"There was an awful lot of letters that would come in and it was mostly all to be redirected because by the time the letters got there, the people were gone, the letters were someplace else."
My name is Louis Ralph Brochet. I started with the [Royal] Canadian [Army] Postal Corps. In 1939, I was fishing codfish for a half a cent a pound. I worked in the mines that winter, the winter of 1941; and in the spring, on my way back, I stopped off in Montreal and I decided to join the navy. I went to the navy place to offer my services; and they asked what had I been doing up to the present time. So I turned on my heel and walked out. I guess they didn’t want me. But that ended that.
I think that most of the recruits were younger than I; and I was about, I was 23 or something, or other there. I told them that I had [been] a motorboat captain, you know, and I think that they wanted their recruits raw, that they wanted to train them their own way. They didn’t want a guy like me with preconceived ideas, or whatever. [laughs]
You know, what happened is that I was on very good terms with the school, with the post mistress; and at that time, she received a poster to put up that volunteers were urgent, something to the effect that volunteers were urgently needed for the Canadian Postal Corps.
The ship was too big to dock and we came ashore in Cowes, or something. And then we were transferred to trains there to come down to Aldershot, England [the Canadian army’s headquarters].
And I looked out and I seen women in rubber suits were working on the tracks with picks and shovels. Oh, I said, my God, there is a war on here, you know. Before that in Canada, we didn’t know there was a war on. What the heck could a little bit of an inconvenience there was with the rationing, and that sort of thing? We had enough to eat anyway. But there, I realized that there really was a war on when I saw what women were doing in England.
The Canadian army or the postal corps operated on a unit system. We didn’t know very much when we were on our first there and then the whole thing hinged on the distribution. If you knew the distribution, well, you could pick up a pack of letters and distribute them. But if you didn’t know the distribution, you couldn’t do a damn thing with them. So I said, what the hell, I’m going to learn the damn distribution. And I did; and in about two weeks, I picked up the distribution.
There was a little over 1,000 units in the Canadian army and, of course, sometimes you had to look up something, but the general rule was you knew when a letter was addressed to the unit, whether that unit, whether it was with First Canadian army or whether it was with 1st Canadian Corps or whether it was the Static Canadian [Office Nol.] 6 or [No.] 10 [training and administrative offices in fixed locations, not connected to specific army units], or whatever, you know. So I learned the distribution.
There was an awful lot of letters that would come in and it was mostly all to be redirected because by the time the letters got there, the people were gone, the letters were someplace else. So we had to go by our records and redirect the mail. There were originally letters mostly from their families back in Canada, you see, that had been addressed, following them around, trying to catch up with them. That’s about it.
The big thing was shipping the cigarettes, packs of 300 cigarettes. Until, when I was at the post office there at some point, they changed the regulations and they made a base overseas with Canadian cigarettes duty free and the soldiers could order them from this base.
At one point, it had been about a year or more, I hadn’t seen the sea and I was getting crazy. After the second front opened up ̶ we were going there in a few months ̶ they granted us leaves. So I had been given ten days or whatever; and I went down to Brighton, got myself a rowboat and a girl; and I rowed around the harbour. [laughs]
Well, there’s one thing that I, one observation I would like to make. I guess, it’s pretty late, it’s too late for most of us now because we’re nearly all on the other side. We’re nearly all crossed over and we’re under the sod, but there should be some type of programs for to teach the young people something about the wars, something to make them realize that they got their freedom and they didn’t get it for nothing, you know.