but this time he put his nose sort of quite near my head, and he said to me, (so I was waiting for this big love thing,) and he said very nicely, "You always smell of fish and chips."

I've remembered that all my life!

The reason for this is because during the war we could not get shampoo so we washed our hair with Sunlight soap that my mother washed the clothing in. So then you took vinegar – in England we didn't have anything but malt vinegar – so you put the vinegar on your head to get rid of all the scum and stuff from the soap. So after you put the malt vinegar on, then you put water on to wash the vinegar out.

Well I did this once a week. I never knew that I smelled of vinegar. Here he was so lovingly saying, "I'm going to tell you something that I want you to remember all your life. You always smell like fish and chips."

So I rushed home as soon as I could get off duty, and I said to my Mum, "Gee, do I smell like fish and chips?" And she said, "Yes. "

I loved the fish and chips bit instead of saying he loved me because he was going away, never knowing if he was coming back. I've never forgotten that.

2. Maggie Gooderham – World War II

When the war broke out my school was evacuated to the country, but my parents didn’t want me to go, so I left that school at about 17 and I took a secretarial course so I had something to do. My parents were okay with that. It was something I could do that I could work with. So I became an accomplished secretary.

We lived in a town called Guildford. It was quite small in those days, of course. It’s hard to imagine. We had no cars or anything. We had to put our cars up on blocks in the garage. We kept the distributor cap somewhere different in case the Germans invaded and had access to a bunch of cars because they couldn’t drive without the distributor cap. It seems strange, now, to have no cars. It sounds silly, but my sister and I loved our car. We had a Daimler, and it was up on blocks, so she and I used to sit in the back and play cards, because we liked being in the car. It sounds silly, but at the time we liked it.

People didn’t realize quite how close we came to losing the war, you know. They’d taken over the whole of Europe, and Greece and Norway, and most of North Africa.

I remember Dunkirk. After that, everybody in England expected to be invaded, and they would walk right over us. My dear father joined the Home Guard, and they used to drill with broomsticks. Nobody had any weapons of any kind in the country. They could have walked right in. But Hitler made that stupid mistake of invading Russia instead. It was absolutely idiotic.

And Dunkirk. At the time we regarded it as a great victory, because a call came out over the BBC, “Would anyone with a small boat go to Dunkirk and help to rescue everyone that made their way to the beach.” So all these little boats made their way to Dunkirk, and they picked about 300,000 men, which at the time we thought was a huge victory, which it was. It was also a big defeat, but at the time, rescuing all these Poles and French and English; to us it seemed wonderful.

I remember my mother saying that the church bells would all ring if the invasion started. And one night she came upstairs and said to my sister and me. “Get up girls, the invasion has started.” Of course it seemed at the time as if it was so possible. We got up and packed a case of absolute nonsense. Nothing useful. Photographs and useless things. Then we went downstairs and listened to the radio, and it must have been a false alarm. But at the time it seemed so desperately real. It was frightening because at the time it was so believable. Which it was, of course.

But if it ever happened again, I wouldn’t go out on the road. I’d die in bed. It seems a much better idea. Of course we don’t know at the time.

When the school decided to evacuate to the country, my parents didn’t want me to go. So that’s when I took the secretarial course.

3. Maggie Gooderham – Egypt

The war was going so terribly badly at the time. The Germans had taken over most of the world except the States. So all I wanted to do when I was old enough was to join up and do my tiny little bit to help.

So when I was 18, I joined the Air Force. This was a bit of help, but I felt it was my duty and wish to help more. I was in the Air Force two or three years and then the call came out. They wanted volunteers to go to the Middle East because of the war In North Africa. The whole place was getting taken over by the Germans. The allies made their last stand at a place called El Alamein. And we had the first victory there since the war started, so it was a wonderful place to be.

The girls went over there to release the men to fight. So we just did the technical side while the men won the war. But it was the turning point of the war. The first victory we had because the Germans were favoured by the Egyptians. Most of them wanted Germany to win. The Egyptians didn’t like the British. A lot of the Egyptians had German flags ready to wave, but they were disappointed, of course.

The first time I was in Egypt about a year.

After the Armistice was signed, I was doing some private work for a man who lived in Kenya. He was going back to start a safari outfit, and he liked my work, so he said if ever I wanted to go out to Kenya he would pay my way. Which would be very nice.

I took my demob in Egypt. When we first went home to England, the rationing was still on. It was worse than during the war. We had very small rations. One egg a month, I remember. But the nice thing about when the Americans came to England they had huge amounts of everything, of course. So we liked to ask them to dinner, and they would bring huge steaks. Ooh. Enough meat to do us a month. Of course they didn’t realize how little we had. They had so much that some of the people resented them. The humblest man in the Air Force would drive a huge car and the station commander would have an Austin 7; that’s just an example of how much they had of everything. They would dish out almost anything you wanted. They had chocolates, cigarettes – I didn’t smoke at the time, but yes, cigarettes – and everything.

But other than that life was so terribly dreary in England. Rations were so small, and the weather was awful, so I thought, “I’m going to take him up on the job in Kenya.”

So I said I would like to come, and he wired right back. “Booked you on such-and-such a ship.” And so in a matter of weeks I was on my way to Kenya. Which was much nicer than life in England, you know.

After I was there for, oh, a year or so I met my first husband. He was in the Air Force also, and he was doing a survey of the countryside. He finished that, and he got the Air Force Cross for doing it, he did such a good job. We agreed we would get married, so he had to go back to his base in Cairo, and then he came back and we got married in Nairobi. He had to get back, because he was stationed in Cairo, so I went back to Cairo for the second time.

Being a civilian that time was not nearly as nice as having a uniform to protect one. Quite different. So after a while we went back to England and I’m sad to say he got killed in a plane crash. So I had two small children by that time, 4 and 2 years old, which was at the time quite devastating. I could never understand at the time why God allowed him to be killed, because he was such a good father and husband, but we don’t know what lies ahead, so we have to accept it.

4. Maggie Gooderham – Scorpion in Egypt.

We all lived in tents, and everything was in a tent, and I went to the washroom tent one day, and there was this huge scorpion.

I looked at it, and I said, “Oh, I can’t kill it, my foot’s too small.” So I looked around and took the lid off a garbage can and clumped it over the scorpion. And it just sat there. And I said, “What am I going to do?”

So I went outside and called the guard in. He was a British soldier. I said, “Under that lid is a scorpion. I want you to kill it.”

He said, “How do I do that?”

I said, “Well, you’ve got big boots, step on it.”

He was very unwilling, but I said, “I’ll count to three and then lift it up, and then you stomp on it.”

So we agreed on that, and I counted to three and of course the scorpion was just sitting there, probably dazzled by the light. Anyway, he stomped on it and killed, and that was the end of that.

5. Maggie Gooderham – Egypt After the War

The first time I was in Egypt about a year, and then as a married woman I was there probably another year. The uniform was a protection because the Egyptians were not nice people.

But then I went back again as a civilian, which was different, because with the uniform one had a certain protection. As a civilian of course you were fair game for anybody. In fact it was awful. Everywhere they were always firing guns into the air, just for fun. When my husband was on duty at night, which was often, unfortunately, I used to have a Very pistol under my pillow as a safeguard. Fortunately I never had to use it, but it was nice to have it there.

The first day my husband went back to work after we got back to Cairo a large policeman came to the door and insisted I come down to the police station with my passport.

I said, “I’m not going.”

He was a huge man, and he said, “You have to come!”

I said, “I’m not coming with you.”

Anyway, he went away, but that was the type of thing they would do all the time. I was glad to get out of that.

My husband used to go to work quite early and he would always say to me, “Get up and lock the door after I’ve gone.”

And I would say, “Oh, yes, dear,” and go back to sleep.

And then one day I was lying there, and I heard the door open, and then I heard silence, and then feet shuffling on the floor. I thought, “Ooh, what am I going to do?”

Nothing. I didn’t see any weapons. And then he came shuffling to the door, and then it slowly opened and it was my husband. And he said. “I told you to get up and lock the door.”

Of course after that I did, but at the time it terrified me, it really did, the way he did that slow shuffle. He was really quite bad. But it certainly taught me a lesson.

6. Joyce Schmalz – Vignette from WWII

Wasn’t it odd how we met?

“Destiny,” you said.

I literally fell into your arms when we smacked into each other. We were going round a corner in opposite directions, heads lifted to the sky, cheering the Hurricane fighter planes doing the “Victory Roll.” Then I looked at the twinkle in your eye and your lovely grin. I cut my lip on a brass button on your uniform, and it began to bleed.

Most of the time we had together was a few snatched hours here and there on the top of a double-decker London bus – at the back, whenever that seat was vacant. There we could talk, whisper, laugh, hug and kiss. It was the only place we could be alone; we knew there wasn’t much time.

My lip never seemed to heal. I was so sorry afterwards that we didn’t have the photograph taken that you wanted so much. I said, “later,” because of my lip.

You wanted a lock of my hair because you said it smelled so nice. I said you smelled like an old wet dog when your army uniform got damp in the rain.

I have never forgotten that evening in Waterloo Railway Station. So many troop trains leaving, and so many young people. So crowded, and yet so private. Saying goodbye, trying to be brave and pretending to be cheerful. There wasn’t much left to say; we’d said it all on top of buses, and sometimes sitting on a park bench in the blackout.

Your face was wet when I kissed you. I tasted your tears as you did mine. I never saw you again.

I haven’t forgotten.

7. Tom Brown – The War Years

When I got out of school I started working with my Dad. He was working up on the Hope-Princeton Highway, below the slide, hauling shingle bolts. At that time you could get a call-up for the army and I got mine. So I came to town and reported in. I could have got out because I was in logging, but I thought “Maybe I’ll stay in.” It was December, I guess it was. They took me back to Peterborough.

When I arrived back in Peterborough for basic training, I thought at that time I was just going to stay in reserve. When you got called up you didn’t have to go overseas, you could stay in Canada.

Before I went overseas, – and that’s one of the reasons I went active – I wanted to be a mechanic.

They told me that I didn’t go far enough in school, and I talked to them and they said, “You have to have the education.” But they said, “You can do it by correspondence and work at night with a crash course and get the training.”

Which I did. It was good. I got real good mechanical training.

So I woke up one morning and I had signed up for active duty. They took me to Petawawa for active training, and then I went overseas.

We went over on the Mauritania. There were three ships, the two Queens and the Mauritania that could go over direct without battleship escort. All the rest went in convoys. But we went over direct and zigzagged all the way.

We were set down in the hold in the bottom of the ship where they store stuff down there, and we had to get out and pack our food down in that hole there, and everybody was sick and throwing up, and it was quite a trip. Little did I know I was going to face MUCH worse in the next few years.

But then we got to England, and it was a while before the invasion, so we stayed there and did lots of training. Like my brother Allan, I didn’t get too far in school because we had to work to support the family. So more education was welcome. It was good, and I got really well trained as a mechanic.


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