Veteran Stories:
Vera Helena McCormick

  • Firefighters in London during the Blitz. Mrs McCormick was in the Auxiliary Fire Service for the duration of the war.

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"Before we entered the war, that year before, it wasn’t at all easy. Everybody was on edge and they were advertising for volunteers. And so I signed up with the AFS [Auxiliary Fire Service]."

Transcript

It was just mom and I. And then my mother had to find something to do, of course. In that day and age, they didn’t have the education they have now and she always wanted to be a nurse. So she went to the Royal Lying-In Hospital, York Street, London and became a nurse. That period, I lived for a little while with a friend of hers, who looked after me while she was in training. And then we lived together in Beaconsfield Road, West Croydon, and mom did her nursing and I grew up. Before we entered the war, that year before, it wasn’t at all easy. Everybody was on edge and they were advertising for volunteers. And so I signed up with the AFS [Auxiliary Fire Service]. So, of course, when war broke out, in September of 1939, I was called up. And because there was just mom and I, and mom was already called up because of nursing, I wasn’t sent away anywhere. In the fire service, I was in the Croydon Fire Service and there I stayed. All the while I was with them. We worked so many days on, so many days off, right. So, of course, sometimes I was home and sometimes I was at the fire service. Most people’s nerves were on the edge and I would say the worst part of it was trying to keep awake at 3:00 in the morning. I had a letter from Frank from Italy to say that he thought he was getting some home leave [leave in Canada] because they had a point system and they had enough points; and I should make arrangements which entailed going up to the Canadian place in London to arrange for going overseas. Well, that’s what I did, thinking, of course, it would be ages before I heard because with a lot of my friends, it was ages. But I was a ward on the ship within two weeks. And I was in the last ship that sailed from England to Canada and peace was declared two days out of Halifax. So here I was, on a small ship, two days out of Halifax, listening on the radio, to the celebration in England. Two days out of Halifax and when we got there, it was in a riot. And I thought, oh Lord, I’ve come from one war torn country to another, because there was an uprising in Halifax. So they kept us onboard ship for two days before they let us into the Pier 21. Well, I was very, very homesick. There was only mom and I; and we were very, very close. When I think back on it now, I wondered how I waved goodbye and walked down to the train to get on to go up to London. After I had my first, my son, I realized how she must have felt. And I wrote to mom and I said, I didn’t like it in Canada, I wanted to come home. But with my mother’s usual aplomb, she said, I made a commitment; I was to stick by it. And we didn’t have any money for me to come home; I couldn’t have got home anyway. And so here I was. When Frank came home on 30 October, 1945, things got a lot better because you see, I didn’t know anyone and the ways were strange to me. I was strange to them. I didn’t understand the money per se and everything that flew around seemed to bite me and poison me. [laughs] And I thought it was an awful country, it was so hot. But, of course, with time, I settled in, especially after my two children were born. And then it became home.
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