THE TOM LINDSAY STORY
BY DAUGHTER BETH HARVEY
My dad was born on 1 march 1917 in the UK and immigrated to Canada when he was very young. His father left the family to return to Ireland. He went to work full time when he completed grade 7 and worked the following year as an office boy and at the same time took grade 8 at night school.
When the big depression came in 1929 he was a customs rater in a custom brokerage house. At the height of the depression his boss met with all the staff and advised them that half of you will be let go and the other half will work at half pay. Dad considered himself fortunate to still be employed even though he had to do twice as much work at half the pay. Such was the general attitude during these very hard times, far different from what is considered a depression in this day and age.
When WWII started dad volunteered in the RCAF and trained as a radar technician a comparatively new occupation with the introduction of radar detection. After completion of training in Canada he was sent to England for more advanced training. While there he went to Belfast to visit his father. He was then posted to the Mediterranean and subsequently posted to 458 RAAF squadron in Italy and his story there has previously been sent for inclusion in the 458 website and ended at Gibraltar at war's end where the squadron was disbanded.
Dad was posted back to Canada where he volunteered for duty in the pacific but the war ended before he was posted so he received his discharge from the RCAF and returned to employment in custom brokerage and eventually co-owned his own business in Montréal. It was there he met and married my mother Fay who had also served in the air force.
While in Montréal they had two children, son brace, named after my mother’s brother who had died from war injuries, and myself. Later we moved to Vancouver where he again opened his own custom brokerage business. He retired a number of times and eventually permanently when the family moved to West Vancouver. My mother passed away at age 85 about 14 years ago and shortly after I started taking care of my dad.
In March of 2015 he celebrated his 98th birthday and exactly one month later on April fool’s day he left us after a period of declining health and mobility.
LIFE STORY OF TOM LINDSAY
For me, it all started with my grandfather’s strange job. He worked for a large Irish linen company selling all kinds of fancy linens. His territory was not in Ireland, his native land, but in the southern part of Scotland, where he spent a good part of his early working life. The only time he came back to Belfast was for sales meetings, once or twice a year. His young wife, Ellen, always traveled with him helping him keep track of his sales. Her more important job was to look after their accommodation and travel arrangements. At the time they had no children and hadn’t planned any for a while. For the first few years everything went well and life was good. Grandfather Thomas Lindsay was a very good salesman and between him and grandmother, they were able to make a very nice living. However, nothing lasts forever.
Their lives change on the day Ellen discovered she was pregnant and would soon be expecting a baby. This especially delighted Tom, now they could start planning their future lives. Both being Irish, Belfast was the logical place to reside. Of course, Grandpa Lindsay had to request a job transfer. Especially because of his past sales successes, the company did not hesitate to include him with their Irish sales force. However, they were concerned about Grandpa’s sales successor in Scotland. Now, his first task was to train someone to take his place. The first young fellow who tried for the Scottish sales job turned out to be not just right for this difficult task. As it turned out, the stress was too much for him. Unfortunately, it took time to make the decision to get someone else and to start training him. This was not an easy job and the second man took some time to learn it. Eventually the new man became proficient enough to take over by himself.
Time was racing by, Ellen’s baby arrived early. In later life, the baby named Thomas, was forever sorry that Glasgow was his birthplace and not Belfast and he kept the Glasgow birthplace a dark secret from most people. A few years later, when Grandpa Tom and Grandma Ellen were well settled in Belfast, Ellen had another baby boy. They named him James after my Uncle Jim. Doubtless, Grandpa was more than an excellent salesman as he did so well in the Belfast office that eventually he was elevated from top salesman to sales manager. Fortunately, I inherited some of his sales talents and later, as my tale unfolds, my sales ability helped me to improve my own living standard.
To the best of my knowledge, based mainly on hearsay growing up, what I have written about my grandparents is essentially correct. What follow about my family’s history is entirely factual.
In many ways my own father, was not at all like Grandpa. First, he was not outgoing like Grandpa as he was a very quiet person with very limited sales ability. His schooling, for that period, was a little above average and when he reached working age, he worked as a junior in an accounting office in Belfast. After a few years, he became a very good accountant. He tried working for himself, but his lack of sales ability was his downfall as he was never able to get enough business to survive. Going to Canada, he believed, could solve his problems, but there again, just working as an accountant for a company was not very satisfying. Finally, he got a job as accountant for the Kingston Wig Standard in Kingston, Ontario, which gave him some satisfaction, however, he was not entirely happy with his job and decided to move on and went to Montreal.
At about the same time, Gertrude Harrison, whom he later married, departed Hull, England for Canada as unemployment in her homeland was at a very high level, even though she had a relatively good education. Her first stop was Montreal where she was able to find employment as a maid for the Savage family, a wealthy family in the small town of Dorval. Later, after recognizing her good education, they gave her a more important position as the junior governess for one of their young children.
This is probably the appropriate place to begin the story of our immediate family as follows.
MY STORY – EARLY YEARS TO WW II
As well as our story beginning in Canada, it was destined to end there as well. Although it starts in I904, it could easily have started a year or two either way. This was however the year mother and father first met in Montreal, ten years prior to the start of World War I, which turned out to be somewhat significant in the formation of our seven-person family. The war had a profound influence on the future happiness of my father and mother and eventually to my own future. After a brief courtship they were married in Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal's oldest and largest Anglican Church.
Father’s business dealings in Canada were a disaster and far from successful. From all reports he was an excellent accountant, but being in business for himself was not always easy. He soon decided that things were not working out the way he had hoped. Early in the marriage he realized that making a living for both he and his new wife would be tough and to make matters worse, their first child was due in just a few months. Another mouth to feed could be the last straw as those were tough times and in those days there was no such thing as welfare or social assistance. In fact help from any source was completely out of the question as there were no food-banks, free meals or hand-outs. People could slowly starve to death without help coming from a government source or from anyone else. Realizing this, he made the momentous decision of returning with his young wife to Belfast, Ireland. He knew Belfast well as this was the place where he lived most of his early life. Another reason for returning was that he believed he could better manage about half a dozen or so properties which he had inherited a few years previously from his distant rich and unmarried Aunt Matilda. They were presently being looked after by a Belfast real estate agent. One would have thought with such large holdings, this would have put them on easy street. Not so, unfortunately for father, each of the properties had over the years, been poorly managed. Each house had not only a large mortgage but was in complete disrepair. Although mother wasn't very happy with the prospect of moving but had really no choice than to go along. In those days, right or wrong, the husband generally made the decisions with or without the wife’s approval. As it turned out, going to Ireland was of little help, in fact almost the opposite. The slowness of starting a new business again meant what they had to continue to go through very lean times. To further complicate matters, their first baby finally arrived, a beautiful baby girl named Ellen. At the time father believed only one Christian name per child was sufficient, in fact, except for the second baby, each of us was given only a first name. Although named Ellen she soon became known as little Nell, which stuck with her all of her life.
They struggled on for years, living hand to mouth, often going hungry. To earn even a little money, father took a job with the real-estate firm which managed his properties, Crawford Co. and collected the rentals received.
Both father and mother realized that making a living in Ireland was almost impossible and again moved back to Canada with the cost of the ocean passage and other short term requirements covered by the income from the sale of one of his properties and once more Montreal was the place they headed for. Their second child, this time a boy named Henry John was born with mother insisting on more than one Christian name. Father had several very temporary jobs, one in Kingston, Ontario with the newspaper "Kingston Wig Standard". Unfortunately nothing seemed to work out and again, in desperation, they went back to Belfast, Ireland.
When the war did come, Father joined up although he was well over the general enlistment age. Good accountants were hard to come by for the army and, after all, even though the army pay was particularly small, at least his little family would be much better off than before. Soon he became part of the army pay corp. Unfortunately, as the war progressed, more and more gallant soldiers were required as "cannon fodder". Now they needed everyone they could get for front line duty and to help they transferred father from the army pay corp to an actual fighting unit. First, he was sent to an infantry unit for training in England. After ä short period of basic training he was ready for the front line duty in France.
Even during those war years he was occasionally able to come home for short leaves. The result was always the same and another baby would arrive in due course. First Elizabeth came and then a year or so later I, Thomas (named after my father), arrived on the scene in early I9I7 and less than eighteen months later brother James arrived. That was our complete family, two girls and three boys. With these short-spaced arrivals and little money to feed us, mother had extraordinary tough times.
As the war progressed, more and more artillery gunners were needed and father was one of those chosen. He was sent back for artillery training which only lasted for a few weeks. He then found himself back in France with a new artillery unit. At this moment of his life all his troubles seemed to start as the constant bombardment from both sides took its toll.
When he came home on leave mother could see the extreme change in him. No longer was he the laughing, happy-go-lucky, joking father, instead he was a sullen rather quiet man. In the army this was never considered serious as it was quite common with thousands of soldiers were being slaughtered all the time. Towards the end of I9I8 the war came to a close, the Allies had won and father finally came home for good. Although his nerves were completely shot he was discharged in what the army considered as “good condition”. However, he was never the same person who went to war years before. Mother knew this, but as always, hoped he would recover and be his old self again. Perhaps it was a mild case of personality disorder or battle fatigue and that a few months of rest would help make father right again. Although he often seemed depressed, for months he would appear to be normal and was his old self again. We all thought that he was getting better and then his headaches and depression would reappear. Mother soon learned that it was far more serious as he told her that there was a ringing in his ears and that he had began hearing voices. As time went by he was getting worse, now he was hearing voices of people he had known years ago. To make matters even worse, he was beginning to have a fixation on two or three actual people he knew from his past life and who he very much disliked. lt distressed mother, particularly when she could hear him arguing with these imaginary people and she told me all about this years later. Unfortunately, he never again held a decent regular job. Mother began wondering, especially when father was in one of his moods, whether or not he had been shell-shocked during his war years as so many front-line soldiers were found to be.
Now all we had to live on was the very small amount of rental money corning in each month from his properties, otherwise we would have starved. Occasionally, especially when one or two of the properties became vacant, the small amount of rents received was barely enough to put food on the table. Fortunately mother was an excellent provider and could put meals on the table for little or no money, otherwise things would have been much worse. Sometimes, to help a little, when a property became vacant we could move into that particular property and enjoy free rent and for years we seemed to be on the move all the time. One year in particular, we first moved from Belfast to Bangor and later in the year moved to a house in a little town close by called Carnalee. It was a lovely little house fairly close to a very nice sandy seaside. One clear memory I have of Carnalee is that I was very nearly drowned at this seaside resort. At the time I was only about six years old and couldn't swim very well and an older neighbour boy, who was a very good swimmer, took me on his back and swam to deep water. The water was quite rough at the time and I stupidly panicked. I seemed to be falling off his back and held on very tightly. My arms were around his neck and it seemed that I was choking him. Of course he struggled and took me under the water with him. I swallowed a great deal of salt water during my struggle and fell off his back and stayed under. When he realized what had happened he went looking for me and eventually found me and was able to pull me into shore. I was out cold for quite a while and apparently he laid me on my stomach and an adult came along and started giving me artificial respiration. Finally I coughed and threw up most of the salt water that I had swallowed and after quite a while I started to feel better. That was my first but not my last drowning experience. My second was in Gibraltar during the war. By that time it was just as well that I was a proficient swimmer. I will tell you about it in my story later when I cover my war years. I never did tell mother about my near scrape with death, she had enough to worry about.
Returning to our story, Carnalee was a lovely little town but one problem was that it didn't have a school. We youngsters had to walk to the next town, Crawfordsburn, three miles or so away as that was the closest school. Being only six years old this was very much a hardship for me and for the rest of the family. Father eventually realized the great inconvenience and moved all of us to a little thatched cottage in Crawfordsburn. Unfortunately it was almost like going into the dark ages, it had no toilet or running water. Father dug a trench in the back garden that acted as our toilet. The village's main water supply was the pump located on the main street in the middle of the village. One of us would fetch a pail or two of fresh water each day. Fortunately, the long stable attached to the back of the cottage with its tin-roof with its good rainwater runoff into a large rain-barrel gave mother all the water she needed for laundry and washing. We all slept in a wide-open loft which was only accessible by a flimsy stepladder. Everything was certainly primitive and even the main floor was just pressed clay. We hung drapes in order for mother and father to have a little privacy. The only good thing about our little white-washed cottage was that it was close to the school. Poor mother must have felt that things were going from bad to worse. Being right across from us was a quaint village inn that helped us a little. In those days, quite a few people travelled by horse and cart and they would stay at the inn and leave their horse in our stable. Although we never charged for this service most horse owners would give us something for our trouble. The inn realized the service that we were giving and liked our service and they would often send leftovers from their banquets, especially fancy foods.
After a couple of years living in Crawfordsburn we moved to a much larger place in a town called Holywood, several miles closer to Belfast. Holywood came by the name from an ancient monastery, now in ruins, located on its outskirts. In fact the ruined monastery was one of the places we liked best to play in. Although most of it was tumbled down, there was still some of the rooms left standing. There were some passages and rooms that time had not taken its toll. We even discover a secret passage under the buildings that, although we didn't explore very far, seemed to go in the direction of an old church several miles away.
At the time we moved to Holywood I was eight or nine. Even with all of our moves from town to town and school to school, my older brother and two older sisters always did very well scholastically, however I have to admit that I was a poor student. All three of them were almost finished lower or as it is known in Canada, elementary school. Unfortunately, high school or Upper School as it was called in Ireland was not free as it now is in Canada. Although mother had no money to send her children to Upper School she had a plan and she went to see the Upper School principal. She told him of her troubles and he informed her that each year they had special examinations for especially bright children with exceptional marks and the winners had the chance of getting an annual scholarship. There were only half-a-dozen of these given out each year. Mother questioned him on what was covered in the examination and the extent of reading, writing and arithmetic requirements. After a lengthy explanation which mother could not entirely understand he gave her one of two old examination papers for each subject. He knew that he shouldn't have done this and asked her not to mention this to anyone. After months of coaching by mother, Nell, John and Betty all passed with flying colours. lt is hard to believe, but out of so few scholarships, each of them won a scholarship and was admitted for free education to the Upper Sullivan School for one whole year. However, not everything was free as each of them had to wear proper school uniforms. Mother scrimped and saved and after checking with ex-students and others was able to supply each of them with a second-hand uniform. School books were another problem but again she pinched each penny and was finally able to get second-hand books very cheaply. These were some of the really tough days for our little family.
lt was only because mother was such a good manager that we survived at all. Mother would go down to the butcher shop regularly and ask for free bones for the dog, when we didn't even have a dog. Then she would go across the street to the fish shop for free fish heads and tails for the cat and again we didn't have a cat. A meat bone and a few vegetables and a little rice would make a delicious soup meal. Even the soup made from the fish heads tails with a few vegetables thrown in was quite tasty and very substantial. Something else mother was able to do was to purchase things that others didn't want or know about. For instance for about three pence mother could buy a ham-end, (almost a half a pound of cooked ham), which would make a wonderful meal for our growing family. In those days, butcher's cutting machines were quite primitive and not as sophisticated as they are today. The butcher was unable to cut the last few inches off the ham and had to sell the end for just pennies. Later when all of the five children of our complete family arrived we still used the bones and fish head meals on a regular basis. Something else that helped was that in those days farmers only grew turnips for cattle feed as few were aware that they also had good food value for humans and mother would visit a local farm to buy turnips for next to nothing. Two other less expensive meats were liver and tripe which were only pennies per pound, black tripe in particular, which we all found quite delicious and was half the price of regular white tripe. Something else that mother was able to do for all of us was to mend our boots and shoes. Woolworths in those days sold rubber heels and leather soles for pennies each. Mother had a multiple last that fitted all size of footwear and she was able to mend all of our footwear. lf the sole was too large she was able to trim around it. She was really a "jack" of all trades.
Another interesting story is when father went to an auction in Belfast and, without consulting mother, bought twenty, one-hundred pound sacks of rice very cheaply. For quite a few years, we lived on little else but rice. In a way we should have been thankful, for this took us almost through the depression. Later we knew why father got such a bargain. lt was in fact infested with very small worms or grubs which coated themselves with little balls of rice. These were sprinkled throughout each bag of rice and as time went on would multiply. I can well remember it was the job of my brother Jim and me to pick out these little rascals, before we used the rice. The cooking process would of course totally kill them, but we didn't like the idea of eating cooked grubs. Mother could make so many different meals using rice. With a few eggs and some milk she could make a different meal almost every day. The rice went well in the soups and stews. Wild mushrooms and blackberries, gathered in season, were also a healthy supplement to our diet. In fact we more often picked more mushrooms and berries than we could use and when this happened we went door to door selling them to the neighbours. I can still recall that we often got sixpence or a shilling for a five quart pail of mushrooms, a little less for the berries. Whenever we were flush with these sixpences, mother would buy the occasional rabbit from a local hunter. We really liked this as to us it tasted just like chicken and was generally our special Christmas treat. Mother could even use the rabbit fur to make mitts for us kids. She had a way of curing the skins by stretching them on a board and rubbing salt into the back of them. Another mistake father made was at another auction in Belfast when he bought twenty-five, 30-pound boxes of biscuits. He got them very cheap. The only trouble was that the cream centre in each of the biscuits had gone sour with age. This meant that Jim and I had another job, taking out each biscuit and scraping out the centres. Otherwise, they did not taste too bad.
Usually by living near the seaside we were able to collect a lot of periwinkles and dulse, which were always plentiful and were favourite foods of ours. All this helped mother make ends meet. She would pinch every penny as well as a lot that she didn't have. Still, everything was always done in an honest and upright manner. In fact, she was deeply religious in her own way and considering our financial straits, gave a lot to the church. The Irish are a very superstitious lot and she took advantage of this at New Year’s and made dozens of what were known as “whisks”. These were made of small bunches of straw or course dried grass which were tied at each end with several strands of the same material. They sold for only three four pence each. The belief is that it is a good luck omen to buy one from a dark haired stranger to hang in their kitchen. lt will bring good luck to the household for all of the following year. As luck would have it at the time, I was the little dark-haired boy stranger. Every penny we made on this project, and it was quite a lot, mother donated to the Church of Ireland.
Now with a total of five children and two adults, clothing was always a problem. To raise money each year some of the local churches would sell old clothing and furnishings very cheaply. They were known as "Jumble" sales. Mother would go to the sales and bargain for clothing which might fit some of her large family. Although the younger children could always wear "hand-me-downs" from the older children she still needed clothing and footwear for the older ones. Mother had an old foot pedal sewing machine and the used clothing she bought she could always alter them to fit at least some of us. With hand-knitted garments she purchased she could unravel them and knit other sweaters, gloves, mittens or stockings to fit all of us. Another one of her tricks was to buy coarse cotton empty flour sacks from the bread man. After washing them and cutting these up she would make wonderful, almost everlasting, bed-sheets. Although they were very coarse to the touch at first and they had large printing on them, we got used to them and after a few washings they were quite comfortable, even the coloured printing eventually faded. When we stayed in a house for any length of time mother would always have a vegetable garden. Lettuce, spring onions, leaks, carrots and potatoes were her favourites. She even encouraged us kids to have our own garden. I often wondered how she could find time to do all the things she would do. In those days there was no such thing as electricity in the homes and we used candles and coal-oil lamps. Many evenings she would stay to well past midnight sewing on her old pedal sewing machine.
Holywood was a pleasant town. Father’s health seemed to improve and as luck would have it he was able to sell one of his Belfast properties. The net amount he received was not Iarge, however he was able to buy a piece of land on Downshire Road one of the nicer streets in town and have a house built on it. I remember it well. lt was a gray pebble-dash three-bedroom house and it seemed to blend in with the rest of the neighbourhood. In I999 terms it seemed very cheap, only five hundred pounds for the land and house.
Living not too far from the golf course, it wasn't long before I would caddy for some of the players. I soon caught on and before long I was able to pick the correct club available to the golfer for a particular shot. You got sixpence for each nine holes and usually a sandwich in between each round. Each Saturdays and holidays, with my tips, I did very well. Of course, as did the rest of the family, I gave it all to mother. lt helped quite a lot, especially as father was still looking for steady work. The following year Nell, John and Betty, again won scholarships for the Upper School. I'm afraid that my schoolwork left a lot to be desired. I passed each year but only by the skin of my teeth.
After spending two or three very nice but hungry years in Holywood father started to get itchy feet again and once more he was looking towards Canada. The trouble between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland was again erupting even in a small town like Holywood. The Catholics lived mostly in the poorer section of town in a group of streets known as the Strand. Every so often a bunch of older teenagers would go to other sections and start fights. On Orangeman's Day, the I2th of July, was an especially bad day. Although we liked to see the parade with all the banners and flags as well as several bands, there were always fights during and after each parade. Orangemen in bowler hats with orange sashes would be attacked by groups of hoodlums from the Strand. During these fights a few on each side were badly hurt and days of retaliation followed. There were all kinds of fights, even among the school kids. Now many parts of town were off-limits to us Protestants. There were three public schools in town, the Catholic, the Church of Ireland School (Anglican) and the Lower Sullivan School to which anyone could go. The Catholics went only to their own school. I went to the Lower Sullivan School, which was the closest to my home.
Seeing mother struggling day in and day out trying to feed us was really sad. Even as a young boy I felt sorry for her and my feeling towards father were very mixed. Sometimes when he was in one of his very bad moods I loathed him and when he was normal, which was more often now, I could only tolerate him. He lived a very strange life. He would get money once a month for rents which varied depending on the number of house vacancies. At that early age, I decided that when I grew up I would never be poor like my parents. This was paramount in my thoughts and stayed with me for the rest of my life.
I didn't entirely understand how it happened but someone liked the look of our new Holywood house and wanted to buy it from us and which would give father a tidy profit. At the time I was very sad to hear that we might be leaving again as we kids had formed some very nice friendships with neighbourhood kids. I especially had made lots of friends. I loved swimming and during our six-week summer school holidays I would go swimming almost every day. A little seaside resort called Coltra was always our destination. I learned to swim and dive quite well and this would serve me well later in my life. One of my best friends was David Cosgrove whose father was a wealthy Belfast business man. The Cosgrove family had a lovely big property halfway between Holywood and Coltra. Dave was very good to me and he would loan me one of his bicycles so we could cycle everywhere together. Their vast estate was full of all kinds or berries and fruit trees and often they would make sure that I went home with a load of gooseberries or apples. I decided that before my life was over, I would have an estate like the Cosgroves. I was enjoying life to the full and didn't want to move to any other place. Dave's parents were very kind to me. They were one of the very few with an automobile and occasionally they would take Dave and me for long drives.
All of my brothers and sisters were also enjoying our little town. They had made a lot of friends and were fed up with our nomad existence. My older brother and two sisters were enjoying the Upper School, especially the sports. They met a lot of very nice classmates, most of them from the upper class, and they often visited their large houses and estates and were treated as equals. Each of them appreciated the education they were receiving and was reflected in their marks which were always in the top end of the class. Just going to Upper School gave them a little taste of what it was like being wealthy.
We overheard mother and father talking about Canada and expected they were thinking of moving again. None of us wanted to move as to us, Canada was another distant foreign country. Finally mother told us that father was thinking of selling our nice house and moving to Canada. To make matters even worse, he was now considering a serious offer from someone wanting to buy it. This time she told us that she was in favour of the move as she felt that Ireland had nothing to offer us. Unemployment in Ireland was high and with the constant fighting everywhere it wasn't a nice place to live or to bring up her family any more. She especially remembered the dark Belfast days, when she was afraid to go out even during the light of day. Police were always in sight and even peering out of your window could sometimes bring a very negative response from them. In addition, we lived in a poor Belfast neighbourhood and fighting during the night was always ongoing and even with our doors locked and bolted no one really felt safe. We were always in fear of something happening, either from the police or hoodlums. Now mother was tired and wanted to get away from all of this and she was also thinking of the future of us kids as she couldn't see any bright future in Ireland. She knew that Canada had a very good educational system and her main thought in life was for us to continue our higher education.
As it turned out, our parents soon found out that it was a lot more difficult to immigrate to Canada than it had been previously. Father's health was especially bad and mother's had gone downhill considerably. We kids however, were in excellent health and this turned the tide and we were finally accepted. As luck would have it we were just beginning our summer vacation. Father sold the house with occupation to coincide with our departure date. Although our furniture was almost worthless, father left instructions with a Belfast auctioneer to pick up our belongings shortly after our departure. Everything seemed to be well organized and should go smoothly.
On the date of our departure, along with all the other Irish travellers, we took a small steam boat from Belfast and sailed up the Belfast Lough to the Anchor Donaldson Line steamer, the “S.S. Letitia ", anchored at the mouth of the lough. As the steamer was pulling away an old poem I had learned in one of my school classes, came to mind, “It’s the last glimpse of Erin with sorrow I see" or something like that. I think that it was in one of Thomas Moore's poems. Anyway, this was the start of our new Canadian adventure. Mother told us that when father first mentioned the subject of moving to Canada she had agreed with him but stipulated in a very definite way that she would only agree if their destination was other than Montreal. She remembered that the school system was a lot more favourable in other parts of Canada than in the Province of Quebec. He agreed that, initially, Toronto would be our destination.
The boat trip was uneventful but all of us really enjoyed it as the weather was good and that always helped. In addition, about two weeks of eating excellent food was more than acceptable. From the very start we kids decided to spread out and to eat at different tables so we wouldn't have to compete with each other for the available food. As it turned out this was a wonderful move as most of the members at each of the tables were adults and they tended to spoil us. To help matters, from our point of view, when the weather was a little rough, some of them would skip meals and this meant all the more for us. On the way over I met several Catholic kids who also came from Holywood. Now that we were all away from Ireland, we all became very good friends as our religion didn't seem to count any more. Some of them were also destined for Toronto and eventually led to lasting friendships. lt now seems strange to me that the place you lived in and your religion counted for so much and in such a negative way in Ireland, but meant nothing in Canada.
The “S.S. Letitia" docked at Quebec City and after a medical examination we were soon on a train to Toronto. My first view of Union Station in Toronto was very impressive. Its immense size with rows of stores was so different from railway stations in Ireland. My first purchase was an ice cream cone for a nickel which to me was a fortune. For the same size of cone in Ireland, I well recall, would have only have been one halfpenny. Since then, years later, ice cream had gone up several hundred percentage points and now I pay two or three dollars for a similar cone. Of course, since then, the dollar has gone down and everything else has gone up.
Getting settled in Toronto took a little time. We first went to a rooming house in what I learned later was one of the poorer sections of Toronto. Coming from Ireland, we found it rather nice, equal or better than most places we lived in before. Three rooms on the top floor of an old three story house on Gerrard Street, at a low weekly rent suited us fine. Although we couldn’t cook anything we did have an electric heater for boiling water. Also, at least we were able to have cold meals of entirely new types of food to us. Corn Flakes and canned bully-beef were our main diet, generally followed by bread and jam. Fruit in season was also quite inexpensive and we survived this way for almost a month. The weather was good and our rooming house was conveniently located across the street from Allen Garden, the local park. lt had greenhouses with tropical trees and plants and a very nice fountain right in the centre of the park. All of us kids spent a lot of time in our bathing suits in and around the fountain. All the time, mother and father were looking for a more permanent home searching in all areas of the district and finally picked a little house on a street in the suburbs. I73 Cedric Avenue in York Township was a fairly small three bedroom house with no basement. The house was heated by a cook stove in the kitchen and a Quebec heater upstairs. At the time, $2,300.00 seemed a lot of money so father paid a small down payment and negotiated first and second mortgages. Looking back now one wonders why he wasn't able to pay all cash for this small amount, however, I presumed the boat and train tickets must have taken a substantial part of the Holywood house profit and our immediate needs also had to be satisfied. Although it was a relatively poor neighbourhood our neighbours were all very nice hardworking people. There were one or two without jobs but somehow, like us, they were survivors. The good thing about the house was that it was fairly close to both the public and the high schools.
Now we had to be able to pay monthly mortgage payments. Although the taxes were only a little over one hundred dollars each year, father still had to come up with heavy monthly payments. Occasionally we couldn't meet our monthly payment but the man holding our second mortgage was a very nice and patient person and didn't hound us when we were late. To make matters worse father's eyes had deteriorated and fast becoming much worse. He had always worn glasses but now, even with his glasses, he was almost blind. The surgical procedure for cataracts was then very new. Father went to the hospital and he agreed to take this new surgical procedure. Because of its experimental nature everything was free of charge, even his hospital stay. Unfortunately the surgery was unsuccessful and his eyes were worse than before. How to survive? Mother decided that some of us children should find work. I was of course too young but my older brother and two sisters were soon on the lookout for any available work. Betty, as Elizabeth was now called, was only fourteen and because of father's blindness, we able to get special permission to quit school early and go to work. lt was surprising, even at her young age, that she was still able to find work with a large insurance company. John decided, with mother’s approval, to take a short course at Shaw’s Business School and, after receiving his certificate in a few months, he obtained a very junior job with an international freight forwarder. As it turned out, this had a major influence on my own future life. Thomas Meadows & Co. Canada Ltd. was the branch Toronto office of a large English company. The head office was in London with offices all over England, also in Paris, France, Antwerp and Belgium, with other small offices in New York, Australia and New Zealand. Nell unfortunately had more difficulty in finding work but finally got a maids job with a wealthy Forest Hill couple. Jim and I were too young to work and went back to school. Mother visited the principal in the local High School and convinced him that I was educationally equal to their first form. In reality I should never have gone to high school as public school would have been much more appropriate. I was never a good student and now paid dearly for my lack of concentration. That first year was a disaster and of course I failed. My second year in the same grade went very much better and by then I decided that I had to pass especially for mother’s sake. Fortunately I passed with top marks and from then on I decided to get a better education. Although I was fairly good at mathematics my English composition was not so good so I decided to concentrate on English composition. As you will discover later, I left school after the summer holidays, but still went to night school for several years.
Our family attended St.Helen's Anglican Church in Fairbanks, a little area of York Township, a district a mile or so away from our home. I joined the choir and also attended senior bible class. A Mr. Skanes was my teacher and he took a shine to me. He was a lawyer and regularly drove out to a fruit and vegetable farm just outside Weston, a little town about eight miles from where I lived. He suggested that I work for the farmer during the summer holiday season where I would get my room and board and $I.00 a week for a ten hour day. The farmer, Mr. Charlie Hope, was at the time, seventy years of age but still in very good health. My chief and very boring job was hoeing rows of vegetable and berries followed by picking the strawberries, raspberries and currents and then the cherries, apples and pears came next. By then the tomatoes and potatoes were in season and they were the next things to require my attention. That summer they certainly worked me very hard, and I often prayed for rain which unfortunately seldom came. When it did rain Mrs. Hope would ask me to help with her housework. The house was well over one hundred years old and was very large but they only occupied part of it. They owned thirty-three acres, mostly in fruit trees. Part of their property had a wide ravine with a creek running through it. Although the creek didn’t amount to very much in the summer one stretch bent sharply and I was able to make a dam with some old trees which made a very nice private swimming hole. Most evenings I would go down and have a good swim, one of the more pleasant parts of the job.
For my second summer holidays, the Hopes decided that my pay would be increased to $3.00 a week but they would only supply my noon-day lunch. Now I had to cycle to Weston early each morning and arrive home at six-thirty or so each evening so I certainly got lots of exercise that summer. The Hopes were actually very nice hard-working people and for many years later I kept in touch with them. I would drive up in my I935 Plymouth and take them for a drive. Things had gone very badly financially for them and they had reached the point where they might lose their home and acreage. I was now able to give them the odd few dollars to help them out. They were then in their early eighties and were worried about being put out of their home.
After that second summer my brother John came home one day and told me that his company was looking for an office boy. The wages would be quite small but I would learn a lot. He wondered if I would be interested in applying. The next day I went to see the Manager, a Mr. Stanley Wiley who, after a short interview, wanted to know when I could start. That was in late I930 and at the time I was still in my thirteenth year. I told Mr. Wiley that I could start immediately. My salary would be $4.00 per week, five and a half days a week. Because of my young age, my mother had to apply for permission for me to go to work. In the following I will go into detail regarding my work with the Toronto office until I joined the Air force some ten years later.
My life with Thomas Meadows & Co. was always very happy. I worked hard and they seemed to appreciate what I was doing. The pay wasn't a lot considering my expenses as tram tickets were four for a quarter and boys’ suits were $I0.00. Still it helped a lot at home as the depression seemed to be getting worse. Our head office in Canada at the time was Montreal and one day Mr. George Gillespie, Senior Director, visited our office and instructed Mr.Wiley, the manager, to discharge about one quarter of the staff. The rest of us got a I0% reduction in salary. We were informed by Mr.Gillespie that if business improved well enough that we would get the I0% back each six months. Frankly, we were lucky as we never missed receiving the lump sum of the I0% each period after that. Unfortunately, no one ever got a raise in pay for a very long time. My duties were looking after all the outgoing mail, and deliver invoices and other mail to firms in the immediate vicinity. I also delivered bills of ladings to each of the railway offices and to the local steamship lines, which were within a mile or so from the office, as well as other odd jobs. We had our own bonded and regular warehouse in the same building in which we were located and whenever I was available I helped with incoming and outgoing freight. Some of the bales and cases were pretty heavy. lt didn't take very long to get proficient at the job and I was given more and more responsibilities as time went on. Now I was doing simple Customs work such as delivering papers to the Customs House and even helping with some of the clearance of less valuable shipments. As time went by I started to help out in the office as willing hands were always given work. I eventually received a pay increase along with a promotion. The company hired a new young fellow, Andy Proctor, as office boy to replace me and I became part of the Customs department.
My new job was to put all documents in order for each Customs entry and to deliver them to the Longroom of the Customs House and to look after all entry corrections. This gave me a lot of insight of what the Customs expected. I also looked after special Customs examinations to have small no-charge items appraised. This meant having the goods sent to the Customs House and I would have to open the package and extract the samples and advertising literature and show them to an appraiser for valuation. Everything I did was a learning curve in the Customs system. By now I was learning typing and was doing more advanced operations. My writing skills were somewhat lacking and one of the bosses remarked that I was a very poor writer. From then on, I went out of my way to better form all my words and letters.
On the weekend I delivered the Toronto Star Weekly and made another couple of dollars. By this time mother was finding life a little easier. She was not so dependent on father's merger monies and our life for all the family was improving. I joined the young peoples’ association at the church and met a lot of nice young people. My life skills were expanding and eventually I became president of the church's young peoples’ group.
Brother John met a very nice young lady and decided that it was time to get married. John had gone on a summer vacation with Len Nicholls, the manager of the Customs department, to Jackson’s Point, a small seaside resort about eighty miles from Toronto and a perfect place for a holiday, good swimming and dancing. There they met two very nice girls who they eventually married, John with Edith Marrison and Len with Annie Minnithorp. Mother said very little at the time but she knew that she would miss his share of the family income to meet our daily needs.
Mr. Jack Green was transferred as a Toronto director from Liverpool, England and was now the senior director in complete charge of the Canadian company. He was a very aggressive chap and was quite demanding of all the staff. John asked him for a raise in pay in order to get married which was refused and John was silly enough to give him an ultimatum to either give him a raise or he would have to leave and work elsewhere. John miscalculated and he was fired. Mr. Green called me into his office and asked me if this development would make any difference to me. I of course told him that I would still wish to work for Meadows and would continue to give the company my complete loyalty.
As it happened, one of our largest clients which I often called on happened to be looking for someone to attend to their Customs work together with a little accounting and asked me if I would like to work for them. Without hesitation I told them that my brother John was looking for work and that he was head and shoulders better than I was and that he also knew accounting. John got the job and Meadows was in great fear of losing one of their largest freight accounts and in later years they did change. As a matter of interest, a few years later Mr. Green was returned to England.
Meanwhile, mother and father decided that we needed a proper basement with an appropriate furnace system. For $500.00 a contractor raised the house and built a basement below it. The price also included the furnace and heating ducts upstairs. As I look back those were the days when a dollar was really worth a dollar. After three or four years mother and father got itchy feet again and decided that we needed a larger house. They looked around and finally came across a semi-detached house just at the building stage and within their price range. lt was in a nice little suburb called Leaside, close to Toronto. However, it was on a fairly busy street but the price was attractive at $4,125.00. lt was much larger with a basement and regular coal furnace, plus a one car garage. In the meantime we rented our old house and this helped with the new house payments.
Work was now going well. I was progressing in the Customs department. At the age of seventeen I was now rating and typing Customs entries and it seems incredible now but when my boss Len Nicholls went on his annual holidays, I was left in complete charge of the department. By this time Mr. Arthur Carey, then a Director of the company took an interest in me and he asked me to start as his assistant. This meant more money and of course more responsibilities. Now my chief job was to go out each day, generally in the Toronto area, and try to develop new business as well as to make sure that our old clients were happy and were being well serviced. After a six months training period I was then expected to travel around Ontario for new freight business. By this time I had my own car.
Right from the start Meadows was a friendly place to work. Miss Johns and Miss Grace Risdale were the senior girls and they did most of the secretarial work. More junior ones were "Gimmy” Gimal, Rose Stains, Orma Gordon, and Ruth Cunningham. I used to have occasional dates with Gimmy as well as Ruth, usually to a dance as Gimmy was an exceptionally ‚good dancer. The men in the office were myself, Andy Proctor, who eventually married Orma Gordon, Ray Prosser, freight department, Mr. Osbome our accountant and Carl Britt his assistant. Mr. Osbome left after awhile and Mr. Edwards became the accountant. As mentioned previously Carl Britt was one of those discharged because of the depression. Mr. Edwards unfortunately rigged the books, got caught and was fired. There were a few others that I had little to do with. My very best friend was Tom Bourne and I am still a good friend of his and see him almost every week
In the meantime my brother John was now well established with his new company. His salary was sufficient to get married and that summer and, as mentioned previously, he married Edith Marrison. I was the best man. John lived a happy and productive life and over the years prospered. They had a son, David, who in later years became a very successful business man. Over the years, at various times, he became president of a number of large Canadian companies - Seven-up, Parker Pen, Hallmark Cards and Duracell Battery Co., to name a few. Next came daughter Ruth who in her adult life married a golf pro and they owned two golf courses, one in Iowa and the other in Arizona.
To help mother now that John was gone, my brother Jim started to work. He got a job with Robinson Clay Products Ltd. and eventually became one of their salesmen. He worked on a salary and commission basis. He was an excellent salesman and eventually, with commissions and salary, made more money than the sales manager. This unfortunately complicated matters as they cut back on his commissions. He still did very well salary-wise in any case. He was successful in getting two new large accounts for their large cooking bowls, Kresge and Woolworth and their ongoing business still gave him a good amount of commissions.
Our new house at 8I5 Millwood Road, Leaside was a happy home, especially for me. Work was going well and although I travelled quite a lot for the company, I rather liked the work so I guess I was lucky. I worked hard but it really paid off as I brought in a great deal of new business to Meadows
WORLD WAR II & THE RCAF
At that time everyone could see war looming on the horizon. Hitler's Germany was making a lot of noise and although Chamberland's England gave into them a lot, they always wanted and took more. When September of I939 arrived, England and its Allies finally went to war. Many of my friends started to join up and one or two of the chaps from the office joined. One noon hour, walking up Bay Street, I arrived at Adelaide Street, and read the sign, "Join now, your country needs you!" I walked into the recruitment centre and joined up right then and there. Unfortunately my education was insufficient to train as aircrew, which I wanted badly, especially as a pilot. They sent me to night school in order to get my matriculation equivalent. I passed this in a few months and again went back to the enlistment office. As a sidelight to this, a very good business friend who was in the same class as I getting his matriculation and passed the course the same day as I did. He was accepted as a pilot and within one year after training was killed in a dog-fight over England. I guess that this could have happened to me if I had been accepted for aircrew at the same time as he was. However, this was not to be as my eyesight wasn't good enough for pilot training. To keep up my spirits, the air force told me that they would be shortly getting some type of contact lenses that would easily bring my eyesight up to an acceptable level. After waiting a few weeks I decided to join up anyway, this time as a radar mechanic and this was the start of an entirely new life for me.
Brother Jim was conscripted into the army and got a transfer to the air force. Brother John had flat feet and was rejected for service. I was assigned to RDF (Radio Directional Finder), the name which was later changed to RADAR. First I was sent to McGill University for an intensive training on the technical aspects of radio and electricity. lt was a really tough course but with lots of study I passed with flying colours. lt was my first concept of Montreal and I must say that I was very favourably impressed. I decided right then that I would come back after the war and get to know and understand it better. A lot of the local people invited us airmen to Sunday dinner and I had several invitations during my stay. The first was a Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson who lived in Westmount, a classy part of Montreal and Mr. Hutchinson was the president of a very large steel company, Drummond McCall Ltd. He was quite wealthy and I, with one of my air force friends, sure ate well and really appreciated their hospitality. Another place we were invited to was a Mr. and Mrs. Buckingham. Mr Buckingham was a vice-president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. After the war, as you will see later, I did move to Montreal and met both of these families again. As a matter of fact years later when I started a new business in Vancouver, Drummond McCall became one of my very good clients, not because I knew the president of the company during the war as this was just a coincidence.
After passing the course at Montreal, they moved us to Clinton, Ontario. lt was a special air force school run by the RAF. As we soon found out, they were a very tough lot. They made sure that we never once stepped out of line and those who did paid a very heavy price. lt was midsummer and we could see a few transgressors in full uniform, greatcoats and full pack, running at the double around a large drill-field. I for one decided that this would never happen to me. lt was a twelve week course mostly on RDF. RADAR was something very new at the time and apparently the allies were much more advanced than the Germans in this field. We covered the whole gamut of radar in a very superficial way. At the end of the course we were given examinations and those that passed were bound for overseas service right away. Those with better marks were headed for radar ground stations in all areas of the British Isles and those, like me, with lower marks were headed for air stations to work on installations in aircraft. As a matter interest, at that time, there were two types of radar installations – one for aircraft that were designed to locate and intercept enemy aircraft and the other for those that were used to locate and intercept enemy submarines. At different times in my air force career I worked on both types of aircraft. In addition there were ground stations throughout the British Isles that could send up a signal and detect enemy bombers miles away. This would give our fighter aircraft time to get into the air to intercept them. To distinguish between enemy aircraft and our own, especially at night, each of our aircraft had another piece of equipment that sent out a distinguishing radio signal know as "IFF" (Identification Friend or Foe), which we also serviced.
When the course ended and after a two week holiday, I was en route overseas on board the “S.S. Duchess of York” sailing from Halifax to Liverpool. It was a ship owned by the Canadian Pacific Steamships and before the war, because of my shipping experience, I had heard of it quite often. Having to travel on it was a different experience as I sure was very disappointed with its facilities. Each of us was given a hammock where, below deck, we could hang it anywhere we could find a space. There was hardly enough room for all of us. I was lucky as I decided to sleep without a hammock on the deck and it would be safer there. Cockroaches were rampant and even when we were eating there were dozens of them walking up and down the tables. lt was a fairly uneventful voyage, except for the odd submarine scares and drills. Some days, as a safety precaution we dropped several depth charges over the back of the boat. When we arrived in Liverpool a train was waiting for us for the journey to Hastings on the south coast of England. We were housed in the Marine Hotel, a several storey hotel without even an elevator service. I was only there for about two weeks or so when I was sent with a few others to the North of England to a station near a little town called Usworth, located between Sunderland and Newcastle. While I was at Hastings, German fighter planes came over a couple of times a day but never dropped any bombs or straffing. However the week after I left several German bombers came over and dropped their bombs right on the hotel which was completely demolished. I guess, even then, luck was with me and if I had been the least bit superstitious, I sure would have thanked my lucky stars. Conversely, everything about me associates with bad luck as there are thirteen letters in my name and my regimental number had two thirteens in it, R I36II3. In addition I sailed for overseas on the thirteenth day of the month. However, with all this going for me, from then on I decided thirteen was my lucky number!
Usworth was a training station for Radar Flight Observers in order to learn how to track incoming enemy planes. They trained on the old Anson with radar equipment installed. During the day these aircraft went up in pairs and took turns at tracking each other. For this purpose the equipment had to be in top condition and after each exercise the operators would report how well our equipment performed. Most of the time, they would report that the equipment was operating well or very well but occasionally they reported poor reception. My thoughts were always based on the old adage, "if it isn't broken, don't fix it." During my air force life and even after, this point of view always worked well for me. Still, our inspections demanded that we ran the equipment and check it every day. This meant pulling a gasoline engine on wheels which had an alternator connected to it. We start the engine and then plugged it into the equipment. This would allow us the required testing and adjusting of the equipment on the ground. Usually we had about ten aircraft to look after. Once a month each aircraft was taxied into the hanger for a major inspection. This time everything had to be inspected and if anything appeared weak, it had to be replaced. At the time there were four parts to the equipment, a voltage regulator connected to the aircraft alternator, an adjustable power supply, a transmitter and a radio receiver. Both the receiver and transmitter were attached by wire to an aerial on the tips of each of the aircraft wings. Often instead of using the wheeled-jenny to operate the equipment on the ground, we would test the equipment when one of the ground crew would be testing the aircraft engines. lt was an easy job for me and I always enjoyed it. After each major inspection the aircraft would go through an extensive air test. One of my jobs was to test the radar during these air tests which was a bit scary sometimes.
Another job that I liked very much was to accompany two aircraft to different airports in the British Isles. We would stay a couple of days or so at each place to test other operators as to how proficient they were with their use of their radar equipment. My job was to keep the equipment in good order. I’m afraid at times I didn’t give the officers their due respect. I remember once going to an air station in Swanzee, Wales and as I was walking towards the mess hall I didn’t notice that I had passed an officer without saluting. He demanded that I greet him with a salute and put me on charge with orders to report to him the next morning. Fortunately we were leaving Swansea that evening so J never saw him or heard from him again. He had all my particulars so I often wonder what action he took when I didn't show up. I guess he was a little confused.
I remember one trip that I was on when I had checked one of the aircraft on its engines and the other on a gasoline Jenny at that particular station. As it turned out the jenny was on a different voltage to that of our aircrafts. I wondered what was wrong when we were airborne on our way home as they required the radar for navigational purposes because of dense fog. The fuse plug kept popping out and I was called to fix it and suddenly realized what I had done. With a screwdriver I was able to readjust the voltage regulator and it then worked perfectly. The aircrew thought that I was a real wiz and they even told my commanding officer how good I was. Lady luck was still on my side. I guess if they had known the truth they wouldn't have been so complimentary.
Whenever I got a day pass I always headed to Sunderland. lt was a very nice city with lots of good local pubs. One particular pub that I visited was in the main street. lt was a family pub, with father, mother and daughter running it. The same day I was at the pub the enemy planes came over that evening and bombed the railway station and took out the main street. The pub that I was in a few hours before was totally flattened and everyone was killed. I happened to be sleeping in a church basement close by and was blown out of bed. Lucky me, I guess lady luck was still around.
The Sunderland people were up in arms and demanded that the British Government put up a bunch of barrage balloons. These are inflated balloons about the size a house held in place with thick stranded wire. They keep the enemy planes quite high. If they should run into the cables they would be done for. The balloons were installed in the air, right across the main part of the City.
Another wartime chance incident involved the Liverpool office of Thomas Meadows & Co. which had a senior director by the name of Sutton. He had a son Ronnie Sutton who also worked for Meadows. It so happened that Ronnie Sutton was the officer in charge of the barrage balloons at Sunderland. lt was only by chance that I met him when I was having supper at the small hotel where he was staying and he came into the restaurant at which I was eating. He saw that I came from Canada and came over to speak with me. That is when we both found out that we previously had worked for the same company. We had a great deal to talk about and from then on when I got a day pass I would meet him for lunch or supper. He was sure a great guy and although he was a senior air force officer always treated me as an equal.
The war was progressing and by late 1941 the United States became an active ally. This was probably the turning point of the war and things were beginning to go the allies way. One day I received official word along with several of my friends that we were being transferred to a country with a warm climate. We knew that because we were issued with a much lighter uniform and other clothing. Our blue uniform, except for our hat was changed to a khaki uniform, the same as the army. We went down to Blackpool for a couple of weeks while waiting for a ship to take us overseas. As it turned out some of us were sent to India and the others, including myself, went to Algeria, North Africa.
The war in North Africa seemed to be getting more intense. Our troops were coming from two directions – Americans from the west and the British from the east. Rommel, at last was in full retreat and the Allies were gaining the upper hand despite stubborn opposition. Our radar technology especially was playing an important part in the air/sea war in the Mediterranean. Enemy submarines and surface vessels were being sunk in large numbers thanks to surveillance by radar, and radar people were needed more than ever.
On landing at Algiers, we came ashore on a very large pier built on top of a partly sunk allied ship, now turned on its side that had met with some earlier disaster. All the troops were disembarked alongside this improvised dock. Our air force unit was marched about five miles to a holding compound near the little town of Hussen Dey. We were living in tents and my first memory of it was a severe dust storm which lasted for days. We could hardly see ten feet ahead with the dust covering everything. lt was in our mouths and noses every time we spoke or breathed. Eventually the wind subsided and the dust storm came to an end. After a couple of weeks in Hussen Dey, we embarked on a boxcar train consisting of nothing but cattle cars and after about a week arrived at a little town called Satef. Our journey was uneventful, however, the cattle cars were really crowded, about thirty men to each car and at night, laying down to sleep was really difficult. Our meals generally consisted of hard-tack and bully beef washed down with hot, very sweet tea. On some of the steeper inclines the train travelled so slowly that we could jump to the ground and walk alongside the train.
Satef was a nice little town. It consisted of one long main street, with several smaller streets off to each side. There was an Arab market at one end, selling fruit, all kinds of leather goods and other oddments. Close to the main street was a two-storey school. This is where we were billeted for the first couple of months. The town was about five miles from the airfield. Our particular bunch of fellows slept on the concrete basement floor. Several of the boys were bitten by scorpions and their legs or arms swelled up to twice their normal size. I was lucky as this never happened to me. The big trouble was that there was a scarcity of water in the school and the washing facilities were very primitive. No water to flush the toilets, which meant by evening each toilet was full right to the very top. Early each morning, we were taken to the airfield by truck where we ate our midday meal. Usually we were served hard tack with a can of bully beef between two of us for lunch. Here again, we always had lots of hot very sweet tea.
After the summer season was over, I guess the kids in the district needed the school and we were moved into tents close to the airfield. Unfortunately we had to wash and shower outside with only cold water. It was a very primitive, improvised system consisting of a large metal water tank on a shack roof which was filled once a day from a water bowser. This was no hardship in the warm weather but, unfortunately, our camp was in a mountain region about 5000 feet above sea level. That winter was exceptionally harsh and most of the time we had at least two feet of snow. The toilet was over to one side of the camp area which consisted of a six foot deep trench, two feet wide and about 75 feet long. The earth was piled at the back and when we had to go, day or night, we did it right into the open trench. Each day we had to take malaria tablets. I never caught malaria but at times I had very bad sessions of diarrhea.
After almost a year at Satif, I started having trouble with my legs. My veracose veins had swelled up quite large on both of my legs. I thought that maybe this would be a good way to get back to England. At first I thought that they wouldn't do this type of an operation overseas. But no such luck. The medical officer told me that they would do it in the "field". This meant that they would do it at a medical unit close to our own unit. They did only one leg and then I was needed right away at another airfield closer to Algiers known as Blida. lt was a large airfield with many British and American airmen stationed nearby. lt was near a little town called Blida. As an aside, it happened my leg operation was none too successful. However later in life I applied to a pension board and got a pension of 25% for the one leg. Later I applied for the other leg which, as luck would have it, was well documented on my medical report. Again I was very lucky, the lady judge's maiden name in the case was Lindsay and she recommended a pension increase to 55%. This means if anything should happen to me, my wife Fay would continue receiving my full pension.
458 SQUADRON RAAF
By this time, the war had reached a critical stage. Allied troops had already landed in Italy and were beginning to advance north. Although I was still very busy in Blida, a transfer came to me to join Squadron 458, an Australian Squadron. My officer and sergeant told me that I was needed in Blida much more than with the Australian Squadron and decided that they would be cancelling the transfer. I thought differently however. Early next morning, with my kit bag previously packed, I went to find an aircraft that would be going to the place near where 458 squadron was located. As luck would have it, I happened to find a plane going directly to the airport where my new Squadron was located. Fortunately for me, I had the official transfer forms with me, so no one questioned my authority and again luckily everything went smoothly.
I joined 458 Squadron in Cagliari, Sardinia a couple of days after the advance squadron ground crew and others had left by boat for Italy. I was not quite sure of the date that I arrived in Sardinia but I believe it was about September 5, I944. There were still a few aircrew and others packing tents and oddments in several of the remaining Wellington aircraft. A couple of days later we flew direct to Foggia, Italy. At the time the weather was very poor and it seemed to rain for months on end. As usual, our squadron was very active on the lookout for enemy submarines which kept us all very busy. At first we had to depend on tents for shelter, four to a tent. An Aussie, one of the members of our tent, was a very practical fellow and was able to hook us up with an electric motor and we were able to have a couple of electric lights hanging from the roof of our tent. Fortunately, some of us were sent cans of soup and other cooking ingredients from home. Most evenings we had a late supper of soup and tea in our tent cooked on a small primus stove. Later when the rainy season got so bad we were billeted in a row of low level apartments in town. Again we had to sleep on the hard floor and again I improvised by making a very comfortable bed out of old aircraft parts and wire. Then our squadron was needed in the north of Italy.It is difficult to remember all the dates but I think it was about January I945 that we went north, by truck, to a little place called Rosignano, quite near Leghorn. This time we were billeted in an old Italian prison - six of us to a prison cell.
With the help of our squadron and others ,the German submarines were chased out of our part of the Mediterranean. We were in Rosignano for only a very few weeks and then went south by truck to Naples and took a ship to Gibraltar. The war appeared to be coming to an end. We had very little work to do in Gibraltar, except for the odd daily aircraft inspection, we spent most of the time playing cards and swimming.
While at Gibraltar one of my Aussie friends built a sailboat out of corrugated steel sheets and wood. lt looked very primitive but seemed to sail well. I went sailing with him one morning and at first the weather was nice and calm but later the wind started blowing very hard and the sea began to get very rough. Our make-shift boat capsized and we were thrown into the water and we both started to swim for shore. The Aussie was an extra strong swimmer and eventually got to shore. I'm afraid that I wasn't quite so lucky as there seemed to be quite an undertow and the harder I swam the further I seemed to be taken out. Eventually I stopped swimming and just treaded water. I really thought that I was a goner. You have some strange thoughts when you believe that it could be your last day on earth. Anyway, I drifted further around Gibraltar and there was a piece of land that seemed to jut out, the water became calmer and I was now able to swim to shore. I lay on the beach for a long time, just thanking my lucky stars. Once again I was lucky.
The European War was beginning to end and I was also coming to the end of my life in the Air Force. As I had previously volunteered for service in the Far East, I was one of the first to leave 458 Squadron. A few weeks after V.E Day, sometime in July I945, a DC3 took me to England. My short stay with 458 was a very active part of my service life, and I must say, a very happy part. The Aussies are certainly very agreeable types and easy to get along with bunch of fellows.
After landing in England I can't remember the name of the airport, I went to Bournmouth and stayed there for the next six weeks. In the meantime I went up to York by train where my brother Jim was stationed. He in turn knew that I was returning to England and he had passed me on the way down to Bournmouth. I came back right away and we met there for a nice reunion.
An interesting thing happened to me while flying back to England. The pilot of the plane was a brother of an English sergeant that I had been with at Usworth, England. We became quite friendly and he invited me to sit with him in the cockpit. The plane stopped in France for refueling and we stayed there for about half a day. As we travelled to Heathrow Airport in England the wind changed direction and seemed to have increased. On our first attempt at landing our pilot had a great deal of difficulty. I was in the cockpit at the time and could see some of his problems. While corning in we almost hit a bunch of electric wires. I could see the wires and poles coming straight at us and here again I thought that this was indeed the end. However, we were lucky and we just missed them. The airport asked us to go to another one further north. This was another time that my pilot friend and I thought that we had met our Waterloo. When I returned to Canada, even weeks after, I was so frightened of heights that I would even avoid going up in elevators.
After about six weeks of doing nothing in Bournmouth, I went by train to Liverpool and caught a ship for Canada. The "Isle de France" was a real luxury liner at that time, run by American seamen. They believed in only two meals a day, breakfast early in the morning and supper quite late at night. During the day if we had not collected extra bread at breakfast time we would go very hungry during the rest of the day.I was happy to eventually arrive in Canada. We landed in Halifax and a train was waiting which took us to Toronto. We arrived at Toronto and were met by mother and my brother John. lt was a grand homecoming. Even the office cleaners for the old Meadows offices were there to welcome me home. After a two week leave I reported to the Air Force and was eventually discharged in apparent good health.
Now I had to start a new life. I received a telephone call from Art Carey who was now the president of Thomas Meadows & Co. Canada Ltd. As things were happening he wanted me to report back as early as possible. Accordingly, I cut short my holidays and reported early at the Toronto Office. To my surprise I was informed that a good salesman's job was waiting for me in their Montreal Office. Apparently Bill McKee, who was their sales force in Montreal for the past several years, was being transferred to the recently opened New York office and I was to take his place.
I hated to leave mother on such short notice but she insisted that my future is what counted and in any case, Montreal wasn't so very far away, and I could visit her regularly. The following week I arrived in Montreal and took a cheap hotel in the French section of the city (Papineau Street). After a few weeks a much better space became available at the Westmount YMCA and it was also in a much better area.
Before leaving Toronto I happened to be coming home fairly late in the evening and by good luck I met an old business friend of mine, John Cole. He mentioned that he was being transferred from Toronto to Montreal with his present employer, Dunlop Rubber Co. lt was quite a coincidence and I told him that I was moving there also. For the next several years we were close friends and as luck would have it, his advice to me was always very welcome and always very good.
For the first two weeks Bill McKee showed me around and introduced me to a good many Montreal clients of Meadows then off he went to New York. The office was not large with a staff of only about fifteen. Mr. George Gillespie was the senior Director of Meadows Canada and Mr. Bazinett was the Montreal Manager. There was a Customs Department and also a small Export and Import Department. We had a girl stenographer and a chap that looked after the accounting. The majority of the staff were French Canadians and were all very friendly. The only one that I didn't really like was Mr. Bazinett. He was a real bully and seemed to be disliked by all the staff. In fact all of them were very much afraid of him. Although I had little or nothing to do with him for I was out making sales calls most of the day, nevertheless, when I was in I found out how he bullied the staff. One of the foolish things that he insisted on was that none of the staff were allowed to tell a client their name. There were a lot of little things like that that I really disliked and after a year or so I couldn't stand the man. Seldom did he arrive in the office before ten o'clock and no one could touch the mail until he had opened and sorted it. One day a new client telephoned me regarding a letter he sent to me personally and wondered what my opinion was regarding to some of his shipments; Mr. Bazinett hadn't arrived yet so I took the envelope out of the mail and opened it and gave the client my opinion. I put the opened envelope back on Mr.Bazinett's desk. When he arrived he was in an awful temper and shouted out, "who's been tampering with the mail!?" That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I told him that I had opened a letter that was addressed to me personally. He told me in no uncertain terms, that in future, not to do it again. With that I went into Mr. Gillespie's office and told him that I wished to speak to him but first he should call in Mr. Bazinett. lt was a real show down and I told Mr. Gillespie how the office was being run and how everyone was being bullied and that it was not a happy place. I then told him that it was his choice, either it was Mr. Bazinett or me. The outcome was that Mr. Bazinett was demoted to accountant and I became office manager. Everyone in the office, except of course Mr. Bazinett, was delighted with this new arrangement.
Life at the office now took a new turn. Mr. Bazinett quietly did his new job and all of the staff became happy and a lot more productive. I wouldn't take all the credit for the change but now business was really improving. Each day we seemed to get more and more new business. The only trouble was that my pay, even with the many increases was still very low. $70.00 per week for a manager in a now fairly large office was still pretty low. Now I started to think differently that if I could get all this new business for myself I was sure that I could do much better financially.
In the meantime I met Fairlith, (Fay), Hopkins who had just been discharged from the air force. Within six months we got married on 21 December 1946 and now my life took a new turn. Right after the war with very few apartments being built, it was very difficult to get even a very small rental apartment. Apart from this all the landlords wanted "key money" of three or four hundred dollars. As a result our first accommodation was a small bedroom with use of the kitchen and bathroom. We were luckier with our second place as this time we were able to secure a complete little duplex which we had to heat with a space heater. For the first year we had little money and used orange crates for kitchen chairs. One by one we eventually got a refrigerator and beds etc., and after a couple of years we decided to move to a better place in NDG, a suburb of Montreal. lt was slightly better than our other place but we still thought that we could better ourselves. We bought our first house which was semi-detached. lt was brand new and cost $I3,500. We quite enjoyed this house and now Fay’s sister came to live with us. Then one of our friends who lived in Dorval mentioned that there was a nice house on their street for sale. We inspected it and decided it was the house for us. The only trouble was that we first had to sell our house on Cumberland Avenue. With a bit of luck, we sold our house and bought the Dorval house and for the next three years this was our home.
In between buying houses I decided that I needed more money to make for a happier marriage and when I met Ray Clendinneng, who was the manager at a small Montreal Customs broker, we got talking and agreed that between us we could develop a pretty good business. The only trouble was that we had so little start-up money between us.
I gave my notice to Meadows and they were very unhappy to see me go. They did everything to persuade me to stay. More money and a directorship with the company was their offer. I had already committed myself with Clendinneng so I felt that I couldn't accept their very good offer. They then asked me to stay until I received my Customs Brokers license. I was surprised at this, for it usually took two or three months to get the license as I had to take Customs examinations and this took time. Finally I received the license and rented a small office on St. John Street, not far from the Customs House. Ray Clendinneng joined me shortly afterwards and we started in business. He was able to bring quite a few large companies with him and as time went on I got quite a few. As our business developed we hired more people. The Royal Bank of Canada was very good to us extending credit but they had their limits and many times I had to be the collection agency in order to satisfy the bank. As business progressed it became more and more difficult to finance so many clients. We got two very large oil companies Shell and Sun. Fortunately Shell gave us a large deposit to work on and Sun paid their invoice by return mail.
Now problems were beginning to appear. Clendinneng personally was a very nice fellow but it didn't take long to see that he was an alcoholic. He always had a small bottle of whisky in his desk and after work he would spend much of his time in the tavern. Gradually he came to work later and later. Now he was starting at two in the afternoon. His clients were getting very annoyed and gradually were phoning me for all kinds of information. I gradually took over most of his work. I was finding that in order to keep up with the work that I had to take work home with me. Now I was working twelve hours a day plus Saturday, Sunday and holidays.
I will say that my old friend, John Cole was a big help. All through my time with Meadows, Montreal and my time in business with Clendinneng I could always rely on his sympathy and advice. I think because of him I was able to make many good decisions that I might have tried to avoid.
In the meantime our two children, Bruce born 2 April 1949 and Beth on 26 September 1950, were growing fast. Bruce was eleven and Beth a little younger and they really enjoyed our Dorval house, especially as it backed unto a large open space where they could walk and picnic. Although I still had lots of partner problems, our business still flourished. Now I was getting one of the largest Customs Brokers in Canada approaching me to sell my business to them. I was sorely tempted because of my ongoing problem. Finally I made a decision and told my partner that I would be selling my share of the business and asked him if he wanted to do the same. Fortunately he agreed and I sold the business to Border Broker Ltd. They wanted me to stay and had included a sale proviso that I would have to stay for at least eighteen months. I made my plans right there and then that I would stay for the eighteen months, sell our house and move to Vancouver. Here again my sales agreement stated that I would never open an office in any area that Border had an office. They covered just about all of Eastern Canada and some of the west but not Vancouver. I decided that I had better open there before they did. When Mr. Hugh Thomas, President of Border Brokers Ltd. ‚ heard that I was moving he asked me to open an office on his behalf which naturally I turned down.
During the eighteen months still on my contract I was able to get Border several new large accounts. The time went by very fast, especially when our Dorval house was sold and the rest of the family had moved to Vancouver. I went with them for the first few days and was able to buy a very nice house in a prestige district in Vancouver at a reasonable price. lt was brand new and the family liked it.- Finally my contract was over at Montreal and in the meantime I had applied in advance for a brokerage licence for Vancouver. Shortly after that I opened a small office in Vancouver and not long after, my licence came through.
Setting up business in Vancouver was entirely different from Montreal. Vancouver firms had a great deal of loyalty to their brokers whereas Montreal firms changed if they could get a better deal, even if it was only a very small saving. This time it was much slower to obtain even a small number of clients. I happened to meet a chap that previously worked for a steamship company in Montreal. He had only just lost his job with Union Steamship Co., which had recently gone out of business and was easily persuaded to work for me even at modest wages. George Mealey at first was very good. I bought a house and a car for him so that he was able to go direct to the Truck Terminal each morning and do all the outside Customs release work for me. At that time I telephoned Ben Kalls who had been transferred by Border Brokers from their Windsor office to take my place at Montreal. I offered him a junior partnership in the firm subject to his interest and agreement on a suitable arrangement. He accepted my offer and soon moved to Vancouver. In the meantime George Mealey seemed to be working out okay so I gave him a small interest in the business. When Ben became a member of the firm he and George did not seem to get along and the latter began to complain about his role involving the daily trip to the truck terminal to arrange for Customs clearance. Ben in the meantime was getting the hang of things but I noticed more and more that he was little more than a glorified worker. He never went out calling and all he did was the office work that I could have hired any senior clerk to do and things were not going well. I was fortunate in getting a good deal of new business but I seemed to have to be making all the decisions without the aid of George or Ben giving any of their support or advice. To make matters worse, George was complaining more and more to the point that I finally told him if he wasn't happy to let me know and I would buy out his share in the business. To my surprise he took me up on this offer and I bought the shares that I had given to him previously. To look after the work he was doing I decided to open a branch office right at the truck terminal. Alice Ortner applied for the job and I must say everything from then on worked out very well. We now had several quite large importers and our truck office began to flourish. Soon we needed an additional girl at the Truck Terminal and everything appeared to be working out well. Ben was still the reliable senior clerk and decided that he wanted to buy a house in North Vancouver. The only trouble was that he had no money for the down payment. I gave him his money back that he had given me to buy this 25% of the shares and I still allowed him to keep his share of the business.
During my time in Vancouver in I977 I wrote my first book on Canadian Customs and Excise regulations entitled “Outline of Customs in Canada”. To my surprise it became a bestseller in the trade. The colleges, importers and Customs brokers were my best customers and even the Customs officials would use it for their own educational classes. I put out a new revised edition every two years or so and even had reprints printed whenever they were needed. After the first two or three editions, my. son Bruce took over and edited each of the new editions. After ten editions we decided to call it quits. In addition I wrote a book on "Customs Enforcement", with Bruce doing the editing. lt wasn't quite the success of my first book
Now I was handling the Customs clearance for a large German freight forwarder, Kuhne & Nagel with offices all over the world including Canada. Although they had a shipping office in Vancouver it didn't have a Customs Department. Eventually, they made us an offer to buy our business which at the time was very successful and we decided to sell to them. I had a contract to stay on as long as I wished, on the condition that I wouldn't go into competition with them. After a year or two they made my life so miserable that I decided to quit. Unfortunately a small broker in Vancouver, Landmark Customs Brokers Ltd., approached me to help them out as they were going bankrupt and needed my money and help. The overall situation looked good so I decided to help and I contacted a lawyer regarding my Kuhne & Nagel contract. He advised me that because their contact would never allow me to go into business anywhere in Canada for the rest of my life that it would be unenforceable. In addition I felt that they had not kept their side of the Agreement so I decided to become part of Landmark. Unfortunately things didn't work out and they sued me and after about three years in and out of court I finally approached Kuhne & Nagle and told them that I would like to settle for $I0,000 if they agreed to drop their case against me. They agreed to this proposal, however, the legal fees and the $I0,000 cost me a total of almost $45,000, which was about as much as I got for the sale of the business in the first place and I had to give up my job at Landmark in the bargain.
With my help, Landmark had grown to be a fair-sized broker. The profits were good so I sold half of my 50% share to a Linden Smith who took my place. lt was agreed that I would get preferred shares that would give my wife Fay an income of $I200 per month. With our savings and this monthly income we felt that we could do quite well especially as our seniors’ pensions would be coming into effect shortly.
In 1996 Landmark, with my permission, sold the company to a large Toronto Customs Broker. Everything worked out fine for me as I received twice as much for my share of the business than I did for either of the other two companies that I sold, so in the end everything worked satisfactorily.
Over the years my interests went towards real estate. Fay eventually got her license and got a job with a real estate company. As real estate bargains became available I would look at the houses or commercial property and she would get the commission if I should buy any of them. The odd old timer I would fix up with paint, electric lights and carpets and resell it right away. At age eighty-two I have left this all behind me. As at September 1999 I was fully retired in relatively good health. Fay is not in quite such good health but pretty good just the same. At that time I bought a new Chevy Cavalier with the intention of continuing to drive as long as health allows. Eventually we purchased a pleasant house in West Vancouver with the intention of spending our retirement years there. Sadly, Fay succumbed to her health problems and passed away on 8 June 2001, ending our 55 years together.
The 21st century up to the present at the end of 2012 has seen my health and mobility decline and now, heading for age 96, my story will come to its inevitable close. Daughter Beth has moved in with me and is my irreplaceable support. My son Bruce and family have recently relocated to Vancouver and will provide welcome additional support for Beth. That brings my story to the present and so, for now, “tout fini”.