Saturday, 22 October 2011

26: Adventurous Journey Home – Part 4.

Voyage to Canada

The days progressively grew colder so our gabardine jackets were necessary outside the hangar. Charlie, my near neighbour at home, still paid me regular visits bearing gifts of cakes, gateau etc plus tots of rum contributed daily by him and his friends. He would sit and have a chat about his lot and didn’t appear too happy. He was late joining up and was now keen for an early discharge. Before joining the aircraft carrier he was a gunner on the rear of a Fast Patrol Boat operating at night in the English Channel engaging German E-boats attacking our shipping. He became euphoric when telling me what a thrill he felt when strapping himself into a chair with its revolving twin cannon. A thrill no doubt enhanced by the speed of the boat coming from three modified aircraft engines below. There was a Second Lieutenant in charge of the FPB and all the crew were on first name terms. At the end of hostilities in Europe he had been shipped to Sydney, Australia to become a waiter in the officers’ mess; I clearly understood his feelings. As we neared Vancouver he asked if I could deliver a parcel to his father containing his tobacco allowance. He was very pleased when I gave him some of my cigars to add to the parcel; he had been a good friend.

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

It was a sunny autumn day as we sailed into a straight between Vancouver Island and the mainland of Canada. No standing to attention on this occasion. Our arrival had obviously been publicised and some small private aircraft flew overhead as we made our approach. Along one side of the straight the shoreline had been cut into the side of the rock on which ran a railway line. Presently a locomotive with coaches twice the length of any I had previously seen came into view. It slowed down to our speed, blowing its whistle and ringing its bell with its passengers waving welcomingly. After about fifteen minutes he went puffing on his way.

Our ship docked at Esquimalt near Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island, and not Vancouver City as we had expected. Coaches collected us and we said goodbye to our recently made sailor friends before we were transported to a large army camp. The Canadians amongst us were taken elsewhere. We were deposited in barracks, four to a room and were told where to eat. Another medical check was imminent. A voluntary organisation had placed people around to chat to us and put us at our ease. No date was given for our departure but we learned that it would be in about three weeks.

The next couple of days we spend around camp getting used to our new surroundings and finding out where we could go and what there was to see. We had been paid some Canadian dollars so felt ready to face the outside world with growing confidence. After a while we were informed that personnel trucks would be running from camp next day to take us into Victoria. We were told that each night to make sure we could get back to our billets. It turned out that Victoria was built on a grid pattern so it was no problem getting a lift back provided that one stayed put.

I think the ex-P.O.W.’s were still finding it difficult to be individuals. We seemed to need each other’s company to face the outside world. So my three room-mates and I prepared to hit the town together. A Canadian soldier asked if any of us were army personnel. We told him “No” but asked why he wanted to know. “Army personnel were all being kitted out in new uniforms” was his reply. “What about RAF?” we wanted to know. He said he would be telling the Royal Canadian Air Force how many of us there were.

Victoria was a nice place. It was the first town we had seen for some years, but we felt more comfortable with money in our pockets. It enabled us to walk into a café and buy a cup of coffee. Trying to be normal was a strange experience. There were no pubs, only clubs. If we entered one we found it difficult to buy ourselves a drink. The other customers would insist on paying which was very nice but we felt uncomfortable about it. We decided we might be less conspicuous if we went out in the evening.

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