Monday, February 1, 2016

Uncertain Times

It was the summer of 1943.   On CBC Radio we heard Lorne Green (later of Bonanza fame) who was nicknamed the "Voice of Doom" as he read the depressing war news in his deep baritone voice.  We also heard how fear of an invasion on the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast was growing.  The war in Europe continued but since the bombing of  Pearl Harbour,  a Japanese attack on the west coast of North America was a distinct possibility.   Rumours of enemy sightings were rampant and stories of submarines off the Vancouver Island coast emerged but were never verified   It was the kind of thing that created nightmares for adults and  children alike.  We had many restless nights as we wondered if  the enemy would sneak up on our beaches.  

As the Americans built up their defences after Pearl Harbour,  Canadian soldiers from Pat Bay were sent to Ketchican, Alaska and my father received his orders that he too, was being shipped out.  It was August and my mother was expecting shortly so Dad's departure was delayed on compassionate grounds until my brother's birth.  My  grandmother made the two day train trip from Saskatchewan to assist my mother when she arrived home from the hospital and remained for several weeks, but  September arrived and she was needed at home on the farm to cook for the harvest crew.  For my mother, being on her own for close to a year with three young children had to be a big challenge. 

Troops at Aleutian Islands
With the situation in the Aleutians escalating, safety on Vancouver Island  became a concern.  We  had blackouts  but gas attacks were a possibility, so all residents were to be issued with gas masks.  When the distribution day arrived my mother took her young family down to McMorran's hall and along with everyone else in Cordova Bay, we received our gas masks.  My baby brother was only a couple of months old and masks were not available in a small  enough size for a young baby.
Children wearing gas masks

While my
grandmother was still visiting,  mother took me to a movie in Victoria as a treat.  It was actually quite a lively show and had lots of rousing patriotic music  performed by members of all branches of the American military. It was designed to encourage enlistment by Americans and was called   This is the Army  starring Ronald Reagan.    Cameo appearances were made by Irving Berlin and Kate Smith. Irving Berlin sang This is the Army and Kate Smith sang God Bless America.

There were other changes in the fall of 1943 as well.  Royal Oak School was filled to capacity and could no longer handle students from Cordova Bay so I was sent  to Craigflower School for Grade Two.  The neighbour boys who had attended Strawberry Vale were also sent to Craigflower.  To get to our new school, the bus followed  quite a roundabout route and I remember being told it was a thirteen mile trip with stops along the way. 

 As you can well imagine, the trip quickly became a boring excursion of over half an hour each way morning and afternoon.  There were just over a dozen students on the bus and the boys all crowded into the seats at the front to talk to the driver, leaving the rest of the bus to the girls.  Buses in those days had removable cushions so it soon became a game to grab the loose cushions and pile them up on the seats in the back row.  Then the girls would sit on these elevated seats, often four or five cushions high,  and belt out the popular songs of the day.  It was a boisterous daily event and a great way to pass the time on a long and tiring ride.  One of the crazier songs I remember from those bus rides was Mairzy Doats.  Another that came out not long after was Chickery Chick.

Kate Smith, God Bless America - YouTube
(with scenes from This is the Army)