Friendship and a Social Life
One day we left camp late in the afternoon intending to visit a cinema that evening. We stood talking on a street corner when two young ladies in army uniform walked towards us. They stopped and said they had been told that there were a lot of ex-P.O.W.'s walking around town not knowing what to do. They had been given the afternoon off and some free cinema ticket so, would we like to go to the movies with them? So, in we went!
After leaving the cinema we went into a café for a drink and to try some maple syrup pancakes. One of the girls seemed very friendly towards me and asked if we had seen the totem poles and the park. They said they would take us there the following day, which they did. By late afternoon it was obvious that one of the other chaps and me were getting all the attention. Of the other two, one was getting married when he got home and decided he was going back to camp; the other joined him.
I now knew the young lady who had paired off with me was Laura. We had a meal out and a drink in a club then she took me back to her flat where I met mates of hers from the various flats in the house. Our meetings were flexible. We agreed to meet at the same time and the same place each day not knowing if she had to be on duty the next day.
One day the RAF chaps were taken to the RCAF station to be kitted out with uniforms. Tailors were on hand to do any alterations needed. We were given a kit bag in which to pack a greatcoat, which was accepted gratefully to keep out the cost night air. It was becoming quite frosty. We were also issued with black leather gloves, not the woolen ones normally issued in England. Back at camp all the airmen, including me, were busy sewing on badges and generally feeling smarter and more comfortable in ourselves. Laura thought I looked great and suggested we go for a walk. During the walk we passed other army girls on the other side of the road going in the opposite direction. They shouted as we passed. Laura said to me “Wait here” then walked across and spoke to them. On return I asked if she knew them. She said “No”, but they had called me a nasty name, which I can’t recall. she explained that all Canadian servicemen volunteered for overseas service; there was no compulsion. But everyone who stayed at home was deemed to be a coward. Apparently they had assumed I was one of the latter, which seemed rather strange as there were an extra 1000 or so men walking about in their new army uniforms. Laura said she had put them straight!
On the Sunday, Laura had arranged to take me to her brother’s house for dinner in the evening. By now it was late October and becoming very chilly. The house was very warm but the only sign of heating was a fire in the lounge. I asked how they managed to keep so much warmth when there were no obvious radiators. I was taken down to the basement where an iron barrel stove was glowing, burning just sawdust. On and around the stove was a metal casing with a pipe reaching the ceiling where further pipes branched out to vents in the skirting of the rooms above. These kept the rooms beautifully warm.
It was a nice detached house of timber and brick construction with unfenced lawns at the front. My host told me he had a good job as a welder in the docks, was always busy repairing damaged ships and had a car. After dinner he asked my intentions. I told him I hadn’t thought about it; I just needed to get home and sort myself out. He then said it would be easy for me to get a job at the docks, young people were needed in Canada and assistance was available to help them emigrate. I explained that I was only twenty years old when I left England and was now twenty-five. My parents would expect me to spend some time with them. I had volunteered for the RAF at nineteen and had been out of their lives for too long. Also, it must have been a worrying time for them whilst I had been a Japanese P.O.W.
We were by now settled into a routine. Mornings were spent in camp, mainly just hanging around. Most of the airmen now had girlfriends and others had been adopted by local families who cared for them and showed them around the sights. Some just went about in groups. so afternoons and evenings were taken care of. Therefore there wasn’t too much enthusiasm when a day out at a flying boat station in the wilderness was offered. Eventually around fifty decided they would go; apparently they had quite a jolly time. It seem they were given a tour of the base and as much food and drink as they could managed. Also, a Christmas dinner was laid on with plenty of games. In other words, have what you like and do what you will; and apparently they did! The coast would be leaving to take them back to camp at 5pm. It seems that most of them ended up in the WAAF’s (women's) quarters, which are strictly out of bounds to airmen. The story goes that, at around 4.30 pm, the WAAF Officer entered the hut exclaiming, “What are you naughty girls doing to these poor airmen? Let them go at once. You know they should not be in here and their coach goes in half an hour”.
It was now over three weeks since we arrived here. The married men especially were getting restless and wanted to be on the move. We were all wanting to get home to try picking up the threads of our lives so we were happy when a notice was pinned up on the board notifying us of our departure in two days time. Laura and I had arranged to go to the cinema that day. When we met her first words were, “You’re going home!” I asked her how she knew but she just said, “We know!”
I had hardly recognised her the next day when we net; it was the first time I had seen her out of uniform. Her friend Jean, who I had met with Laura on the first day, had invited us with another couple to her parent’s house for the day. We arrived at a large, well furnished bungalow where a buffet meal had been prepared and a bottle of wine. Most impressive; not many people in England lived in this style. I think it was all meant to impress me as I realised the girls were keen for us to return to Canada. It was a pleasant evening; good company, chatting and listening to big band music on the radio broadcast from America. Laura said lots of girls would be coming to the docks tomorrow when we sailed, but she wouldn’t be there. We would say our goodbyes tonight.