"“Oh, isn’t it too bad about Frederick Tait.” And I said, “What?” And then, to me, I had just seen him April 3rd. And he was killed."
My name is Joan and I was named after Joan of Arc. So, Joan of Arc about the time I was born was just, I think, made a saint. She was, you know about Joan of Arc I suppose. I was attending École des Beaux-Art in Montreal and I was, this was the summer holidays, and I was kind of looking for a job for the summer, and I surprised everybody in the family by joining up. There was a barracks on Ross Pavilion, Ross Barracks on Peel Street, and that’s upper Peel Street, and above Sherbrooke [Street], between Sherbrooke and Pine [Avenue, officially called Avenue des Pins].
And walking back there, I walked by an office where they were recruiting. So I’d go in the odd time and I’ve said, “I’d like to go overseas.” And they put me down for overseas. And so I was called to go overseas eventually. I went in August 1944. And as a draftswoman. Well, what my work was, I was staff duties weapons. Most of the time I was making signs, captain so and so, and mister. But it was, in this building, I had a little place to myself. There was another man, a young man who was also a draftsman and I was also, there were two of us in a little room. The officers would come in with their cross sections of weapons, a couple of bombs, bombs, of various things. And if things were all secret, top secret or very secret, then I thought, well, I’m good to be here because I hadn’t a clue of what I was, I just drew whatever in it, just made their plans more readable sort of.
We didn’t have bombs, we did have the odd doodlebug [V-1 rocket], which made a funny sound. The rockets were the next ones. The rockets were really scary because they were rockets and they landed in town and crashed and nothing was ever mentioned in the papers about them. Never. But you’d just hear this sound, but it was like thunder. A loud crash, loud like thunder, rolling thunder, thunder crash. And there’d be a second crash, there’d be two. And then once you heard the second one, you knew it had landed. And then you were safe. One thing that cured me of being afraid of thunder because we’d just, we’d go on about our business and say, “Oh, somebody’s got it, but not us,” at that time.
And I didn’t take a bus. I just remembered now, when you mentioned, we took tubes. We didn’t take a bus. I didn’t have bus tickets, but we took a tube and I remember the people who had come in with their, they’d rent beds and it was quite a wide. So there were all these people, if we came late, they’d be in their beds or getting ready for bed. They rent these, I think they might have been double decker beds too, I can’t remember that part. But anyway, I remember people coming down carrying their bedding to sleep there, to avoid the bombs. I felt sorry for them. The air was not that great and there were families coming down. And we just walked on and minded our own business. When they made a last surge of planes going over London and they bombed all these nice cities, they wanted to scare the Germans off, right? And it was really too late for that. There was not a space to the sky, looking out the window. It was just nothing but planes. The whole sky, little planes, big planes going across to Germany to bomb Dresden and other cities. Just give them a scare. And they ruined Dresden and other cities, everything. And the war was just about over.
At the end of the war, when the Italian campaign was over, all these soldiers were all around London with red patches. They were the 1st Division. And this is a tanned, a blonde man with very tanned skin because he came from Italy, and he asked me to dance. And we were dancing a couple of dances, kept on dancing, and where are you from and he was, I said Montreal and he said, where are you from, he was from Grand Falls, New Brunswick, where I lived until I was 11. And then what’s your name, Frederick Tate. And he was in my class and I used to play Hide and Go Seek with him and things like that. An old school friend. And this was a Friday night and it was Easter, 1945 I guess. Yes, 1945, because I came back January of 1946. Anyway, so we were dancing and we spent the day next, that was Saturday night, Sunday, we spent the day together. He came over for a dinner at our place, we went to a movie and talked. And he was telling me that he hadn’t been able to write to, he wrote to his mother every week, but it was a secret move to come back to London and anyway, he hadn’t written to her and he felt …
So I wrote to her and … Oh yes, and V-E Day [Victory in Europe], that was May 8th, I got a letter from, this was Easter, it was April 3rd. V-E Day, I had a letter from home and they said, “Oh, isn’t it too bad about Frederick Tait.” And I said, “What?” And then, to me, I had just seen him April 3rd. He was killed. They went back to the front. And he was killed. And I was just so shocked. I didn’t feel like going celebrating that day, but I did go out. But it was the day before, V-E Day, that I got the letter.
And so I was shocked about that. So I wrote a letter to his mother that I’d seen him and what fun we had and what we did and how he felt and he felt sorry that he wasn’t able to write home when he moved. And I had such a nice letter and I had pictures of his grave and two or three others in the side of a road with a windmill behind, in the picture. And his was like the third grave. Just a grave with a wooden cross that some, a temporary grave. And they were very pleased to get my letter.