"One of the most interesting parts of being in the service, happening on the 11th of November and being at Vimy at that time."
Well, in Vancouver, I had my wife there, renting a place from an old elderly, very gentle lady, who was a pioneer. She came to Vancouver before it was, they called it the Northwest. She was about 75 then but she was quite a lady and she gave me a tremendous interview before she’d accept me because with Western Air Command on temporary duty, there was no barracks, there was no mess hall, there was nothing. You lived out, you thumbed your way to where you were working and you didn’t get no beer parlour or anything. But we did get every month, we would drive to warehouse someplace in Vancouver and get a case of beer.
Grandma Sexmith was her name and she was just a marvelous lady. And my wife stayed with her until the war was over after I left. She insisted that she and our daughter stay with her. She didn’t charge anything. She was great company because she said, I used to have old ladies sitting with me and keeping me company but they kept on dying. And it’s nice to have somebody that’s young around.
Actually, after the war, when she was going back to East Canada for a visit, she went out of her way and took a train from Calgary to where I was in Alberta to visit us. I think that was very nice of her because we appreciated her very much.
Oh, one of the things in Germany, we used to go quite often into Hamburg on a truck and there was a hill where there was black market trading. You could buy anything for cigarettes: cameras and jewellery and all kinds of stuff, you know. All they wanted was cigarettes. The fellows that didn’t smoke kept their rationed cigarettes, maybe 15 cartons of it. Not packages but cartons. And they were the big dealers. They could deal for great things. But it was interesting, I, I had a little snapshot of our daughter and I gave it to a fellow who was an artist. And he sketched it, two packages of cigarettes or something like that. And my daughter still has it framed because it was a very good copy. It was excellently done. She has it framed and she still has it. It’s a picture we took after she had a bath and a towel was wrapped around her head and her body and her cheeks were nice and red and she looked bright. And he copied it beautifully.
I was in Germany with the occupation army for several months and the people were being billeted to go home. It was a bit of a rush in some stations and they were getting shorthanded in certain categories, which I don’t think was too important anyway. But to keep the people there, they offered leave to Paris for example and I applied for that, they called it an “educational leave”. Well, I failed. I applied too late for that. But I was able to get an educational leave to Brussels. And while in Brussels, we had a bus, a bus driver and there were army, navy, air force and some ladies in each service there. So altogether, there were about 16 of us, that’s all there was in the bus.
Well, we did a few visits in Brussels and university and then we had a trip to the place in France where Wellington slept, where the Battle of Waterloo was. But the most exciting thing was the trip to Vimy Ridge. And it happened to be on the 11th of November. And that was the first trip for anybody after the war. And we drove there in the bus from Brussels and it was a very weepy day. Drizzling rain and everything. And one of the chaps from the air force was quite mouthy. He kept on yattering and yattering all the time. You know, you couldn’t shut him up. But when we saw the Canadian war Memorial from a distance, it just shut him up. I think he was really impressed and we were there when the dignitaries laid wreaths at the Memorial. And we had quite a bit of time to spend there and actually, three of us found a way to get up in the Memorial, up to the very top and look over the countryside. We could see for miles and miles away. Most people didn’t know that it was hollow and had stairways going up to the top.
That incident is in my mind, is one of the most interesting parts of being in the service, happening on the 11th of November and being at Vimy at that time. It was something that stays in our mind for a long time and incidentally, there were a lot of pictures taken of the group. And after the war, I was sitting at my desk where I was working and I happened to have one of those pictures on there. And the fellow from the newspaper that came to pick up an ad, he says, where the devil did you get that? And he was on the picture too but I didn’t know him. But he was in the group, he was a lieutenant in the army or something. And that’s the extent of my experience in Europe.