Lunch on deck of the ship Ile de France, May 1946.Beverly Redston (nee Steers)
Beverly Redston at home in Montreal, Quebec, May 1946.Beverly Redston (nee Steers)
Private Marydel Robertson, Private Beverly Redston (Steers), and Lieutenant Maryellen Rossiter, on D-Day in Montreal, Quebec, June 6, 1944.Beverly Redston (nee Steers)
Newspaper Clipping from The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.Beverly Redston (nee Steers)
Beverly Redston with co-worker Jane Campbell, at home in Montreal, Quebec, May 1946.Beverly Redston (nee Steers)
"And we waited and nothing happened so we went on singing. That was the way things were. You just went with whatever was happening and if you were safe, you were safe and that was all that mattered."
A lot of people were seasick, but I wasn’t, so I enjoyed the journey. Made friends onboard. We were in a special section because women were looked after in those days, you didn’t mix with the troops. And they had a guard at the end of the corridor where we slept. And so we were completely segregated, except when we were up on deck and then we could mix on deck, which was fun.
Being women, we got the best of everything. Yeah. And there were about four different times to have your meals and so we were the third. And you only had two meals a day, so you were encouraged to, at breakfast or lunch or whichever meal, to take away things from the table to have in between. So it had a big basket of rolls in the middle of the table. Well, people were preparing their next meal while they were eating this one.
In between, we played cards in the lounge and, or walked the decks, talking to our friends. I remember all my buttons turned green because I loved standing on the deck and looking over the side and the spray would all come up and completely drench my uniform and all my buttons turned green from the salt. So I got into trouble for that.
We went to Aldershot [England] and that was really something. We got off the ship and were driven in a covered wagon or Jeep to Aldershot and it was a long journey and we couldn’t see a thing. It was at night and of course, everything was blacked out anyway. So we had our first taste of blackout. And when we got there, we were ushered into the dining room and fed - God, it was a terrible meal - sausages and grey-looking bread and margarine that was absolutely awful. And we thought, well, we’re in the war zone now, this is what it’s going to be like. Everything’s rationed and anyway, we ate it because we were hungry.
And our barracks was, the mattresses were made of straw, I remember that. And there was one potbellied stove in the middle of a room, this long, long room, and we spent a lot of time just sitting around that because it was bitterly cold, very cold, by this time it was November. We started out in September being recruited to go overseas and there was one delay after another because the ships kept sinking one after the other. We had an awful lot of sinkings. And we didn’t know this; we just knew that they kept putting us off. No, you won’t be going today, you’ll be going next week. And then it would be, no, the week after. So it got to be November before we actually left Kitchener where we had been gathered. And no, we didn’t know anything like that. We were told afterwards, that was it.
And even the ship that we were on didn’t go directly across the ocean, it went to southern Spain. So every day, it got warmer and warmer and the clothes started to come off, we didn’t know why we were down in the tropics, but we were evading submarines. And we were kept ignorant of all that stuff. We just knew that we were having a nice journey.
The first job I had was in a prison, converted to receive messages from the front. So I was typing up things like death certificates and it was really miserable. And the place was very cold and the water running down the walls, cement walls. And motorcycles would arrive every now and then with what was happening in the front, you know, the wounded and the dead. And we had to notify the next-of-kin in Canada about what was going on.
Well, a couple of us felt that that’s not what we signed up to do, because we were first-class secretaries and we had the badge on our arm to show that we were top typists and stenographers. And so they moved us to London and I was at headquarters, that’s where I started my real job, working for the army prosecutor.
And while we were waiting for that posting, I went into a place where they were selling or giving cigarettes to the people coming from the front on leave. And I sat in a little booth like a teller, handing out cigarettes. So that was my temporary job while waiting for the posting in CMHQ [Canadian Military Headquarters].
You had to have ration coupons whenever you went on leave and so when I went down to see my great-aunt, my friend and I - I brought along a friend for that time - we went into a shop and bought our groceries. We could get a quarter of a pound of stewing meat and one egg, some butter but nothing could be wrapped, so we were on a bus holding onto the egg like this and nobody seemed to think that was odd because everybody understood what was going on. But the meat that we had wrapped in some meat paper, we had that in our satchel but here we are, riding along in the bus to my aunt’s place, holding an egg each. And that was going to be our breakfast.
And she lived in this beautiful house in Southend, absolutely gorgeous. And we thought, well, this is nice, much better than the barracks. And so she made the stew for our dinner and we had enough to give her too. And we had the egg for breakfast. We augmented her rations.
While we were in London, every day was quite an adventure because during the night, there would be the rockets going over. First of all, there was the Buzz Bombs [German V-1 pulse-jet-powered missiles] and that was kind of scary because you’d look out the window, I did one morning, looked out the bathroom window and there’s this little Buzz Bomb going overhead and I thought, oh, I hope it keeps going. But the thing is, when it stopped, then everybody was on alert because it came down at an angle, gradually. It went and stopped. The people underneath were fine but the people that lived just beyond had to be aware that they might be hit. And I never heard one stop.
I did have an adventure with the, with the ones that came afterwards, the long rockets, I’ve forgotten what they were called now. The what? The V2s, yeah [V-2 rockets were long-range ballistic missiles developed by Nazi Germany]. Because they were deadly. And caused an awful lot of damage. And I remember being in the bathroom one morning and brushing my teeth and there was an ungodly crash. And one had come down very close to us, near Marble Arch and we were just on the other side of Marble Arch, in Notting Hill. And I found myself on the sidewalk with my toothbrush. I must have run without even thinking. I just out the door with all the rest of the people and I had my toothbrush and toothpaste running down my face.
And another time, we were in church, St Martin-in-the-Fields, which was Trafalgar Square, and a V2 came down at Marble Arch, which is, as the crow flies, it’s not that far from where we were. And everything stopped in the church. We were singing a hymn and everything stopped just for about 30 seconds. And we waited and nothing happened so we went on singing. That was the way things were. You just went with whatever was happening and if you were safe, you were safe and that was all that mattered.
Another time I was sitting at my desk and I was, this time I was near Regent’s Park. And I found my head banged against a wall because of concussion, the windows were open and I had fallen at a place called Swiss Cottage, was close to Regent’s Park and my head hit the wall and, but when it was over, it was over, you just carried on, I wasn’t injured. But you never knew what was going to happen wherever you were because of the Buzz Bombs.
We were able to look out the window and see all the activity of the news vendor going mad selling newspapers and then we all left our posts and went into the street and we went up to Piccadilly Circus. Often I’ve seen shots of the soldiers and people at Piccadilly Circus and I’m trying to find me because that’s where I was, milling around and shouting and getting all excited because it was, part of the war was over.