Veteran Stories:
Miriam Mitchell

Civilian

  • Miriam Mitchell prior to her departure for England. June 1943.

    Miriam Mitchell
  • Miriam Mitchell's British Columbia Canteen medal from the Canadian Red Cross.

    Miriam Mitchell
  • Miriam Mitchell's service medals (left to right): Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal (1939-1945).

    Miriam Mitchell
  • Front cover of book, 641: A Story of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, Overseas (St. Catharines, ON: Canadian Red Cross Corps, 1978). Miriam Mitchell and Florence Deacon complied stories from women who served overseas with the Canadian Red Cross during the Second World War.

    Miriam Mitchell
  • A map from book, 641: A Story of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, Overseas showing where the Canadian Red Cross Corps was stationed in London, England during the war. The Corp House is on the left, on Kensington Road near the Albert Memorial. Miriam Mitchell work at the BC Canteen, top right, on Regent Street between Coventry Street and Pall Mall.

    Miriam Mitchell
  • An illustration from book, 641: A Story of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, Overseas. One of the women who served overseas with the corps drew the book’s illustrations.

    Miriam Mitchell
  • An illustration from book, 641: A Story of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, Overseas.

    Miriam Mitchell
  • An illustration from book, 641: A Story of the Canadian Red Cross Corps Overseas. The wedding dress was from Simpsons, a department store in Toronto, Ontario. The dress was ultimately shared among 21 brides. Once a woman was wed, she passed the dress on to the next bride-to-be.

    Miriam Mitchell
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"I remember at the height of the bombing, a soldier coming into the canteen and saying to me, “Well, I’ll be glad to get back to my unit. It’s far too dangerous in London.”"

Transcript

First of all, I went overseas in June 1943 and I was 23 years old.  I had been teaching Grade One.  I had trained as a teacher and did Grade One for, I think, a year and then started taking the training for – I heard about the Red Cross and started doing that at night.  And, eventually, I resigned from teaching and got the call to go overseas.

I liked the idea that it was volunteers.  And I knew two women who had done that.  They were being trained at night at the local high school gym, that’s where they did the training.  So I followed, and I did that.  There would be about thirty of us.  But not everybody wanted to go overseas, it was volunteers.  You could put your name down to go.

We were welcomed at the station.  We all got together in a group by Major-General (retired) Price from Montreal [Quebec] who, for a time, was head of the Red Cross in London [England].  He was a retired general.  And, interestingly, he had two daughters in the corps, in the Red Cross.

Well, the biggest group was at Corps House, which eventually became three houses joined together.  So I guess we went the first night to Corps House.  But the women who were going to be in the various Canadian clubs – there were officer clubs, and NCO [non-commissioned officer] clubs, and private clubs – they separated.  And these were mostly houses that had been taken over and turned into a club where somebody coming from the south of England where they were training from the army would come into London for a couple of days leave and they could stay at these clubs.  They’d have a room and meals would be provided.  It gave them a break.  And, funnily enough, I remember at the height of the bombing, a soldier coming into the canteen and saying to me, “Well, I’ll be glad to get back to my unit.  It’s far too dangerous in London.”

When it was at its worst, it was every night the bombers would come over.  And then they had the silent ones, the V-2s [flying bombs].  And they were not manned.  And you’ve probably heard about them.  And these things would come over from Germany and they were set to drop down at a certain time that would put them over London.  And we always said that you were all right as long as you could hear the engine, and once the engine cut out and there was no sound this thing, like an airplane, would drop and it would explode.  So they were V-2s.

And there were cartoons in Punch.  Everybody tried to make light of what was happening.  And I remember one of a gentleman sitting at the table and he’s saying to his butler, “One more portion of fish pie, Jeeves, before the buzzing stops,” which would mean, you know, before it all exploded and everything went up in the air, he’d have another piece of pie.

Another time there was a very severe raid in London and they were usually at night.  And we could hear the bombs very close.  And after the all clear we wanted to go outside and see the damage because we knew it was close to Corps House in Kensington.  And when we went outside, the street was covered with glass.  And it was like walking on ice, it was several inches deep.  And we walked around and saw how we had just been missed.  And a house just a few houses from ours had the whole front of the building gone.  It was on the road.  And so it was open and we could see the five stories and the five rooms.  And out of one room was a dress hanging on a coat hanger and blowing in the wind.  It was a strange sight.

We would be told each day, for instance, they would say, “You’re on the tables,” and that would mean that you’d clear away the dishes that were left there and wipe the tables – and that became my job.  Or you might be on the coffee, you did the coffee.  There was a coffee maker.  And potato peeling was a big thing.

I should mention this, because Mary thinks it’s just a good story.  We provided trifles, of course, for dessert.  And we always tried to have them lined up before the time, you know, that a meal would come.  And there was a little bake shop up Regent Street in behind a building, and it was quite shabby but somebody decided that that’s where we could get the trifle cake.  And you won’t believe this, we had a suitcase that was just to go up to the bake shop and get the cake, a huge slab that would fit into the suitcase, no paper, no plastic bag.  We would carry it back.  But we liked doing the job because you got out of the canteen and walked up and it was quite pleasant.  But when it came to cutting the cake and setting up with the Bird’s Custard it was rather unsavoury.  But the cake, we would find things like elastic bands, and strange things, a bit of thread had been dropped in.  And these things were in the cake.

*Humorous and satirical British weekly magazine

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